Tuesday, March 29, 2011
VERMILLION, S.D. -- South Dakota Football opens spring practice on Saturday, April 2 with a goal of improving its rushing attack and developing a "finishing" attitude.
After going 4-7 a year ago, USD head coach Ed Meierkort will have his troops focused on winning again, a stamp that has been placed on the program since his arrival in 2003.
Meierkort, who has a 48-30 career record at USD, will use the 15 spring practices including the April 21 spring game (7 p.m., DakotaDome) on improving the Coyotes' rushing attack and stopping the run, which, in turn, will help the team finish games.
This year's spring practices will feature two off-campus opportunities for supporters. South Dakota will open its spring practice at the Elwood Olson Stadium in Sioux City, Iowa, before returning to campus on Sunday. On April 16, the Coyotes will go to Bob Young Stadium in Sioux Falls, S.D., for another practice.
"Getting More Medieval"
"We have to get more medieval with our running game," said Meierkort, who with three wins can tie Joe Salem for third on the Coyote career wins list.
"We need to make our run game as feared as it was when we were in the North Central (Conference). It didn't matter who you were, we were going to line it up and pound it," he said.
"In this part of the country, where you are are going to play half your games in bad weather, late into the year, you have to be able to run the football."
USD's 2010 season had program-defining moments like a 41-38 win over FBS and Big Ten foe Minnesota.
But the season was mostly disappointing as inconsistency and losing fourth-quarter leads resulted in Meierkort's first losing season at USD as well as his first overall as a coach since 1999. It was also USD's first losing year since 2003. The Coyotes lost four games in which they held a fourth quarter lead.
"As we continue in the transition to DI, the ability to run the ball makes a difference. It was no different when I arrived here and we faced teams like Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota and others. You have to be committed to running the ball," said Meierkort.
"As a former defensive coordinator at Southwest State, I know how important it is to be able to run the ball. I remember we would throw it 55 times a game. You were stuck out there with our rear in the wind trying to defend. It is hard to defend when you are throwing all the time. That is why we have to run the ball - I know we will be able to throw it," said Meierkort.
"It is always important to control the clock and the number of repititions your defense is on the field. Face it this is an offensive game but you can counter that with the ability to use the ground game to your advantage," said Meierkort.
Plenty of reasons abound for excitement to be high with Coyote nation as USD enters its final season in the Great West in 2011 before beginning play in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2012.
While the Coyotes face a tough early schedule, they will have to the opportunity to face FBS bowl teams Air Force and Wisconsin of the Big Ten.
South Dakota returns 18-of-22 starters, and 12 from that group were named to the Great West Conference's first team (four) or second team (eight) squads last fall.
Quarterback -- Dante Warren (6-0, 196, Arlington Heights, IL), a second-team all-GWC selection, returns after a standout campaign in which he helped USD average 23 points along with 150 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game.
Last year, he completed 161 passes on 292 attempts for 2,137 yards with 18 tds and just six interceptions.
Warren, who completed 55.1 percent of his passes, averaged 194.3 pass yards per game and had an efficiency ranking of 132.85. He also rushed for 393 yards on 96 carries (4.1 avg. per carry) and had six TDs. Warren's 2,530 yards in total offense was the fifth best in school history.
Meierkort believes Warren is one of the best quarterbacks in the Great West Conference. "I really like what he does - he has a great arm and is fast and elusive. We need to find ways to get him on the edge more," he said.
Warren will be backed up by sophomore Tyler Wilhelm (6-4, 211, Loxahatchee, Fla.) and Kyle Cichos (6-2, 206, Pierre, S.D.).
Wilhelm played in three games a year ago, including replacing Warren in the final game of the season, competing 5-of-19 passes for 56 and rushing for 15 yards on six carries with a TD. Cichos, who threw for 2,600 yards in his prep career at Pierre Riggs High School, played one game a year ago, completing one pass for 10 yards.
Running Back -- Meierkort likes the group in the backfield, led by Chris Ganious (5-7, 188, Houston, Texas), who is back for his senior season after earning first-team all-GWC honors. A year ago he had 817 yards rushing on 188 carries with four TDs. He also had 17 receptions for 156 yards and a pair of TDs.
Ganious ranks as one of the all-time best at South Dakota. He is fourth on the career rushing list with 2,400 yards on 448 carries with 17 TDs in three seasons. He is just 114 yards away from third place on the career list. Jared Schwenn, who had 2,513 yards, from 1994-97 is third.
Junior Marcus Sims (5-10, 195, Brooklyn Park, Minn.) will be the primary backup along with sophomore Donovan Bowens (6-0, 197, Arvada, Colo.).
Sims had 52 carries for 286 yards and a TD as well as returning 16 kicks for 295 yards or 18.4 yards per return. Bowens is an athletic, physical runner with a lot of potential, says Meierkort. In limited action as a redshirt freshman, Bowens had 120 yards on 27 carries or 4.4 per tote.
Wide Receiver -- South Dakota features a dynamic throwing group. Warren will throw to a group of deep, talented receivers.
One of the best to ever put on the Coyote red is junior Will Powell (6-1, 204, Sioux Falls, S.D.). The O'Gorman graduate, who was USD's team MVP in 2010, had a team-high 47 receptions for 933 yards with 10 TDs, a total which ranked second all-time. He averaged 84.8 yards per game.
Powell, a second team all-Great West performer, broke out in the win over the Gophers in 2011 with 156 yards receiving and two TDs. Four times he cracked 100 yards receiving and his 933 yards is the third best single season total in school history. While he is likely to see limited action this spring, he will be a dynamic force in 2011.
Senior wide receiver Dusty Novotny (6-3, 215, Rapid City, S.D.) comes back after catching 34 passes for 489 yards and a TD. He had a career-best eight catches for 96 yards against Southern Utah last season.
