BY JEREMY HOECK
Am I predicting a Coyote sweep in the Summit League Tournament?
Not exactly. But keep reading.
Let’s be honest, the women’s race is basically between the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State, right? Well, not so fast. Western Illinois and IUPUI are certainly capable of stringing together three wins in a row, while no team in the league — or perhaps the nation, you could argue — has an answer for Vicky McIntyre at Oral Roberts.
On the men’s side, it’s wide open. Everyone has proven vulnerable, and keep in mind, No. 7 seed Denver pushed No. 2 seed North Dakota State to overtime both times in the regular season. And top-seeded South Dakota State just got beat by 16 points at No. 5 South Dakota last Saturday.
Either way, get ready for a wild four days at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, starting Saturday.
OK, let’s get to the predictions.
1 USD over 8 Fort Wayne: The Coyotes are just too potent and too deep.
2 SDSU over 7 Denver: Pretty much the same story.
4 Western Illinois over 5 IUPUI: Both of these teams could make a serious run at a title, but Ashley Luke will be too much for the Jags to handle.
3 Oral Roberts over 6 North Dakota State: Vicky McIntyre could very well put up 30 points & 20 rebounds in this game for ORU.
1 USD over 4 Western Illinois: Not only would this be a rematch of last year’s memorable first round game, it would be a rematch of last week’s narrow win for the Coyotes. I still think the Coyotes have too many weapons on offense.
3 Oral Roberts over 2 SDSU: In the regular season meeting in Tulsa, the Jacks held everyone not named Vicky McIntyre to 10-of-37 shooting. For some reason, I just see the Golden Eagles making a run into the finals.
1 USD over 3 Oral Roberts: The Coyotes repeat as Summit League champs and reach the NCAA Tournament, and are later sent to Iowa City as a 14 seed.
— — — —
1 SDSU over 8 Western Illinois: The Jackrabbits everyone saw in a 16-point loss at USD on Saturday isn’t the same team they’ll see at the tournament. I don’t see this one being all that close.
5 USD over 4 Fort Wayne: The Coyotes are the hottest team in the league, having won five of their last six. Tyler Larson is a difference maker on both ends. USD is never really out of a game because of its scrappy nature.
7 Denver over 2 North Dakota State: Brett Olson is playing better of late for the Pioneers, and remember, Denver pushed the Bison to overtime in both regular season meetings.
3 Oral Roberts over 6 IUPUI: Obi Emegano is hot of late, scoring 34 and 25 points in the final two regular season games for ORU. Even without Korey Billbury, I see the Golden Eagles winning this one.
5 USD over 1 SDSU: A rematch of the regular season finale. Certainly this won’t be a 16-point win for either side, but I just don’t see the Jacks has having enough consistent offense to win. Cody Larson will likely have another monster game, but when the Coyotes start sharing the ball, they’re a tough team to beat.
7 Denver over 3 Oral Roberts: The half-court, slow-paced nature of Denver’s attack should cause problems for the Golden Eagles. And hey, this is a wide open race, so why not a No. 7 seed in the championship?
7 Denver over 5 USD: In the last meeting in Vermillion, Brett Olson was nearly unstoppable, hitting 7-of-10 three-point shots. Cam Griffin also caused problems for the Coyotes, who aren’t exactly the biggest team in the world. Ultimately, I think the Pioneers are able to grind out a close win to capture the title.
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION – As he discussed the previous day’s championship, Dave Gottsleben paused and said, “We’re rolling right now.”
The veteran men’s track coach at the University of South Dakota has a point.
His program captured its third consecutive Summit League indoor title, beating North Dakota State by 49.5 points on Saturday in Fargo. The 222 points scored by the Coyote men wasn’t the most they’ve scored in their string of titles, but it was certainly more than Gottsleben estimated.
“We performed better than I think a lot of us thought we could,” he said Sunday. “We were very excited. It was a phenomenal performance by our kids.”
And it’s been the same story for a while now.
Including the indoor and outdoor meets, the USD men have won three straight Summit League titles, and four of the last five – the one exception was a second-place finish in the 2013 outdoor meet in Fargo.
Since joining the Division I ranks in 2009, the Coyote men’s program has finished first or second in 12 of the 13 conference meets, including USD’s 3-year stay in the Great West Conference.
One of the main catalysts for the string of three indoor titles in a row may very well center on the 2013 indoor meet in Vermillion, Gottsleben said. There was understandably a sense of comfort, and from there, that confidence resulted in USD winning the 2014 indoor title out in Fort Wayne, Indiana – and then Saturday in Fargo.
