The old saying that a team "did not make it off the bus" when it gives poor effort has been shredded by the up-and-down nature of the Saluki men's basketball team.
Not only are the Dawgs a win-one (Evansville last Thursday), lose-one (83-72 loss to Valparaiso last Saturday afternoon) team record-wise; they are up and down within single games, too.
Last Saturday, SIU led by as many as seven points (27-20) with 7:52 left in the first half. But by 5:56, Valparaiso surged ahead (28-27) and then went on a 15-2 run to basically put the game out of reach for the Dawgs.
Did the Saluki players get back on that metaphorical bus? SIU head coach Barry Hinson said he could see that bus pulling up to Valpo Arena for unloading the day before.
"I saw this coming, and I threw the whole team out of practice yesterday (last Friday)," an upset Hinson said. "It didn't help. And we got what we deserved."
What the Dawgs "got" was because of a lack of defensive intensity most of the game. This lack of intensity was team-wide, but Hinson was especially incensed by the play of his big men. Their offensive production was minimal (except for Kavion Pippen's 14 points), but their defensive intensity was even worse.
"Their big guys killed us (28 total points)," Hinson said. "Ours went seven for 21 from the field and had just four rebounds." Quite a differential, indeed, but two of the best defensive Dawgs, Thik Bol and Jonathan Wiley, are out for the season with knee injuries.
But Hinson has a point about where a lot of the Saluki basketball problems lie: in his players' own heads.
"We can't handle success," Hinson said. "Our biggest opponent is in our own heads.
"We have zero leadership. We thought we knew who that leader could be, but we're obviously still searching for that guy."
One new candidate might be junior Armon Fletcher. Fletcher had a career-record 32 points and 14 rebounds in the loss to Valpo. He was clearly ready to play.
"Fletcher was the one positive coming out of this game," Hinson said. "We saw a side of him we haven't seen before. I hope his intensity spreads to the rest of the team,"
Tyler Smithpeters (10 points and four rebounds) was the only other player besides Fletcher and Pippen to score in double figures. But it's not just points scored that Hinson is worried about with this team.
"We gave a 0-3 team hope in the first half when we stopped playing defense and let them get up 14 at the break," Hinson said.
A team with a leader would have found some way to stifle any opponent's reversal of momentum. That means finding a defensive stopper. Where will that stopper come from?
Among the Saluki guards, it was thought that Sean Lloyd might be a candidate -- and he has a times been one. But consistency is what Hinson wants in the leadership role. That consistency has been somewhat thwarted by injuries and illness. (Aaron Cook was sick at Valpo.) It has weakened the squad.
But it is what it is. The depleted squad is what Hinson has been dealt by fate. Let's hope SIU will be dealt a better hand the rest of the season. Last night as they played Bradley in Peoria and this Saturday they meet the Illinois State Redbirds at Saluki Arena (5 pm).