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Summit League Tournament Preview: Will it be a Dakota show yet again?

A number of teams are viable contenders to complete the ascent.

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NCAA Basketball: South Dakota State at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Summit League reaches the peak of its season in its usual home, Sioux Falls. A conference schedule of back-to-backs saw the regular season title in the balance until the final day, when North Dakota State’s win in Vermillion handed the trophy to South Dakota State.

It was the fifth season in a row that a team from the Dakotas won the title outright and, not surprisingly, the league’s auto bid has been split between NDSU and SDSU each year since 2011. Will a decade of Dakota dominance continue this year? That well may be the case with the Bison and Jacks again the class of the league, and with a shorthanded South Dakota waiting in the wings.

But there are other teams capable of pulling off a magical run in the Pentagon, and grabbing a spot in the sport’s tallest summit. Less puns, on to the particulars!

The Bracket

The Schedule

March 6–9: Sioux Falls, S.D. (PDF Bracket)

2020 Champion: North Dakota State Bison

Not participating:

Denver (9th)

Quarterfinals (Sat., March 6)

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

Game 1: No. 8 Omaha (5-19, 3-11) vs. No. 1 South Dakota State (15-6, 9-3), 6:45 p.m.

Game 2: No. 7 Western Illinois (7-14, 5-9) vs. No. 2 South Dakota (13-10, 11-4), 9:45 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Sun., March 7)

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

Game 3: No. 5 North Dakota (9-16, 8-8) vs. No. 4 Oral Roberts (13-10, 10-5), 6:45 p.m.

Game 4: No. 6 Kansas City (11-12, 7-7) vs. No. 3 North Dakota State (13-11, 11-5), 9:45 p.m.

Semifinals (Mon., March 8)

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

Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner, 6:45 p.m.

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, 9:45 p.m.

Championship (Tues., March 9)

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

The Favorite

South Dakota State (15-6, 9-3): The regular season champion in a truncated season should be the favorite to cut the nets down in the Pentagon, but just marginally. The Jacks yet again were potent offensively and, as has been customary in the Otzelberger-Henderson era, punished teams from deep. The nation’s second-best three-point shooting team, however, has a notable absentee with star sophomore Noah Freidel, who is taking the rest of the season off to focus on his mental health.

The brave decision is obviously more important than wins or losses on the court but, since we’re talking about basketball, it’s worth nothing that SDSU did go 3-1 since Freidel stepped away in mid February. After a shaky first half against Kansas City in the first of a back-to-back last weekend, the Jacks offense seemed to find itself over the rest of the weekend. Douglas Wilson is the most dangerous low-post scorer in the conference, and breakout sophomore Baylor Scheierman (44.4 3P%) is yet another product of SDSU’s assembly line of talented perimeter scorers.

The Contenders

North Dakota State (13-11, 11-5): The Bison had a hand in SDSU’s regular season title, but may well have a hand in delivering hardware to themselves in Sioux Falls. It’s in this roster’s muscle memory, as NDSU has won this event each of the past two seasons. As often seems to be the case, the Bison bring the league’s most balanced attack to the table, with the league’s second-most efficient defense and fourth-most efficient defense. NDSU has a ton of height for the Summit, and a trio of reliable scorers in Rocky Kreuser, Sam Griesel and Tyree Eady. If they can play at their preferred, slower pace in a generally up-tempo league, it could be yet another NDSU triumph in Sioux Falls.

Oral Roberts (13-10, 10-5): If scorers shine this time of year, than the Golden Eagles bring a compelling argument to the Pentagon. Max Abmas has shone all season (24.8 PPG, 46.1 3P%), and enters the fray as the NCAA’s leading scorer. He and all-league first team forward Kevin Obanor are as potent a one-two punch as there is in the Summit, and the Golden Eagles have more than enough to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008. Abmas struggled in ORU’s semifinal loss to NDSU a year ago, and is looking to rewrite that script and help break the Dakotas hold on the conference.

South Dakota (13-10, 11-4): If life were fair, the Coyotes would be higher on this list, and possibly even the favorite. Breakout sophomore and Division II transfer A.J. Plitzuweit suffered a terrible knee injury in USD’s Saturday win over that saw his season come to an end. The Coyotes still have a Stanley Umude (21.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG), who would have been a runaway POY in most seasons, and fell short this year only due to Abmas’ brilliance. He willed USD to a halftime lead against NDSU on Sunday, and could be a difference maker for a team that may be missing some offensive punch, but still won plenty of games this season.

The Rest: It’d be negligent to not at least mention Kansas City (11-12, 7-7) and North Dakota (9-16, 8-8) who both won games against the upper tier teams this year, and could each be dangerous at the Pentagon. The Roos force turnovers in droves, and bring the league’s best defense and Defensive POY in senior guard Brandon McKissic. The Fighting Hawks bring Filip Rebraca, a premier scorer and playmaker from the high post. Either team going on a run may be a surprise, but surely wouldn’t be a shock to those that have followed this year. Western Illinois’ Will Carius — whose played in all three NCAA divisions — had a tremendous season (14.9 PPG), and Omaha has gritty seniors in Ayo Akinwole and Matt Pile.

The Prediction

It’s hard to not think fate would dictate that the Bison would capture a third straight crown, and get the chance to go to a tournament they didn’t a year ago — especially after being one of the few teams to have really, actually punched a bid in 2020. That may well happen, but there just seems to be something trending in the right direction with SDSU at the moment.

They had a dominant offensive effort against the Roos stout defense the last time out, though Kansas City was without McKissic. Wilson is as reliable an offensive producer as there is in the league outside Abmas and Umude, and Scheierman has himself scored in double figures in every game but one this year. Plus, big men Matt Dentlinger and, as of last weekend, Luke Appel are on offensive hot stretches. Even though the hordes of blue and yellow won’t be there like usual, it still seems the Jacks are the favorites in a league that could shake out plenty of different ways.