Men’s team searches for “Cinderella Story” in Sioux Falls

Brendan Reidy , Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill. — It’s March, and that means it’s time for playoff basketball in college hoops. College basketball teams all across the country will be looking to win their conference tournaments and lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Western Illinois will be one of the teams that will have an opportunity to make a playoff run. They will be off to Sioux Falls this weekend to play in the intense Summit League Tournament. People allacross the nation rave about how great this tournament is, and the USA Today has even called it, “March’s Best Kept Secret.”

The main focus is obviously turned to the actual games, but when the teams are at Sioux Falls, they will announce the conference awards. Western Illinois should bring home quite a bit of hardware, with many of their players up for awards. Brandon Gilbeck just brought home Summit League Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, as he’s the NCAA leader in blocks. The two Freshman, Zion Young and Ben Pyle were runnerups for Summit League Newcomer of the Year after their strong performances from their first season. As for All-Summit teams go, Brandon Gilbeck and Kobe Webster were named to the All-Summit Second team.

The Leathernecks have been tough outs the last two seasons come tournament time. Two years ago, the men’s team lost on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater from the No. 1 seeded South Dakota, and last year lost to No. 1 seeded South Dakota State in the final minute. Luckily for Western Illinois they will have another opportunity to knock off a No. 1 seed.

This year they will have a rematch from last year’s contest against South Dakota State. South Dakota State is the No. 1 seeded team in the tournament, and the Jackrabbits will be poised to make it into March Madness for the fourth consecutive year. They are led by the super senior Michael Daum. Daum just made his way onto the top-10 NCAA All-Time scoring list, and has been tearing up the Summit since day one. This year he has seven doubledoubles and is on multiple NBA draft boards. And his side-kick, David Jenkins, who has had an impressive sophomore campaign, will lead the charge for SDSU. Their supporting cast has been terrific as well. They have led the Jackrabbits to a 24-7 record. South Dakota State is an offensive power house. They currently have the fifth best offense in the country. If they keep up their balanced attack on both ends of the court, it will be a tough matchup for Western Illinois.

The Leathernecks lost both their matchups against South Dakota State this season. The Purple and Gold will need to have stellar performances across the board if they want to compete against the Jackrabbits inside the hostile environment of the Denny Sanford Premiere Center. Kobe Webster and Gilbeck are the focal points of the Leatherneck offense, but they will need a more balanced scoring attack when they play in the Summit League Tournament. They will need to get multiple players such as Young, CJ Duff and Isaac Johnson in double figures. If they pass the ball on the offensive end more proficiently and hit their shots from beyond the arc, this game should be a thriller.

Western Illinois has come so close the past two seasons to upsetting a No. 1 seed, and they will have another opportunity this season. Third time’s the charm, right? Tip-off against South Dakota State is set for 6PM on Saturday in Sioux Falls. Twitter: breidytv