For the first time in history, the South Dakota men's basketball team is entering a season as the defending Summit League champions, as they open league play at home, Saturday (December 30) against Denver.

So far, the Coyotes are showing no signs of letting the pressure that comes with a title defense get to them. USD has torn through the the non-conference portion of their schedule, winning 12 times in 16 games, ten of those victories by double digit margins. Of their four defeats, two came at Duke and UCLA.

South Dakota is using strong play on both ends of the floor to fuel their fast start.

The Coyotes are giving up the fewest points per game of any team in the conference, while allowing a league-low 40 percent shooting percentage by opponents.

USD is also taking care of the basketball, with the second fewest turnovers in the Summit, while getting to the free throw line more than anyone in the conference.

Last season's leading scorer Matt Mooney is picking up where he left off. The junior is averaging 17 points per game and has hit 50 percent or better from the floor six times already this season.

Tyler Hagedorn is the only other player scoring in double figures (14 points per game), although his status is a bit uncertain after he suffered a broken nose recently.

Returning starter Trey-Burch Manning is averaging nine points a game and leading USD in rebounding.

Off the bench, Tyler Peterson and Nick Fuller have been solid contributors, averaging a combined 15 points in 34 minutes per game.

The Coyotes open Summit League play with a Denver team that went through a major transition last season, scrapping their deliberate offensive style for a more wide open approach under new head coach Rodney Billups.

In year two, Billups is relying on most of the same offensive weapons. Center Daniel Amigo and guards Joe Rosga and Jake Pemberton are combining for 46 of the Pioneers' 70 points per game so far. Amigo is also leading the way with seven rebounds a game.

Denver (5-8) is the third best rebounding team in the Summit so far.

Offensively, the Pioneers don't attempt a lot of three-pointers, but when they do they're the second most accurate team in the conference.

Denver has been very good on defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 41 percent from the floor. Only the Coyotes have been better on defense so far.

Tipoff is 3:30 PM, Saturday in Vermillion.

I talked with Coyotes head coach Craig Smith about the non-conference schedule and the Summit League opener with Denver: