It's come as stealthily as a person creeping through an empty arena, but it appears as though the Winter season will begin today.
After zigging & zagging to get games on the schedule in coming days, the men are set to tip-off this afternoon at 2 in Lincoln, Nebraska against Nevada.
After losing an event in Milwaukee the ops did a good job finding quick replacements, but then came the axe on games against Loyola Marymount & Minnesota which were supposed to be played Sunday/Monday in the Twin Cities.
It's going to be that way this year, no game is safe until maybe hours before it. We've all gotten a pretty good dose of that through the 🏈 season but 🏀 will take it to another level because of the typical frequency of contests.
The bar for entry into the tournament has been lowered dramatically and may continue to be whittled down to give the blue-bloods and the contenders the best chance to make it through to the most important part of the season.
It's been a year of impermanence so why should James Naismith's game be any different?
If the team gets to test itself against Nebraska, Kansas & TCU - GREAT
but the flexibility for those young men & women will be tested on a daily basis from now through March. (hopefully!)
As for Jory Collins' squad, they were also supposed to go today in Lincoln against Big Red but that rug was pulled out on short-notice as well. For now they're set to go against Northern Iowa next Wednesday at home. As with the gents, they have a couple dates on tap against blue-bloods of the hoops world which would do wonders for them as they also have plenty of new faces.
There's going plenty of new at the SHAC this year!
Emily Dietz, Michelle Gaislerova & Ryan Cobbins will be the leaders in year two as the roster-makeover hit overdrive. Cobbins is one of eight players on the roster with two or years of experience or less, so even she will have her struggles but the growing pains team-wide may come fast & furious.
The men are also going to have new players on the court, taking the time & production of Vinnie Shahid, Tyson Ward & Jared Samuelson. Beyond Rocky Kreuser, Sam Griesel & Tyree Eady there's not much known about this team. Point guard is the biggest question area since Cam Hunter also departed. In their place are Dezmond McKinney & Donald Carter III. DC3 is the prohibitive favorite to be the lead-guard since he's coming in with JUCO experience but it's hard to imagine that coach Richman can capture same kind of lightning that he did with Shahid.
Only time will tell.
I think there's something exciting about all the unknown.
Maybe the women will avoid the early season struggles of a year ago. They won't have much choice if they want to improve on their .367 winning %. One thing is certain, this group is the foundation of whatever they're able to accomplish in the next few years.
The South Dakota schools are the class of the conference but the youthful nature of our roster may lead to them shocking some people along the way! Of the many new names, I'm most intrigued to see what redshirt-sophomore transfer Heaven Hamling adds this year. She already helped setup the future as her younger sister committed from Grand Rapids, MN but the former Stephen F. Austin guard will hopefully add things in the present!
If Maleeck Harden-Hayes finishes the season as a team-MVP contender then a third straight title may be in the offing. It's not all on him, of course, but the sophomore from Moorhead won't get much better of a chance to become a main player.
Which brings me to the North Dakota three - Grant Nelson, Boden Skunberg & Grayson Haman will get plenty of attention since they're the local boys but the recipe has been to bring players along slowly and that's worked pretty well recently so I don't expect a deviation.
It's not just a matter of following the formula for the sake of it, there won't be many minutes behind Kreuser & Tyler Witz for Nelson and the guards will each have to earn their roles with several incumbents ahead of them. My guess is that Skunberg will get the most minutes this season of the three, but even that will depend on how Jaxon Knotek does with his opportunity. And since I didn't mention them yet, Jarius Cook & Odell Wilson are in the mix as well.
If either team is able to get to 10 wins they will have done great!
Six sounds about right for the women while nine will be close for the men.
But as always, it will all come down to Sioux Falls - so hopefully they get that far! ! !