Novotny's crucial catch on third down in the closing minutes against Minnesota prevented the Gophers from getting the ball back and a chance to take a late game win.
It is typical of his big catch capability, said Meierkort. "Dustin is one of the most underrated players we have. He makes big catches and is unafraid to go over the middle," said Meierkort.
Junior Tom Flanagan (5-9, 185, Lakewood, Colo.) had 34 catches for 324 yards and two TDs. He is one of the league's best YAC (yards after catch) guys, says Meierkort.
Another factor on offense will be speedster Jeremy Blount (5-9, 157, Tampa, FL), a senior who had nine receptions for 163 yards and a score during his junior campaign. He is also a dynamic kick returner with 29 returns for 621 yards, including a 78 yard return. Blount also had 12 punt returns for 200 yards or an outstanding 16.7 yards per return.
"We have to get the ball to Jeremy more," said Meierkort. "He can make things happen."
Tight End -- The loss of second-team all-GWC tight end London Landry will hurt. He had 17 catches for 149 yards and two TDs. However Meierkort feels tight end will be a strength again for USD. "We are always good there," he says.
This spring Michael Neilson (6-33, 218, Gilbert, Ariz.) will shift back to his natural tight end position after spending time at defensive end.
The senior will be tested for the starting spot by Jay Burns (Jr., 6-3, 245, Kansas City, KS), Joel DeJongh (Jr., 6-3, 237, Rock Rapids, Iowa), and Kayl Barkley (fr., 6-3, 250, Conway Springs, KS).
Line -- Leading the "big uglies" up front will be Tom Compton, a 6-6, 311 pound senior offensive tackle from Rosemount, Minn. He has been called "the best offensive lineman I have had at USD," by Meierkort.
Compton, who was first-team all-GWC and a Phil Steele FCS Postseason All-American selection, is a NFL prospect and he will lead a senior dominated group up front that also includes R.J. Polley (Sr., 6-6, 300, Albert Lea, Minn.) and Brent Johnson (Sr., 6-5, 304, Jewell, Iowa).
Tim Ross (Jr., 6-2, 280, Arvada, Colo.) returns at center and will be backed up by Broc Gullett (Sr., 6-3, 276, Buckeye, Ariz.). Cody O'Neill (6-2, 309, Haward, IL) is another stalwart up front.
Meierkort also noted that he has a group of redshirt freshmen who will contribute. They include Matt Huffer (Rfr., 6-7, 240, Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Andrew Schofield (Rfr., 6-5, 260, Orchard Park, Ill.), Marc Murtha (So., 6-6, 287, Maple Grove, Minn.) and Adam Praska (Rfr., 6-5, 312, Elma, Iowa).
Defensive Line -- Senior Jesse Weisbrod (6-5, 275, Waupaca, Wis.), an all-GWC second team selection, leads a deep, and physical bunch along the defensive front. Weisbrod finished the 2011 campaign with 20 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss, and three quarterback sacks.
While the defensive front is virtually intact from a year ago, Meierkort knows the group needs to generate a bigger pass rush. "We need more pressure upfront," he said.
Weisbrod is joined upfront by David Giese (6-3, 268, Chicago, Ill.), a junior who had 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a pair of quarterback sacks; Evan Capper (6-1, 279, Arlington, Iowa), a senior who had 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback sackls and a fumble recovery: Sidney Bazemore (6-3, 240, Chicago, Ill.), a senior who had 11 tackles and a tackle for loss; and Jordan Eaton (6-5, 230, St. Paul, Minn.), a junior who had 24 tackles, six tackles for loss, three quarterback sacks, a fumble recovery and forced fumble.
Another player expected to contribute includes sophomore Tyler Starr (6-5, 236, Little Rock, Iowa), an athletic and potentially dominating force.
Redshirt freshman Chase Irvin-Salazar (6-4, 241, Lee's Summit, Mo.), redshirt freshman Kenny Greer (6-3, 276, Barrington, Ill.), and junior Donny Alves Fortes (6-3, 280, Boise, Idaho) will also vye for time up front.
Linebackers -- South Dakota has a strong group of linebackers returning, led by senior inside linebacker Adam Broders, a first-time all-GWC selection.
Broders (6-2, 220, Bloomfield, Neb.) had 75 tackles, six tackles for loss, one interception, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick in 2010.
Other inside linebackers who will contribute include senior Kyle Wheeler (6-1, 224, Omaha, Neb. 11 tackles), Snow College junior college transfer Zack Wilson (6-1, 220, Bountiful, Utah), junior Tim Marlette (6-0, 217, Sioux Falls, S.D., 14 tackles, one tackle for loss), redshirt freshman Kyle Guziec (6-4, 215, Lake Forest, Ill.) and sophomore Kelan Richardson (6-1, 211, Lake City, Iowa).
On the outside at the "Sam" spot will be senior Andrew Meier (6-4, 220, Gurthrie Center, Iowa), who had 44 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss a year ago. He is supported by junior Darius Hogens (6-1, 215, Las Vegas, Nev.), who had 23 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in 2010.
At the "Yote" backer spot will be USD's leading tackler Shea Williams (6-2, 224, Alexandria, S.D.), a senior who had 89 tackles, 6.4 tackles for loss, three quarterback sacks and two fumble recovery.
"We moved Williams to that hybrid spot last year so we could generate more pass rush out of him," said Meierkort.
Williams is backed up by junior Elliot Harper (6-1, 220, Chandler, Ariz.), who had 11 tackles with 1.5 tackle for loss and a quarterback sack; along with D'Angelo Butler (6-1, 205, Las Vegas, Nev.), a junior who played in two games a year ago before an injury ended his season.
