Summit League commissioner Tom Douple was on hand in Vermillion on Thursday to watch the USD and SDSU men battle it out for the first time in the DakotaDome since 2004.
Prior to the game, he answered a few questions from the Press & Dakotan’s Jeremy Hoeck.
If you’re a new team like USD to the league, it’s certainly a tough time to enter, with the depth. Your thoughts?
We’re having our best year in the RPI that we’ve ever had. We’ve been as high as 12th in the men’s, and that’s leveled off. Now we’re in the top 15, and the women, we’re at number 17. It’s as strong as we’ve ever been. Not only at the top, obviously we have two teams (Oral Roberts and South Dakota State) ranked fairly high, but what’s happened is the middle has really gotten strong. All those games are tough right now. It’s been a learning experience for USD to come in, no question.
Is the conference nearing a point where it could make the case for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid?
We could have an RPI of top 10, but if you don’t have your No. 1 and 2, it doesn’t really matter. Getting an at-large really depends on the top 1 or 2 being in the top 30 (of the RPI). Our goal is to continue to become a player in the mid-major ranks and move up into the top 10 of mid-major leagues.
Your thoughts on the USD-SDSU rivalry?
This is what we envisioned when we made the visits to USD, with South Dakota State already being in our conference. With the buzz it creates, the media interest, the fan interest, this is healthy for college basketball, and our league. This will continue. Our attendance is up, and obviously games like this really help. As we continue to grow our brand, games like this are really important.
The USD women have certainly adjusted well to the Summit League, sitting in third place.
We just had the player of the month announced, and (Amber) Hegge is a player; she can play. The team’s done a really great job in this first year, and it’s tough. It’s tough to learn our travel schedule, where you leave on a Wednesday and not get back on Sunday for the men, and leave on Friday and get back Tuesday for the women. All that is an adjustment into our league, but their women’s program is solid. We’re hoping they can play in either the WNIT or CBI (College Basketball Invitational); they’ll be a strong candidate.
How will USD building a new basketball arena help its program progress?
Playing a basketball game in a true basketball arena is a recruiting tool. Obviously for your fans and your media, it makes all the difference in the world. But what it can do to the program, where someone’s deciding on where to go to school, it’s part of what puts you over the top. I look forward to watching a game in there. It’ll be a great addition for everyone involved.