July 17, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - School starts one month from now and here's a quick, off-season update on the football and men's basketball teams.
The first football practice is on Sunday, Aug. 3, and we'll post daily camp updates and features throughout the two weeks of pre-fall camp. If you're anxious to get a look at this year's team, there will be live scrimmages at the stadium at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 9 and 16. The annual Fan Fest, which is a great family activity, takes place on Thursday, Aug. 21. More details to come.
The depth chart at quarterback is unchanged heading into camp, with Ryan West, followed by Matt Vincent and Mark Iannotti. That doesn't mean West has been named the starter. Coach Lennon said competition for the starting spot will continue. Although West has the most playing experience of the trio, both Vincent and Iannotti played well in spring ball.
Two players who were penciled in as starters on defense won't be back for the fall -- inside linebacker Carl Bivens and cornerback Chris Davis. Sophomore Chase Allen will move from outside to inside linebacker and is listed as the starter opposite Jordan Poole. Senior Boo Rodgers will move from safety to cornerback and is listed as the starter opposite Courtney Richmond.
I've watched a handful of the organized summer practices and the incoming freshmen have provided a much-needed dose of athleticism. In a bold series of roster moves, last year's juco class (Marcus Fillyaw, Mike Balogun, Bronson Verhines, Hunter Gibson) has been replaced with a group of freshmen (Jordan Caroline, Armon Fletcher, Chaz Glotta, Deion Lavender, Austin Weiher) that will become the foundation of the program going forward.
A byproduct of the roster turnover is that the Salukis will be one of the youngest teams in the nation next year with six freshmen (including redshirt K.C Goodwin), three sophomores and four juniors. The youth of the roster was a factor in scheduling.
I've received some negative emails regarding the non-conference schedule that was released earlier this week. Keep in mind that this slate of games was not designed with an NCAA Tournament bid in mind. There are no high-major opponents and eight games against teams with an RPI last season above 250. Coach Hinson said in a recent media call that he does not expect his team to contend for the conference title this year. The Salukis hope to be contenders in 2015-16 when the team's best player, Anthony Beane, is a senior, and you can expect a correspondingly more difficult schedule.
Remember the 2008-09 season, when the Salukis had what they considered the best recruiting class in school history? There were five freshmen including the reigning Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois (Kevin Dillard), and a top 100 big man (Anthony Booker). That team played a ridiculously difficult schedule including UMass, Duke, UCLA, Saint Louis, Charlotte, Nevada and Saint Mary's. SIU had the toughest Strength of Schedule in the MVC that season, but the program won only 13 games. It was the first of six-straight losing seasons, and this year's schedule allows for the possibility of ending that streak.
Of the five freshmen, Jordan Caroline appears the most ready to contribute this season. At 6-6 and 235 pounds, he has a college-ready body and is the team's most explosive front court player. His explosiveness reminds me of former Saluki Dantiel Daniels. His post-up moves are not as refined as Daniels, but he has a better shooting touch and ball-handling skills, and I think his upside is higher. It would not surprise me if he starts this year at the four spot.
The emergence of Caroline at the four means 6-foot-6 sophomore Sean O'Brien can move to the wing. O'Brien was impressive at that spot in practice on Tuesday, and he could become the guy who picks up some of the scoring slack from the loss of top scorer Desmar Jackson.
Freshman wings Armon Fletcher and Deion Lavender both have the potential to develop into starting-caliber guards. Fletcher, in particular, has as much raw ability as any signee in recent memory. Like most freshmen, they need to physically fill out and put the necessary work in to improve, but they have plenty of natural talent.
Bola Olaniyan and Ibby Djimde will battle for the starting five spot. Olaniyan looks a bit more explosive than last year, but his post-up game is still very raw. Djimde is an enormous man at 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds, and his size alone will cause opponents problems. However, in the last three years, he has seen very little court time, so expect his development to take time. Deng Leek, the 7-foot center from Jacksonville College is living in Carbondale but can't officially join the team until the fall semester begins.
Jalen Pendleton, who played the four spot last year at 6-foot-2, will play one of the wings this year. He looks leaner and quicker. Coach Hinson praised Pendleton's maturity and leadership during off-season workouts this summer.