It’s a real statement week for the University of South Dakota’s men’s basketball team as they get set to host the top two pre-season favorites in the Summit League this season, North Dakota State tonight and South Dakota State Saturday afternoon.

The Coyotes (6-9 overall/2-1 in Summit League play) are trying to give Head Coach Dave Boots career win number 500 in his 25th season in Vermillion.  They’ll have to do it against the top shooting team in the conference tonight.  The Bison (11-3/2-0) have knocked down 47% of their shots so far and have drained 102 3-pointers in 14 games. Forward Marshall Bjorkland leads the nation shooting just a tick under 70%.

NDSU also plays very good defense, allowing opponents just 57 points a game on 37% shooting. The Bison are blocking shots at a record pace this season, already more than halfway to last season’s total with 71 blocks in 14 games (5 per game). Junior TrayVonn Wright has blocked at least one shot in the last 13 games.

North Dakota State is young, but experienced, with four juniors and a sophomore in the starting lineup who have logged a lot of playing time in the past.  Three players average in double figures in scoring (Taylor Braun 15, Bjorkland 12, Lawrence Alexander 11).  Alexander is the Summit League Player of the Week after 18 points and six assists against South Dakota State.

The Coyotes are also young, starting just one senior, and with a whole host of new faces. Dave Boots’ team returns just one starter from last season (Trevor Gruis) and are trying to replace the scoring of Charlie Westbrook and Louie Krogman.

Two newcomers are among the top three leading scorers.  Kansas State transfer Juevol Myles is averaging 15 points per game (23 at home) while Western Oklahoma State transfer Karim Rowson averages 11.  Gruis is leading the team with 6 rebounds a game.

The Coyotes have gotten some significant contributions from two young players.  Sophomore Brandon Bos started the season on the bench, but has worked himself into the starting lineup.  He hit for 23 points in a win at Omaha last week.  Freshman Eric Robertson came off the bench in Omaha and tallied 15 points. Overall, eight USD players are averaging 17 minutes or more per game this season.

South Dakota needs a deeper bench against the Bison.  NDSU’s reserves outscored USD’s bench 61-25 in two victories last season.  The Bison also dominated in the paint in those two games, outscoring USD by 40.

The Coyotes are hoping for two things tonight: a lot of points and a lot of free throws.  USD is the 4th best free throw shooting team in the nation (79%) and is 6-0 when scoring 80 points or more in a game this season.  When they’re held under 80 they’re 0-9.

Tipoff is set for 7:00pm in the Dakotdome.

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