We began the conference tournament portion of our program with a discussion on how South Dakota State’s Mike Daum crushes all expectation of historical narrative when it comes to the NMTC. Today, we have another litmus test for our theory. Can the South Dakota Coyotes overcome Mike Daum and the Jackrabbits in Sioux Falls?
The Coyotes calmly dispatched an exhausted Denver team on Monday night, while the SDSU Jackrabbits beat up on longtime rival North Dakota State in the other semifinal. Both teams won easily and should be well-rested for the main event. The Jackrabbits are the No. 1 seed and the Coyotes are the No. 2 seed. The teams split in the regular season and were the two best teams in the conference. This third meeting will be the most important NMTC game of the season.
You have to understand the historical context, of course. Last year, top-seeded South Dakota faced South Dakota State in the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament. Daum’s crew had been nowhere for much of the season, but they got hot down the stretch and took down South Dakota in a backbreaking 74-71 loss for the NMTC. The Jackrabbits did not lead at any point in the game until hitting a three with 1.4 seconds left. It was the worst.
Tonight, South Dakota has a chance at redemption. A win today would make the NMTC 2-for-2 in championship games. A loss today would mean an extremely irate pair of columnists.
We’ll start the previews early because this is the main event of the season:
(1) DAUM THE DESTROYER (and his band) vs. (2) South Dakota - 9 p.m. EST on ESPN2 (55% chance of winning...ignore this; predictions mean nothing.)
The last meeting between these teams was close. They weren’t playing for anything since the Jackrabbits had locked up the No. 1 seed. But South Dakota State still prevailed 76-72 at home thanks to, you guessed it, a team-high 20 points from Mike Daum. In their first meeting, however, the Coyotes dominated the Jackrabbits 87-68 in Vermillion, South Dakota.
As much as we like to talk about Daum, this game is going to be in South Dakota guard Matt Mooney’s hands. Mooney scored 33 points in the last game and 30 points in the 87-68 win. I’ve been hyping Mooney up as the Daum-slayer all season, and he has lived up to the billing in the conference tournament thus far. He shot 80 percent from the field with 20 points against Denver to go with another 20 he scored in the quarterfinal against Nebraska Omaha. If Mooney is feeling it, South Dakota will probably have a shot to win.
Defensively, South Dakota is going to need a lot of effort and some luck to stop Daum, a 6-foot-9 stretch five who can score at will. He’s a 47%/42%/86% guy — which is ridiculous — and he can hurt you from every single spot on the floor.
So what do you do? You send double teams at him, right? Well, his teammates are no slouches either. Reed Tellinghausen shoots at a 56.5 eFG% clip and 38.6 percent from three. He’s also a 6-foot-7 power forward. Not fair. David Jenkins is a 36 percent three-point shooter and shoots even better than Daum inside the arc.
South Dakota will pack some serious shooting talent too with 6-foot-10 Tyler Hagedorn (38.3 percent from three — seriously, how did these guys end up in the Summit League?) and Triston Simpson. However, Hagedorn has struggled from long distance in conference play; the real test for him will be guarding Daum. The funny thing about last year’s SDSU-South Dakota game was that Daum wasn’t actually that great. He missed all 6 of his three-point attempts and only scored 18 points. In fact, in their last three meetings, Daum hasn’t broken 20 points, which is quite astonishing given that he shoots 36.4 percent of SDSU’s shots and averages 24 ppg.
South Dakota is the only Summit League team that can match up athletically against Daum and Co. That being said, the Jackrabbits haven’t lost since that debacle in Vermillion, so winning will be a tall order.
Is there anything to cover outside the Summit league? Not really. Maryland-Eastern Shore bowed out after a 10-point loss to Norfolk State. Then there was the immensely-depressing William & Mary loss to Charleston.
Every year, I trick myself into thinking The Tribe can make a run through the Colonial. It never happens. In the end, William & Mary’s appalling defense (No. 333 in KenPom) was its undoing, as they could not get a stop to save their lives against Charleston. Charleston is a decent offensive team, but allowing 1.26 points per possession is not going to cut it in a conference tournament game. The Tribe kept it within single digits for most of the contest, but eventually fell 83-73.
With that, all the Founding Fathers (Army, Citadel, St. Francis Brooklyn, and William & Mary) who have been here since the beginning of the NCAA Tournament are back next year. We can probably start calling them the Mount Rushmore of the NMTC if this keeps up.
Other games today
(3) Hartford vs. (2) UMBC - 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3 (35% chance to win)
This is an important game too! Sure, the winner of this game gets the privilege of getting stomped by Vermont, but Hartford has the only head-to-head win over them in 24 months. We need this one! However, UMBC has beaten Hartford twice this season and has home-court advantage. I don’t see this upset happening, but you never know.
Teams that escaped in 2018
Teams returning for 2019
Abilene Christian (missed Southland Tournament)
Grambling Tigers (Academically ineligible)
Incarnate Word (missed Southland Tournament)
Maryland Eastern Shore
St. Francis (NY)
William & Mary