“I have great respect for North Dakota State track program, it’s always been phenomenal,” Gottsleben said. “We’ve been fortunate to hang in there with them.”
In all over the weekend, the Coyotes had the top time or mark in eight of the 17 events. Highlighting that effort was junior Teivaskie Lewin and sophomore Mach Dojiok, who each won two events.
Lewin, a junior college transfer, easily won the 60-meter hurdles and later won the 200-meter dash. He was honored as the Track Championship MVP.
“There was no one like him at the meet this weekend,” said Gottsleben, who was again named Coach of the Year. “He’s certainly a big-time Division I athlete.”
Lewin is also in contention for a spot in the D-I National Indoor Meet, which takes the top 16 athletes in each event. As of Sunday evening, Lewin was sitting in a tie for 15th nationally in the 60-meter hurdles with his clocking of 7.79.
Dojiok, also a cross country runner for the Coyotes, won the mile run and later took first place in the 800-meter run.
Also winning individual events for USD were Kyle McKelvey in the shot put (breaking teammate Cody Snyder’s school record from a week ago), Gawain Williams in the 60-meter dash (and was named Newcomer of the Championship), Tyler Frank in the high jump and Jeff O’Connell in the long jump (he was named Field Championship MVP).
On the women’s side, the Coyotes finished second at the indoor meet with 180.5 points, well behind champion North Dakota State (231).
The USD women won one event, by freshman Sierra Maddox in the pole vault, but the Coyotes went 1-2-3-5-7-8 in the event. Freshman Shanice Cannigan earned Newcomer of the Championship honors after a trio of second-place finishes, in the pentathlon, in the 60-meter hurdles and as part of the runner-up 1600-meter relay.
Both Coyote teams will now turn their attention to the outdoor season, which begins March 20 with a pair of meets and will conclude May 13-15 with the Summit League meet in Macomb, Illinois.
“If you haven’t been to a conference meet at our level, it’s very exciting,” Gottsleben said. “Everyone’s in a small, enclosed space, and the noise factor is really big.
“It’s really exciting, and our kids have made it even more exciting.”
BY JEREMY HOECK
Charlie Creme has spent 11 years projecting the NCAA women’s basketball tournament for ESPN.
It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but as he says, it’s not a bad way to earn a living.
As you can imagine, it always leads to criticism from fans: ‘Why do you have so-and-so as a 5 seed and not a 4?’ and so on.
The way Creme tells it, “I don’t have a dog in the fight. My only agenda is that I would be right.”
In his most recent bracket projections, Creme has the University of South Dakota women as a No. 15 seed playing No. 2 Baylor in Waco, Texas.
A year ago, the Coyote women won the Summit League tournament and earned a 15 seed into the NCAA Tournament, where they were sent to Ames, Iowa, to play Stanford in the first round.
With a week until this year’s Summit League tournament, Creme took time Thursday afternoon to chat with the Press & Dakotan about the NCAA Tournament selection process and where the USD women could find themselves if they repeat as league champions — hint, Iowa could be an option again.
Jeremy: What’s the easiest way to describe how you go about projecting the field?
Charlie: What I try, as best as one person can, to do is mimic the process the committee goes through, and evaluate teams from the same criteria (top 25 wins, top 50 wins, road/neutral records, conference records). They have conversations about it and they take votes. My wife will substantiate that I have conversations with myself, or I’ll talk to the TV or the dog (laughs), so I can’t exactly mimic that part.
The committee takes a group of teams, probably 6-8, then they’ll use some of the criteria in that group. As a group of 10 they’ll have conversations on those teams and then vote. I can’t exactly do that, but I’ll rate teams out in groups. I’m voting in a sense.
It’s not 10 people, it’s the opinion of the same data by one person. I try to mimic that, because that’s my job. It’s not necessarily our opinion of what we think the tournament should look like, but it’s our opinion of what the committee goes through.
This year the committee did something they never have. They gave us the top 20 teams and their number one seeds in order. Their list differed from my list. They had Tennessee as a No. 1 and I had Baylor. They had three teams in the top 20 I had outside my top 20, and vice versa. I had to take that into account in my next bracket. I changed.
My job is to mimic the committee. The more I know, the more I’ll adapt.
I would imagine that would make fans feel better, right? That it’s not a total guess and you’d be unwilling to adjust your bracket based on the criteria.
You’ll hear (ESPN men’s bracketologist) Joe Lunardi say that, ‘I don’t necessarily feel that way, but this is the way the committee will look at this team, or this group of teams.’
