New week in the Summit…

The Coyote men look to have the easier assignment today than the Coyote women, which is just the opposite of Saturday night. But we know how that turned out. The men beat a Denver team that was picked to finish second in the Summit League and the women lost to a Denver team that had won just two games.

Not so ironically, the men were playing at home and the women were on the road. That remains the case this week with a struggling IUPUI team (5-14) facing the suddenly sorta hot Coyotes men’s team (three wins in a row).

The USD women, meanwhile must go on the road to play an IUPUI team that is 11-6 with a loss at Frost Arena followed by a stomping of NDSU in Fargo.

The Coyotes’ defensive problems have been well-documented the past few weeks with those issues coming to a hilt in a 91-84 loss at Denver last Sunday. In that game, Nicole Seekamp, who was coming off three weeks on the shelf with a bum ankle, played 31 minutes. It wasn’t the plan and he’s not yet back to 100 percent but she’s better than she was last week and will be able to account for herself more actively this week against an IUPUI team that tries to beat teams with quickness and pressure.

"It feels better than it has the last three weeks," Seekamp said on Tuesday while warming up for practice. "I’m taking it as it goes."

Seekamp was even further from full speed last Sunday, but she scored 13 points, primarily from the line.

"I just tried to do the things I could do," Seekamp said. "By being out there as long as I was, it did boost my confidence a little."

As tiresome as dwelling on defensive issues might be, the only way to move on to more interesting aspects of the team is by more adequately addressing present challenges. The Coyotes posted three wins over IUPUI last year which made a mark on the seasons of both teams.

Somehow, some way, the Coyotes were a very difficult matchup for the xxxxxx last year with the last USD victory one that vaulted the Coyotes into the Summit League championship final. IUPUI is led by DeAirra Goss, a 5-10 senior averaging 12.2 points and 4.2 rebounds a game and Nevena Markovic, a 6-4 junior, averages 10.8 points ad 6.1 rebounds.

Any resurgence in the defense will have to start with paying attention those two inside players. They have nine players averaging 15 minutes a game or more, however, so they have other threats.

"The Denver game was a wake-up call for us," Seekamp said. "It was probably the worst game we could have had defensively. It showed we need to work on defense — it’s a blaring thing — if we can correct it early then we’ll be right for the rest of the season."

The men will have the opportunity to continue to sustain an as yet still fresh turnaround against a team that has not had a lot of success so far. USD is never going to be in a position to think that there is going to be a lot of margin for error in a conference game, but some challenges are tougher than others. It doesn’t happen very often, but the Coyotes would have to be considered favorites going into a home contest  with the Jags.

IUPUI is lead in scoring by Ian Chiles, a strong 6-1 guard who is averaging 17.1 points a game. Mitch Patton, a wide 6-9 post player, averages 12.1 points and 6.2 rebounds.

"The two teams we’re playing this week are more athletic than Denver," USD men’s coach Joey James said. "You sit there and look at IUPUI’s record and it does not indicate the talent they have on that team. We’re going to have our hands full with the Patton kid and with Chiles."

Football recruits

List of verbals (and a few who are already enrolled) for the football program so far. Class designation is what they’ll be next fall.

Eric Shufford, 6-0, 190, WR/KR, Jr., San Bernardino

Chris Tyler, 6-2, 195, CB, Iowa Western

Mason Ruiz, 6-4, 275, DE, Jr., College of the Sequoias

 Kray Krolikowski, 6-5, 227, TE/DE, Fr., Winner, S.D.

Ethan Finchel, 6-3, 225, TE, Fr., Hull Western Christian

Shay Bratland, 5-10, 205, RB, Fr., Watertown

Alex Coker, 6-1, 200, S, Fr., Washington HS (Iowa)

Xavier Rowe, 5-11, 185, CB, Fr., Oak Park High School River Forest (Ill.)

Andrew Gray, 6-2, 185, S, Fr., Lincoln Way West HS (New Lenox, Ill.)

