Tuesday may have been the biggest day in South Dakota sports history, but at USD it will be remembered for the pain that resulted from it.
Both Coyote basketball teams suffered gut-wrenching losses to their arch-rivals in The Summit League Tournament Championship – losses that ultimately cost them the chance to play in their respective NCAA Tournaments.
Many tears were shed. Some flowed in private, while others came in plain view of reporters and television cameras.
In the words of Craig Smith, "It really, really stings."
There is a silver lining here, of course, and that is that both programs have earned the right to keep playing. That may be hard for the players – much less anyone else – to accept as something other than a consolation, but it is still an opportunity not everyone gets.
Here's a look at what both teams are looking at in terms of postseason play.
Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT)
It's pretty simple for Dawn Plitzuweit and company. The Coyotes locked up one of 32 automatic bids by winning The Summit League's regular season title. This will be the program's fourth consecutive WNIT appearance and fifth overall.
The rest of the field will be announced on Monday, March 12, following the NCAA Touranment selection show. All games are played at school sites, which are determined through a bidding process. Expect the South Dakota administration to be very competitive there, just like they were during the team's run to the 2016 WNIT Championship. That year, the Coyotes hosted five of their six games in the tournament.
- Round 1: March 14-16
- Round 2: March 17-20
- Round 3: March 21-23
- Quarterfinals: March 24-26
- Semifinals: March 28-29
- Championship: March 31 (2 p.m. CT)
National Invitation Tournament (NIT)
Things are a little more up in the air for the Coyote men.
The NIT is the unquestioned "next best thing" to the NCAA Tournament. However, unlike last year, South Dakota does not have the luxury of an automatic bid. That belonged to South Dakota State this year, but it went away entirely when the Jackrabbits won The Summit League Tournament. That means South Dakota would have to receive at-large berth.
There are a number of things that go into that, including RPI. USD's currently stands at 89, which is technically good enough. However, as we have all learned by now, it might not be enough.
Several reputable publications attempt project the NIT field every year. Three of them have the Coyotes in as of today. That's encouraging, but far from definitive.
As of this moment, the odds of South Dakota making a second consecutive NIT appearance are probably 30/70 at best.
College Basketball Invitational (CBI)
If things don't work out with the NIT, South Dakota would likely be a solid candidate for the 16-team College Basketball Invitational.
Some very recognizable schools - Oregon State, VCU, Oregon, Pittsburgh and defending champion Wyoming - highlight the 10-year history of the event, which uses a true bracket format.
All games will be played at school sites.
- Round 1: Week of March 12
- Quarterfinals/Semifinals: Week of March 19
- Championship Series (Best-of-3): Week of March 26 (ESPNU)
CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT)
Last but not least is the CIT. A 14-member selection committee, which includes Fort Wayne Athletic Director Kelley Hartley Hutton, will look to fill a 32-team field with schools that compete outside of high major conferences. Unlike the CBI, the CIT does not consider teams that have below .500 records.
One quirky thing about the CIT is that it uses the old NIT format, so if you win your first round game you don't find out who your second round opponent is until all of the first round games are complete. Is that a dealbreaker? Not at all. But I think it does make it a little more difficult on the coaches.
- First Round: March 12-15
- Second Round: March 16-21
- Quarterfinals: March 22-25
- Semifinals: March 28 (CBS Sports)
- Championship: March 30 (CBS Sports)
I'm no bracketologist, but I think USD deserves a spot in the NIT. With that said, I understand fully that they are a "bubble team" from a Mid-Major Conference. Unfortunately, I think that will keep them out.
That could change if the Coyotes get a little help this weekend. USD fans should be rooting for all of the top-seeded teams to win their conference tournaments. If they do, odds go up. Each one that doesn't hurts their chances.
Honestly though, if I look at it the most realistic way I know how, I think South Dakota will likely be making its first appearance in the CBI. That's a solid tournament and, in my opinion, its profile is a little bit higher than that of the CIT. I also think fans would enjoy that format better.
In the end, the direction they go isn't as important as the opportunity itself. It will be whatever these teams make of it.
Two years ago, the Coyote women delivered one of the greatest accomplishments in South Dakota sports history, becoming the first Summit League school to win a national tournament.
That's the type of thing that can help heal any wound.