The impact of beating the Gophers?

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

The University of South Dakota men’s basketball program had been close before. There had been near misses at one of those attention-grabbing wins over a high major conference opponent.

Close. But no wins to show for it.

Until Saturday.

That oh-for streak against high major teams came to an end when the Coyote men upended Minnesota 85-81 in double overtime Saturday in Minneapolis. Not only did USD pick up its first win in the series with the Gophers in 15 games, it ended Minnesota’s 47-game home win streak in non-conference games – a streak that ranked second nationally behind Duke.

Granted, the Gophers aren’t a top-25 team and by all accounts, could be in for a rough season, but a win over a Big Ten Conference opponent is nothing to take lightly. You’re beating a big boy team on their home court. That’s not a game you’re expected to win.

It’s nearly happened before for USD. Everyone remembers last season’s double OT loss at Creighton. There was also an 11-point loss at Stanford last season. The season before that, the Coyotes nearly beat Kansas State — losing by two points. Before that, USD had played such Power 5 opponents as Iowa, Nebraska (twice), Wisconsin, Texas Tech, Oregon State and Notre Dame.

It was bound to happen at some time. USD was going to pick up a win in one of those guarantee games.

Much like USD found out when it beat the Gophers in a 2010 football game, it’s a win that will resonate around the region. It’s a spark for your program. It could have definite recruiting benefits (USD, of course, recruits the state of Minnesota pretty heavily for basketball talent). It’s not going to somehow mean your odds of winning the Summit League title got better, but it’s nonetheless a feather in the cap for a program that has started to trend in the right direction under head coach Craig Smith.

When Smith was hired away from Nebraska, he openly talked about guiding USD to the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t a dream, he said, it was going to be a realistic goal. And from what we saw last season (the Coyotes won a game in the conference tournament for the first time), it appears that USD is moving that direction.

In the grand scheme of men’s basketball at the university, beating Minnesota is going to forever be a footnote brought up by fans, alumni, players and media. ‘Well, we beat Minnesota, so we know we can beat anybody.’

In the short term, though, the win over the Gophers will have a greater impact. It’s a shot in the arm for players, particularly those from that state. It’s a shot in the arm for the coaching staff. It’s a shot in the arm for the athletic department. It’s a shot in the arm on the recruiting trail; coaches could go to a kid and say, ‘Hey, we’re playing such-and-such your freshman year, and we just beat Minnesota last year. And oh by the way, we’ve got a new arena on the way.’

Exactly how the Minnesota win will impact the rest of the season for the Coyote men remains to be seen. They’ve still got non-conference games this season against Illinois, UNLV and Florida Gulf Coast, so it’s not as though Minnesota was USD’s ‘Super Bowl;’ it’s one opportunity to prove itself.

But it certainly was memorable.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

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