Jake Leohr, 6-3, 221, LB, Fr., Iowa City, Iowa

Brandon Colpitts, 6-0, 190, S, Fr., Abraham Lincoln HS, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Big game, big test, sick guys are back

Losing to Denver at home in the Summit League opener would not exactly ruin the USD men’s season but a win would be a great one for a team needing some assurance that they’re going to do good things during the second half of the season.

Looking over the next three games — all at the Dome and all Summit contests — winning two of three would qualify as a good start. In talking to Trevor Gruis this week, he said one of the things you realize while going through the league is how important it is to win home games. Nothing earth-shaking about that viewpoint but the point is clear: Take care of business as best you can when you can because it’s going to be that much more difficult outside of Vermillion.

Trey Norris, Casey Kasperbauer and Eric Robertson will all be in uniform Saturday afternoon against the Pioneers and presumably will play. It’s got to be a tough deal, though, to be as sick as those kids were and expect that they’re going to be at full-speed. I anticipate the coaching staff is going to be watching the three very closely for signs of wear. Norris in particular. Now that the conference season is upon them I expect the point guard would be penciled in for somewhere between 36 and 38 minutes normally.

The keys are pretty much a rundown of the basics — defense, rebounding and decent shooting. The Coyotes are going to be chasing guys around a lot. Denver likes to work the ball here and there quite a bit  so hanging in there on the scoreboard will be essential right from the start. Coming back from double-digits against a very patient offense is tough to do.

USD men, Cal-State Northridge, Reggie Theus and the overacheiving Deering Tornadoes

The Reggie Theus-coached Cal State-Northridge Matadors are at the Dome tonight, taking with them an 8-6 record.

The Matadors were picked to finish seventh among nine teams in the Big West Conference. Of note to date, they went 5-2 in December with wins over La Sierra, Southern Utah, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Idaho and Morgan State . They lost by five to Seattle and are coming off a 74-67 loss at Stephen F. Austin, an 11-2 team that never loses at home.

Most of the offense goes through three guys. Stephan Hicks, a 6-6 junior guard/forward, is averaging 17.5 points a game. Stephen Maxwell, a 6-7 junior, is averaging 16.4 points and six-foot Josh Greene is averaging 14.6. Greene is hitting 49.3 percent of his 3-point attempts and Hicks (55.8) and Maxwell (59.1) are hitting more than 50 percent of their shots from the field. The squad is getting a lot of points out of those three without giving them a crazy number of shots.

Maxwell is averaging 8.6 rebounds a game and Hicks is averaging 7.2, so it’s obvious that the Coyote defense will have to try to contain Maxwell and Hicks inside and Greene from the perimeter.

It’s the first year for Theus at the helm at Northridge. The longtime NBA star – he scored more than 19,000 points — has had several stops as a coach since leaving the game as a player in 1992. He spent time as an assistant in Rick Pitino’s Louisville program and was head coach at New Mexico State prior to taking over as the Sacramento Kings coach in 07-08. He also spent time as an assistant for the Timberwolves. He was coaching Los Angeles in the NBADL when he took the Northridge job.

If the Coyotes are able to get the Matadors on the ropes tonight, you’d have to expect  Theus will summon some of the karma he gathered in as Coach Bill Fuller of the fictional Deering Tornadoes. Go to the 3:29 mark here to get a taste of that. He won a state title in Indiana as the Tornadoes’ leader with a bunch of guys — and one girl — who stand about 4 feet, 9 inches tall, so you know the guy knows what he’s doing. If you would care to take the time to watch a few more clips, you’d discover he didn’t have much of a bench, either.

USD, on the other hand, has its next five games at home and could really use a few wins after losing the last six in a row. This is a winnable game if the Coyotes play well, but as will be the case all season, the margin for error is slim. A few wins would go a long way toward getting the season back on the right page, especially after getting stomped in the last two games.

