Coyote men's basketball team ranks in top 10; coach Boots has high expectations for season With nine letterwinners and seven players with starting experience returning, the South Dakota men's basketball team has high expectations.
And so does the rest of the country.
The Coyotes are ranked in the top 10 in a pair of preseason polls, including a No. 3 national ranking in Division II Bulletin's Preseason Top 25.
"Its hard to put that in perspective," head coach Dave Boots said. "Its a good reflection of your program, but it doesn't mean a whole lot.
"We're cautiously optimistic that we can be a good team, but there could be some bumps in the road," Boots said.
The first bump South Dakota will have to overcome, may seem like a mountain.
Senior forward Tommie King, who was tabbed a Preseason First-Team All-American by Street & Smith's magazine, will not be eligible until Dec. 20, missing the Coyotes first eight games of the season, six of which are on the road. King, who averaged team highs of 22.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season, was awarded an additional semester of eligibility after the Big 12 Conference granted a medical hardship for King's 2001-02 injury-shortened season at Iowa State.
Ready to assist in overcoming the challenge is junior point guard Josh Mueller, Hartford, who led the North Central Conference and ranked fourth in the NCAA Division II with 8.1 assists per game.
Mueller earned Honorable Mention Preseason All-America laurels from Street & Smith's, after earning his second All-NCC honor last season.
"He was very disappointed in our finish last year as well. He took a lot of the responsibility on himself, despite playing on an injury he probably should not have been playing on."
The injury and finish that Boots referred to was a severely sprained ankle suffered in USD's 88-69 win over South Dakota State. The win pushed USD's record to 19-4, but with Mueller hampered by injury, the Coyotes dropped their final five games of the season to finish 19-9.
Boots, the school's all-time wins leader with a 309-123 record in 15 seasons at USD, has hopes of his team returning to the top of the NCC.
Another key reason for USD's optimism is the return of junior forward/center Steve Anderson, who sat out last season with a broken foot. In 2001-02, Anderson started all 27 games for the Coyotes, averaging 9.7 points and 8.1 rebounds a game. The 6-7, 240-pound Anderson was one of the top rebounders in the NCC as a sophomore, including a 22-rebound performance that was the fifth-best single-game performance in NCAA Division II that season.
"I really like Steven's intangibles," Boots said. "He is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. I think his leadership and presence, and being such a positive kid, brings so many things to our team."
Also returning this season are a pair of precise sharp-shooters in senior forward Derek Paben and senior guard Doug Hanson.
Paben, a native of Pickrell, NE, was second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 15.3 points per game. The 6-7, forward can light it up from outside the 3-point arc and at the free-throw line. Paben tied a school record with eight 3-pointers in a game against Southwest Minnesota State last season. He led the team in made 3's last year with 75 (75-of-206, 36.4 percent).
At the charity stripe, Paben was one of the nation's best. He ranked second in NCAA Division II in free-throw percentage, knocking down 91.8 percent (78-of-85) from the line. Paben, who was one of just three players to start all 28 games for the Coyotes, helped pace USD's NCAA Division II leading 79.9 free-throw percentage (452-of-566).
Hanson, who started nine games last season, ranked second in the NCC in 3-point field goal percentage, connecting on 48.9 percent of his shots from downtown (45-of-92). The Meckling native ranked fourth on team in scoring in 2002-03 with 9.4 points per contest.
Rounding out USD's returning players with starting experience is junior guard Luke Tibbetts and sophomore forward Turner Trofholz.
In addition to USD's seven returning starters, a pair of newcomers and a redshirt freshman are likely to vie for playing time: redshirt freshman Brock Seim, Vincent McGill and Kevin Davis.
Other returning letterwinners include senior guard Malcom Heard and sophomore forward Eddie Dickes.
"I like our depth," Boots said. "Last year, we ran into a shortage of players as the year went on. We'd like to have a really solid, seven or eight-man rotation and possibly get into a nine or 10-man rotation.
"We'll see how it goes, we're not going to assume that we can just throw 10 kids out there with equal minutes," Boots said. "But we will at least have some options to experiment with, and have a chance to have a big lineup on the floor or one that is small and athletic."