The day has arrived. DWU vs. USF. No. 1 vs. No. 2. No. 7 vs. No. 17. A bitter rivalry with a title on the line. Championship games don't get much better than this.
First of all, I'm glad these teams will get to face each other on this stage. It just wouldn't seem right if they just split the season series with each home team winning. This rivalry needs a rubber match, and the fact that it's for a title and hopefully in front of a huge audience seems to validate exactly how good these two teams - and their rivalry - are.
I'm also glad it came down to the Tigers and the Coo because I've seen every good team in the GPAC in person this year - with the exception of Hastings - and since December I've thought these are clearly the league's two most talented teams, with a group of Hastings, Briar Cliff and Dordt right behind. The 1-2 finish in the regular season proved that, and the fact that both teams held their seed and advanced to the tournament against some tough competition proved it again. Because of that, now everyone gets to enjoy an absolute top-notch championship game. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Time for some thoughts and analysis on the matchup. Even though DWU played USF close at their place and won a close one at home, I don't feel like the Tigers played very well in either game. The strange thing about this rivalry is that there is so much raw emotion that it might keep the teams from playing their best basketball. They play extremely hard and give it 110 percent and insert another sports cliche' here, but I would LOVE to see the Tigers come out and have a great game on offense from an execution standpoint. DWU was pretty much great in all phases of the game in Saturday's second half. It would be a lot of fun to see them play that way for a whole game against their archrival.
Does it scare anyone else that Thomas Frames is averaging 30 in the tournament? Matt Malloy commands so much attention, that it doesn't surprise me at all that Frames has been able to have some huge scoring games in the tournament, and he's always had a knack for hitting big shots. Somehow, DWU will have to find a way to slow Malloy down and keep him out of the lane while still keeping Frames in check. Not an easy task, and though the Tigers just shut down Briar Cliff's high-scoring backcourt for the second time, Sioux Falls' guards present different problems.
Having said that, I'd guess the Coo are just as worried about stopping Preston Broughton and Brady Wiebe. Broughton has been incredible in the tournament, with 19.5 ppg and a ridiculous .850 shooting percentage from the floor. Thursday, his only two misses were a tip-in and an attempt at a reverse/360 dunk where the pass kind of took him out of position and he still tried to throw it down. The only shot he missed Saturday was a 3-pointer. Other than those three attepts, he's been perfect, and a lot of the shots he's made have had a pretty high degree of difficulty.
Wiebe is playing some great basketball lately inside as well. He had a little bit of a scoring lull at the end of the regular season, but he's had three-straight double-doubles and has been a terror in the paint and on the boards.
Part of their effectiveness has also been how well DWU's two All-American bigs share the ball with each other. I don't know if I've ever seen a team with the kind of interior passing Broughton and Wiebe give the Tigers. It makes both players much more dangerous, and must be frustrating for other teams.
I would expect DWU to try to use the same blueprint for beating USF as last time out. The Coo got a heavy dose of Broughton and Wiebe throughout the course of the game, which opened things up for Darrin Dorsey and Mitch Bain down the stretch. As always, it's gotta be inside-out for the Tigers tonight.
However, DWU is going to need to make some outside shots...and it would help if they're early in the game to loosen up the Cougar defense a little. Chase Waler, Jake Kneeland, Bo LaCroix, Mark Mingo, along with Dorsey and Bain ... if those guys can just hit two or three from deep it makes everything easier for DWU. If the Tigers get outside shots and solid perimeter defense - probably the two biggest variables - I love their chances. It also doesn't hurt that they've won 15 in a row and have really learned how to win in almost any situation.
I'm also hoping the championship feels more like a home game this year. Unfortunately, last year the DWU students were on spring break, which took away a lot of the home court advantage. This year, USF can bus students over if it wants, but this year the Tigers should still have them outnumbered.
Now that you've got my thoughts on the game, there is only one more big question ... how do I make the next eight hours go by fast until tipoff?
Here are some links to other previews of the game and DWU basketball links to get you ready for tonight:
DWU's Official Preview (This is worth it just for the photos from the last DWU-USF Game)
The Mitchell Daily Republic's Preview
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader Preview
DWU Tiger Fan Blog
Tonight's game can be seen and heard in a few different ways. The Mitchell Daily Republic will offer a live video Web cast, and the game will be on local radio and streamed online by either 105.9 FM KMIT or KOOL 98. (I'd guess KOOL 98).
'SELECTION WEDNESDAY' SPECIAL
For any interested Tiger fans, we'll be hosting a Selection Show party for the men's basketball team tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. in Room 101 (aka The Matt Higgins Press Room) in the Christen Family Recreation/Wellness Center on campus.
The College Fanz Sports Network will be doing a live selection show on their Web site at 3 p.m. to announce the NAIA DII National Tournament bracket. It should be kind of a cool event. We'll be announcing DWU's All-GPAC selections and hopefully hearing from Coach Hemenway and a player or two. The cheerleaders will be on hand and we'll have refreshments, but most importantly, we'll find out who and when we'll play in the National Tournament. This should be a pretty cool thing for any Tiger basketball fans, so definitely come out if you're free.
Time for me to post this blog and move on to some of the little behind-the-scenes things that need to get done for tonight's game. See you at the Palace at 7 p.m. Wear Blue and White, and blow the roof off that place.