Morehead State up next for USD men; St. Mary’s, then Nebraska for USD women

The USD men play at Morehead State tonight in yet another game against a mid-major in which the Coyotes will have to play very well to win. Adding that USD is on the road, where the Coyotes are 1-5 so far, it’s a game that is at least as challenging as the previous four, all of which the Coyotes lost after leading at halftime.

The Eagles are 7-5 overall and 3-1 at home.  South Dakota has won back-to-back meetings against Morehead State and has a 3-1 advantage in the series. Morehead State’s best player is Angelo Warner, a very strong do-it-all guard who averages 17.5 points and five rebounds a game. He’s hit 20-of-68 3-pointers, which is not spectacular, but he’s 50 of 85 inside the stripe. Sounds like a matchup problem to me. The other guy who will be tough to deal with is Chad Posthumus, a 6-11, 255-pounder from Winnipeg who is averaging 12.6 rebounds a game.

Whenever  I read about a tall Canadian, my first reaction is “Geez, and think about how tall he is on skates.”

Getting over the hump has become the theme for the Coyotes over the last few weeks. With four consecutive tough losses to competitive teams, you look at their body of work and you can say that, yes, they’re improved over last year. The evidence isn’t there yet in the win column, however. USD has four more games to play before beginning Summit League play on Jan. 11 vs. Denver. They’ll most likely beat Iowa Wesleyan on Jan.  4, but the other three are going to be more difficult, beginning with Morehead State tonight. (They’re at Youngstown State on Dec. 29 and have Cal State-Northridge at the Dome on Jan. 2). I think it’s very important in that time that USD gets at least one win over another D-I prior to starting the Summit League season.

A big part of the progress of this team is hooked into getting some consistency out of the entire lineup, rather than just Trevor Gruis, Brandon Bos and Trey Norris. Certainly others have had their good nights, but not enough of them so far. This isn’t supposed to be a team that has an entire offense run through two guys, as the Coyotes had to do when Charlie Westbrook and Louie Krogman were the team’s only Division I scorers two years ago. Developing consistent multiple threats from the inside and the perimeter is still a project for a team that shows flashes of being very good.

The USD women face a salty NAIA outfit tonight at the Dome, but they’re still the heavy favorites. St. Mary’s of Nebraska is ranked No. 12 and has a 9-3 record with recent close losses to Sioux Falls and Hastings College. The Flames’ top scorer is Deaundra Young, a 6-2 center who is averaging 18.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. My guess is that she’s going to give the Coyote inside players a Division I-level challenge.

The big game this week for the women, however,  would have to be an afternoon visit to Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday. The Cornhuskers, who were ranked 19th in the most recent NCAA poll, have an all-time great in uniform named Jordan Hooper, a 6-2 senior who is averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds. She undoubtedly will be one of the best players the Coyotes face this season. She gets plenty of help from 6-2 Emily Cady, like Hooper a native Nebraskan, who is averaging 13.6 points and 9.2 rebounds.

It’s a homecoming for Coach Amy Williams, who as Amy Gusso was a scrappy 5-6 guard for the Cornhuskers in the mid-1990s. I’m not sure how that will factor into the final score, but it has to be fun for her to go back to her old school as a Division I head coach.

Green Bay is one of the best teams to visit the Dome

The Green Bay team the Coyotes will play tonight is likely one of the best teams to play at the Dome since the transition to Division I began. Certainly the NDSU and SDSU squads that have made appearances the last two years would also be included in that group, but as the favorite – albeit, slight favorite – to win a Horizon League title, Green Bay represents a particularly difficult matchup.

 Of note so far is a three-point loss to Wisconsin. The Badgers, now ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, have beaten everyone.  Their closest game was a 69-66 win over the Phoenix.

Across the front, Green Bay starts Forrest Gregg, Gale Gillingham, Fuzzy Thurston, Jerry Kramer and …. Nevermind.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the Coyotes handle 7-1 Alec Brown, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Eastern Michigan earlier this week. Even at the Division I level, you just don’t see guys that tall too often anymore. There was a time when the 7-footers were very often the cornerstones of a lot of good college teams but they’ve been replaced by 6-9 guys for the most part.