Secondary -- Meierkort is happy with the progress of this unit. "We have improved drastically here," he said.
Cornerback -- All-GWC selection Marquis Butler leads a talented group of corners. Butler (6-0, 182, Los Angeles, Calif.) is a senior coming off a stellar season with 48 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, one interception and four pass breakups.
On the other side will be sophomore Demetrius Turner (5-11, 177, Tampa, Fla.), a sophomore with 18 tackles, two interceptions, including one that he returned for a defensive score.
Butler and Turner are supported by sophomore Chris Frierson (6-1 173, Tampa, Fla.), who was a big-play reserve for South Dakota, He had 34 tackles, one tackles for loss, one quarterback sack and two interceptions. Alphonso Valdez (5-9, 177, Tampa, Fla.) is a junior who had 15 tackles and two pass breakups at the corner.
Safety -- "We feel really good about our safety play, although this spring we will be looking for our fourth safety, "said Meierkort.
The group is led by Minnesota transfer and second team all-GWC selection Shane Potter (6-2, 207, Becker, Minn.), a senior who had 76 tackles, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
"Shane is probably our best defensive player," said Meierkort.
Aaron Swift (5-8, 164, Aurora, Colo.) made a big impression as a true freshman in 2010 with 61 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and four pass breakups.
USD also returns Minnesota transfer Jim Thompson (6-1, 212, Hayward, Minn.), a senior who had his 2010 season ended by an early season injury.
Redshirt freshman Chris Lundy (5-9, 155, Tampa, Fla.), will add depth in the secondary.
Special Teams -- The play of a team's special team units is crucial to a turnaround season.
Meierkort has two top-flight kickers returning, including junior All-American (Phil Steele Football Championship Subdivision Postseason squad) and all-GWC selection Cole Zwiefelhofer. The junior (6-3, 206, Chippewa Falls, Minn.) averaged 43.2 yards per kick on 53 punts for 2,290 yards. He placed 18 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
The place-kicking duties will again be held by sophomore Kevin Robb, (5-9, 185, Rapid City, S.D.), who was second-team all-GWC. He made 29-of-32 extra points and 12-of-16 field goals for 65 points. Robb had a career-long of 49 yards.
Pack Bits and Pieces
~ Spring ball dates back to at least 1914 and was probably installed by Rev. James Henderson a few years earlier.
~ Fourth year coach Adam Breske and third year coach Jake Sprague have been named co-defensive coordinators.
~Former Coyote All-American and Harlon Hill Trophy runner-up Wesley Beschorner is in his sixth season at USD and beginning his third year as offensive coordinator.
~ When USD upset Minnesota, 41-38, at TCF Bank Stadium in 2010, it was the Coyotes' first win over the Gophers since 1912 when USD took a 10-0 decision at Northrup Field in Minneapolis.
The 1912 team was considered one of the greatest in school history and finished the season 5-1, losing only at Michigan, 7-6. In that game the Coyotes led, 6-0, until 40 seconds remained and the Wolverines, led by legendary coach Fielding Yost, scored on fourth down from inside the one-yard line.
During that campaign, Coach Rev. James Henderson's Coyotes defeated SDSU, 73-6; North Dakota, 44-0; and Creighton, 68-0.
~A year ago, the Minnesota win and Dante Warren's performance brought some unchartered national honors to the football program. Warren accounted for five TDs and 433 yards in total offense to key USD's win over Minnesota last season, which ranks among the greatest all-time performances by a Coyote player. On his career day, he completed 21-of-32 passes for 352 yards and three TDs.
His spectacular plays included a 61-yard TD pass to Will Powell early in the third quarter and a 36-yard "naked bootleg" for a TD on 4th and one in the fourth quarter.
As a result, Warren was named a College Sporting News All Star and was named the Sports Network/Fathead.com National Player of the Week. He was also on the ballot for the AT&T/ESPN All American Player of the Week and the Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week (finished second in balloting).
~ South Dakota's first signficant DI win happened in 1899 when the Coyotes defeated Nebraska, 6-5. It was the first game played between the two schools and the only one in history contested at Vermillion.
Noteworthy is the fact that USD did not have a full-time coach at the time. In an exhibition of sportsmanship, the rough-and-tumble rugby like football in 1899 also included a social side. Following the game, USD hosted the Nebraska players in a gathering that include dinner, billards and interaction. The next morning the Nebraska players hopped on a train and headed back to Lincoln.
Monday, March 14, 2011
As March Madness gets underway, a different type of madness may have been penetrated the administration walls at Nebraska-Omaha, where football and wrestling were cut to help deal with deep financial problems in the athletics department. http://www.omaha.com/article/20110313/MAVS/303139964
In a move announced on Sunday, UNO will move to Division I and become the newest member of the Summit League. While cutting football and wrestling, the department will add men's soccer and golf and "invest more heavily" in baseball, and women's basketball. It is a move that administrators say will enable the program to find footing.
UNO A.D. Trev Alberts said that football was a "heavy drain" on the departments $9.5 million budget. If they go Division I, substantial investment would be have been needed in the wrestling program. Therefore in the long term interests of the entire athletics program, UNO is moving on without two of its premier and most historically successful programs. It should be pointed out that the Summit League does not sponsor football and wrestling and that if UNO moved to DI, they face an NCAA moratorium of June 1 to make the move.
While nearly everyone was fixated on who was going to make the NCAA Division I basketball tournament, student-athletes in football and wrestling at UNO were hit with this political tsunami of sorts. It sounds strange that you would drop football and wrestling as you are making the move into Division I. But administrators say they can rectify the financial situation by taking football out of the equation.