I don’t have a dog in the fight, my only agenda is that I would be right. That’d be good for job preservation. It’s not necessarily my job to be right, it’s to be accurate.
How does the committee evaluate mid-major schools like South Dakota?
It’s in the same way, but there are other things in the mix. With the top four seeds, they’re evaluated in their place. But once you get past the top four seeds, the committee, they’re allowed to move a team’s seed line if it helps in the procedures.
I’ll move the mid majors around based on geography. For example, if New Mexico State comes in as a 14, and if I put them as a 14, maybe the No. 3 seeds are all East Coast based. But there’s a 4 seed that’s further west, it would help with travel and fans would be more likely to come to the game. That’s what the commitee would do. Geography is not an official policy, but it’s something they try to do. It just makes sense. Even though now they’re a lower seed, and it may be in some way offensive to that program, it just makes more sense in the whole scheme.
Where do you project the South Dakota women?
In the last bracket, they were the top 15 seed, the best of the 15s. I could certainly change it.
If South Dakota is located closer to Corvallis or Waco, because South Dakota is the top 15 seed, I probably should have had them in Oregon State, rather than Montana there. That was something I missed. I usually calculate mileage, but I didn’t in this instance. In reality, that’s the discussion that goes into that.”
What could they do to improve that seed by a place or two?
In their case, they would have to win the Summit tournament, or they’re going to the WNIT. If they do win it, it probably revolves around what happens around them.
Example, SD is the best 15, 57 on the overall board.
For example, if Maine or Albany wins the America East tournament, that winner would be much lower than South Dakota, so that’d be one slot South Dakota would jump up. Or if Liberty fails to win the Big South, and say High Point, they’d slot in behind South Dakota, so that would bump up South Dakota another spot.
The difference between 56 and 57 is negligible, but someone has to be there. There wouldn’t be a debate about the 56th or 57th best teams, but it’s the same argument (as regular season polls), but it’s presented in a different way. Very interesting part of the whole process, people get fired up, how could you make Maryland not a number one seed? If two months ago, if we were in the conversation, is there really that much angst about it, during the regular season rankings? IT’s actually the same discussion, but nobody sees it that way. Essentially its the committee doing its own rankings.
Could Iowa City be an option for South Dakota?
It could be, yeah. For instance, if they would move to a 14 and Iowa was a 3, that would certainly be a scenario that would play out under normal and predictable circumstances. Iowa’s not going to be a 2. Iowa’s a 3, that’s their ceiling. All South Dakota would have to do is move from 57 to 56. I’m not guaranteeing it, but it’s all of a sudden a real possibility. There’s such a fine line in all of this. All it would take is Maine or Albany not winning the American East, as I see it right now.
Or it might be that South Dakota wins a couple games this weekend, that could be enough. They would then be the last 14 seed and would have the last choice. Hawaii is the first choice of the 14s, and they’d be going to Tempe (Arizona). The next choice would be American at 14, and they’d probably be going to go Princeton (New Jersey), or probably Duke (in Durham, North Carolina). Then would come Liberty at 14, and they would probably go to Princeton or Duke. That could leave South Dakota in Iowa City. When I put Maine with Duke, South Dakota was not in the mix for a 14, so Liberty went to Iowa.
That’s how it would go. That’s the step the committee would take. At that point, they’re not necessarily matching up 57 goes with 9, that part doesn’t work anymore. It’s where it makes the most sense geographically.
If South Dakota State wins the Summit League title, where do you see them in the field?
They’re similar to South Dakota. There’s not a lot of difference. South Dakota State is the higher RPI, so that might be enough to take a look at them as a higher seed. Neither one has a top-50 win. South Dakota State might get slotted a little bit higher based on RPI, but it’d be a very similar conversation.”
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — Craig Smith and his staff like to joke that their University of South Dakota men’s basketball players should stay in a hotel in Yankton the night before a home game, and then bus over to Vermillion hours before tip-off.
The Coyotes (13-14), who won all of two road games last season, have now jumped up to eight road victories this season and rank among the nation’s best in success away from home.
“It’s a fighter’s mentality,” Smith said Monday night.
“Now we have to flip the script and have a fighting mentality whether we’re home or away.”
Exactly how they’ve found success on the road is something the coaches haven’t been able to pinpoint, but luckily — or perhaps unfortunately — the Coyotes are done with road games. They kick off a 4-game homestand tonight (Tuesday) with a lower-level game against NAIA Avila University at 7 p.m. in Vermillion.
Though they stand 7-6 and in fifth place in the Summit League, the Coyotes have won five conference games away from the DakotaDome — including wins last week at Omaha and Oral Roberts.
