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18 So. Illinois

A lockdown defense and a well-rounded star will again have the Salukis in the hunt in March

Not long afteraccepting a scholarship to Southern Illinois in 2002, forward Randal Falker,then a senior at St. Louis's Gateway Tech, posed an odd question to his futurecoaches: "Why did you recruit me?"

Says Salukiscoach Chris Lowery, who was then an assistant, "He didn't think he was anygood."

Falker explains,"I just didn't have confidence in my game. I felt like I never improvedthat much in high school and I didn't reach the pinnacle I shouldhave."

These days,however, even Falker is convinced he's worthy of a roster spot. The 6' 7",230-pound power forward was first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference and theleague's defensive player of the year last season. He led the Salukis inrebounding (7.7 per game) and blocks (2.1) and was second in scoring(12.3).

A well-roundedpersonality off the court, Falker sang tenor in his high school choir and loveswhitewater rafting, jet skiing and mountain biking. He is majoring incommunication design and minoring in marketing and art history. "He'sunique; that's all I can say," Lowery says. "Sometimes a blue-chipplayer will think about the NBA, but we don't know whether Randal's thinkingabout artwork or riding bikes or basketball."

Hoops wasforemost over the summer. Knowing the Salukis will need more scoring followingthe graduation of guards Jamaal Tatum (the team's top scorer at15.2 points a game) and Tony Young, Falker overhauled his shootingtechnique and improved the range on his jump shot. And in July he held his ownagainst some of the country's biggest names at the trials for the Pan Am Gamesteam. Though he didn't make the squad, his showing gave him an extra shot ofconfidence for his final season.

As the Salukisseek their seventh straight NCAA tournament bid, the hallmark of these dogswill once again have to be their defensive bite. (In 2006-07 Southern Illinoisranked third nationally in scoring defense, at 56.2 points per game.) Toencourage a rabid half-court pressure defense, Lowery occasionally scrimmageswith no out-of-bounds lines. It's a perfect fit for Falker, who refuses to beput in a box.


, MississippiState, San Diego, South Alabama, UC Irvine, USC)

Dec. 1Indiana

Dec. 8 atCharlotte

Dec. 11 SaintMary's

Dec. 15 at SaintLouis

Dec. 18 atWestern Michigan

Dec. 22 WesternKentucky

Dec. 28Butler

Feb. 23BracketBusters

Beating Indiana, a top 10 team, would be a big plus on their résumé, and fellowmiddies Butler and Western Kentucky both look like NCAA tournament teams. TheSalukis' schedule strength last year ranked 30th, and this year's could behelped or hurt by the Anaheim Classic, matching them possibly with MississippiState and USC, or giving them UC Irvine and South Alabama.

Grade: B-


Coach ChrisLowery (4th year)

2006-07 record29-7

MVC record 15-3(1st)

NCAA tournamentSweet 16

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RENAISSANCE MAN Falker loves mountain biking, art and . . . getting down and dirty on D.