There is still time for a series of upsets to shake things up in Summit League tournament seeding, but it’s most likely the USD men will end up at No. 5 or No. 6 going into the tournament. My foggy forecast of the big show goes like this: 1. SDSU/NDSU; 2. SDSU/NDSU; 3. Fort Wayne; 4. Denver; 5. USD/W. Ill.; 6. USD/W. Ill; 7. IUPUI.
I think USD will end up getting the fifth spot, but either way it sets up a first-round game with Denver or Fort Wayne at the Arena that would be played the night of Sunday, March 9, with the winner facing either the top seed or the winner of the 2 vs. 7 game. There is about a billion percent chance that would be NDSU or SDSU in the semifinals if the Coyotes were able to win that first one against Fort Wayne or Denver.
With at least one win or one extremely competitive game logged against all but Western Illinois in the league so far this year, the Coyotes are not exactly a bargain for one of the higher seeds. Assuming (Perhaps inaccurately based on last year) that USD would bring a decent crowd to the Arena for that first-round game, the Coyotes will be a tough draw in the first round.
More importantly for the Coyotes is establishing genuine competitive confidence over the next two weekends. It starts with Omaha at home tonight and continues with Western Illinois, which slugged the Coyotes around earlier in the season, at the Dome on Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Coyotes played Omaha tough in Omaha the first time through. Like several other games this year, the wrong things happened at the end and USD lost. You could analyze the Coyotes’ series of tight losses dribble-by-dribble if you want, but they’re all essentially the same; the wrong things happen at the end.
As a fan you can look at the following weekend, with road games at NDSU and SDSU, and figure the Coyotes better win a few at the Dome this weekend. As far as the team is concerned, winning is a big deal too, but more important over the last four games is establishing a level of consistency the Coyotes can take into the tournament.
USD is coming off a 1-1 road weekend with three consecutive decent halves of basketball. Against Fort Wayne, the Coyotes couldn’t shoot very well early and when they cleared up that problem it was too late. Against IUPUI they were able to hang in there against a team they were supposed to beat. It’s not a situation the Coyotes have been put in much during the Summit League era but they handled it well enough to break up a road and conference losing streak in the process.
“Defensively we were very good against Fort Wayne, we held a good team to 38 percent shooting, so I was very happy with that,” USD coach Joey James said. “We were good enough defensively to win that game.”
USD started slow again on Saturday but was tied at 32 at half and held it together in the second half. USD got big games from Trevor Gruis, who had 18 points, Tyler Flack (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Tyler Larson (13 points), who was starting in place of a slumping Brandon Bos.
Tonight, USD will be dealing with what is likely the fastest team in the league in the Mavs, whose game is distinctively as quick as Western Illinois’ is slow.
“It’s going to be a track meet,” James said. “It’s either one or two passes and a shot or no passes and a shot. They attack the basket extremely well. They’re a scrappy group and we’re really going to have to control their guard penetration.”
James and others would love to see Bos bust out of his shooting slump this weekend. Bos is averaging 11.8 points a game but has hit just 9 of his last 52 attempts in Summit games.
Perhaps Canada’s gold medal in women’s hockey will spark the young Canuck this evening against the Mavericks. On the other hand, as you might have noticed, there are several Americans on the USD roster as well. Can they overcome Team USA’s hearbreaking loss? Time will tell, my friends, time will tell.