Former Dragons basketball assistant Wieck has guided Minnesota Duluth to historic D-II Elite Eight appearance
Bulldogs head coach Justin Wieck has led the men's basketball program to its first NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearance.
MOORHEAD — When Justin Wieck was an assistant coach for Minnesota State Moorhead, then head coach Chad Walhall would at times sit in the stands and watch Wieck prepare the team’s offense.
Wieck is grateful for that experience now that he’s the head men’s basketball coach at Minnesota Duluth.
“What I really think turned my career is he let me run the entire offense from Day 1,” said Wieck, an MSUM assistant for four seasons. “He wanted to be able to focus on defense and let me do my thing offensively. He’d give me 30, 40 minutes of practice each day and it was basically a blank slate. … Giving me that freedom to run the entire offense and do some new things that they hadn’t done before offensively, that meant a lot to me. I think that helped me career-wise.”
Wieck, in his fifth season with the Bulldogs, has UMD playing in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs (26-9) play Black Hills State (28-5) in the national quarterfinals at noon, Tuesday, March 21, in Evansville, Ind.
“This is a huge deal,” said Wieck, from North Liberty, Iowa.
Wieck was an assistant for Walthall from 2014-2018 before he took over the UMD program. During his first year as an assistant for MSUM, the Dragons advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in their program history, losing to Bellarmine (Ky.) in the national quarterfinals and finishing with a 35-4 record.
“Justin always had a really good gift for the offensive side of the ball,” Walthall said.
Wieck said his Elite Eight experience with the Dragons could be beneficial this week with the event again being hosted in Evansville.
“It helps playing in that arena, knowing what to expect, knowing where to go, knowing what that setting feels like as a coach,” Wieck said. “It will help me be a little more comfortable to understand how good those teams are. When we played (Bellarmine) live, you could feel just how good that level was.”
Prior to the Dragons, Wieck was a head coach at the University of Jamestown for two seasons and an assistant coach at Northern State for two seasons. Before that, he spent four seasons at the University of Iowa as a video coordinator and then graduate assistant. Wieck spent three seasons with Walthall on the Iowa staff.
That connection helped land Wieck with the Dragons.
“I was super lucky knowing Chad,” Wieck said. “He had already built that program, the players were in place.”
The Bulldogs were the preseason pick to win the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference by the league’s coaches, but ended up finishing third in the North Division behind Northern State and MSUM. The Bulldogs also lost to the Dragons in the NSIC tournament championship game.
“We went through some ups and downs and it wasn’t always easy,” Wieck said. “People got after us pretty good. Our team went through a lot of stuff and our guys really grew up. I’ve really seen our team grow throughout the year.”
That culminated with three wins at the Central Region tournament to advance to the Elite Eight. UMD was the No. 6 seed in the region.
“I remember my time at Moorhead and just how big it was to get to an Elite Eight,” Wieck said. “We’re in that same boat right now. It gives me a bit of an appreciation. It shows you just how hard it is to get there. I have a great appreciation for what these guys have done.”
The Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball team also advanced to the Elite Eight , marking the first time two NSIC teams from the same school have advanced to the Elite Eight in the same season. It’s only the 13th time that’s happened in NCAA history.
“That’s really special stuff,” Wieck said.
Black Hills State played two NSIC teams earlier this season, earning a 78-77 victory against the Dragons in mid-November on a last-second shot in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Yellow Jackets also beat Augustana 82-73.
Black Hills State is the No. 3 seed for the Elite Eight, while UMD is the No. 6 seed.
“I think that helps us gauge how their guys move against them and what things they can do well,” Wieck said. “We will definitely use that film.”
In recent history, Central Region teams have performed well at the Elite Eight, winning six national championships since 2014. Northwest Missouri State has won four of those.
“Everyone knows our Central Region is one of the toughest in the country,” Wieck said. “Our schedule has prepared us for this.”