VERMILLION — The Sanford Coyote Sports Center will finally have its sellout.
Three years after opening, the new 6,000-seat home of the University of South Dakota basketball programs will on Sunday be filled to the brim with a capacity crowd for a Coyote home game.
Two of them, actually.
South Dakota will host rival South Dakota State for a doubleheader on Sunday afternoon, with the women’s game starting at 1 p.m. and the men’s game to follow at 3:30 p.m. It will mark the first doubleheader in the rivalry series since 2004 — back in the Division II days.
Both battles will be a rematch of last year’s Summit League tournament championship game (the Jackrabbits won both) and both will feature the top-2 teams in both preseason polls (the Jackrabbits were the favorites in both).
Here is a look at each game:
A year ago, the Coyotes completed a rare undefeated run through the conference schedule (it hadn’t happened in a quarter century), but their rivals to the north won the ‘big one.’
South Dakota State upended USD in the Summit League title game to reach the NCAA Tournament, while the Coyotes were relegated to the WNIT where they advanced to the quarterfinals.
What does that matter for Sunday’s game?
Well, nothing really.
Both programs have become mid-major powers, and this season is playing out like both might reach the NCAA Tournament: USD has an RPI of 20, while SDSU is 46. The Coyotes are also ranked No. 2 in this week’s mid-major poll, while the Jacks are ranked No. 4.
South Dakota (13-3, 1-1) owns a pair of top-25 victories this season over Iowa State and Missouri, but is coming off a Thursday night loss at Denver — a Coyote defense that had been allowing just 55 points a game gave up 104 points to Denver.
The Coyotes are again remarkably balanced this season.
Ciara Duffy leads the team at 13.7 points per game to go along with 5.1 rebounds, and is joined by Allison Arens (10 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.3 apg), Madison McKeever (9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Hannah Sjerven (9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg), Chloe Lamb (8.6 ppg), Monica Arens (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Taylor Frederick (7.4 ppg).
In the case of the Jackrabbits (10-5, 2-0), their record is deceiving given the schedule they’ve played.
South Dakota State has lost to top-25 opponents Marquette, Baylor and Oregon, and has also lost to Buffalo and Wyoming. The Jacks have also scored 93 and 85 points in their first two league games.
Conference preseason Player of the Year Macy Miller leads the team at 16.9 points per game, and is joined by Madison Guebert (14 ppg), Myah Selland (12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.7 apg) and Tagyn Larson (8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
When Todd Lee has hired in Vermillion, he was billed as a defensive guru.
In short order, he’s turned USD into a defensive stalwart.
The Coyotes (7-8, 1-1) are allowing 65.7 points per game this season, but they’ll be challenged Sunday against a South Dakota State team that ranks 14th nationally at 85.7 points per game.
“They’re a very good defensive team, they get back and they get set, and they’re stingy defensively,” SDSU head coach T.J. Otzelberger said this week.
On the other end of the court, the Coyotes have, however, struggled so far this season.
They rank 323rd nationally — out of 351 teams — in scoring offense, at 66 points a game, and had to move on to start the season without Matt Mooney (who transferred) and since following the news that Tyler Hagedorn would miss the entire season with injury.
Leading the way have been Triston Simpson (12.6 ppg), Trey Burch-Manning (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Tyler Peterson (11.5 ppg) and Stanley Umude (11.2 ppg). Wyoming graduate transfer Cody Kelley has also provided 7.2 points, 4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his 11 games.
Not only are the Coyotes short on size, they’re not incredibly deep this season.
Dan Jech started the season as a medical redshirt, but recovered quicker to the point that he has been able to return to action. From there, USD gets 21 minutes a game from Brandon Armstrong, 12.1 minutes from Matt Johns, 11.2 minutes from Logan Power and 10.3 minutes from Nathan Robinson.
That’s the group that will be tasked with slowing down the Jackrabbits (11-6, 1-1).
South Dakota State boasts one of the nation’s top duos, with Mike Daum (24.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and David Jenkins (20.1 ppg). They’re joined by Skyler Flatten (14.9 ppg) and Tevin King (9.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), as well as a few others.
The Jackrabbits, according to Otzelberger, will have to be patient against the USD defense.
“You’ve got to make sure that you’re willing to offensively have some patience and take what you can, and be opportunistic,” he said.
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