On UNO chat boards, there are many that believe that there was a conspiracy against UNO football, which has been around for 100 years. In 1954, its undefeated, untied team won the Tangerine Bowl (now Florida Citrus Bowl), and also won seven NCC titles before that league disbanded a few years ago. UNO has participated in the NCAA Division II playoffs seven times. Several players, including Marlin Briscoe, Chris Bober and Chris Cooper played in the NFL. The wrestling program is one of the best at Division II with three consecutive national titles and six championships in the past eight seasons.
Now I don't know Trev Alberts, the AD at Nebraska-Omaha, nor do I know John Christensen, the UNO Chancellor. They obviously have had some tough decisions to make. The UNO athletic program has been struggling to find grounding for several years. Tough decisions were obviously at their feet. As pointed out in Tom Shatel's column in the Omaha World Herald, there were many financial reasons behind the move. Shatel agreed with the decision. Others not so much.
What I find at fault is the uncaring and insensitive handling that Alberts and Christensen showed those impacted by this decision, ranging from the coaches to alumni to, and I might add most importantly, the students and their families.
When you have a public persona, as is the case with most universities and colleges, it behooves an open process with major change is in the mix.
For these student-athletes to hear that your program was ending only a few days after you worked with the A.D. on hiring some new staff and football announced a new recruiting class of 20, and then to have it happen in a late night meeting, well that is wrong handed. It is not only improper administrative behavior but is cold, heartless and disrespectful. At the very least Alberts and Christensen could have waited until the wrestling team and coach Mike Denney had returned home. To announce a press conference and let word leak out before they had come back to campus smacks of insensitivity.
Alberts was a standout football player at Nebraska, who was drafted high in the NFL draft. I would think that along the way the former Husker would value face-to-face communication. It doesn't appear on the face that he does.
Alberts and Christiansen have egg all over their suits. This situation demanded a face-to-face discussion with the student-athletes after visiting with the coaches. They should have informed Behrns that his program was on the verge of ending. To allow him to hire a coach very recently is bad management and not very human. Take the case of the new hire, he gets his family ready to move to Omaha and begins preparing for a new life. Now, shockingly he has to see if he can get his old job back or set out looking for something new. And, what about the 20 recruits, they think long and hard about where to go and then weeks after they make that decision, the University casts them aside without consideration.
This insensitive noncommunication administrative decision rubs me the wrong way. Student-athletes and their families deserve better. Think back for a moment, especially all of you that competed. From a young age, you worked hard and laid out your heart and soul into your sport. You wanted to be the best you could be and the team was important. When student-athletes chose the UNO wrestling and football programs, it was a family decision. Most of these student-athletes thought long and hard about attending the institution. After they arrived, they spent endless hours in the weight room, on the practice field and in the classroom attempting to remain eligible. They became your school's greatest PR tools. Everywhere they went, they talked about how they loved it in Omaha, how it was great competing for the school.
The University has said it will do right by the students by honoring scholarships and try to help the 150 student-athletes impacted find another school.
I also think of the rage that many UNO alumni are feeling, especially those who gave their heart and soul to competing for the school. Why were they not informed of this process? Especially major donors like Van Deeb, a former UNO football player, who was ready to make a substantial financial gift. Well now, he will pull that donation and is leaving the UNO Athletic Board that he has served on for 18 years. He steps away from a university that has been such a big part of his life. He said the 100-year tradition of UNO football is being destroyed and he wants no part of it. http://www.ketv.com/r/27209630/detail.html
David Sokol, a major athletic donor and successful Omaha businessman, said he heard nothing and he is seething over this decision. http://omaha.com/article/20110315/NEWS01/703159891#sokol-mavs-sacrificed-for-huskers
The legacy of the football and wrestling programs were virtually cast out in space. It will be as if what they did there had no merit. Sokol says that UNO caved to pressure that Nebraska wouldn't support another Division I program, even at the FCS level. And, Alberts has had numerous discussions with his former coach, Tom Osborne, the current AD at Nebraska. What they discussed we don't know. However in 2006, a Nebraska regent, Chuck Hasselbrook, said that UNO football should be cut, a proposal he had made 10 years prior. Hasselbrook said that he supported athletics but only to a level that didn't cut problems in the school's academic mission. http://www.ketv.com/r/9478574/detail.html
Sokol's reaction is heavy and maybe over the top. Still, you can't tell me that Nebraska regents didn't want the two programs competing for the state's best athletes. Osborne even admitted that he wouldn't jump in joy over UNO move up a level. Whether Sokol is right or overreacting probably will only come out in time.
Let me be clear, politics and unfeeling business decisions are not unfamiliar to the athletics landscape in colleges across the country. I can understand why decisions are reached to do what you deem as the best for the longevity of the institution. And, in all honesty, this move may prove beneficial to the university. If they can turn a leaking financial athletics ship around, it may prevent that vessel from going under.
This decision of cutting programs wasn't taken lightly by the UNO administration or any other school, including Sioux Falls that also cut a solid wrestling program in recent weeks. In our economy-challenged world, unforeseen circumstances have resulted in the victimization of millions of people. These young men and their families are now enjoined in the victimization process. They have indeed learned a very tough life lesson.
Most of them will move on and learn from this. Some will voice their displeasure but most will simply pack up and move on to another stop in their life.
In a world where new communication technologies are evolving, UNO failed to use the one that has been here forever - face to face straight talk. It is not how you treat rivals and it should never be the way you treat your friends and family.
I am encouraged that the Summit League, and schools like USD, SDSU, NDSU, Northern Iowa, and others gain a midwestern colleague. But I am not encouraged by the cold way it happened.
Mr. Alberts and Mr. Christiansen both said this was a tough decision. But I think gentlemen, when your kids go to college and participate in some activities, I sure hope they don't get sideswiped the way you did to these young UNO football and wrestling student-athletes, their families and coaches.
