1. Southern Illinois returns all five starters from last year’s team, which finished with a final record of 20-13. One of the most experienced teams in the nation, the Salukis projected starting lineup includes four seniors and one junior, all of which were starters last year. On top of that, they have another redshirt senior, Thik Bol, who started every game of his junior year, before being held out all of last year with an injury. That’s technically six returning starters on one team, the almost polar opposite of a John Calipari coached team.
2. The best defensive player for the Salukis is Thik Bol, the returning player who suffered a knee injury before any games last year and forced him to miss the entire season. Bol stands at 6’8″ and 225 pounds, starting at the power forward position for Head Coach Barry Hinson. Prior to his injury last season, Bol was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Defense Team, blocking the third most shots in a season in Southern Illinois history. He played his first two years at Iowa Western Community College, where he led the nation in blocks for two seasons among junior college players.
3. The Saluki’s best player and leading scorer from last season, Armon Fletcher, was held out of the team’s exhibition game to start the season against East Central University due to concussion protocol. That game was 8 days ago, so I’d imagine he’ll be back for tonight’s game against the Cats, but there has been no official announcement on his status. He has been used in multiple promos for tonight’s game by the Southern Illinois social media team, including a picture of him dunking in last night’s walk-through at Rupp, so I’d count on seeing him tonight.
4. Southern Illinois was projected to finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason rankings this year, behind last year’s March Madness Cinderella story, Loyola, as well as Illinois State. On top of that, they had two players named to the preseason all conference teams. Armon Fletcher was named Preseason All-Conference First Team, while Kavion Pippen (nephew of NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pipper) was named to the Second Team.
5. Tonight will be the first ever match up between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Southern Illinois Salukis. Sorry to say for the sake of the Salukis, but they’ll never get the leg up in the all-time series. Kentucky will be chomping at the bit to get back on the court and get a regular season win under their belts. Not to mention, after the beat down that Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and the rest of the Blue Devils gave to the Cats, they’ll be out to start proving doubters wrong. Tonight begins the climb back into the national spotlight as a title contender.
Go Cats. Beat Salukis.