ST. LOUIS - The SIU men's basketball team was picked fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll, the league announced Thursday. Sophomore forward Marcus Domask was named to the preseason All-MVC Second Team.
SIU, which finished fifth last year in the MVC last season, will be one of the youngest teams in the league with 10 underclassmen on the 14-man roster. Domask is coming off a true freshman season in which he was named the league's Freshman and Newcomer of the Year, and he also earned Second-Team All-MVC honors.
Domask is one of only five players on the roster with 100+ career minutes played at the Division I level, along with sophomores Trent Brown, Lance Jones, Ben Harvey (at EIU), and graduate transfer Jakolby Long. Will Keller and Sekou Dembele also return to the roster in 2020-21.
Long (Southern Utah) and Anthony D'Avanzo (Division II Lewis) joined the program as graduate transfers, and J.D. Muila was rated the No. 24 junior college recruit in the nation. Guard Steven Verplancken Jr. transferred from Division I Glenville State. SIU's four freshman are guards Eric Butler, Dalton Banks, Chris Cross, and center Kyler Filewich.
The Salukis were the surprise team in the MVC last year; SIU was picked last in the preseason poll but went 10-8 in league play, finishing in fifth place. SIU's 10 wins were a league record for a team picked last in the preseason poll. Head coach Bryan Mullins was a narrow runner-up for the MVC's coach of the year award in his first season, and he also earned a spot on ESPN's 40 under 40 after the season, a list of the nation's best coaches under 40 years old.
SIU's full non-conference schedule has not been finalized. Mullins announced on a Zoom call with season ticket holders on Wednesday night that SIU will open the season at a multi-team event hosted by Louisville. The NCAA has announced that November 25 is the first day of competition for the 2020-21 season.
Why does the Louisville MTE a good option?
I'm sure a lot of the other coaches have talked about the chaotic scheduling process over the last 3-4 weeks, once they changed the start date for college basketball. There were so many different (MTEs) that you heard about. For the first couple weeks, you didn't know what was true, what was concrete, what was happening, what wasn't. For us, a lot of it had to do with logistics. We're staying away from flying commercially this year. We wanted to look for something regionally. Louisville is 3-and-a-half hours away, and it's a great field. I don't know who all is contracted or committed, but it sounds like a lot of NCAA Tournament teams, or teams that won their league. It gives our guys to play some really good competition in a safe environment that is close to southern Illinois. Hopefully we will play three games there.
What did Marcus Domask learn from his big freshman year?
He got a ton of experience. Lance (Jones) and Trent (Brown) got a ton of experience. That freshman year is the hardest because they've never been through it before. For those guys to play heavy minutes in some of the atmospheres they played in — Banterra Center was packed, and Arch Madness — they got a ton of experience and now are our older guys in the program. We're still a young group. I think we have the fewest number of Division I games played in the whole Valley on our roster. So we're going to rely on those guys to lead us this year.
Does the announcement about extra eligibility for winter athletes improve the chances that Steven Verplancken Jr. will have his waiver approved?
I'm not sure it will affect waivers for this year. I've seen waivers get approved and denied for all different reasons. I don't know if that ties into Verplancken's waiver or not. We will just have to wait and see.
How is Ben Harvey fitting in? And how is Sekou Dembele's injury recovery going?
Ben is doing great. He is picking up where he left off during his redshirt year. He's gotten stronger. He's healthy throughout the summer and fall. We're looking for him to play a big role for us this year. Sekou has been through a lot since he's been here. He had a stress fracture last summer, and at the Bradley game in January he re-fractured that same bone. He has a plate and a screw in his leg right now. It has been a long recovery for him. He has done all you could ask and more, in terms of the rehab process. He's committed to trying to get back on the court this year. Right now, he's week-to-week in terms of pain tolerance and how he's feeling. He hasn't done anything competitive or had any contact yet. He's done some skill work. We're going to take our time with him. The biggest thing is for him to be healthy long-term.
How is J.D. Muila fitting in?
He has great energy. He brings it every single day, and he's very coachable. He wants to learn; he wants to be great. He's going to be a big piece for us. He has some experience. Even though he's coming from junior college, he's still older than some of our freshmen and sophomores. For him, we need him to be really good defensively.
How do you think a one-time transfer rule will affect the MVC?
As coaches, we have expected it. We thought it might happen last spring or summer. In the last couple years in college basketball, that's how it's been going, with the transfer and with recruiting. You have to adapt to it. It's kind of the new normal in college basketball. For us, you have to try to use it to your advantage. You might get hurt by it some years, but you can also build your team by it. For us, it's been the same in terms these first two recruiting classes; it's not so much where they come from or how old they are; it's about, 'Are they a good fit for our program?' Whether it's a transfer, a junior college player, high school, they just have to be the right fit for SIU, and that's how we will continue to go about it.