#111 Southern Illinois Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Southern Illinois Salukis
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #111
Conference Rank: #4 Missouri Valley
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Following a terribly disappointing 2014-2015 campaign, Southern Illinois started to turn things around last year. The Salukis went 22-10 overall and 11-7 in Missouri Valley Conference action. That is a far cry from the SIU glory days, but this group should be solid and looking for a middle of the table type of finish with a postseason tournament of some sort waiting for them if they want it. Sean O’Brien, a 6-7 senior, should emerge as the team’s top scorer after averaging 12.1 points and 6.0 rebounds last season. O’Brien needs to work on his outside shot still, or at least stop taking them, but he is pretty efficient and effective in the paint. 
2015-16 Record: 22-10, 11-7
2015-16 Postseason: none
Coach: Barry Hinson
Coach Record: 62-67 at Southern Illinois, 267-207 overall
Who’s Out:
Losing Anthony Beane is a big blow for the Salukis. He was the guy the defense had to game plan for and the guy who would take all of the big shots. He averaged 19.3 points and connected on 37.1 percent of his three-pointers. For the last two seasons Southern Illinois rode Beane as far as he could take them and now others must step up. Bola Olaniyan was a surprise departure. The big man stepped into a starting role last season and did very well, averaging 7.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. With the loss of Olaniyan and fellow center Ibby Djimde, Coach Barry Hinson has some work to do in order to find somebody who can complement O’Brien in the paint. Also gone are little used Jeremy Postell and Deng Leek.
Who’s In:
The only newcomer that can help replace Olaniyan is junior college transfer Thik Bol. The 6-8 forward who spent two seasons at Iowa Western Community College may not be ready to score much, but he can block shots. With other scorers presumably stepping up on the perimeter and O’Brien doing what he does in the paint, Bol may not need to do much more than play solid defense. Jonathan Wiley is another junior college transfer who should be able to help with the team’s defense. He is a big, lanky 6-6 guard who can defend those athletic wings. He will use his size to his advantage when it comes to attacking the basket and getting on the glass as well. The two incoming freshmen are Aaron Cook and Brendon Gooch. Cook should step right into the backup point guard role, while Gooch will likely get some time to develop his game.
Who to Watch:
There is plenty of returning talent in the backcourt and it will be interesting to see if anybody can emerge as a star on a team that looks like it is full of role players. Mike Rodriguez will run the show after averaging 8.3 points and 2.9 assists last season. His outside shot is iffy at best, but Rodriguez can set up his teammates and do enough scoring around the basket. Fellow senior Leo Vincent is certainly a candidate to pick up much of the scoring slack lost with Beane. He is a good shooter and can mix things up by attacking the basket as well. Tyler Smithpeters is basically a pure shooter, but he does it very well. It was Smithpeters who started last season, with Vincent coming in off of the bench, and knocked down three-pointer after three-pointer. On the year Smithpeters connected on 40.5 percent of his 116 attempts from beyond the arc. Expect both of those numbers to go up this year. In a perfect world, Smithpeters would be a shooter off of the bench and for that to happen sophomore Armon Fletcher will need to continue to improve. Fletcher showed flashes during his freshman campaign and is a big, athletic guard who can defend and has more versatility to his offensive game. Sean Lloyd could see a dramatic increase in playing time after barely seeing the floor as a freshman.
Final Projection:
The backcourt may not be all that exciting, but they are experienced and deep enough to compete, barring a couple injuries. There will be shots to go around now and the group as a whole will pick up the slack, whether it be a surprising season from one player or a group effort. The bigger issue could be in the frontcourt. Sophomores Austin Weiher and Rudy Stradnieks were thrown into the mix as freshmen and both had their moments. Weiher is the smaller of the two, but did play more last season, averaging 3.0 points and 1.4 rebounds in 10.7 minutes of action per game. That bit of experience from last season needs to pay off now since those two will join O’Brien and Bol in providing a majority of the minutes in the frontcourt. Southern Illinois could play smaller at times, especially during those few minutes that O’Brien is on the bench, and that is very doable in the MVC. It is a conference where backcourt play wins games and Southern Illinois has enough firepower on the perimeter to finish in the top half of the league.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI / CIT / V16
Projected Starting Five:
Mike Rodriguez, Senior, Guard, 8.3 points per game
Leo Vincent, Senior, Guard, 8.1 points per game
Tyler Smithpeters, Senior, Guard, 7.0 points per game
Sean O’Brien, Senior, Forward, 12.1 points per game
Austin Weiher, Sophomore, Forward, 3.0 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 73.8 (154th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 69.7 (116, 7)
Field-Goal Percentage: 45.3 (104, 3)
Field-Goal Defense: 45.3 (273, 10)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.6 (209, 5)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 34.3 (182, 5)
Free-Throw Percentage: 68.5 (221, 7)
Rebound Margin: 3.0 (76, 3)
Assists Per Game: 11.5 (291, 8)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.7 (268, 9)