2015-16 Results: The Salukis had a breakthrough in 2015-16, recording the program's first winning season since 2008. Southern Illinois did have a weak non-conference schedule, but they still finished 22-10 and 11-7 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Players to Watch: Senior Anthony Beane graduated and center Bola Olaniyan transferred but the Salukis do have some experience back. Junior Sean O'Brien is a former Mundelein star who was productive last season, averaging 12.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Senior guards Tyler Smithpeters, Leo Vincent and Mike Rodriguez all played 32 games last season and are capable players who could all start.
Key Storylines: Withstanding the loss of two key players and rebuilding a bit will be key for Southern Illinois. With the Valley not having as much star power as in year's past, it's an interesting time for the league and Southern Illinois has to try to take advantage. With Rodriguez dealing with a knee injury, the senior becoming healthy is also important in the early part of the season. But finding someone to be the go-to guy after the loss of Beane is probably the most important thing for Southern Illinois to figure out.
Newcomers to Track: Point guard Aaron Cook has a chance for immediate minutes despite the Salukis having an experienced perimeter. Cook is an offensive playmaker who can also defend. Junior college forward Thik Bol led the NJCAA in blocked shots as a freshman and was fourth last season. The 6-foot-8 forward should help with rim protection and defense as well.
Season Outlook: With potentially four senior starters, Southern Illinois is an intriguing team in the Valley that could make a move if someone steps up to become a team leader. Replacing Beane's scoring is going to be tough, but the Salukis are experienced and balanced enough to be a tough out. Defending will also be a key for Southern Illinois and some of the new pieces could help in that department.
UMBC may have stolen the most attention from the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but Loyola became the early talk of Saturday's games by advancing to the Sweet 16 with another dramatic finish.
It wasn't the pure exhilaration of Donte Ingram’s last-second game-winning 3-pointer in the first round win against Miami, but the Ramblers knocked off Tennessee 63-62 (a one-point difference from the 64-62 score against Miami) with another exciting finish.
This time it was Clayton Custer sinking a jumper, one that hit rim, then backboard and some more rim before going in, with 3.6 seconds left and the Ramblers surviving a last gasp three attempt by Jordan Bone to get the win.
“The ball bounced up on the rim and I got a good bounce like that,” Custer said of his game-winning shot. “The only thing I could think about after the game is that’s all the hard work that you put in to get in a situation like this. All those hours, waking up early in the morning and working out. For all that hard work to come up to that lucky bounce is worth it.”
Custer’s shot may not have been the cleanest looking, but teammate Ben Richardson said it’s nothing new.
“I’ve seen him make a 1-2 dribble pull-up probably a million times,” Richardson said. “I have so much faith in that shot just because I’ve seen him make it. When we’re just working out and stuff I see him make it at maybe a 98 percent clip so before games I’m always like ‘Get to that 1-2 pull-up, get to that 1-2 pull-up.’... It’s fitting that he hits a big shot going 1-2 pull-up, like we’ve been doing in the gym for our whole lives working on that shot.”
Loyola, an 11 seed, is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985. The Ramblers will face either Cincinnati or Nevada next, looking for a first trip to the Elite 8 since winning the national title in 1963. Oh, by the way, Loyola beat Cincinnati in the 1963 championship game.
It's no secret that Simeon routinely churns out some of the best basketball talent in the country. From Nick Anderson to Derrick Rose to Jabari Parker, the Wolverines are notorious for the impact their former student-athletes have at the collegiate and professional ranks.
Thursday, former Simeon stars Zach Norvell (Gonzaga) and Donte Ingram (Loyola) hit clutch shots to lead their respective schools to victory in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64.
Norvell, who graduated from Simeon in 2016, buried a go-ahead three with about 20 seconds remaining in No. 4 Gonzaga's 68-64 win over No. 13 UNC Greensboro.
Norvell, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, averaged 12.2 points in 26.1 minutes for Gonzaga this season. He finished with 15 points on 3-of-12 shooting (2-of-8 from three) in 34 minutes Thursday. He was ranked 83rd in the ESPN 100 for the Class of 2016.
In the biggest upset of the day, Ingram and No. 11 Loyola knocked off No. 6 Miami 64-62. Ingram hit a three with less than a second remaining, securing Loyola's first NCAA tournament win since 1985.
Ingram is a 6-foot-6 guard/forward who graduated from Simeon in 2014. He averaged 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 30.7 minutes this season for Loyola.
Ingram finished with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting in 34 minutes for Loyola Thursday. He shot just 3-of-8 from distance, though one of those conversions obviously came at a perfect time for the Ramblers.
Norvell and Ingram both have Friday off before their respective schools are back in action Saturday. Norvell and Gonzaga will face-off against No. 5 Ohio State in Boise, while Ingram and Loyola will play No. 3 Tennessee in Dallas.