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Basketball prepares for BracketBuster

By Win Braswell
On February 21, 2013

After a full week between games, the Miami University men's basketball team 8-16, 3-9 Mid-American Conference travels to Southern Illinois University to take on the 11-16, 4-12 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) in the Ramada Worldwide BracketBuster.

Miami is looking to shake its most recent four game skid with a win over Salukis, a team currently in 10th place in the MVC. First year Head Coach John Cooper has struggled this season, as he is working with a relatively young and very small team. Despite a string of five consecutive games of outrebounding opponents, Miami won just one. The RedHawks average nearly 29 rebounds a contest, compared to 30 by Southern Illinois. Size should not be an issue, as the Salukis boast just two players taller than 6 foot 7 inches.

"We maybe considered bigger than them," Cooper said, "They are very much like us. They are in transition. They have a new coach, new system, but they are competitive. They play hard and they are hard to guard."

Perimeter defense has plagued Miami this season. Couple that with a poor three-point shooting effort all season long, and the record speaks for itself. Despite the lackluster performance from deep, Miami players continue to hoist up good looking and open attempts, but they do not consistently fall; a microcosm of what has become of this season. The 'Hawks are shooting just 32.5 percent from three, compared to 35.5 percent last season.

"It was one of our concerns coming into the year ..." Cooper said. "We just have to continue to take good shots and hopefully we can get to where we get warmed up and we start knocking them in."

The Salukis have not been tested this season, having played just two ranked opponents in Wichita State and Creighton. Southern Illinois also has two distinct losing streaks of five and six games this season, and has lost the last seven of 10 contests by an average of nearly 17 points per game.

"We need to stop their penetration in the lane," freshman guard Geovonie McKnight said. "They are pretty crafty with the ball and do a lot of pick and rolls."

Tomorrow's game is the first of five games to close the regular season. The Ramada BracketBuster is a chance for Miami to get a win in a nationally recognized event that gives NCAA Tournament hopefuls chances to make final statements on the court as to why they could shake things up in March. Miami is looking to finish the season strong, heading into the MAC Tournament, with a chance to grab the automatic bid on the line. But the team is still taking a one-game at a time mentality.

"I don't think guys are really thinking about the MAC Tournament right now," senior center Vince Legarza said "They are just thinking about today and this weekend, because we have to play a really good team from a good conference. The idea right now is just continuing to work hard and keep the effort level up."

Tip-off is set for 3:05 p.m. Saturday. Miami is 1-0 all-time against Southern Illinois.

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