With a new year and a new coach, there is a new atmosphere being exemplified during practice for the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team, which is looking forward to some new expectations this year.
Senior guard Tyler Larson said the team has a mindset of improvement in practice — where players clap and cheer for each other this year, and when anyone falls, the entire team rushes onto the court to help the player up.
“The atmosphere this year compared to the last two years is much different,” Larson said. “We’ve got a winning mentality. We expect as a team to get better everyday and be better than we were last year.”
New head coach Craig Smith said this is the environment needed to build a winning program.
“It’s the culture we’re trying to build here,” Smith said. “We have a really good group of guys, and we have a group of guys that have an attitude that craves improvement.”
The atmosphere is not the only thing Smith is trying to change. USD will be a more up-tempo team this year, looking to beat opponents in transition and showing the occasional full-court press, he said.
Although Smith prefers an up-tempo attacking style, he is flexible to play what gets the job done. However, Smith said he is not looking to wield a one-edged sword, and his players feel the same way.
“Last year, we liked to slow it down a lot, and we ran a lot of sets,” said junior forward Tyler Flack. “Coach Smith likes to let us throw in things as long as it’s in his idea of offense and he likes to have us push it, so I think that we can really get the ball in the hoop this year.”
Now the expectations are to get to the NCAA tournament and win when they get there, Smith said.
For Summit League teams to gain an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the Summit League tournament is a must-win. Larson sees winning the March tournament as a possibility.
“We think that we can go really far in the tournament and make some noise,” Larson said.
The Coyotes have not had a winning season since joining the conference. Flack, if healthy, should be a key component in turning USD basketball in a successful direction, Smith said.
Flack has struggled with injuries during the off-season, but hopes to start practice next week. Flack injured his ankle early in the summer, and after rehab, he fractured his vertebrae. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last year.
“I think we can really make an impact in the tournament, get first and go to the real tournament,” Flack said.
(Photo: Craig Smith, head coach for the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team, replaced interim coach Joey James early this year. Smith said expectations for the team are to get to the NCAA tournament and win when they get there. File photo / The Volante)