In terms of the national picture, Albany leads all of Division I with 11 road victories. Three others have 10, four have nine, and then there’s a 14-way tie — including the likes of Gonzaga, Northern Iowa, Wichita State and USD — with eight road wins.
The Coyotes are 8-7 in true road games and 0-3 in neutral site games (two at a Fairfield tournament and one against UNLV in Sioux Falls).
And so, technically, USD is 8-10 in games played away from Vermillion, but considering the program won six road games over the previous two seasons, it’s a drastic improvement. Not to mention an early rallying cry from the coaches.
“All summer and all fall, we probably talked about it too much to our guys,” Smith said. “We challenged them and tested them with the fact we won two road games last year.”
Again, it was a mentality, he added.
“To win on the road, you have to eliminate losing,” Smith said.
Part of that play away from home was out of necessity.
With the overlap between football and basketball in the DakotaDome, the men’s team had just three practices on its playing court before the home opener on Nov. 26. And by the time the Coyotes hosted Youngstown State nine days later, they had eight practices on their home floor.
And so, with only two of their first nine games of the season at the DakotaDome, the Coyotes had to develop some early momentum on the road — especially in league play, with five of the first seven away from Vermillion.
“As crazy as it sounds, there was a comfort level,” said Smith, who joked that it was almost like playing on a neutral floor.
“It’s been a bizarre schedule.”
Before they resume their final three Summit League regular season games, the Coyotes will tonight host Avila, a 13-12 NAIA program out of Kansas City.
With an opening in the schedule (to reach the maximum number of 31 games), the USD staff searched all across the country for a team that could play a mid-week game during conference season, Smith said.
“Not knowing with a new team, we didn’t want to have a week off and have the potential of losing your rhythm,” he said.
BY JEREMY HOECK
It’s become an almost annual tradition: The Wednesday after National Signing Day, South Dakota State head football coach John Stiegelmeier visits the Yankton Quarterback Club luncheon.
And his speeches are becoming routine, as well: Recapping another run to the FCS national playoffs and another strong recruiting class.
Those were the two main topics in Stiegelmeier’s visit Wednesday, but as I detailed in a story, he also spent quite a bit of time talking about the facility upgrades in Brookings.
Many other issues were discussed and Stiegelmeier was asked a wide array of questions – one in particular: How many times a season do you wish you were back in Selby, sorting hay?
Yes, it’s always an interesting hour at Yankton Quarterback Club.
On the playoff loss to NDSU
Stiegelmeier called it “the toughest loss in my coaching career.” Said his coaches did a “phenomenal job preparing our players.”
The Jackrabbits took a 24-20 lead with 3 minutes and 18 seconds left in the game up in Fargo. North Dakota State, though, responded with a touchdown with a 54 seconds remaining.
On Kellen Soulek
The redshirt freshman defensive lineman from Freeman played in 12 games and recorded two sacks.
Stiegelmeier said he is proud of the Yankton High School graduate “in every phase of his life,” and that if Soulek stays on track he could be an All-Conference type player.
The coach also said he believes if Soulek played on the offensive side of the ball he could be a potential NFL prospect.
On 2015 recruiting class
Stiegelmeier said SDSU had 13 commitments by the end of the season, partially because of the rise of social media and high school players committing earlier and earlier.
With 21 scholarship and 19 non-scholarship players in the class, Stiegelmeier said if you line up every player, you couldn’t tell the difference.
On the new Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex (SJAC)
Stiegelmeier said officials from AstroTurf were in Brookings on Monday to discuss turf proposals for SDSU’s new outdoor football field.
The coach was later asked about his thoughts on grass vs. turf on the new field, and Stiegelmeier said, “I like grass, but I don’t like when a high school team plays on it on a Friday night and there’s two inches of rain.” Naturally, that tears up the field at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.
Stiegelmeier then said the turf eventually decided on will be soy-based, which he joked is SDSU “taking care of the ag community.”
On 1-year contracts in South Dakota
An issue that gets debated quite a bit is the state of South Dakota only offering year-to-year contracts for state employees. And Stiegelmeier’s first response? “Disappointing.”
South Dakota is the only state in the nation to have such a policy, but Stiegelmeier said he believes a change will eventually happen. The policy, he said, is “not a Division I mentality.”
One of the questions Stiegelmeier said he gets asked by every parent of a prospective recruit is, “Will you be there for my son?’” And as you can imagine, that’s hard to answer when you’re not on a long-term contract.
Though, as the coach joked, “Just keep winning and you’ll have a job.”