Friday, February 27, 2009

Thoughts on Upset Thursday

So Dakota Wesleyan survived on a crazy night in the GPAC, and somehow, we were the only ones. On a night where No. 1 Morningside, No. 3 Briar Cliff and No. 4 Northwestern all lost, the No. 2 Tigers found a way to escape the quarterfinals with a 67-65 win over Dordt. If you weren't there or haven't heard how we pulled it off, click here for my release and here for The Daily Republic's story.

Other than Hastings' blowout of Northwestern, the other two games were insane too. Briar Cliff scored four points in the final 10 seconds to force overtime, but Concordia scored a late basket in OT and benefitted from a technical on the Chargers (called a timeout with none left) to win by four. And Morningside nearly pulled out another miracle victory, but Thomas Frames blocked a last-second shot to give Sioux Falls the win.

Click here to read about the Briar Cliff-Concordia game. Click here for the Argus Leader's USF story and here for the Sioux City Jounal's take on Morningside's loss. Here's the Argus Leader's "College Roundup" leading with the Tigers.

Now for some of my thoughts on Upset Thursday:

1. How hot is Sioux Falls right now? They certainly looked better than their record when they beat us at home last Saturday. Then they went on the road and took down Dana, who many considered to be a solid sleeper in the GPAC tournament, and added Morningside to their victim list on the road. The Cougars hit the road again tomorrow to take on Hastings at 3 p.m. in what should be a good game between two teams playing really good basketball at this point. Wouldn't it be something to have a DWU-USF rematch for the tournament title Tuesday at the Corn Palace? Although it will take impressive wins by both South Dakota teams for that scenario to become reality, it's fun to thinking about having another shot at the Coo with a title on the line.

2. How helpful is the bye? With three out of four top seeds losing at home after having most of the week off, it begs the question of how helpful the bye actually is. It's entirely possible that the GPAC's best team were hurt a little by the extra time off, while their foes were able to stay in rhythm and generate some momentum heading into Thursday's games. I know at this point of the season, rest is huge, especially for a team like DWU where injuries have taken a toll on depth, but I also think teams get used to a certain schedule or rhythm, and when the conference tournament throws that off, weird things can happen. However, as the lone remaining top seed, let's hope the weirdness is over and things play out according to seed from here on out.

3. Officially Branson bound? The speculation about DWU's third-straight trip to the National Tournament is that the Tigers are locked after last night's win, especially with Briar Cliff and Morningside losing. DWU should leapfrog Briar Cliff in the final poll, and it could pass Morningside with one or two more wins. Either way, the Tigers appear to safely be in the field. However, the big question now centers on how many teams the GPAC will send to the tournament. Morningside is a lock with the automatic bid for winning the regular season title. DWU is a lock for an at-large bid, and could win the automatic bid for the postseason title. However, beyond that it's not so crystal clear. It could be just the Mustangs and Tigers, it could be three or even as many as four. Briar Cliff should be in the field with an at-large bid, but stranger things have happened. If there are a bunch of upsets across the country in the conference tournaments, and teams that weren't originally headed to Branson steal some at-large bids, the Chargers could be on the outside looking in, the way Dordt was last season. However, it's also plausabile that either Hastings, USF or Concordia wins the GPAC postseason title and gets a bid, and both DWU and Briar Cliff are selected for at-large spots, giving the conference four teams. After last night, none of these scenarios would surprise me. After hearing that the GPAC has been "down" all season, it would be a pretty interesting twist to see four schools head to Branson.

4. Home-Corn-Palace-Advantage. Going by the numbers, DWU should really benefit from having home-court advantage the rest of the way in the tournament. The Tigers are 13-1 at home this season and have won 13 straight games, with their only loss coming to No. 5 Black Hills State in overtime in the season opener. In the past three seasons, DWU is 40-6 at home, and its won 18 straight home games against GPAC opponents. However, as we learned Thursday, home court advantage doesn't guarantee anything.

5. Finding the right formula. By now, it's clear that Brady Wiebe and Mitch Bain are going to have to lead the way for the Tigers to be effective, and they'll need one other starter to score in double figures, along with a few key contributions from the bench, even if they're small. Last night, it was Ike Muoneke adding the extra scoring punch with 10 points, including some huge baskets in the second half, and Jordan Long came off the bench to give the Tigers six first-half points that kept DWU in the game. The Tigers will need a similar formula Saturday to beat Concorida and move on. I thought that Long's minutes in the first half were huge, and I liked what DWU did substitution-wise. By working in Jordan and Mike Long, Jordan Miller and Rocky Nelson early and often, it kept DWU's starters fresh enough to finish off the crucial final stretch. If that group can give the Tigers a little lift off the bench, we instantly become much more dangerous.

6. Deja Vu. So it was just 10 days ago that DWU played an intense GPAC game against Concordia in the Corn Palace, and here we are doing it again. Click here to read the recap of that game, when the Tigers scored the last eight points of the game to earn the seven-point win. Check our DWU Men's Basketball Page later today for my official preview of Saturday's game. It should be a good one, and with four area high school playoff games serving as the opening act, there should be a good crowd on hand. Try to get to the Corn Palace at 8 p.m. to see if the Tigers can move on to the title game.

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