After earning the No. 2 seed in the Summit League Tournament following the loss against South Dakota State University last Thursday, the men’s basketball team is looking toward improving on their offense and shooting for the championships.
The Summit League Tournaments take place March 3-6 in the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
The men ended 24-7 on the season, and 11-3 in the Summit League. The team attributes a lot of their success toward defense.
“Just suffering our last loss, we’ve seen some things we can improve on, which is good,” said junior forward Trey Burch-Manning. “(We want to) get even better defensively and just grow and go from there.”
Head coach Craig Smith said defense is the “backbone” of the team.
“Going into the tournament, I think we have to keep defending at a high level, we have to rebound better — which we’ve struggled a bit the last two and a half weeks — and just got to continue staying in rhythm on the defensive end,” Smith said. “Balance has been a big key to our season, and that needs to continue to be our forte on offense.”
Junior forward Tyler Hagedorn said the team’s transition game is “really good.”
“Our defensive conversion is really good, but I would definitely say our most efficient way of scoring is getting on transition,” he said. “We’re a defensive-minded team, and so when we get a stop, we’re able to kick the ball up and get on transition that leads to a lot of easy buckets.”
Burch-Manning said the season went well because of the team’s chemistry.
“We’re all unselfish, close group of guys,” he said. “Compared to last year, we have better communication, and we just have more trust in each other.”
Hagedorn said the team takes it “one day at a time,” so they’re focusing on the first game first and foremost.
“Everybody says, ‘Only one way to win the tournament is to win the first game,'” he said. “This week, we’re just going to keep getting better and make sure our bodies are right so we’re all healthy going into the first game, and we’re just going to give it our all the first game.”
The main goal for the team is to play their best during the tournament and walk away with a win, Burch-Manning said.
“Our overall goal is to win the conference championship, but you can’t get there unless you win the first day, so you have to take it one day at a time, and that starts now,” he said.
Smith said the team needs to go out with toughness, talent and togetherness compared to last year’s tournament where they came up short following a win against SDSU in the second round.
”I think the experience of going through it last year, we were one of the youngest teams in the country, so we know what it’s like, we’ve been there, we’re familiar with the facility and environment, so that’ll help us,” Smith said.
Hagedorn said the team looks at the championship as if every team is 0-0 and starting out fresh.
“Obviously we wanted to win the conference title, we were one game away from doing that, but that will only spark us into the Summit League Tournament to be able to win the Summit League Tournament, which has never been done in the Division I era at USD for men’s,” he said. “That’ll really fire us up.”
The men take on the the Omaha Mavericks the first day of the Tournament on March 3. Tip-off begins at 8:30 p.m.