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Summit League Tournament Primer: Can South Dakota carry its momentum to an NCAA bid?

The Coyotes are hot, but spoilers are lurking.

NCAA Basketball: South Dakota at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t until the final day of the season that the Summit League was decided, and it was South Dakota that escaped the carnage with the regular season title. It was their first regular season crown since joining the Summit League in 2011, and also since becoming a Div. I program in 2009.

North Dakota State finished a game back of the Coyotes at 11-5, while Nebraska-Omaha was the only other team above .500 at 9-7. Three teams finished tied at 8-8, while IUPUI and Western Illinois round out the tournament participants with sub-.500 records.

As has been the case for the entire season, the Summit League Tournament should be unpredictable. Teams can get hot, star players can shine on the biggest stage, and March happens. We’re in for a fun week in Sioux Falls.

Tournament Format

The Summit League Tournament uses a standard eight-team bracket format. The No. 1 seed plays the No. 8 seed, No. 2 seed plays the No. 7 seed, and so on. Winners of the opening quarterfinal round advance to the semifinals, and winners of those advance to the championship game. Pretty simple.

All tournament games are played on a neutral floor at the Sanford Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The bracket is as follows:

How to Watch

If you need your Summit League fix, you’re in luck. All of the tournament games will be streamed on WatchESPN and ESPN3. Or, if this is your part of the country, the quarterfinals and semifinals will also be broadcast on the Midco Sports Network.

Quarterfinals, Saturday March 4:

Game 1: (1) South Dakota vs (8) Western Illinois, ESPN3, 7PM ET

Game 2: (2) North Dakota State vs (7) IUPUI, ESPN3, 9:30PM ET

Quarterfinals, Sunday March 5:

Game 3: (4) South Dakota State vs (5) Denver, ESPN3, 7PM ET

Game 4: (3) Nebraska-Omaha vs (6) Fort Wayne, ESPN3, 9:30PM ET

Semifinals, Monday March 6:

Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs Game 3 Winner, ESPN3, 7PM ET

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs Game 4 Winner, ESPN3, 9:30PM ET

Championship, Tuesday March 7:

Championship Game: Game 5 Winner vs Game 6 Winner, ESPN2, 9PM ET

3 Things to Watch

1. Will South Dakota bring their momentum to Sioux Falls?

The Coyotes head to nearby Sioux Falls with a six-game win streak in tow. In league play, they had the best defensive efficiency rating by KenPom, while Matt Mooney and Tyler Flack provide a dynamic inside-out punch. Craig Smith has done a great job building the program in such a short time.

However, South Dakota State and North Dakota State have taken home the last five Summit League titles. The Coyotes may have to go through both teams if they hope to make the program’s first NCAA Tournament. South Dakota’s recipe for success: take care of the ball and get to the free throw line. If they do those two things, we might see them cutting down the nets.

2. How far can Mike Daum take South Dakota State?

In conference tournaments, sometimes it helps to just have the best player on the floor. South Dakota State has that in Mike Daum, who is capable of single-handedly winning games. Here are some of Daum’s scoring outputs from this season: 51, 42, 39, 38. He averaged 27.8 points per game in Summit League play, and scored at least 30 points 10 times this season.

South Dakota State will need more than just Daum if they hope to make it hopes to make a second straight NCAA Tournament. Guys like Reed Tellinghuisen and AJ Hess will need to contribute if Daum has a rare off night. The Jackrabbits finished the season with three straight wins, and Daum is capable of willing them to three more.

3. Is a dark horse looming?

Denver, Fort Wayne, Nebraska-Omaha, Western Illinois, and South Dakota are all searching for their first NCAA Tournament birth. Each of those teams is capable of winning the Summit League tournament, save for an unexpected run by the Leathernecks.

Denver spent some time at the top of the Summit League standings, and Fort Wayne was pegged as preseason favorites. Nebraska-Omaha took home third place, and plays an up-and-down style that can be hard to prepare for on limited rest. Even IUPUI could win three straight if its shots are falling. The league beat up on itself in the regular season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any team from the bracket make it out as the last team standing.

Prediction

I’m a big proponent of playing your best basketball going into tournament time, so let’s go with South Dakota over Nebraska-Omaha in the championship game.

(Note: South Dakota State is my The Jerome pick.)