VERMILLION — Ask the coaches about the Summit League women’s basketball tournament and you’ll hear things like “balanced” and “open.”
The results would play that out.
Although five-time defending champion South Dakota State enters the tournament as the top seed with only one league loss, the Jackrabbits realize just about any team could make a run and dethrone them.
“This is an open field going into that tournament,” head coach Aaron Johnston said. “Whether it’s a bye or a one seed, South Dakota State, South Dakota, anybody.”
IUPUI (11-3), the No. 2 seed, beat SDSU, but lost to No. 3 seed Fort Wayne and No. 4 University of South Dakota.
The Coyotes (7-7), on the other hand, were swept by rival SDSU, but defeated everyone else at least one time.
USD matches up with Western Illinois in Sunday’s noon first round matchup at the Sioux Falls Arena.
Still, the Jackrabbits (22-8) enter as the top seed in their quest for a sixth consecutive tournament crown.
Their path to that goal will, however, have a different route this year. Because there are only seven eligible teams (Omaha is still transitioning), the No. 1 seed gets a first-round bye into the semifinals.
What that means is SDSU could potentially see the Coyotes again in the semifinals — a rematch of last year’s title game.
“Anything can happen up there,” USD head coach Amy Williams said. “It’s March Madness, it’s time of the year.”
Ensuring an all-South Dakota semifinal matchup would require the Coyotes to beat Western Illinois (14-15). The teams split the regular season series, with the road teams winning.
The Leathernecks hit 13 three-pointers in a 10-point win down in Vermillion, but USD exacted revenge with a 3-point victory in Macomb.
“It’s another team that’s similar to South Dakota State in that they have a lot of different kids that can put up big nights,” Williams said.
She went on to refer to the Leathernecks as an “offensive juggernaut.” Ashley Luke leads WIU with 20.3 points and a league-best 10.4 rebounds per game.
South Dakota State, meanwhile, will have an extra day to prepare for either USD or Western Illinois. But not that such time off will give the Jacks an advantage, Johnston said.
“On paper, having that day off and a shorter potential road is better, it just has to be,” he said.
Not that having a bye assures the Jacks of anything, Johnston added.
“At the end of the day, none of that is going to matter,” he said. “How we play on Monday is going to determine if we keep playing or not.”
The women’s championship game will be played on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
A week off before the Summit League Tournament might have especially helped the USD men’s basketball team.
The Coyotes (12-17) struggled in losing consecutive road games — by 28 at North Dakota State and by 14 at South Dakota State — to close the regular season.
Their challenge is a matchup with Denver (15-14) in Sunday night’s 6 p.m. first round matchup at Sioux Falls Arena.
“Now it’s a new season, now it’s win or go home,” said USD sophomore point guard Trey Norris.
In their second year in the post-season, the Coyotes climbed into the No. 5 position under interim head coach Joey James and will face the league newcomer.
Denver, which split the regular season series with USD, is led by junior sharp-shooter Brett Olson (14.7 ppg) and senior post Chris Udofia (12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
The Pioneers qualified for — and won a game in — the NIT last season, but managed an 8-6 record in the Summit League this season. They lost by five points in Vermillion but beat the Coyotes 75-67 in Colorado.
Of course records are out the window come tournament time. The challenge for both USD and Denver is not looking ahead to a potential semifinal matchup with top-seeded North Dakota State (23-6).
“If you’re not motivated enough to go to Sioux Falls and play in the conference tournament, know it’s one and done if you don’t comepete and play at the level we’re capable of,” James said.
Fort Wayne (22-9) earned the tournament’s No. 2 seed, while South Dakota State (18-11) is seeded third. Western Illinois (10-19) and IUPUI (6-25) are seeded sixth and seventh, respecitvely.
Certainly more red-clad fans than what USD played in front of last year would help the Coyotes, Bos added.
“Hopefully it’s not like last year, or else it’ll be a home game for the Jacks,” he joked. “Hopefully we can get some more fans up there.”