Raise your hand if you thought that Southern Illinois might be the surprise team in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. Yeah, I didn't think so.
So you would be forgiven if you figured that the nonconference record that the Salukis compiled was a result of playing just two teams in the KenPom top 150. But if you looked closer at the wins, five by double-digits, you might have been convinced that there may be some life in this Southern Illinois team.
That life was more than alive and well during Wednesday night's 82-72 win over Loyola to open the MVC season. The win broke a 10-game road losing streak in the Valley, including all of last season.
Much of what Southern Illinois did was exploit what Loyola could not do. Despite the normally strong defense of the Ramblers, the Salukis had little trouble getting the ball inside during the game, dominating anytime they were able to get the ball into the paint.
Add in that Southern Illinois dominated the boards on both ends, including grabbing 38 percent of their offensive rebound chances (11 of 29).
Were it not for a few runs of poor offense that led to runs of turnovers in the first and second half, Southern Illinois would have walked away with an even easier win than they did.
Of course the biggest reason for that win was Anthony Beane. Beane scored 14 points in the first half and was almost perfect from the floor in the first 20 minutes.
He beat double teams; he took amazing long range shots. He was unstoppable no matter what Porter Moser designed to stop the almost shoe-in for all-conference given his performance so far.
Beane finished with 26 points, on 7-for-10 shooting, while going 4-for-5 from 3-point range.
Bola Olaniyan added eight points and 10 rebounds for the Salukis, while Deng Leek had a dominant stretch off the bench including three offensive boards and four blocks.
Loyola struggled to find its shot Wednesday, and shot just 5-for-16 from 3-point range, well off its normal nearly 40 percent pace from long range. But interior shooting continued to plague the Ramblers, who missed numerous layups throughout the first half as they fell further and further behind the Salukis.
That is the biggest change between this season's Ramblers team and the one that won the CBI just a year ago: Loyola can't shoot inside the 3-point line. The defense is better this season, but the players who played well inside before -- Montel James and Donte Ingram -- are just off their game from last year.
Milton Doyle can't do everything, and if his supporting cast can't finish his passes into the post, Loyola will not go very far.
Doyle still managed to finish with 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds in an impressive effort. James scored 12 points, but was just 4-for-12 from the floor.
Southern Illinois will have a chance to log another good win on the road against Northern Iowa on Saturday. Loyola travels to Indiana State on Saturday with a chance to get back on the winning side.