SIU fans' dreams of seeing former MVC Basketball star Thik Bol teamed with 6-foot-10 center Kavion Pippen are on temporary hold after another knee injury, to the same knee, for Bol.
The injury was a bit less serious than the original November 2017 one, and SIU head coach Barry Hinson and the orthopedic surgeon who performed Bol's operation predict Bol may be back sometime in September -- just in time to start fall practice.
But much theorizing also swirled around Bol last winter, and it all turned out to
be Pollyannish at best. If things work out this time, great. But if Bol does not recover, well what then?
The situation is further exacerbated by two other factors. Austin Weiher, a 6-foot-8 roster player, decided to transfer out to find more playing time. Secondly, freshman recruit Amadou Fall (Christian Prep of St. Louis) is also recovering from a knee operation that kept Fall from playing all of 2017-18.
This dearth of front-court help for Pippen is rather distressing and can only be partially alleviated by the only other "big" left on the roster. Only 6-foot-9 Rudy Stradnieks possibly stands between SIU and Pippen playing over 30 minutes with no viable back-up. And that's the question, isn't it ? Can Stradnieks be a viable back-up -- one who will not at least hurt the team when subbing for Pippen?
In 10.4 minutes per game last season, Stradnieks showed signs that he can step up his play as a backup this season. He averaged nearly two rebounds per game last year. Those 52 total carums were a distant fourth to Pippen (196), Sean Lloyd (163) and Armon Fletcher (162).
All those guys return, so Stradnieks would only have to improve marginally on the boards (which he would with expanded minutes) to help out on that account. But if Bol or at least Fall can't make a go of it, there is still one area that may be problematic.
That would be on the defensive end of the frontcourt. Bol and Fall have the length to
protect the rim. In fact, Bol was one of the top shot blockers in the MVC in 2016-17.
Without Bol last year, every time Pippen went out, MVC big men feasted on Weiher and Stradnieks. It's not that Stradnieks didn't play good positional defense. He improved his defensive technique steadily.
But he only had two of the 117 blocks SIU had last season. Indeed, one of the major
reasons SIU lost both times to Illinois State last year was that Pippen fouled out or was in foul trouble. And when Pippen had such problems, the Redbirds' bigs went crazy and ran away with both games.
Hopefully Bol will recover well enough to make all our worries mere frivolous anxiety. Or maybe Hinson will play a bit more zone to be able to rest Pippen a bit. We'll know the team's plan in a couple of months.