Not quite at the halfway point of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference schedule, the South Dakota School of Mines and Black Hills State University men's and women's basketball teams have some tough games ahead.
This weekend is a prime example, as the Fort Lewis College men's and women's teams are both nationally ranked and will compete at the Young Center in Spearfish Friday and Goodell Gymnasium in Rapid City Saturday.
As is the case with the RMAC, local college fans will be treated with some talented basketball.
The Fort Lewis women, ranked as high as 13th in the country, take on BHSU tonight at 5 p.m., and are at Mines Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
The Fort Lewis men, ranked 21st in the nation, follow the women's games at 7:30 p.m. tonight and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. Adams State will also face Mines and the Jackets as Fort Lewis' traveling partner.
The Mines women had an opportunity on the road last weekend to face the top team in the league at Colorado State Pueblo, and lost 71-45. Hardrocker coach Ryan Larsen said they got a taste of what the top team in the league is like and now they will face a team ranked in the national polls.
"As far as people coming out and seeing a really good basketball team and really good players, this is a tremendous opportunity for them," Larsen said.
CSU-Pueblo is 9-0 in league play and 11-4 overall, while Fort Lewis is 9-1 and 15-1.
"We know we should be prepared with how good that team is going to be coming in here," he said. "It's an excellent opportunity for a lot of reasons. One, if we can get a win, it will help us move up in the standings, and it should give us a lot of confidence moving forward. It's always fun competing against really good teams and really talented players."
The Skyhawks are paced by freshman Vivian Gray, who statistically is among the league leaders in most categories, averaging 17.5 points a game.
"She is a fantastic player. It's going to take a tremendous team effort to shut her down," Larsen said. "They also have good players around. Astrea Reed (13.5 ppg) redshirted to get a chance to play with this team this year an she is very talented."
The Hardrockers are 5-4 and 10-5. Larsen said they have been inconsistent but have shown signs that they can compete in RMAC. Last year Mines was eighth and competed in the Rocky Mountain Shootout (postseason tournament).
"I'm pleased with where we are at," he said. "There are a couple of losses where you can look at and feel like we had a chance and let it slip through our fingers, but there is not that egregious loss that could really bite us at the end of the year.
"I like this team's ability to adapt. We had to totally reinvent ourselves not too long ago do to injuries and playing four guards. I think we're hitting our stride now as far as figuring how to score and when to score, and knowing what we are doing defensively."
The Adams State women are 1-9 and 3-9 overall and will tip off at 5:30 p.m. tonight against the Hardrockers.
Much of the same can be said for the Black Hills State women, who look to contend for a playoff berth this year as well. The yellow Jackets are also stand 5-4 in league play and 11-4 overall. BHSU and Mines are in a four-way tie for sixth place with two teams ahead of them at 6-3.
Jeff Trumbauer's Black Hills State men's team has been playing its best basketball as of late and has won four of its last five games. The Yellow Jackets are currently in eighth place in the standings at 5-4, and 8-5 overall.
They'll get a big test tonight against Fort Lewis, which leads the RMAC at 9-1, standing 13-2 overall. Tonight kicks off a tough stretch for not only the Jackets, but for the Mines as they will play four games in eight days.
The Jackets and Hardrockers battle Tuesday in Spearfish and will be at Westminster on Thursday.
"You will certainly find out where you are at," Trumbauer said. "Not only Friday night, but Saturday, Tuesday and next Thursday as well. It's a measuring stick."
FLC has the No. 1 scoring offense, posting 89.4 points per game while the defense is giving up 77 points per game.
The Skyhawks are led by senior Rasmus Bach (15.2 ppg), followed by junior Marquel Beasley (14.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg), senior Daniel Hernadez (13.9 ppg), senior DJ Miles (12.2 ppg) and sophomore Riley Farris (10.2 ppg).
Trumbauer said Fort Lewis is a deep team and does not have too many weaknesses.
"You can't really scheme them or do anything in particular to one specific player, because if you help too much somewhere, another player is going to hurt you," he said. "I think the key is being disciplined on both ends of the floor. They are leading the league in points scored per game and tempo is a key. We have to play with every ounce of energy that we have and try to get as many stops as we can."
While Trumbauer said they have a long ways to go, they are in a good position now to make a run during the second half of the league schedule.
"I like the way our team is trending right now," he said. "We've made strides. I don't feel like we are firing on all cylinders, though. Going into the season, I felt like this is one of our better shooting teams, but it has been an area in which we have struggled. Our defense has improved immensely and our offense is improving. The next step is continue to improve in those areas and gain some confidence and start knocking some shots down.
"It's early and we are glad that we have found a way to win four of the last five. Night-in and night-out you have a few hours of enjoyment before you look at the schedule. It's going to be that way no matter who we play; we're going to have to be on our A game."
Adams State, also among the top scoring teams in the league, is 6-4 in the conference and 8-8 overall.
The young Mines men has showed its inexperience as of late and are 3-6 in league play and 6-8 overall, 10th in the standings. The Hardrockers are scoring 71.6 points per game, while the defense is allowing 72.2 a game. The Hardrockers are third in the RMAC in 3-point percentage (.404) and first in rebounding defense (allowing just 30 per game).