Summit League Preview: South Dakota State Women at NDSU, USD
At first glance, nine wins in 12 non-conference games for the South Dakota State women's basketball team seems about what you'd expect from this program.
There were marquee wins (road victories at Iowa, Montana, Northern Iowa) and tough losses against some of the best teams in the nation (#12 Oklahoma, #8 Louisville).
But the record doesn't tell the whole story for coach Aaron Johnston's team.
Less than 10 minutes into the ninth game of the year, disaster struck, when Summit League pre-season player of the year Macy Miller was lost for the season with a leg injury.
Without their leading scorer, the Jackrabbits split their final four games, heading into the opening of conference play this week.
SDSU's 'team first' approach has been put to the test and veterans like Kerri Young and Clarissa Ober have responded. Young has scored in double figures in the three games since Miller went down, while Ober was leading the team in rebounding until she got hurt in the final non-conference game at Wichita State. Her status is officially 'day-to-day'.
Junior Ellie Thompson has helped to pick some of the scoring slack, leading the Jacks in points in two of the three games since Miller's injury. Sophomore Madison Guebert scored 20 in the Wichita State win, the same night junior Lexi Alexander, starting in Miller's place, reached double figures in the scoring column for the first time this season.
The Jackrabbits, prohibitive pre-season favorites to win the Summit League, will try to carry on in Miller's absence when the open conference play with a pair of road games this week.
South Dakota State goes to North Dakota State Wednesday night. The Bison have the Summit's third leading scorer, Taylor Thunstedt, who scored 28 in the first meeting with SDSU last season. NDSU's Emily Spier and Brianna Jones are fourth and fifth in the league in rebounding, but that hasn't stopped them from dropping 11 of their first 13 games, thanks to the league's worst defense and next-to-last offense.
Tipoff is 7:00 PM Wednesday in Fargo. North Dakota State is playing its first season in the new Scheels Arena.
Saturday, the Jackrabbits check out the Summit League's other new facility, when they visit the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion, as they face off with South Dakota.
The Coyotes are coming off a historic year. They won the Summit League regular season crown last season and became the first conference team in any sport to win a national title, when they captured the WNIT crown.
But a lot of familiar faces from that group are gone. Several key seniors have graduated and head coach Amy Williams has taken over at Nebraska. In her place is Dawn Plitzuweit, who comes over from Northern Kentucky.
Plitzuweit has had to deal with some adversity in her first months on the job, losing senior starters Caitlin Duffy and Jasmine Trimboli to apparent season-ending injuries.
That's opened the door for players who were relegated to mostly reserve roles last year to step into the spotlight this season. Sophomore Allison Arens has responded with a vengeance, leading the conference in scoring so far with better than 20 points per game. Another sophomore, Jaycee Bradley, is second on the team in scoring (15 points per game), while a pair of freshmen, Ciara Duffy and Madison McKeever, are each averaging better than 27 minutes a game. Duffy is the third leading scorer, while McKeever leads the league in steals.
Seniors Bridget Arens and Abigail Fogg have started every game and are providing veteran leadership as the Coyotes went 11-2 in non-conference play.
USD is the most accurate shooting team in the Summit so far this season, hitting nearly 48 percent from the floor.
Tipoff is 3:30 PM Saturday in Vermillion.
Either South Dakota or South Dakota State have won the Summit League regular season championship in each of the past five seasons.
I talked with Jackrabbits Coach Johnston about the conference's week one schedule: