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Saluki fans ready for special “home game” tonight at Rupp Arena

SIU is located in a region that has a proud history as an extended part of the Big Blue Nation.

UK vs. UVU
The UK Wildcats take on Utah Valley on November 10th.
Sarah Kellam

For many basketball fans throughout southern Illinois, tonight’s season opener at Kentucky will have special meaning as the SIU Salukis open 2018-19 with a different kind of “home game” at historic Rupp Arena.

Located approximately 300 miles from Lexington, the Carbondale (IL) campus sits in the heart of a southern Illinois region that has a proud history as an extended part of the Big Blue Nation.

Cheering on the Cats in southern Illinois makes perfect sense when you consider that the Ohio River is the only thing that separates Metropolis (IL), the Home of Superman, and Paducah (KY), which serves as the local NBC TV affiliate throughout southernmost Illinois. Geographically, southern Illinois is closer to St. Louis (MO) than Chicago and the University of Illinois in Champaign (IL), the state’s flagship university, is located in central Illinois.

The “Kentucky Effect” in southern Illinois can be traced back to the Pre-Internet (and Cable TV) Age of the 1970s and 80s when local television (WPSD-TV 6) in Paducah would broadcast UK games on a tape-delayed basis after the local news at 10:30 p.m. central time. The result has been a love for UK basketball that has been passed down through multiple generations.

As an SIU alum and former season ticket holder for Saluki basketball, I’ve had this one circled on the schedule for some time. Just don’t be surprised if those in maroon join you in the singing of my Old Kentucky Home after the game. Tonight, many Cats and Dawgs just might sing together in perfect harmony.

Get To Know The Salukis

Players To Watch: The Salukis return all five starters from a team that finished 20-13 with senior guard Armon Fletcher returning as the leading scorer (14.0 ppg). Senior Sean Lloyd (12.0 ppg) and junior Kavion Pippen (12.0 ppg) also return with Aaron Cook (9.8 ppg) and Marcus Bartley (6.7 ppg) rounding out the starting five. SIU also has Thik Bol back for his senior season after he missed all of last year with a knee injury. Bol, a 6-foot-8 post player, blocked 76 shots during his junior season (2016-17), the third most all-time in a single season. Pippen, the nephew of NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, is a 6-foot-10 post player, that led the Salukis in rebounds and blocked shots last year.

Mid-Major Rankings: SIU is currently ranked No. 10 in the Mid-Major Top 25. Gonzaga is ranked first, while Buffalo is ranked second. The Salukis will host the Buffalo Bulls on November 11th at SIU Arena. The Mid-Major Poll, now in its 20th season, is made up of teams from the following conferences: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Independents, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast, Western Athletic.

Epic Rant: SIU Head Coach Barry Hinson is the Dean of MVC Coaches as he enters his 17th season in The Valley. Hinson, now in his seventh season at SIU, coached at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) from 1999 through 2008. Coach Hinson is best known for his epic rant during a post-game press conference after the Salukis turned in a lackluster performance in a 73-65 loss at Murray State during the 2013-14 season. Hinson openly blasted his players, and the interview was picked up by major media outlets throughout the country.

Rich History: The Salukis have a rich tradition in men’s basketball, winning the 1967 National Invitational Tournament (NIT) at New York’s Madison Square Garden behind Walt “Clyde” Frazier, an NBA Hall of Famer, who was named one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All-Time. The NIT was once considered the premiere college basketball showcase, easily surpassing the NCAA Tournament in popularity throughout the 1950 and 60s. Since 1977, the Salukis have made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and have advanced to the Sweet 16 three different times (1977, 2002 and 2007). SIU has sent nine players to the NBA with Carbondale (IL) native Troy Hudson the last player on an NBA roster when he played for the Golden State Warriors during the 2007-08 season.

Missouri Valley Conference: The MVC is the nation’s second oldest athletic conference and previously included the Louisville Cardinals from 1963 through 1974. Last season, Loyola-Chicago was the talk of March Madness as the Ramblers advanced to the Final Four behind the spiritual guidance of Team Chaplin Jean Dolores Schmidt, better known as “Sister Jean.” Wichita State was the last Valley team to play in the Final Four in 2013. Indiana State represented the MVC in the national title game in 1979 in the classic showdown between Larry Bird and Michigan State’s Earvin “Magic” Johnson. SIU has been picked to finish third this season in the MVC behind Loyola-Chicago and Illinois State.

Lessons in Louisville: SIU played at Louisville the past two seasons and has taken its fair share of hard knocks at the Yum Center. The Cardinals drilled SIU 84-42 during the 2017-18 season and fell 74-51 in December, 2016, in what would be Coach Rick Pitino’s final season.

What’s a Saluki? This is often a popular question anytime the Dawgs get national attention. From the SIU athletics website, “The Saluki breed is known for its speed, grace and endurance. In 1996, the Guinness Book of Records listed a Saluki as being the fastest dog, capable of reaching a speed of 42.8 miles per hour. With heavily padded feet able to absorb the impact on its body, the Saluki has remarkable stamina when running…Salukis are one of the earliest dog breeds, dating back to 3600 B.C., and rose to prominence during the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, when they frequently appeared in ancient Egyptian artwork on tombs. Therein lies the natural tie to Southern Illinois, a region which is frequently referred to as “Little Egypt.”