It is too late to apologize to them and you won't. Your actions are your words.
Identity problems? South Dakota State University might be feeling a little disrespected lately. First ESPNU continually referred to its women's basketball team as San Diego State during the Summit League Championship game. Now, the Nebraska marketing people put up the University of South Dakota logo behind the name South Dakota State. http://plixi.com/p/84211382
Saturday, March 12, 2011
That old friend is The University of South Dakota men's basketball team. In a season in which the Coyotes have struggled at times to play .500 basketball, they have surged at the end of the season, meriting attention. Since they were 12-13, the Coyotes have won 6-of-7 games, including a pair of heart-stopping games at the Great West Conference Tournament. USD, which has won four straight GWC games, will do battle at 7:30 p.m. central time with North Dakota for the GWC title.
In this battle of Dakotas, the Coyotes will have to win without the services of Charlie Westbrook, their first-team All-GWC guard/forward. However, they have won the first two games without Westbrook's services, sneaking past Chicago State, 73-70 in overtime and then taking a 72-70 win over top seed Utah Valley State. While their semifinal win included a few breaks and a little luck, they continue to win, moving to 18-14 on the season.
As the Coyotes look forward to a match up with their old NCC rival, North Dakota, they will try and end a two-game losing streak to the Sioux. North Dakota has controlled the action in both games, winning, 83-73 at the DakotaDome, and 75-62, at Grand Forks. In the last six games over three seasons, the teams have split the series, 3-3.
A year ago, USD was the top seed after going 11-1 in league play and 22-10 overall. The Coyotes rallied from a double-digit deficit in the semifinals to defeat Texas Pan-American, 76-71, and then defeated Houston Baptist, 91-86. Jake Thomas had 24 points in that final and 19 in the semifinals. The win gave USD a bid in the postseason CIT tourney. While they fell to Creighton, 89-78, it was the Coyotes' first-ever DI postseason appearance. A win tonight likely sends them again to the CIT tourney where they could be matched with another old rival, South Dakota State. However, the Coyotes have to win tonight and then see what happens.
Thomas Leading Offense
Jake Thomas has thrived in the Great West Conference tournament by scoring 84 points in four games. Thomas, who was the tourney's MVP a year ago, scored 20 points in the 2011 quarterfinal win, and then added 21, including four threes, in the semifinal victory over Utah Valley State. If USD wins again, Thomas might against take home MVP honors. His running mate, Kendall Cutler, has scored 64 points in those four tournament games and had 21 points against Chicago State earlier this week. He supplied nine points, six assists and six rebounds to help USD to the win against Utah Valley State. Louie Krogman, who was held scoreless in the first half against Utah Valley State, broke through with 12 points in the second half. Krogman's points proved valuable to the Coyotes; just like in the finals a year ago when he had 13 points in the final, including five in the final two minutes.
Is 70 the right number?
In each of the Coyotes' wins the past two nights, they have limited opponents to 70 points. So, is that the right number for another win? Might be as long as USD scores at least 71 as they have in two heart-stopping wins earlier in the GWC Tournament.
Boots Keeps Piling Up Wins
With his team's victory on Friday night against top seed, South Dakota reached 18 wins for the 22nd season during the coaching tenure of Dave Boots. At 18-14, the Coyotes have recorded their 23rd straight winning season, all directed by Boots. In addition, a victory tonight gives USD its 19th win for the 21st time under Boots. He also has led the Coyotes to seven straight 20-win seasons (16 overall) and with a win tonight and a win at the CIT tourney (if USD gets a bid), he would reach that level for the eight consecutive year.
Game on TV
Coyote fans can catch the game live on Fox Sports Atlantic which is channel 317 on the Midcontinent system. Or interested fans can go to the USD website, which has audio and video links to the game. http://http//www.usdcoyotes.com/sports/mbball/release.asp?release_id=6289
Yoerger Shining for Dutch Team
Besides the Coyote men's team, another old friend is shining. Former South Dakota women's basketball standout Bridget Yoerger is continuing a successful European basketball career with Wereldtickets, which has reached the finals of the 2011 Eredivisie playoffs. In the first game of the championship series, Yoerger had 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals to help her team defeat Binnenland, 85-60. Yoerger hit 6-8 free throws and also connected on a three-point basket. Wereldtickets won again today for a 2-0 series lead but the score was unable at this posting. They play again on Tuesday on their home floor. During the regular season, Yoerger led her team to an 11-7 record and has been a keep contributor as her team has gotten hot in the playoffs. She averaged 17.4 points during the regular season, which was fourth in the league. For more about the playoffs, go to http://www.eurobasket.com/Holland/basketball.asp?NewsID=220223&Women=1
Friday, March 11, 2011
It is in lazy moments that mistakes happen - when stupidity sometimes takes hold and reigns over rational behavior.
Recently, after morning coffee at Coffea, my next stop was at Barnes and Noble in Sioux Falls, S.D., to pick up Lauren Hillenbrand's book, Unbroken, which I have been told grabs you and doesn't let go. Also, I had to get the latest copy of the New Yorker, which featured an entertaining column by Tina Fey. I love her.
With that done, I opened the hatch to the Ford Escape - thinking about one more stop before heading home. Like so many other times, I slammed the hatch shut, without paying attention to what I was doing or where my hand was situated. Not smart.
I closed the hatch on my thumb and let out a little yelp. Oh my God, that hurts. As I stood there yelling for some help, I tried to reach across my body and open the hatch, nope. Then, of all things, I grabbed my keys and hit the unlock button - what?
