Leathernecks next up — again

Another close loss to Western Illinois is not anything new for the USD men’s basketball team. The squads had two two-point games this year with the Leathernecks winning both and the second game between the two teams last year was also a two-point USD loss.

All three of those games were tough to deal with – the close losses the last two years keep piling up – but it would also seem to confirm this will not be a standard co-champion vs. also-ran matchup next Saturday at The Arena. Western Illinois is hobbled with power forward Terell Parks suffering a foot injury in a BracketBuster game against Cleveland State. Parks is one of the top rebounders and defenders in the league who also has a strong offensive presence. His status for next Saturday is uncertain and the team isn’t giving out a ton of info on that so far.

Resilience in a losing cause is a tough way to go through a basketball season, but the Coyotes continue to supply it. Juevol Myles missed a shot with six seconds left that could have made things even more interesting but the only reason it was a decisive shot was because the dude had been going nuts up to that point. He hit two 3-pointers and a layup in the last 44 seconds that had an unusually large crowd of 5,089 momentarily wondering whether the Necks were going to be able to secure a co-championship with SDSU in the last regular-season game.

Western Illinois was a surprise championship game team at the Summit tournament last year and nearly pulled off an upset of SDSU in the final. Given the environment and the quality of the opponent in that contest, you’d have to figure the veteran Leatherneck squad will not be fearing the idea that there might be a few people in the seats this year who want the other team to win.

If you look at it from the other side, Western Illinois isn’t enjoying the greatest luck. You earn a share of the title and your reward is that you’re playing a seventh seed that took games down to the last seconds twice with you during the regular season. In addition, you have to play that seventh seed with a home crowd watching them. Plus, your big gun underneath is extremely iffy. That’s what you call a bad hand.

Based on the recent history with WIU, USD has a decent opening-round shot at advancing, though the Leathernecks remain a difficult matchup physically and seem to be conspicuously tough mentally. Ceola Clark, who drove the length of the court at the DakotaDome in the last seconds to beat USD, is a gamer. My feeling is that if USD becomes dependent on Myles, Trevor Gruis and Brandon Bos for all the shots on Saturday, they’re going to lose. If somebody from the second-tier of scorers on the team makes significant offensive contributions, it could be a very good game. At any rate, it’s not a typical 2 vs. 7 matchup.