Southern Illinois is back in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly three years. Coach Chris Lowery knows it’s going to be a challenge to stay there.
The 21st-ranked Salukis (19-5, 10-3) look to solidify their spot in the poll and remain perfect at home when they face Bradley (16-9, 7-6) on Wednesday night in a Missouri Valley Conference matchup.
After defeating Wichita State 54-46 on Saturday for its fifth straight win, Southern Illinois cracked the Top 25 for the first time since being ranked 23rd on March 15, 2004.
“It’s a nice reward for our players, who have worked extremely hard to achieve this degree of success,” Lowery said. “At the same time, we can’t become complacent, because we’re in the heart of our conference schedule right now, and every game is critical toward the success of our season.”
The Salukis lost their first matchup with Bradley 48-46 on Jan. 10, as Will Franklin banked home the winning basket with 0.5 seconds left. Their next game comes Saturday against Creighton, which is tied with Southern Illinois atop the conference.
Creighton and Wichita State were ranked earlier this season, and the Salukis’ entry into the poll has given the MVC three ranked teams in a season for the first time since 1982-83, when Illinois State, Tulsa and Wichita State were in the Top 25.
On Saturday, Southern Illinois limited the Shockers to six baskets in the first 31:31 of the game, and held them to 27.3 percent shooting overall.
The Salukis have the top scoring defense in the MVC at 55.8 points per game, while the Braves possess the top scoring offense at 76.5 per contest.
In the Jan. 10 matchup, Southern Illinois held Bradley to a season low in points on 36.7 percent shooting, but the Salukis turned the ball over 20 times.
Southern Illinois’ Randal Falker had 11 points and 12 rebounds in that game, and had 13 points and eight boards Saturday. He was named MVC player of the week Monday and is averaging 17.0 points and 7.8 rebounds in his last five contests.
Jamaal Tatum scored 18 points against the Shockers, and is averaging 16.5 points in his last six games. Tatum, though, managed just six points on 2-of-10 shooting in the Bradley game.
Southern Illinois, picked to finish second in the conference in the league’s preseason poll, has won a season high-tying five in a row for the third time this season.
The Salukis have yet to lose at home, going 10-0 at SIU Arena, and have won their five conference home games by an average of 10.2 points.
Southern Illinois is 50-1 at SIU Arena against conference opponents since 2000-01, and has won five straight at home over Bradley.
The Braves, who reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament last season, are 3-6 on the road in 2006-07. Bradley, though, won 70-62 at Illinois State on Saturday.
The Braves committed a season-low five turnovers, and Zach Andrews scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Franklin added 15 points against the Redbirds. He finished with 18 against Southern Illinois in January.
Bradley has not faced a ranked opponent this season, and has not swept the season series from Southern Illinois since 2000-01.