As I stood there hollering for help, my mother, in the front seat of the Escape, looked back with a wry expression as if I was joking. Yes, I do throw a few humorous barbs at family and friends. Like every so often, I will hit the break after pulling out onto a street as if another vehicle just appeared. Then, I will smile while my mother gives me that Ralston glaze. So, it wasn't a surprise that she hesitated a bit.
Quickly she realized I wasn't joking and she hurried to the rear of the vehicle to release the hatch. Yep, I was in pain. For a moment, I felt a little nauseated. While I moved my thumb to make sure it wasn't broke, the blood began running down my hand. My mother grabbed a Kleenex as I looked at the bloody thumb to assess the damage.
I had a pretty deep cut; I thought, maybe I better go to a doctor.
Despite the pain, my thoughts were about whether I had broken the appendage and if I was going to be able to use a computer. If broken, did that mean a full hand cast? And, back again, to the real question of the moment - how the heck did this happen?
I didn't think my thumb was broke because I could move it freely, even as my other fingers started turning a little red from by dripping blood. Finally, I cleaned it up and headed toward the medical clinic. Yes, I persevered and withstood the pain to make it to the Doc's office.
As I stood there at the counter at the clinic, I was describing to the receptionist how the injury happened. Friendly and concerned, she quickly called a nurse to get me checked out as soon as possible. I appreciated but wondered if maybe I needed a shrink instead. I mean, how stupid can a person be?
The nurse was gracious and understanding as she took my blood pressure (normal) and asked me a few questions before giving me some fluid to soak the lacerated thumb. I laid back on the table as I had my thumb numbed. Now, this medical procedure isn't like numbing your tooth for dental work. Oh no, that truly is painful and uncomfortable. When they numb a thumb, it last only a short time unlike the dental procedure when your face has lost all feeling and drinking a coffee becomes like feeding an infant. But, after the doc pricked my thumb 2-3 times, he put in four stitches and let the nurse clean me up and put on a bandage to protect the stitching.
During the quick and careful medical attention, I kept mumbling about my dim-witted and somewhat dense actions. Yet, I knew I was pretty lucky. My thumb could have been broken with that hatch slamming on it. I could have ended up with a cast, which I guess all my friends would have traveled to Sioux Falls to sign. Right?
I am just thankful the good Lord was watching over me and excusing my stupidity.
I have done stupid things before as friends and family can attest. Reading newspapers in my vehicle while driving across the state and nearly running off the road. Or, that time my brothers and I stayed up all night fishing at West Whitlocks (on Missouri River) and then tried to drive home early in the morning only to end up in the ditch. Another time, I tried driving through four feet of snow and ended up stuck in a big way. There was that morning as a teenager when I used a high intensity lamp near my bed, fell asleep, woke to a fire and used water to douse it. Guess what, it didn't work and the smoldering mattress created major smoke damage to my parent's house as the local fire department had to venture late at night to Holly Drive in Gettysburg.
I guess we all have those moments in which we have a contraction of the mind. A brain fart of sorts. As I reflect back on this latest episode and think about how to describe it, of course it requires a sport reference; this was indeed "one for the thumb." Yep, thumbs down.
I just saw this video of less than smart human actions on a post on facebook. This allows me to breathe a tad easier. http://hardfailcompilation.com/
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
NBA scouts continually follow the success of Keith Benson of the Oakland men's team while mostly SDSU women's basketball fans follow the travails of Macey Michelson, who is from Marshall High School in Minnesota.
In their play and with their personalities, the 6'11 Benson and 5'6 Michelson are as far apart as their size difference. Yet, they both play in the moment, providing critical plays for their team when winning situations demand it.
For the past three seasons, this pair of seniors have been driving forces behind the success of their respective teams. Benson, who is averaging 18 points and 10.1 rebounds this season, led Oakland to its third Summit League Tournament Championship game and their second straight title. Michelson, a three-year starter, has led the SDSU women to three straight Summit League Tournament titles, despite winning the league regular season championship just once.
In defining both, the most apt descriptor is "winner," which is how their coaches label them, if in around about ways.
Benson is called the "most dominant player ever in the Summit League" by his coach Greg Kampe, who team has won its second straight tournament championship and now has appeared in four of the last five tournament games. At 6'11, Benson is one of the quiet giants who is a difference maker. Featuring a game that includes strength and intimidation, Benson is one of those players that stands out and impacts the offensive strategy of opponents. In the past two seasons, Benson has led his team to a 34-2 record and they have won 49 of the past 52 games in league play. At the tournament, Oakland is 8-1 in the past three years with its only loss to North Dakota State in the finals in 2009 when the Gorillas owned a 13-point lead with eight minutes to play. The Bison won that game led by the efforts of Ben Woodside, Pierre's Michael Tveidt and Brent Winkelman, yet hardly any team has touched the Oakland team since.
In Oakland's domination of the 2011 tournament, Benson had 28 points, 14 rebounds, three blocked shots and four assists to lead the Grizzles to a 90-76 win over Scott Sutton's feisty and athletic bunch from Oral Roberts. He was a driving force behind an Oakland team that won every game by double digits, averaging over 90 points a game. Benson had 65 points, 27 rebounds, five blocks and seven assists over three games in earning the tournament's MVP honors.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that Benson would shine in the biggest moments of Oakland's 25-9 campaign, that includes a 17-1 record in running away with the Summit League regular season crown. He has had 19 double doubles this year, including four against Oakland's toughest opponents, West Virginia, Purdue, Michigan State and Tennessee - 26 points and 10 rebounds against the Vols on their home floor.
If anyone doesn't think the big man from Country Day High School in Detroit can step out and shoot, think again. He has a career 38.5 percent mark from three-point range. When, Oakland rolled up the second highest point total in Summit tourney history in the 110-90 win against SDSU, Benson made his only three point shot attempt.