Green Bay’s best player is Keifer Sykes, a 5-11 guard who averages 21.4 points a game. Much of the offense goes through this junior, who has won the Horizon League player of the week honor seven times.

Sykes, who is already over 1,000 points for his career, and Brown were a combined 14-of-18 from the field in a 72-57 win over USD last year in Green Bay. Trevor Gruis led USD with 18 points in that contest, hitting 8-of-11 from the field.

One of Green Bay’s assistant coaches is Jimmie Foster, a former Coyote player who graduated from USD in 2002. According to the Green Bay notes, he tore his Achilles at practice this week and won’t be making the trip.

That’s unfortunate if for no other reason than I could ask him about the time he knocked USD president Jim Abbott out of his chair while going for a loose basketball. A memorable Dome moment. Both Jims were OK on that deal. I remember getting a quote from Foster regarding the incident but I don’t think I got one from the president. I do remember thinking that if I was going to get run over by someone, Foster would not have been my first pick. He was about 6-4, 220 and he had quick feet.

In watching the Coyotes the last few games, it seems like we have a few things pretty well established. USD has three players in the starting lineup who, a great percentage of the time, are going to be productive no matter what team they’re facing.

 Gruis, with the Kansas State game the most recent evidence, looks like he’s going to have the all-conference kind of a year most would predict of him as a senior who is a four-year starter. Brandon Bos, though he struggled with his shooting against Kansas State, is another who is going to be capable of taking – and making – a lot of tough shots this year. To that list I’d add Trey Norris, who has not appeared to be overwhelmed at all so far. It’s a safe bet to say you’re looking at someone who will get a lot of assists and very few turnovers. How many points he ends up scoring is not so clear, but he’s intimidated by defensive pressure.

The keys to measuring how good this team will ultimately be this year will be dependent on how well the other fellows play. If Tyler Flack and Adam Thoseby – who had 16 points against Kansas State – can become the kind of players other coaches have to start focusing on, USD could somehow, some way begin winning games that don’t go down to the last shot.

The margin for error has been incredibly small for this program since the transition began. It would be a real trip to see a team that occasionally wins games because they are just plain better than the other team.

Live chat of the game this evening will begin around 7 p.m. Go to

The Kansas State team the Coyote men will play tonight is coming off its biggest win of the season, defeating previously unbeaten Ole Miss 61-58 at home. Freshman guard Marcus Foster, the team’s leading scorer, had 15 points, as did Thomas Gipson, a 6-7 junior.

Just glancing at the Wildcats’ starting lineup, it would appear USD’s biggest challenge in this one will be matching up with a trio of 6-7 players across the front line. Wesley Iwundu, Shane Southwell and Gipson are all averaging more than five rebounds a game. With both starting guards 6-2, USD can expect to be challenged on the boards and in finding open shots. In six of the last seven games, the Wildcats have held opponents to season-lows in points.

“We learned a lot in November,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “It’s a new team with a lot of young guys playing and older guys who have switched their roles. We had to learn about ourselves, and our young guys had to learn what college basketball is about. We went through those early games in Puerto Rico and some struggles, and now you come back and go to practice and see what you need to improve and how you have to take your game to another level.

“We talked about coming into December and making it a month when we take a big step. We got the win against Central Arkansas pretty easy and a hard-fought win against Mississippi was a confidence-builder. This is a big stretch for us and a chance to make some progress as a team.”

USD (3-5) is coming off a tough trip west with a loss at Air Force that included a spectacular number of second-half foul shots for the opponent followed by an overtime loss in Rapid City to Wyoming. The Coyotes got home from Rapid City early Sunday morning and left on a six-hour ride to Manhattan, Kan., Monday night.

Things to look for would be seeing how well the Coyotes can keep up on the boards against a team in which all five starters are solid rebounders. USD is a 16-point dog in this contest, so a win would be the sort of upset you’d expect when a Summit team beats a Big 12 operation. Beyond that, though, being able to find decent shots against a strong defensive team – whether the shots go in or not – would be an indication that the Coyotes making progress on the offensive end.

