BY JEREMY HOECK
While speaking in Yankton back in January, Joey James told the crowd at Yankton Quarterback Club that his Coyotes would be playing Stanford and Creighton the following season.
He didn’t know it at the time, but James was talking about two NCAA Tournament teams.
The new-look University of South Dakota men’s basketball team, now coached by Craig Smith, gave Stanford — a Sweet 16 participant last season — a solid run three weeks, falling 84-73 out in California.
Now comes the Bluejays.
The Coyotes (3-6) travel to Omaha, Nebraska on Tuesday night for an 8:15 p.m. nationally-televised game against Creighton — another NCAA Tournament team from last season, having reached the third round.
It’s been four years since Creighton and USD met on the basketball court, and put simply, a lot has changed on either side.
The last meeting was the 2010 CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) down in Omaha, with Creighton — then led by coach Dana Altman — winning by 11. The Coyotes, of course, were coached by Dave Boots, who resigned prior to the 2013-14-season — replaced by James for one season.
A season ago, Creighton went 27-6 behind eventual Player of the Year Doug McDermott and was sent home by Baylor in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Greg McDermott had to replace four starters, but his Bluejays are off to a 7-2 start.
Among their early non-conference wins this season, the Bluejays beat then-No. 18 ranked Oklahoma and Nebraska on Sunday night. Senior guard Austin Chatman paces Creighton, having started every game since the start of his sophomore season. Among the starters for the Bluejays is sophomore forward Zach Hanson, a former standout at Pierre. He averages 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds, and made his first career start against Nebraska.
The Coyotes, meanwhile, saw a 3-game win streak snapped by Youngstown State last Friday night. South Dakota, with eight newcomers, is getting 57 percent of its scoring from three guards — Brandon Bos (16.3 ppg), Tyler Larson (15.1) and Casey Kasperbauer (10.1).
How those three fare will ultimately determine how the Coyotes perform against the Bluejays, but USD is still looking for consistent play out of its post players. Senior newcomer James Hunter is averaging 3.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in only 11.1 minutes of action, while redshirt freshman reserve Austin Sparks has provided 3.1 points in 12.9 minutes off the bench.
The Coyotes, though, are significantly more athletic than they were last season, mostly through the addition of newcomers like Tre Burnette (6.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), D.J. Davis (1.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg), Duol Mayot (1.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg). You could make a stronger case, however, that Larson is to this point the team’s best player. He is averaging 7.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists to go along with his 15.1 points.
Tuesday night’s game between the Coyotes and Bluejays will be televised by FOX Sports 1, which is available regionally.