I have heard commentators say that if there was any year for a 7 or 8 seed to upset one of the top two seeds in the Summit League conference tournament that this would be the year. Not sure if anyone is feeling that great about it being Western Illinois coming in for the upset in the first round, but we will see.
It is not impossible for the Leathernecks to come take away South Dakota’s NCAA Tournament possibilities, but the Coyotes are riding a 6 game winning streak into the conference tournament which is a 1 hour drive away from their campus.
South Dakota probably has the deepest bench in the entire league, and Western Illinois has the least. You could make an argument that the one team not playing in the tournament, Oral Roberts, has more talent and depth than the Leathernecks. With Garret Covington and Mike Miklusak it’s like watching a movie with two up-and-coming stars while the rest of the cast is made up of personalities that made their debuts to entertainment in Tosh.0’s Web Redemption segment. The movie also has you wondering, sure the up-and-coming stars were good, but would they really be able to have an impact on a likable movie? Everything about this should remind you that someone once made a Smokey and the Bandit 3.
The Coyotes are the opposite of that. There is a plan, and every player on the team understands their role. South Dakota is more like a really good ensemble film that have you leaving the theater realizing that the whole thing worked because of the great ensemble. That is the usual typecasting that creates the Summit League favorite.
To pull off the upset, the Leathernecks are going to need their offense to show up. The Leathernecks are a decent defensive team, but much of the team seems instructed to not take a shot on offense unless you have to. They did struggle to score the ball for most of January and February, but they did end the season averaging 88 points over the last three games. Two of those last three games did go to overtime.
In their two match ups, Garret Covington combined for 10-of-30 from the field. I’m lucky enough to know enough math to not need a calculator to figure out that is 33 percent from the field. Mike Miklusak shot 9-of-24 in the two games against the Coyotes. So the two leading scorers for the Leathernecks both struggled against the top defense in the Summit League. They’re going to be going up against South Dakota in what is basically a home game for the Coyotes, so I can sum that up in three words: It’s not good.
While the Leathernecks are filled with inconsistent and players that not appear to have a load of confidence on offense, the Coyotes have players that appear confident and always ready to take a big shot. Trey Burch-Manning can match up well with Miklusak and battle him on the low block and defend him on the perimeter, and he is the perfect type of player to make every single hustle play a contender needs. Matt Mooney can also match up well against Covington, and watching Mooney as an opposing fan is incredibly difficult. He averages 18 points per game and it seems like he averages 12 points per game when the games are on the line. Mooney also comes off as a smug jerk, but that’s a conversation for another day. It’s the bands on both wrists. It’s a typical smug jerk look.
In conference play, Mooney was 3rd in the Summit League in scoring and Covington was 4th.
If there is one fault to South Dakota’s team, it is their free throw shooting. They finished the season 8th in the conference in free throw percentage, and the Leathernecks were not that much better at 7th. Still, there were several moments that Craig Smith had Trey Burch-Manning on the court in the final minutes and teams knew to foul the guy who shoots around 60 percent from the line, and it definitely got scary for the Coyotes.
Again, it’s not impossible for the Leathernecks to pull off an upset, but it will take a lot. They will need guys who have rarely shown up to rise to the occasion to make big shots on offense and big stops on defense. We have witnessed that the teams in this conference are incredibly close in competition.
Percentage wise, they are not an above average three point shooting team either. The Coyotes finished 8th in three point shooting in conference games, but players like Mooney, Tyler Flack, and Trey Dickerson can make the big threes when they matter the most.
The Leathernecks are essentially walking into the casino, going straight to the roulette table, and putting all their chips on double-zero green and closing their eyes.