The Coyote men’s basketball team begins Summit League play Thursday night against the Western Illinois Leathernecks. The Coyotes (3-3) are coming off a pair of wins over lower-level teams at the DakotaDome and will enter the contest with three wins in their last four games.
It’s a very quick start to the conference season, especially for a team that has four new starters, three of which are six games into their Division I college careers.
On the promising side for USD is that balanced scoring — a point of emphasis Coach Dave Boots talked about at length in the preseason — is taking shape. Juevol Myles leads with a 13.5 per-game average but close behind are Tyler Flack (10.8), Karim Rowson (10.7), Trevor Gruis (10.5) and Casey Kasperbauer (9.5). That’s about as balanced as you can get, though I expect you’ll see some shifting around as the squad moves into the Summit League grind.
Rebounding is a trouble spot, with the Coyotes struggling to get much done against Division I teams so far. Big, strong guys on other teams are finding USD a flattering matchup so far.
Speaking of big strong guys, the Leathernecks, who have defeated Wabash, Buffalo and Yale and lost to SIUE, Evansville and Savannah State, have one of the better big men in the conference in Terell Parks, a 6-8, 240-pound forward averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds a game. The Leathernecks’ other all-conference level player is Ceola Clark, a two-time Summit League defensive player of the year who is also a very solid guard at the other end averaging 11 points a game.
Western Illinois lost Obi Emegano, a power guard (if there is such a thing) as a transfer to Oral Roberts after last season. Emegano was probably the best freshman in the league last year and his loss had to be a difficult situation to deal with for WIU coach Jim Molinari. The Coyotes, of course, are no strangers to that kind of a situation. (Jake Thomas is averaging more than 17 minutes a game for Marquette this year.)
The Leathernecks, who took SDSU to overtime last year in the Summit League finals, play tough defense and hang onto the ball. They lost to Savannah State by a score of 39-38 their last time out in a contest that included a 22-13 halftime score.
Talking with Coach Boots, he expects that if the Coyotes are competitive against the Leathernecks, it will be because they’re grinding it out. USD could not hit the 50-point mark in two losses to WIU last season.
USD follows with a game against IUPUI on Saturday at the Dome. Both games are doubleheaders stacked on non-conference contests for the Coyote women. The women are in a similar situation in that they’re working new players into the mix. Thursday’s game is against Idaho State (3-2). The Bengals got beat by Kansas and Kansas State but have posted wins over Boise State and the Air Force Academy. Idaho State was 24-8 a year ago with an opening round loss in the NCAA tournament to Miami. The Bengals’ top player is Cydney Horton, a forward averaging 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
The time for the first game has been moved back to 4:45 p.m., I’m assuming, to make sure the men’s game starts at 7:05 p.m.