Opinion: Tigers need to stay hot to stay atop the GPAC
If someone would have told the Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball team two weeks ago that it would beat Dordt College and Briar Cliff University -- two formidable Great Plains Athletic Conference opponents -- by a combined 49 points, it ...
If someone would have told the Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball team two weeks ago that it would beat Dordt College and Briar Cliff University -- two formidable Great Plains Athletic Conference opponents -- by a combined 49 points, it definitely would not have believed you.
To predict that the Tigers would have two wins would have been believable, but a 27-point win over Dordt and a 22-point victory over the Chargers?
DWU sophomore Brady Wiebe just laughed when asked what he would have said if someone would have told him the Tigers would beat Dordt by 27 points. Senior Scott Nelson's reaction was similar when asked what he would have said about beating two GPAC opponents by almost 50 points.
"I would say you're crazy," Nelson said after Wednesday's upset of No. 13 Briar Cliff. "To beat (Briar Cliff) by 22 is unbelievable."
What makes Wednesday's win just a little more unbelievable is that the Tigers were without their leading scorer for much of the game. Senior Colby Fitzgerald went down with a knee injury less than six minutes into the game. He re-entered the game and tried to play, but had to be helped off the court.
That could have been bad for Dakota Wesleyan. Very bad.
Fitzgerald is second in the league in scoring at 18.1 points per game and is a huge offensive threat for the Tigers. But, instead of panicking, everyone picked up their game to fill in for Fitzgerald.
Brady Wiebe continued his hot streak with 21 points, Scott Nelson had 16 and Mitch Bain scored 19 points -- 14 in the first half -- to keep DWU going without its scoring leader.
It's because of guys like Wiebe, Nelson and Bain, as well as Chase Walder, that Ike Muoneke said he wasn't surprised at his team's big wins.
"I would have said it's not surprising," said the senior captain when asked what his reaction would be if someone would have told him his team would dominate Dordt and Briar Cliff. "Not to sound overconfident, but we are a good team, and when we lose a game it's usually because of us. We have so much talent.
"We know what we're capable of when we're in control and what we can do."
If the Dordt and Briar Cliff games were any indication, DWU is very capable of playing up to and beyond its opponents ability levels, which will bode very well for the Tigers in the coming weeks.
Dakota Wesleyan made its way to the top of the GPAC with Wednesday's win, but it is in a precarious spot as it shares the No. 1 slot with Morningside and Concordia. The Mustangs host Concordia Saturday, so one of the top three teams in the country will be bumped down a spot in the conference by default.
The Tigers have yet to play either team, but they get their first chance Jan. 28. Dakota Wesleyan plays Morningside, which is also 8-2 in the conference, Wednesday in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Until that date with Morningside, DWU has to be on top of its game because it hosts Hastings College -- which beat the Tigers on the road earlier this season -- Sunday at 4 p.m.
The DWU athletic department said Thursday afternoon that Fitzgerald -- who had an MRI on his knee Thursday -- will be a game-time decision Sunday, so Walder, Wiebe, Bain, Muoneke, Nelson and the rest of the Tigers will have to be at the top of their games.
It's not just Hastings and Morningside DWU needs to be in top form against, either. From here on out, every single GPAC game will go a long way for the Tigers in terms of securing or losing home-court advantage for the GPAC postseason tournament, as well as a spot at the NAIA national tournament in March.
Until DWU is written into the bracket, nothing is certain.
"It's tough to be on top of the GPAC, because anybody can beat anybody," Nelson said. "But it's good to be back on top."
The top is where the Tigers were picked to finish in the preseason poll, and the top is where they have wanted to be all season.
Now they're finally there, and, if their past few games have been any indication, it's where they're going to do their best to stay.