South Dakota State is getting used to their winning ways. This year is slightly different as they earned coveted No. 1 seed for the The Summit League Tournament beginning March 9 in Sioux Falls, just a short ride from their home in Brookings. Last year, the Jackrabbits marched through the tournament and earned the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament berth.
The Jacks earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of a tiebreaker over Western Illinois despite having identical records–SDSU beat the Leathernecks twice during the regular season.
The first round opponent for the Jacks will be the No. 8 seed IUPUI Jaguars, a team that struggled the entire season en route to a 1-15 conference mark. SDSU, led by the nations fifth-leading scorer Nate Wolters, should have no issues in their first game.
The other game on SDSU’s half of the bracket features the No. 4 Oakland Golden Grizzlies and the No. 5 IPFW Mastodons. The ‘Dons have won five-straight heading into this one and swept the season series with the Griz, winning by six and two. These two are familiar with eachother–two of their last three games were against one another. It’s tough to beat a team three times in one season, so look for the Griz to exact a bit of revenge thanks to the Summit’s second-leading scorer Travis Bader.
In the bottom half of the quarterfinal matchups, No. 2 Western Illinois takes on the No. 7 South Dakota Coyotes. The Leathernecks, despite being the two-seed, struggled against the Coyotes this season, winning both games by two points. If USD can slow down an already struggling Leathernecks offense, it’ll be Upset City at the Sioux Falls Arena.
The final quarterfinals game pits the No. 3 North Dakota State Bison against the No. 6 UMKC Kangaroos. The ‘Roos have lost nine of 11 entering the game and the result of this one should reflect it and while NDSU has limped to the finish following a 7-0 start in the Summit. They beat UMKC twice already by an average of 28 points, so this should be a one-sided affair.
South Dakota State might have the biggest name in the league in Wolters but Oakland might have the most dangerous team. They feature four players averaging better than 10 points per game, led by Bader and have the second-leading rebounder in the Summit in Corey Petros. They also feature a point guard in Duke Mondy that averages 5.2 assists per game but 3.4 turnovers as well.
The ‘Jacks will likely face the Griz in the semifinals, so only one of these two stars will emerge victorious.
Should the Bison and Coyotes meet in the semis, it’ll likely be a bloodbath as NDSU crushed South Dakota twice this year–by 19 and 26.
Regardless who emerges from this side of the bracket, both Oakland and South Dakota State look like they’re playing some of the best basketball in The Summit.
The Pick: South Dakota State and Tournament MVP Nate Wolters will make it back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
Follow Ryan Darcy on Twitter: @Ryan_D_Rants