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Summit Championship Preview: Resurgent SDSU stands in the way of Omaha history

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It’s all on the line in Sioux Falls.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska Omaha at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With a name like the Summit, it’s hard to avoid cliches.

When Omaha takes the court Tuesday night against South Dakota State, it will be 40 minutes from reaching the first major summit of its young Division I life. Longtime Mavericks’ coach Derrin Hansen talked about that transition on Monday night.

“There were a lot of unknowns, a lot of things we really didn’t know. We learned along the way. We hoped one day to be here, we competed against these teams before - the Dakota schools - we felt if we could get at the same level with them, we could compete with them again,” he said. “There’s always that one thing out there that you’re looking at, and that’s the NCAA Tournament.”

If Omaha gets its first-ever NCAA bid in its sixth Division I season, it’ll truly have earned it.

The Mavericks play a SDSU team that’ll be on a familiar stage, as the Jacks have been in the past two Summit championship games. This includes an eight-point win over North Dakota State a year ago.

They’ll also be in hostile territory. The Denny Sanford PREMIER Center should be doused in blue, as a fan base known to travel gets another title game in its home state. Mavericks’ first-team all-league guard Tra-Deon Hollins knows what his team will be up against.

“This is what everyone dreams of, an opportunity to play in front of the crowd we’re going to play in front of tomorrow,” he said following Omaha’s blowout semifinal win over IUPUI.

For SDSU, the stage might be familiar, but it didn’t seem likely just months ago. The Jacks struggled early in T.J. Otzelberger’s debut season, getting off to a 1-5 league start with a defense that leaked points. But like it did against South Dakota in the semifinals, SDSU rallied.

“I thought tonight’s game was indicative of our season,” Otzelberger said after the comeback win. “We had adversity and pulled together as a group.”

Here are the particulars of a compelling championship game that tips at 8 PM CT on ESPN2:

Previous meetings

The teams split their regular season meetings, with each winning on the other’s home floor. The Mavericks put up 101 points in a Jan. 7 win in Brookings. The Jacks would return the favor on Jan. 28 with a four-point win in Omaha. The split sums up the Summit this season: a lot of points, and a lot of parity.

SDSU at a glance

Quite simply, the Jacks have the best player in the league. Summit Player of the Year Mike Daum averaged 30.5 points over the two games against Omaha, and it’ll be incumbent upon Tre’Shawn Thurman to contain the SDSU superstar.

Largely because of Daum, the Jacks have the Summit’s most efficient offense. All of their bigs are threats from deep, and athletic forward Reed Tellinghuisen especially shouldn’t be overlooked. The junior is averaging 17.0 points per game in the Summit tournament, and is a nice escape valve for defenses that key in on Daum.

Omaha’s relentless pace may, at least at times, play into the Jacks’ favor. Their guards - Michael Orris, Tevin King, Chris Howell - are not three-point threats, and could feel more comfortable driving toward the basket in transition than spreading out in the half court.

That said, SDSU played at the third-slowest tempo in the league, and looked uncomfortable as South Dakota pushed the pace early while building up a big lead in Monday’s semifinal.

Omaha at a glance

Omaha is shamelessly fast-paced.

The Mavericks play at the eighth-fastest tempo in the country. This can be tough for opponents to handle, and never was that more on display than in the semifinals. Omaha pushed its way to a 42-18 halftime lead against IUPUI in a game that ultimately saw 82 possessions.

Hollins is an elite defender that excels running the up-tempo system, while fellow senior guard Marcus Tyus is one of the league’s best perimeter threats (45.6 percent on 153 3PA). The Jacks backcourt will yet again have its hands full after letting Matt Mooney explode for 30 points in the semifinals.

Omaha has been balanced during league play, but has struggled with turnovers and cleaning up the defensive glass. Giving too many chances to a player like Daum could be deadly.

Prediction

The best player and de facto home-court advantage? It’s hard to pick against SDSU.