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Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Keegan: Don’t let the name fool you

March 21, 2007

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Southern Illinois University.

It's difficult to take that name as seriously as Duke, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois. Yet, those schools are gone from the West bracket and Southern Illinois is one of the nation's Sweet 16, just as its No. 4 seed projected.

Still, it's hard to overcome the initial reaction to the name. The sound of it doesn't pop sweat beads. It makes you think about schools that reel off a couple of upsets, lose to a heavyweight, and then lose a coach.

Except in this case, it doesn't fit. By definition, Salukis are Egyptian sight-hounds - dogs that hunt by sight, not scent - not underdogs. The Salukis didn't have to pull off an upset to advance to a Thursday night game against top-seeded Kansas University.

If Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Northeastern Illinois or Western Illinois had made it this far, the no-sweat gut reaction would apply. It doesn't pertain to the Salukis.

It really doesn't matter if the rest of us have a hard time embracing the notion that SIU is a big-time college basketball team. The Kansas players haven't forgotten what conference Bradley came out of last season before bouncing the Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

"We still have that game in our minds about the Missouri Valley Conference," sophomore Brandon Rush said. "That won't let us look past them. ... I think we're playing great, playing our best basketball right now. We're going to San Jose with a business-like approach."

Part of that approach entails taking the Salukis as seriously as the computer rankings and seeding committee take them.

"They aren't a mid-major team from Missouri Valley," Rush said. "They're a big-time team like we are."

Still, the name.

"We're not worried about the name," junior guard Russell Robinson said. "We haven't done so well lately against teams that don't have big names. They're going to be a tough team and we'll have a whole lot of respect for them."

The Bradley factor, Robinson said, plays into it.

"That makes it a lot easier to get up for them," he said. "That and the fact that they're a No. 4 seed, they've played some pretty big-name teams and they're playing well in the tournament."

The Jayhawks are a confident bunch, but it doesn't look, sound or act as if they are too full of themselves.

"We're not satisfied with two wins," Robinson said. "We want to go to San Jose and play better."

That's the beauty of basketball games taking 2,400 seconds of running clock to play. Within that time there will always be mistakes made, areas to improve upon. For example, Darrell Arthur needs to stop with the silly fouls if he's going to play more than the two first-half minutes he played against Kentucky. Also, it's time for everyone to cut down on turnovers. The Salukis and (if KU advances) whichever team follows between UCLA and Pittsburgh are going to try to slow the pace, which means fewer possessions, which means each possession has greater value.

Forcing turnovers is always the best way to speed up a game. The Salukis, winners of 15 of their past 16 games, commit 14 a game, not such a small number for a big-time winner that prefers a deliberate pace. Advantage Kansas.

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