Sweet Sixteen Preview: Kansas/Southern Illinois
by Robert Ferringo - 03/21/2007
This one... will be ugly.
Real ugly. Like hide-the-children-and-cover-your-eyes ugly. Or Latoya Jackson ugly. Either Kansas is going to run Southern Illinois off the floor and exact their dominance over another second-tier opponent, or Kansas is going to win a grinder against an SIU that might rival "Crossover" as the most painful two hours of basketball in years.
Either way, the Salukis' season is about to end. And it's not going to be pretty.
No. 1 seeded Kansas will meet No. 4 Southern Illinois at 7:10 p.m. on Thursday in sunny San Jose for a West Region semifinal. The Jayhawks are currently a 9-point favorite over the Missouri Valley representatives.
The Jayhawks are 26-2 since Dec. 3, with a pair of tight losses to Texas A&M and Texas Tech as their lone blemishes. Kansas is 10-5 ATS in its last 15 games overall and 10-5 ATS in their last 15 games as a favorite of eight or greater. Basically, they've been wrecking people, as only eight of their 32 victories this season have been by less than double digits.
SIU coach Chris Lowry was quoted as saying that Kansas has "a bunch of guys who are going to shake Commissioner Stern's hand in the NBA draft." The closest most of Lowry's guys might come to the NBA is shaking the hands of the Kansas players after the game.
As if facing arguably the hottest team in the country over the course of the past two months wasn't hard enough, SIU will have to do so without the services of third-leading scorer Matt Shaw, who busted up his ankle against Holy Cross last weekend. Shaw was listed as "doubtful," and while he'll probably suit up for the game it's unlikely that he'll play.
Southern Illinois played outstanding basketball on Sunday against Virginia Tech without Shaw, using their trademark physical team defense to harass Virginia Tech into its lowest scoring output in over five years.
However, I believe that his loss will be devastating to SIU. Shaw was their most versatile inside-outside threat and their best end-to-end post defender. He was much more reliable than Randall Falker and a better overall player. I don't think that he can be replaced. The Salukis would have been vulnerable against the bigger, more athletic Jayhawks anyway, and now without one of only four players on the roster listed at 6-feet-7 or taller I think it will be impossible for SIU to win.
However, will they cover the seemingly ample spread that's been laid out for them?
Southern Illinois is 5-2 ATS as an underdog this season and 10-7-1 ATS as a dog over the past two years. They are also an incredible 35-15-1 ATS as a nonconference underdog and 17-3-1 ATS against a team that scored 77 or more points in its last outing.
Those are impressive numbers, for sure. But it all comes back to the fact that Kansas has been a wrecking crew over the past two months and may have more NBA-level talent than anyone left in the field. Would you really be shocked if the Jayhawks dominated the boards, hit a couple outside shots, got some easy transition buckets and won this game by 15 points? I know I wouldn't.
Southern Illinois' only chance here is if Tony Young, Jamaal Tatum and Bryan Mullins are all smoking from 3-point land. All three shoot over 37 percent from deep and the Salukis are No. 76 in the nation in long-distance bombing. The bad news is that if the trio's touch is off or if the three mighty mites (all three guards are 6-feet-2 or shorter) get smothered by KU's assortment of Gumby-like defenders this one could get real ugly, real quick.
Finally, the Missouri Valley has become one of the most well respected conferences in the country over the past five years. But this is usually the spot in the tournament where the remaining Valley teams politely bow out. MVC underdogs of 5.0 or more are just 3-22 SU and 9-16 ATS in the Big Dance, and that includes a 3-9 ATS mark against teams seeded No. 1, 2 or 3.
Nine points may seem enticing, and all of the square action on the Jayhawks may push the number up even further. But given the fact that an already undersized, overmatched team will be without its most versatile player I don't see any reason why someone would back SIU. I do hate laying a big number this late in the year, but against a mid-major school that goes through severe scoring droughts, and one that's playing without one of its best players, I do actually think there's some value on the Jayhawks. At least one of the Sweet 16 games is going to be a yawner and a blowout. I think this match-up has as good a chance as any to be That Game.
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