Posted on: November 14, 2010 2:10 pm

The Valley Drops First Two Marquee Games

A few days into November, the temperatures cool, and my favorite sport gets underway. Conference play in the Missouri Valley begins December 29, but beginning now the teams get their chances to make out-of-conference statements.

Southern Illinois received a rare opportunity to play a Big Ten (Twelve) school, but they were unable to capitalize on the road against a talented Illinois team. The Illini had not scheduled a Missouri Valley opponent since the 03-04 season, winning 2 of 3 neutral-site exempt-tournament games (all decided by 4 or less points) against the Valley in the years since. The Salukis were looking to pull off a stunner without some familiar faces after the summer transfers of former heralded recruits Kevin Dillard (to Dayton) and Anthony Booker (to Iowa State).

In a disjointed first half featuring a handful of wild sequences, Illinois was able to pull away with torrid shooting and quick transition baskets before SIU could set up its man-to-man defense. The Salukis could not mount a comeback in the second half and Illinois won 85-63. The Salukis created a lot of their shots with one-on-one play rather than consistent ball movement, only registering nine assists for the game. One exception was a nice pass from center Gene Teague away from a collapsing defense to an open Jack Crowder for three, but such instances were too infrequent for coach Chris Lowery’s liking.

Defending league champion Northern Iowa also scheduled a formidable opener at Syracuse. The Panthers were able to rely on solid defense to stay even in the first half, and they entered halftime within three of the Orange. In the second half, Syracuse was able to increase the tempo and create clean looks to build a comfortable lead on the way to a 68-46 win. UNI was unable to penetrate the Syracuse zone, as most of its offensive possessions ended in long three-point attempts preceded by many perimeter passes. The Panthers finished 6 of 33 from three-point range, with Moran and Ahelegbe, generally not a long-distance shooter, combining for 19 attempts. One promising note for UNI was the assertive play of Anthony James, a seldom-used reserve last season. James may have been the one player that made things happen against the Syracuse zone. His minutes may increase if he keeps it up.

Bradley opened its season with a double-digit victory of Texas A&M Kingsville, but also received some unfortunate news that forward Taylor Brown will miss the season with a medical redshirt. Brown averaged 13 points in 23 starts last year and figured to team with an experienced backcourt that, in my mind, made the Braves the top challenger to Wichita State for this year’s conference title. The Braves’ website reports that Brown will undergo some cardiac tests that preclude athletic activity for three months. Though the tests are just preliminary, it still sounds a little scary, so hopefully Brown will be just fine and back for Bradley next season.

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