After coming within one win from advancing to the NCAA Tournament three times in the past four seasons, South Dakota has proven there's more than one way to get to the big dance.

The Coyotes qualified for this year's NCAA Tourney as an at-large selection - the first for a Summit League/Mid-Continent Conference team in 25 years.

USD's second-ever NCAA Tournament run at the Division I level starts Friday (March 22) in Starkville, Mississippi when the eighth-seeded Coyotes play number-nine Clemson out of the ACC.

South Dakota (28-5) made the field of 64 on the strength of a pair of wins over Top 25 teams (Iowa State, Missouri) and a first-ever stint on the national polls themselves.

The Coyotes finished second to South Dakota State in the Summit League regular season and lost to the Jackrabbits in the Summit League Tournament title game.

Leading scorer Ciara Duffy injured her ankle early in that game but is expected to be at full strength for the NCAA Tournament opener.

South Dakota's only other NCAA Tournament appearance at the Division I level was in 2014 when the 15th-seeded Coyotes lost in the opening round to number-two Stanford in Ames, Iowa.

Clemson is one of the most improved teams in all of college basketball this season.

The Tigers (19-12) nine ACC wins under first-year head coach Amanda Butler match the total number of conference victories over the last five seasons combined. The 19 total wins are the most for the program in 18 years.

Clemson is known for a defensive attack that fuels its offense.

The Tigers are tenth in the NCAA in steals and 12th in the nation in forcing turnovers. Senior Danielle Edwards and University of Florida grad transfer Simone Westbrook finished one-two in the ACC in steals, combining for 165 this season.

Offensively, Clemson is scoring 20 points per game more than last season with three players averaging in double figures - junior Kobi Thornton (15 points per game), Edwards (13), and Westbrook (13).

The Tigers qualified for the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection after finishing seventh in the ACC's regular season and then losing to third-ranked Louisville in the conference tournament.

Tipoff is 6:00 PM Friday in Starkville, Mississippi. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

The winner plays the (1) Mississippi State - (16) Southern winner in round two.

I talked with Coyotes head coach Dawn Plitzuweit about the match-up with Clemson:


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