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Summit League Tournament Preview: Will the Dakotas prevail in Sioux Falls?

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The States that have dominated the league for nearly a decade look poised to meet in the final.

North Dakota State v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As usual, the Dakotas take center stage as the Summit League heads to Sioux Falls.

North Dakota State and South Dakota State enter the league tournament as regular season co-champions and the first and second seeds, respectively, after a dramatic battle won by the Bison last Thursday. The programs that have combined to win the past eight Summit Tournament titles stand as the favorites, but there should be no shortage of excitement in a league that features plenty of squads that can light up the scoreboard.

Here are the details on one of the country’s most raucous league tournaments.

Bracket

Schedule

Quarterfinals (Sat., March 7)

Midco SN will air and ESPN+ ($) will stream both games.

Game 1: No. 8 Denver (7-23, 3-13) vs. No. 1 North Dakota State (22-8, 13-3), 7 p.m.

Game 2: No. 7 Purdue Fort Wayne (13-18, 6-10) vs. No. 2 South Dakota State (22-9, 13-3), approx. 9:30 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Sun., March 8)

Midco SN will air and ESPN+ ($) will stream both games.

Game 3: No. 5 Omaha (16-15, 9-7) vs. No. 4 Oral Roberts (16-13, 9-7), 7 p.m.

Game 4: No. 6 North Dakota (13-17, 7-9) vs. No. 3 South Dakota (20-11, 10-6), approx. 9:30 p.m.

Semifinals (Mon., March 9)

Midco SN will air and ESPN+ ($) will stream both games.

Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner, 7 p.m.

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, approx. 9:30 p.m.

Championship (Tue., March 10)

Game 7: Semifinal winners, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Favorite(s)

North Dakota State (22-8, 13-3): The preseason league favorite finished in style, winning nine of their final ten games, including a home sweep over SDSU and Omaha to finish the regular season. The reigning tournament champions have a senior duo in point guard Vinnie Shahid and forward Tyson Ward that should provide steady, experienced hands in a pressure-packed setting. The Bison had the best defense in league play, rarely turn the ball over and lost each of their three conference losses by just six points or less. They’ll be tough to beat.

South Dakota State (22-9, 13-3): Despite significant turnover (ahem, Mike Daum) the Jacks surged under first-year coach Eric Henderson, winning 13 of their final 15 games. And despite losing an all-time great and scoring machine, SDSU managed to yet again post the Summit’s best offense, relying much more on shots around the basket than the three-point-heavy teams of Daum’s tenure. The Jacks ability to assault the scoreboard will cause problems, but a good portion of that will depend on the health of junior forward Douglas Wilson, as the team’s leading scorer missed the finale against NDSU with a leg injury.

Dark Horses

South Dakota (20-11, 10-6): Like several teams in the Summit, the Coyotes can put up points in a hurry. Tyler Hagedorn returned from missing last year due to injury, and has stretched the floor all season for an offense that is the 57th-most efficient in the country. The big man is third in the country in three-point shooting (18.1 PPG, 51.6 3P%), and has a potent partner in junior forward Stanley Umude (16.7 PPG). Hagedorn and fellow seniors Tyler Peterson and Triston Simpson have been a part of Summit League Tournament runs before, and will try to do so again from the three seed.

Oral Roberts (16-13, 9-7): The longtime, somewhat slumbering Summit power had its best season to date under third-year coach Paul Mills. The Golden Eagles are yet another team that plays fast and scores a lot of points, and have been on a mini-roll lately, winning four of their last five games. They’re anchored around senior forward Emmanuel Nzekwesi (17.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG) and have a pair of underclassmen playing well, and possibly giving them a higher ceiling. Sophomore R.J. Fuqua (20 points) and freshman Max Abmas (23 points) both had big outings in ORU’s regular season finale win over Fort Wayne.

Omaha (16-15, 9-7): The Mavericks posted another solid season under Derrin Hansen. The senior guard duo of JT Gibson and KJ Robinson were big parts of the team that reached the tournament final against NDSU a year ago, and were on the team that pushed SDSU to the limit in the 2017 final. Could that muscle memory kick in for a team that has been streaky throughout Summit play?

Prediction

There are few league tournaments that can match the atmosphere in Sioux Falls, especially when NDSU, SDSU or USD are on the floor. The Bison and Jacks seem poised for a rubber match after splitting two thrilling meetings this year. That said, NDSU would have its hands full in a potential semifinal against either Omaha or ORU, and the same could be said on the other side of the bracket with a potential SDSU-USD match up. And of course, the eight seed knocked off the heavily-favored top seed a year ago in this event, so you just never know.

The Jacks may be the more balanced team, but given Wilson’s health status, the smart pick would be Shahid, Ward and the Bison repeating.