While Benson goes about his business in big steps, Michelson is the unheralded leader of the South Dakota State women's team. In 2009, Michelson was a role player for a dominant SDSU women's team that defeated Texas Tech in the NCAA tournament only to fall to Baylor on a last second shot. A year ago, she helped lead SDSU to a second Summit League title and gave Final Four qualifier Oklahoma fits in a first round game.
In 2011, Michelson's floor leadership and play-making abilities helped third-seeded SDSU win another Summit title. The Jackrabbits are 9-0 in three tournament. They are the only women's team ever to qualify for the NCAA tournament in its first three years of eligibility.
Michelson doesn't overwhelm anybody from first appearance. Yet, she is a fireplug who wears her emotions on her sleeve. When she makes a play, her fist pumping emotions draw the SDSU faithful to their feet. She carries that pep into the press conference room and doesn't flinch about how she leads as a person and a player.SDSU's head coach Aaron Johnston said that while she may not be all-tournament type player, Michelson is one of the team's MVPs. Anybody who watched the Jacks' wins over IPFW and Oakland observed how her floor leadership was critical to the team's success.
For the tournament, Michelson had 27 combined points, 13 assists six rebounds and five steals. Yet, it was her play in the semifinal win over IPFW that was crucial to the Jacks' championship. In that game, she had 15 points, three assists, three rebounds and hit three of five from three point range. Two of those three-point field goals were in back to back possessions in the second half. When she hit two free throws with 11 seconds to play, SDSU led 70-67 and they withstood a close call three-pointer to advance.
Throughout the semifinal game, IPFW guards utilized their quickness to torment SDSU's guards, except when Michelson was on the floor. She maintained the Jackrabbits slower tempo, utilizing inside strength, which enables them to keep the game and the score in front of them. Kristin Rotert's six three-pointers were critical as was a two-pointer with less than a minute to go, but it was SDSU's floor general, Michelson, that calmed down SDSU when IPFW continually fought back from large deficits.
Rotert was named the women's tournament MVP and with good reason. She averaged over 20 points per game and made a number of big shots for the Jacks. But for observers of the tournament, Michelson's heady floor play, complimented by several big baskets, was significant and maybe more important to the final result.
As both teams move on, it is expected that SDSU will have a seed from 14-16 while Oakland will receive a 12-13 seed. Funny how as dominant as Oakland has been in league play, it doesn't translate into a top ten tournament seed.
As the Summit League attempts to build its profile, an Oakland upset in the first round would be a major step. The same holds true for the Jackrabbit women. If the Summit League ever expects to receive more than its automatic bid, winning is the only remedy. And to win, Oakland will need big-time performance from its quiet giant Keith Benson. For SDSU, it will mean that Michelson is battling, making big plays, and providing the emotional lift that drives the team forward.
From my perspective, Michelson and Benson are the leading women and men for their respective partners in basketball's biggest boogie.
Notes on the tourney
Come on World Wide Leader -- I can hear Dan Patrick now, come on "World Wide Leader" you can do better. What should our mock headline be - Are we in California or South Dakota? The ESPNU commentators continually referred to SDSU as San Diego State, upsetting the Jackrabbit faithful as well as local media. Better preparation for the broadcast seems to be the order of the world wide leader's talent.
Scoreboard outage -- The Sioux Falls Arena has to rectify its haunting scoreboard issues. No matter what the reason, when a scoreboard issue props up two years in a row, it is sure to upset Summit League officials, coaches and even players. As smoothly as the tournament ran this year, future prospects for retaining the tourney in Sioux Falls, lay in part, with answering that one big board question. You can't have scoreboard issues on nationally televised games. It makes the league a bit less relevant and is embarrassing to the league and the host city.
Podium observations -- As moderator of several press conferences, my favorite players were Caitlyn Sears of Southern Utah, Macie Michelson of SDSU, and Reggie Hamilton of Oakland. Sears thanked the media for talking with her after her team lost - a classy young woman. Michelson showed her fiery spirit in the press conference room and Hamilton carried himself in that atmosphere like he did on the floor - quick witted and with a flare.
One has to always appreciate SDSU's Aaron Johnston's straight-talking confidence. He doesn't mince words and always gives a take on how it is. Greg Kampe of Oakland is passionate about his team; I think he had the longest answer to a question, like 2 1/2 minutes when he pointed out the greatness of Keith Benson.
Media shortfall -- Asking SDSU guard Jill Young if it was her first press conference, was not good. However Johnston followed up with a quip that it wasn't his first either. When one person initially showed up for the press conference after the men's championship for Oral Roberts Scott Sutton, it wasn't a shining moment for the media.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Oakland, which is in its fourth tourney final in five years, tries to defend its title and get another shot at the NCAA Division Men's Tournament. This is a team that loves Sioux Falls, putting together a 7-1 mark since the tournament has been held at the Arena.
The SDSU women's team must feel like winning the Summit Tourney is a birthright. They are now 8-0 and have advanced to the tourney final for the third straight year. With a win, they would be the first team in the NCAA women's field to ever advance to the national tournament in each of its first three years of eligibility - quite an accomplishment.
This afternoon, this team they will face the Oakland women, seeded fourth, who pulled off one of the biggest surprise in tournament history when they pummeled top seed Oral Roberts, 96-52, in the semifinals on Monday afternoon. The margin of victory was the largest in tourney history.
For the second straight season Oral Roberts won the regular season title in dominating fashion, only to fall hard in the tournament. Jerry Finkbeiner's ORU team, 16-2 in regular season conference play, suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to SDSU in the tourney final a year ago. Then, the 2011 tourney opened with ORU rolling past Western Illinois, 108-79. It didn't appear that the loss of stellar point guard Jaci Bigham would derail one of the nation's highest scoring teams. And, with the league's top player in Kevi Luper, ORU appeared ready to pounce on an NCAA tournament bid.
