Dec. 27, 2012
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois opens the Missouri Valley Conference regular season at Missouri State on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
In an odd twist, Sunday's matchup pits former Missouri State head coach Barry Hinson against his former team, and former Southern Illinois player and assistant coach Paul Lusk against his former club.
Hinson was 169-117 in nine seasons at Missouri State (1999-2008). Lusk played at SIU from 1992-95, leading the team to three NCAA Tournaments. He returned as an assistant for Matt Painter at SIU for one season in which the Salukis went 25-5 and made the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
Fan can watch or listen to the game on-line on Saluki All-Access.
What's going through your mind heading back to Missouri State?
I think one of the byproducts of taking this job that certainly crossed my mind as soon as I accepted this job is I have to go back there. I'm not looking forward to it. I don't think anybody would. If you look forward to that, you're kind of a sick person. The city of Springfield didn't fire me from my job -- Dr. (Michael) Neitzel fired me. I still have an enormous amount of friends in that community. That community was a huge part of my life for nine years. I have an enormous amount of respect for Springfield and Missouri State and a lot of the administrators I worked for over the years. I am looking forward to going back and seeing some friends. I've only been back once, it was for a close friend's funeral.
Family still live in Springfield?
My mother and father still live there. I think that ought to speak volumes about how I feel about the community that they still live in Springfield.
How do you start off well this weekend?
The biggest thing for us is we have to get everybody here for practice. As soon as I got to Utah and looked at the weather, I knew there was a situation that would come up. It can't be Saluki basketball unless we have drama. T.J. (Lindsay) and Jeff (Early) will not be here until very late this evening.
Are you going to start Jalen (Pendleton)?
I don't know. It depends on how we practice. I worked for Mr. (Henry) Iba at Oklahoma State. Mr. Iba used to say Christmas time is when you really get better. I'm anxious to see how our guys respond. We have about five or six practices before we play Missouri State and I'm looking forward to see how they respond.
Is it better or worse to play Missouri State right out of the gate?
I think it's better. I get tickled at this computer randomization of scheduling. It's amazing to me that the very first conference game you play is back at Missouri State, the University that fired you. I'll never forget when Mario (Moccia) called me, because he got to see the schedule before I did, he said, 'I'll give you 10 guess and the first nine don't count, where you think we're playing our first conference game?' Needless to say, I didn't need nine guesses.
What did you learn about your team at Utah?
I learned and I hope they learned that you can't take anybody for granted. I don't mind telling you that I have a burr underneath my saddle for what happened against UC Davis. That's nothing to take away from their ball club, but we didn't even show up for that game. We thought we could show up and win a ball game by being there. We played much better the next day and a lot better the last night, as far as effort goes.
One thing I learned about our ball club is we have to have some help from the perimeter. We're back and forth, our big guys score, our guards can't score. We have to get that balance. We certainly need somebody to step up and make perimeter shots for us, because that is certainly the thorn in our foot.
Is Desmar a better 3-point shooter than you expected?
He has not been as good as what I expected him to be, but he has improved dramatically over the last four games. His shooting percentage is in the 40 percentile now, which is good for us. He's the only guy in the 40 percentile for us. Your 3-point shooters need to be in the 40 percent for a basketball club to beat somebody from the interior to the outside, you have to have that, and we only have one individual doing that right now.
How bad do you need a second scorer to go with him?
Right now, our struggles are guarding people, and the reason we're struggling guarding people is it's so magnified by what's happening on the offensive end. We're still shooting a good field goal percentage, but we just can't score easy. Every bucket we labor with. We just need to get to a point where we can score with a little bit more freedom.
What do you need to improve defensively?
Our field goal percentage defense is around 43 percent and that's ridiculous. You want your field goal percentage defense to be 39.9 or lower and we're not even close to that. Our last three opponents have all shot over 50 percent against us. You can't do that and be successful in the Missouri Valley.
What do you think of nine of the 10 teams above .500 heading into conference play?
There's never been a moment where I've hid my passion for this conference. It's a basketball conference, the second-oldest conference and a lot of storied tradition. The one thing you find out is there's a lot of consistency. If I had to look at the Valley race, there's probably three teams -- Creighton, Illinois State and Wichita State -- and then there's a second tier and a third tier. We'd certainly like to be a part of the top tier, but I'm a realist, and we'll need to do everything we can do to be part of that middle tier at least. Right now, we're in the bottom tier and we have to get out of that.
The road is a familiar place for you guys it seems?
We have been on the road. We've had, without question, the worst schedule in the Valley. It's been very well-documented, even the Valley talked about it, we have the least amount of home games of any Valley team this year. I think we've put our guys under a lot of undue stress, but at the same time, I think we can capitalize off this, hopefully in the early part. Hopefully, it's made our skin a little thicker. It's tough to play at Utah State, it's tough to play at Saint Louis, it's tough to play at Western Kentucky, at Green Bay. We won at New Orleans, we won at Edwardsville where it was almost sold out. Our guys are used to playing on the road, we just need to continue the trend of winning.
Any changes in Diamond (Taylor's) status?
There have been no changes in Diamond's status, but I'm going to meet with my administration this week, and hopefully we'll have a release by next week what we're going to do with Diamond.
Where do you see your biggest improvement?
I think you would have to answer that question. I'm a perfectionist. I see strides, off and on with our defense the way we give a little bit of effort, but it's not consistent. I see strides with us learning. I do think we share the ball better. I never considered us a selfish team, but I thought we played selfish. I think there's a big difference. I do think our guys are trying to buy into our offensive scheme as evident by Dantiel Daniels shooting 70 percent. As long as they'll do that and continue to be a little more consistent on the defensive end, then I think we'll be able to see strides. You can compare us to last year. I can't do that. I told you, I haven't watched film from last year. I didn't.
You said you've been pretty basic so far, will you try to mix it up in the Valley season?
We'd like to, but we have to go slow because anything we throw at our team right now stuns us and puts us in neutral. We can't be in neutral right now. We'll put in a couple things over break, but we're not going to overload them.
What are your chief concerns for Missouri State?
I think the biggest concern with Missouri State is the old 'win one for the Gipper.' You've got a basketball team that's played the toughest schedule in the Missouri Valley Conference. You've got a team that's hungry for a win and hungry to play for their coach because the former coach is coming into their arena. I know how jacked-up those kids are going to be. I can tell you right now, without a doubt, our players will be jacked up when Missouri State comes here. It's human nature. I expect nothing but a dog fight. For me personally, I have to try and put all the emotions to the side and focus on the game as much as I can. That's hard for me to do. I'm going to rely a lot on my assistants, and certainly rely on my players to help me get through this.