No one gave Omaha a chance. The Mavericks labored to a 9-22 season a year ago, and coaches and media members picked Omaha to finish eighth this year.
So of course, Omaha is in position to finish in a first-place tie with South Dakota State when the regular season ends Saturday.
The Mavericks hit the road for games at Oral Roberts and Denver, but they figure to be favored in both and would claim the league tournament’s No. 1 seed if they tie with South Dakota State.
And the race for the top spot is much like the rest of the league -- still a lot to be determined. Not a single spot is locked down in the current Summit League standings.
Purdue Fort Wayne and North Dakota State are duking it out for the third spot, and it just so happens they play each other on Saturday. Then there’s Oral Roberts, North Dakota and South Dakota -- three teams all with nine conference losses.
The final spot in the league tournament is a battle right now between Western Illinois and Denver. The Pioneers are practically done, but they have a sliver of a chance.
So buckle up for the drama this week.
On tap this week
Thursday, Feb. 28
North Dakota at Purdue Fort Wayne
Omaha at Oral Roberts
North Dakota State at South Dakota
Western Illinois at Denver
Saturday, March 2
Omaha at Denver
North Dakota at South Dakota
North Dakota State at Purdue Fort Wayne
Western Illinois at South Dakota State
Game of the Week: North Dakota State at Purdue Fort Wayne, 5 p.m. EST Saturday
Both play Thursday and if North Dakota State loses at South Dakota, then this game loses a lot of its luster. But third place could potentially be on the line in northeast Indiana on Saturday.
Plus, it’ll be John Konchar’s final home game. If he scores 10 points on Thursday against North Dakota, he’ll be the first player in NCAA Division I history to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds, hand out 500 assists and nab 200 steals in a career
1. South Dakota State (23-7, 13-2): Mike Daum scored 25 points in a win over rival South Dakota on Saturday, and he’s now only the 10th player in NCAA history to top the 3,000-point mark. In un-related Daum news, Skyler Flatten has played 1,091 minutes for the Jackrabbits, and that’s third most among NCAA players this season.
2. Omaha (18-9, 12-2): Interesting fact on the Mavericks -- Omaha has played in the league’s highest-scoring conference game when the Mavericks and South Dakota combined for 209 points, and they’ve also played in the league’s lowest-scoring conference game when the Mavericks and North Dakota State combined for 108 points on Saturday. All that and the Mavericks are two wins away from the league tournament’s top spot.
3. Purdue Fort Wayne (17-12, 9-5): The mastodons continue to fire away from deep, making 319 3-pointers this year, good enough for third in the nation. It’s pretty likely that Purdue Fort Wayne is the No. 3 seed in Sioux Falls, and that could mean a semifinal clash with South Dakota State, whom the Mastodons have given fits this year.
4. North Dakota State (14-14, 8-6): Far more important than basketball is that the house of Bison assistant coach Kyan Brown caught fire recently. Brown, an Oral Roberts graduate, is well-liked among everyone in the league. There’s a GoFundMe page set up for anyone who would like to donate.
5. Oral Roberts (10-20, 6-9): The Golden Eagles got Emmanuel Nzekwesi back but then immediately lost guard Sam Kearns to a shoulder injury. A win over Omaha on Thursday locks the Golden Eagles into the league tournament’s No. 5 seed.
6. South Dakota (11-16, 5-9): The Coyotes still have a shot at the No. 5 seed in Sioux Falls. South Dakota has to beat North Dakota State and North Dakota, and it also needs Oral Roberts to lose at home to Omaha.
7. North Dakota (11-16, 5-9): Forward Conner Avants is back after a six-game absence, and he logged 11 points in a win over Denver on Saturday. The Fighting Hawks are also guaranteed to be in the league tournament, but like everyone else, a certain seed is still yet to be determined.
8. Western Illinois (9-18, 4-10): A win for the Leathernecks at Denver on Thursday guarantees Western Illinois a spot in Sioux Falls. … One more block for Brandon Gilbeck and he’ll only the fourth player in Summit League history to record a season of at least 100 blocks.
9. Denver (7-21, 2-12): The Pioneers’ chances of making it to Sioux Falls are quite remote. It would require wins over Western Illinois and Omaha, a South Dakota State victory over Western Illinois and North Dakota State to finish ahead of Purdue Fort Wayne in the standings. But on a positive note, senior guard Joe Rosga still holds the league’s all-time record for free throw percentage (88.2).