Historically, KSU has not had much trouble against the Summit League. Check that, the Wildcats have had no trouble with the Summit. They’re 19-0 and 18-0 at home in these battles.

Some other interesting stuff:

-       KSU is 8-0 against USD with an average points margin of 23.6 with USD losing on New Year’s Eve of 2012 by a score of 70-50. The squads have played three times since USD went Division I.

-            The Wildcats are 62-3 record at home in non-conference play dating back to 2006-07, including a 60-2 (.968) mark during the regular season. The squad has won 51 of its last 52 non-conference home games. The three losses have come to DePaul (2007), Oregon (2007) and Northern Colorado this season.

-       The closest USD has ever come to beating Kansas State was a 17-point loss in 1977.

Air Force next for men, Utah State for women

The South Dakota men’s basketball team will be taking on a squad tonight that rarely lost at home a year ago but has began the season struggling this time around.

The 3-3 Falcons were 13-2 at Clune Arena last year with their only losses close games with NCAA-bound Wichita State and Colorado State but they have a different squad this season five new starters.

Air Force, coming off a pair of one-sided losses to Colorado and Richmond, get nearly 30 points a game from a backcourt tandem of 6-2 sophomore Tre Coggins (17.3 ppg) and 6-4 junior Max Yon (12.4 ppg). Junior 6-9 forward Marek Olsinski averages 12.3 points a game.

The Falcons are also dealing with injuries to DeLovell Earls (a strong all-name squad candidate) and Kamryn Williams, who had starting experience going into the season.

It’s the first of a busy stretch for USD, which plays in Rapid City against Wyoming on Saturday, then buses home from there and leaves for Kansas State on Monday for a game with the Wildcats on Tuesday night.

I’ve watched the Coyotes practice several times this year but got my first chance to watch them play on Monday night against Utah Valley. They’re playing a lot of guys, which in my mind means it might take longer to develop the offensive consistency. I think the main issue, however, is getting a little better perimeter shooting. A lot of the players on this year’s squad got to where they are in the world of college basketball because, in part, they’re fairly accurate from the outside. If anything, shooting the 3-ball should be a team strength and my guess is that it will be as the season progresses.

The women face a Utah State team they split with last season, losing a regular-season game 70-69 and then beating the Aggies 77-69 in the Women’s Basketball Invitational. Nicole Seekamp had 33 in the win.

Utah State (6-1) played its first five games, all wins, at home. The Aggies were picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West Conference in a preseason poll. Wyoming, which the Coyotes beat at the Dome last Saturday, was picked to finish second in the MWC.

The Aggies get ton of their points from two people. Jennifer Schlott, a 5-6 senior, is averaging 23.5 points a game. Makenlee Williams, a 5-11 sophomore, is averaging 20.8 points a game. The squad is shooting .448 from the field and .377 on 3-pointers.

USD playing “old rival” at Dome

Since Utah Valley and South Dakota went their separate ways after the 2010-11 season, both have continued to deal with the challenges of attaining the targeted “solid low/mid-major status”. The Wolverines stayed in the Great West in 2011-12 and 12-13 but are now preparing for their first season in the Western Athletic Conference.

The WAC includes nine schools, with former Great West programs  Chicago State, Seattle and Texas Pan-American, as well as Kansas City from the Summit all recent USD conference foes.

The Wolverines went 20-13 with a 9-1 record in the Great West two years ago while the Coyotes were struggling through their first season in the Summit. Last year UVU was 14-18 with a 3-5 mark in an even smaller Great West.

The Wolverines are 2-4 now with wins over  IUPUI and North Carolina A&T  at home followed by four consecutive road losses. UVU got crushed by Oklahoma State (93-40) but hung in there against Oregon (69-54) and lost close ones to Pepperdine (58-53) and Tennessee Tech (74-71).

