Nov 25, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - Four games is a small sample, but here are some thoughts on the 3-1 Saluki men's basketball team after the first two weeks of play.
1. If you had told me Jeff Early was going to be the second-leading scorer in the Missouri Valley Conference and averaging nearly 20 points per game, I would not have believed it. On top of that, he's the team's leading rebounder with almost nine per game, and he's shooting 61.5 percent from the field. Defensively, he has 10 steals already and seems to take at least a couple of charges per game. Early is the heart and soul and emotional leader of this team, and I'm happy to be wrong in my estimation of his talents.
2. One reason for Early's success is that he is much too quick for the typical 4-man to defend. The advantage is especially stark in the transition game, where the 6-foot-1 forward has been able to consistently beat his man down the floor for layups. Early is also taking better shots, all but forgoing the 3-point line. Last year, he took 34 threes and made just six. This season, he's attempted only two and made one.
3. I took a poll of conference SID's to find out if Early, age 24, is the oldest player in the MVC. Turns out he is. He's even older than sixth-year Bradley forward Will Egolf, who was a freshman in 2007 and has two redshirt years under his belt. Drake's SID offered to make prune juice available instead of water for Early when the Salukis visit Des Moines. Kidding aside, Early is playing like a man among boys this season.
Jeff Early is the MVC's elder statesman at age 24.
4. Interestingly, Early's lack of size hasn't been exploited much by opponents. SLU went inside to Cory Remekun for a couple of easy buckets in the first half on Saturday, and the Salukis quickly switched to a 2-3 zone defense to protect him.
6. Desmar Jackson is averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, but he still looks a tad rusty. He has the rare ability to create his own shot, but they just aren't falling right now, as evidenced by his .372 field goal percentage and .143 mark from 3-point.
7. With Early, Daniels and Jackson, the Salukis have three very good players who can cause opponents difficulty. Last year, Southern had just two players (Mamadou Seck and Dantiel Daniels) who fell in that category. Some people thought the trade of Jackson for Seck would be a wash. Actually, it has been Early for Seck, and Early is putting up better numbers than Mamadou did last year. Jackson's production has been all bonus.
8. You've probably heard or read where Coach Hinson said his team will be an underdog in the rest of the games this season (with the possible exception of New Orleans). That's a bit of hyperbole designed to motivate the team and lower expectations for fans. In reality, you can make a case that this team is better than last year and could improve upon last year's five-win total in league play. Southern won't challenge Creighton for the conference title. Then again, who will? It would be nice to see the Salukis playing on Friday, wouldn't it?
9. After the first week of practice, I wrote that Anthony Beane, Jr. was the freshman most likely to make an impact this season for Southern. He's proving that prediction correct by averaging 10.5 points and showing some dazzling offensive moves. What I like most about him is his confidence and willingness to take shots when the game is on the line. After Southern fell behind in the second half at SIUE last week, it was Beane who scored eight of the team's next 12 points. As a true freshman, you can expect his season to be a bit of a roller coaster -- he was 3-of-12 at SLU -- but he's someone to watch for the All-Freshman team if he continues at this pace.
10. I have always been a fan of Kendal Brown-Surles, and yet the 5-foot-9 senior point guard has been an enigma throughout his career at SIU. He'll have a series of games where he takes care of the ball, makes great passes and is hot from three. Just when you think he's turned the corner, his numbers go the opposite direction. That's why I'm cautiously optimistic about his solid start this year. He's right around his career scoring average at 7.5 points, he's shooting .455 from three and his 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio is an important factor in the team's 3-1 start. Keep it up KBS.
11. Before anyone gets too carried away, there are a few danger signs to keep an eye on. For example, it's one thing to play small, but when you are small and also not a very good 3-point shooting team, that's a risky combination. Southern is shooting .310 from 3-point range. Inside of the 3-point line, the team converts .544. A lot of SIU's offensive production has come in transition, and you can't bank on those high-percentage chances being available every night. Also, the team cannot afford any lengthy injuries, especially in the ultra-thin front court. Hopefully, guard Josh Swan will miss just one game, because even losing one guy can mess up the rotation for a team that goes about eight deep.
12. The league is off to a nice start at 32-15 and currently is ranked the 10th-best conference in terms of RPI. Everyone expected Creighton and Illinois State to do well, but Wichita State is a surprising 6-0 and coming off a win over Iowa. Again, it's a small sample size, so RPI numbers really aren't meaningful until about the end of December.