It's far more enjoyable to be optimistic about the immediate future than realistic. However, when the subject is Saluki basketball, that's difficult.
As a matter of fact, one could include the Missouri Valley Conference's chances of getting more than just two teams in the NCAA post-season tournament in the same category.
Just a week ago we passed along the thought of SIU's next four games as being possible wins. Scheduled to face Indiana State, Bradley, Illinois State and Northern Iowa, and after a solid performance at Wichita State, we believed the Salukis were in a position to make a statement.
Even though SIU did deliver with a win over Indiana State, we were more unimpressed with the Sycamores than we were impressed with the Salukis' overall play. Another so-so performance at Bradley earlier this week has caused our present concerns. Bradley is now 3-3 in the MVC, but two of the Braves' three wins are against SIU. BU is not a power.
That brings up Sunday night's contest with Illinois State. The Redbirds haven't won in six league outings. A win would seem almost automatic for the Salukis if they plan on making any kind of a statement as far as improvement in the MVC is concerned.
Don't count on it. We believe the Redbirds are angry as well as being hungry. Barry Hinson may have to reach deep into his bag of quotes to make sure the Salukis are ready for a knock-down battle in the Arena. Another loss would give SIU a 1-2 mark instead of our suggested 0-3 going into Northern Iowa next week and that's a problem.
As awful as the Salukis were last season, they somehow managed to win five conference games. That may be difficult to match this year as Hinson is struggling to put together the pieces without the nails and bolts necessary to rebuild the program.
Desmar Jackson, seemingly despite personal problems, continues to play well for SIU. He's developed offensive consistency and is likely to challenge for a spot on the all-MVC team if he continues despite the Salukis' shaky record. He's not alone. We're also impressed to some extent with the play of Jeff Early, Anthony Beane and Kendal Brown-Surles.
They all are making contributions. Obviously, however, not enough which means Hinson must bring in more talented players if the Salukis have hopes of some day competing again for the Valley title.
How did all this happen?
SIU, the Valley's toughest basketball school in the 2000s with 12-6, 10-8, 14-4, 16-2, 17-1, 15-3. 12-6, 15-3 and 11-7 records suddenly falling to 8-10, 6-12, 5-13 and 5-13.
And now with the distinct chance of an even worse record.
All that, however, is why good fans never give up. The game of basketball, in our opinion, is one of the finest of all sports. It's a game in which the underdog team always has a chance of upsetting a favored team. And, even though it's difficult in finding the logic why the Salukis might avoid Thursday night play-in games at this year's Valley tournament, one never knows.