They play their top six players most of the time with all of them averaging 7.7 points a game or more. Freshman Zach Nelson, a 6-7 forward, averages 11.2 points. Hayes Garrity is a 6-1 sophomore guard averaging 10.8 points and Mitch Bruneel is a 6-5 junior averaging 10.2 points.

Similar to the Coyotes, the Wolverines have struggled with perimeter shooting so far, hitting just. .279 on 3-pointers.  USD is at .311, though junior Brandon Bos has hit an impressive 9 of 18.  USD is hitting .405 from the field overall with opponents shooting .396.

There’s obviously a lot of sorting out left to be done for the Coyotes, who appear to have a lot of shooters, though they’ve not unleashed themselves properly yet against a Division I opponent yet.

The coaching staff came into the season assuming they would be strong offensively and as a result, much of the time spent in the 75 or 80 preseason practices (that’s an exaggeration but not a spectacular one) focused on defense and rebounding. After four Division I games, it was the offense that looked rough, though. The Coyotes got a chance to spread their wings a bit against Graceland, but they’ll know more after 40 minutes against UVU.

Scheduling Montana

The announcement of Montana’s future appearances on the Coyote football schedule arrived during January of 2012 when then-athletic director David Sayler was in the process of hammering out arrangements for future non-conference games.

Montana had its scheduled contest with Appalachian State that year moved to accommodate television, opening up a spot that motivated Sayler to step in and figure out a deal where USD would play the Grizzlies three times. The first of these would be a cash game where Montana would pay USD $200,000 to show up in 2012. The second of which, which takes place on Saturday at the DakotaDome, would be part of a home-and-home series where the Coyotes would travel to Montana in 2014.

It seems sensible enough, but the unconventional timing of Montana’s appearance – in November right before season-ending contests with rivalry heavyweights SDSU and NDSU – would certainly make you wonder whether the former AD had the football program’s best interests at heart.

Coupled with moving last year’s game with NDSU to Howard Wood Field, there is no question that Sayler’s scheduling made things more difficult for a team that has been in the process of climbing out of a hole created by inclusion in the Missouri Valley Conference.

That’s not to say the former athletic director was without justification for the decisions he made. I thought playing at Howard Wood was a good idea for a program looking for a higher profile in Sioux Falls and a cozier relationship with the money folks in the state’s largest city. I also believe USD could have played that game at the DakotaDome or on the moon and the end result would have closely resembled the pummeling the Coyotes suffered at Howard Wood.

Joe Glenn was asked by some out-of-state media about playing home games off campus earlier this year during the weekly Missouri Valley teleconference. Paraphrasing, he said it was a bad idea and it wouldn’t happen again if he has anything to say about it.

Obviously, the circumstances with the agreement with Montana are completely different here except for the fact that the short-term competitive interests of the team were secondary to other factors of debatable importance.

Getting top-level programs to visit the DakotaDome? A worthy goal, no question, and one that Sayler cited when the announcement of the arrangement with Montana came out. But at what competitive cost? Coaches will project toughness in these situations and Glenn didn’t disappoint on Tuesday on that count, saying it’s not a coach’s place to consider those decisions.

 “Don’t worry about the mules going blind,” he could have said (but didn’t). “Just load the wagon.”

Any squawking about things being too difficult would seem like whining to some, but there isn’t a school in the nation that does not try to weave what I would call “reasonable challenges” into a non-conference  schedule. Montana’s appearance is conspicuous both because of the perennial quality of that program and cumbersome timing of the visit, tucked as it is into a month that already includes Youngstown State, SDSU and NDSU.

Had the Coyotes won last week, they’d still be harboring realistic playoff hopes right now. The idea of then having to play a late-season game with Montana would have seemed a cruel joke perpetuated on the program by an athletic director who left town.

As it is, it remains what was in 2011 an avoidable inconvenience. Somehow, some way, the powers that be could have respected the fact that with UC Davis, Northern Arizona and Kansas on the 2013 schedule, they were asking enough of the football team. Making the Coyotes play Montana in November a week before the SDSU game was piling on.

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