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Summit League title contenders: South Dakota State has company

The Jackrabbits will have at least two teams on their heels as they chase a third-straight title.

2016 Summit League Champs
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

South Dakota State has spent the last few years breathing the air at the top of the Summit League. The Jackrabbits have won at least a share of the regular season conference title three times since the 2012-13 season — including the previous two seasons. Add 2012, 2013, and 2016 Summit League tournament championships and you can see the beginnings of a dynasty.

The biggest piece to the Jackrabbits’ run for a third consecutive regular season title will be sophomore forward Mike Daum. The Kimball, Neb. native led the team in scoring in his freshman season with 15.2 points per game, coupled with over six rebounds per game.

Daum will be especially important to the Jackrabbits because the team will lose nearly 30 points per game in scoring with the departure of seniors George Marshall and Deondre Parks.

So who are the teams that could catch the Jackrabbits this year? It looks like two teams will have a fair chance, and SDSU fans will recognize both from last year.

North Dakota State challenged the Jackrabbits in last year’s Summit League tournament final, and IPFW shared last year’s regular season crown with SDSU. Both return enough talent to give South Dakota State a run for its money.

North Dakota State returns its top two leading scorers from last season in juniors A.J. Jacobson and Paul Miller. Miller averaged 15.3 points per game and Jacobson added 12.7.

The Bison will have a hole to fill in their rebounding production. Kory Brown graduated and took 6.5 rebounds per game with him. That will make for an increase in workload for senior forward Dexter Werner, who led last year’s squad with 6.7 boards.

NDSU will have to overcome last year’s road struggles if it hopes to contend this season. The Bison had a 7-1 conference record at home but mustered just a 1-7 mark on the road. But an upset-filled run to the finals of the conference tournament may have provided the young squad with invaluable confidence heading into this season.

IPFW tied the Jackrabbits last season atop the conference leaderboard with a 12-4 record in league play, but the Mastodons were upset by North Dakota State in the conference semifinals.

The Mastodons do not have as much experience returning this year as the Bison, but there is still some. IPFW had five players average double figures in points per game last season, and two will return this year.

Last season’s leading scorer, Max Landis, graduated, so it will be up to Mo Evans to step up even more.

Evans only played 18 games last season after an academic issue kept him sidelined from mid-January on. Evans averaged 16.9 points per game when he was on the court and dished out 5.1 assists per game.

John Konchar nearly averaged a double-double in his redshirt freshman campaign, with 13 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Beyond Konchar, the Mastadons will need to focus on rebounding by committee, as nobody else on last year’s team even averaged five rebounds per game.

The Summit League’s double-round-robin, home-and-home format means each of these contenders will play one another twice. If one squad can steal a road game against either or both of the others, it will go a long way in determining the regular season champion.