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A cautious approach for Blue Hawks against Jamestown

Dickinson State's Megan Klein, one of seven seniors facing Jamestown for the last time in the regular season today, vies for a loose ball Jan. 20 at Scott Gymnasium. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)

If and when Dickinson State's Mark Graupe decides to step away from coaching basketball, he might consider a job in event promoting.

On the eve of his team's biggest regular season game of the year—a showdown with No. 11 Jamestown to decide the first-seed of the North Star Athletic Association postseason bracket—the coach let out a secret about his secret.

"We're going to do something that no one else has tried this year," Graupe said. "So if people want to see, they'll will just have to show up, and it's not a gimmick defense—although I love gimmick defenses, I believe strongly in gimmick defenses."

Will he tell anyone outside of his team prior to the game?

"Absolutely not," he continued. "We do have something up our sleeves, yes, now can we do it? I don't know, but we're sure going to try."

A win over the Jimmies may indeed take some trickery. The smothering and athletic leaders of the North Star—who boast a 22-3 record all-time against the Blue Hawks—have not lost to DSU since 2009. They were undefeated in the conference last year and, at 14-0, are just a weekend sweep away from doing it again.

If No. 21 Dickinson State were to pull off the victory, it would mean a tie for first place, with a simple coin flip to decide who would be No. 1 and who would be No. 2.

Still, with all that at stake, the approach for the Blue Hawks is a mellow one.

A win against the team that hit a buzzer-beater to beat them last year in the NSAA title game—a play that subsequently landed at No. 2 on the top 10 plays on "SportsCenter"—would be nice, sure.

But a win, they insist, is not the end of the world.

"It's a big game no matter who we play, obviously there's a little bit more ambition, it being Jamestown," senior Taylor Henningsgard reasoned. "It means something, so we're going to play as hard as we can. Maybe things will go our way, and maybe we'll be able to host a playoff game later on."

Should the Blue Hawks split the weekend—hypothetically lose to Jamestown and beat Presentation at home on Saturday— would be suffice, said Graupe.

If the Jimmies' streak continues, the Blue Hawks have to beat the Saints, he says, and they have to win their first two conference playoff games.

Then, even if they lose to Jamestown for a third time this season in his hypothetical, they'd be 24-7, a game better than last year, when they received the 10th and final at-large bid for the national tournament.

"I think we've put ourselves in a good situation to get back in," he said. "But we're in the worst-case scenario because we have nine times in our conference. Conferences with 10 get two bids. There's a lot of schools that have magic 10, so they get two automatic bids. Having nine, that's the worst. You'd rather have six."

Their five losses this season—to Jamestown and to four NAIA Division I schools, one being Vanguard, No. 3 in the nation—are all good losses, so to speak, which also figures well for the Blue Hawks.

But in an alternative hypothetical, where DSU beats Jamestown Friday and puts themselves a coin flip away from hosting three straight, would certainly be most ideal, said senior Megan Klein.

"There's a lot at stake, but there's really nothing to lose either," she said. "We pretty much just have the opportunity to give it all we got. Worse case, we're the two seed. Best case, we're the regular season champions, and we're the one seed. And we beat Jamestown. Gotta respect them, but they're beatable."

Graupe has made it a point all season long to not even consider the Jamestown game, lurking for so long at the bottom of their schedule.

But now with the Jimmies on their way to town, thoughts of Feb. 17 are finally permissible.

A win Friday, said Henningsgard, would be a lot of things. Mostly, it would just be a relief.

"It would be about time," she said.

A log jam on the men's side

The men's team will be playing this weekend also with a chance to grab the No. 1 seed in the NSAA tournament; their road there is just a lot more foggy.

After last week's defeat at the buzzer to Dakota State and two wins by Bellevue, the Blue Hawks find themselves out of first and dangerously close to third.

DSU welcomes Jamestown today, playing its best basketball of the season, just a game behind the Blue Hawks in the standings, who are just a game behind Bellevue for first.

There is a scenario where the Blue Hawks finish the regular season on Friday with a No. 1 seed; there's also an unlikely scenario where they finish the No. 4 seed behind Viterbo.

"Nothing's solidified, we've got to take care of business, that's for sure," said DSU head coach Justin Wetzel, whose Blue Hawks beat Jamestown in Jamestown earlier this season. "(Jamestown has) been playing well. They really shoot the ball, and that three-point line is the great equalizer. They have a plethora of shooters—they're never out of a game. It's a rivalry game, and the reality is, we won a three-point game that could easily have went the other way."

It does, however, look like the Blue Hawks will at the least secure a home playoff game for the conference tournament, which will be a first for Wetzel.

"People may not truly understand how hard it is to win a college basketball game on the road," he said. "It's just a difficult thing. I don't care if you're driving 30minutes, it's still difficult. You add on a bus trip and things are working against you. Being able to host is the first step toward chipping away at that conference championship."