The Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball team consists of NAIA Division II national tournament veterans, with six players with national experience.
Compare that to their opponent tonight — Governors State of University Park, Illinois — which has never played in a national tournament and it provides for an interesting dichotomy ahead of tonight's first-round game between the Tigers (22-11) and the Jaguars (25-8) at 5:45 p.m. at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
"We know it's about us and how we play," DWU coach Matt Wilber said. "We know what we can control and if we're taking care of our business, then we can have a chance to win. It's about playing this first game and not getting caught up in anything else."
Wilber said the final month of the season prepared them for the one-game nature of the national tournament, keeping the Tigers postseason hopes alive. DWU enters the tournament as the nation's top defensive rebounding team, averaging 29.2 rebounds per game and tops in assist-turnover ratio (1.7 per game). The Tigers rank fifth nationally in field goal percentage, shooting 51 percent.
"We've been good when we've been sharing the ball," Wilber said. "We know that's going to be part of our success."
DWU is led by senior Jason Spicer, and the Sioux Falls Roosevelt grad will get a chance to play out the rest of his career in his home city. He averages 18.9 points per game, while guard Ty Hoglund is averaging 18 points per game, despite being out since Feb. 7 with a foot injury. Trae Vandeberg is scoring 15.5 points per game and Nygel Drury is averaging 10.7 points per contest.
Regardless of how they fare in Sioux Falls, Governors State has a good backstory. Formerly a community college, the school is in its third season of sponsoring varsity sports, and the men's basketball team is the first team sport to advance to a national tournament.
The Jaguars (25-8) got hot as the season wore on, winning 18 of its 20 conference games and 16 of its final 17 games of the season. That included the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships, the automatic ticket to the national tournament. Four Governors State players average in double-figures, led by Robbie Brooks' 16 points per game. Jalen Miller averages 15.5 points per game and was the Chicagoland's player of the year.
"They won their league and they're a pretty athletic team. We will have a good battle on our hands," Wilber said.
The winner of today's contest will take on the College of Idaho or Mayville State (N.D.) in the second round of the tournament at 7:30 p.m. Friday.