Yet on its way to that elusive tournament crown, ORU endured one of its worst performances ever and now Oakland joins the championship fray with nemesis SDSU.
Oakland Coach Beckie Francis had a smile that lit up the press conference room after the win over ORU; but she didn't mince thoughts, noting that Oakland had a goal and it wasn't just a semifinal upset win. Rather, that semifinal victory was just a step toward their bigger goal, one that SDSU has grabbed for two straight seasons. The Oakland women, who lost to the Jacks in the tourney final two years ago, have gone to a pair of NCAA tournaments with their last appearance after winning the Summit title in 2006. As they prepare for their seventh Summit Tourney final, to be televised on ESPNU, Oakland (20-11) will try and match their semifinal effort when five players scored in double figures, led by sophomore Bethany Watterworth's 18 points.
For a while this season, it didn't appear that Aaron Johnston's SDSU women would be going anywhere. For much of the season, they were struggling with a sub-.500 record. Now after winning 10-of-11 games, the Jacks are 18-13 and on the verge of dancing again in the biggest boogie of all, the NCAA Division I tournament. For the Jacks, two seniors, Macie Michaelson and Kristine Robert stepped up in the biggest game of the season. Michaelson's two free throws with 11 seconds to play and 15 points help SDSU take a hard fought 70-67 win over second-seeded IPFW in the semifinals. Rotert, who had 24 points, including six three-point baskets, hit a shot in the lane with 49 seconds to play to give SDSU a three-point lead.
While the Jacks have put together one of the great turnarounds in their history, the Oakland men continue to feature the league's most dominant team. They won the regular season title for the second straight year and their 24-9 record, included a 17-1 record in conference play.
Against SDSU in the semifinals, the Grizzlies rolled to a 25-9 lead just six minutes into the game and finished off the upstart Jackrabbits, 110-90. Oakland had five players in double figures, including Drew Valentine with 24. The 110 points was the second highest total in men's Summit League history. They also tied the mark for most field goals in a game, held by three other squads.
Oakland is a long and athletic bunch led by NBA prospect Keith Benson. But Benson, who added to his opponents' woes by hitting a three-point shot last night, is just a piece of one of the best men's teams in Summit League history. Those aren't my words but that of Scott Sutton, head coach for Oral Roberts, whose team last won a title in 2007-08 and will try to stage a major upset when they play on ESPN2 tonight. Both teams feature outstanding athletes but Oakland's size plus guard Reggie Hamilton make the possibilities of an upset a long and difficult climb for ORU.
While Oakland won the day in the semifinals, winning today is a bigger goal for both its men's and women's teams. SDSU's women's team has owned the title game the last two years and with a large Jackrabbit following in the Arena seats, the women of Oakland have a difficult mountain to scale.
Meanwhile, the Oakland men don't appear to have any weaknesses and are the biggest animal in Sioux Falls. They have bigger prey to seek on their horizon. With a win at Tennessee earlier this year, a one and done verdict in the national tournament doesn't fit into their plans. ORU faces a beast of a Gorilla tonight as will Oakland's first round opponent in the NCAAs.
Monday, March 7, 2011
After her team and season was ended in a loss to Oakland (Mich.) at the Summit League Tournament, she greeted the gathered media and Summit League workers with a hello and "how are you doing" and big smile on her face. And, her team lost.
I don't know Sears, who had a great game to keep Southern Utah within distance of a comeback against favored Oakland in the tournament quarterfinals. Yet, she broke down her game and that of her opponent in a courteous, inviting approach. I hated to see her leave.
Sears complimented Oakland, noting how hard they worked and how they limited Southern Utah's best player, Challis Pascucci, to a season low in points. She was a little reserved about her own six-point run that fueled a charge at Oakland during the second half. And, for someone like me, who has watched basketball for more than 35 years, she laid it out perfectly. "Basketball is a game or runs. So you expect their team to go on a run and you expect to go on a run yourself. It was nice to go on a run and get within beating distance," Sears said.
"Beating distance" is a term that I heard for the first time on Sunday. Yet, it is what all underdogs are shooting for: getting close enough to challenge a favored opponent and perhaps pull off a magical moment.
As we watch this "March Madness," Sears' "beating distance" perspective will be in the minds of a lot of teams and a lot of fans.
During this weekend, nearly every coach and player that came into the press conference room at the Sioux Falls arena was respectful to their opponent, the league and with little showboating.
When you get to hear from unique personalities like Sears, SDSU's Dale Moss and Oakland's Keith Benson, you begin to feel the passion brewing in these players, some may be on the DI basketball stage for the last time this season or perhaps ever.
A coach like Ron Turner of IUPUI is one of the joys to watch on the sideline. He is motion personified and brings an electricity perhaps only matched in different ways by a guy like Oakland's Greg Kampe or IPFW's Chris Paul. All of those coaches carry their passion into the press conference room as they wax poetically about their teams and how happy they are to move on or how sad they are after seeing their team's season end.
They are an interesting dynamic - the coaches and players. You really enjoy listening to SDSU women's coach Aaron Johnston, who offers a level-headed, confident straight-talking approach about his team and the challenges that lie ahead. For good reason, Johnston's SDSU Jackrabbits are 7-0 in Summit League Tournament play with two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.
Still the strongest image for me is when Sears finished her press conference, got up from her chair and as she exited stage left, she tells the gathered group in that room "thanks" for talking with her and "take care." She makes you feel like that you have just witnessed one of the many unique and special young people that lay their heart and soul on the line during a basketball tournament.
For me, the definition of a student-athlete rings true through Sears.