« March Maniacs

Summit League Preview

by Chris Tubbs

The 32nd annual Summit League Tournament will begin on Saturday, March 8th and run through Tuesday, March 11th at Sioux Falls Arena, with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The North Dakota State Bison earned just its second regular-season league title in school history (also accomplishing the feat in 2009), as it finished 12-2 in league play and 23-6 overall, while winning its final seven games to grab hold of the No. 1 seed and a bye into the semifinals.

IUPU-Fort Wayne will act as the No. 2 seed after a stellar campaign of its own (22-9, 10-4 Summit), but in a tournament with seven teams, it does not get to enjoy a bye. South Dakota State, the two-time reigning tournament champion, earned the No. 3 seed with a 10-4 league mark.

Rounding out the tournament field will be Denver (No. 4 seed), South Dakota (No. 5), Western Illinois (No. 6), and IUPUI (No. 7). Although Nebraska Omaha finished a solid 16-14 overall this season and in sixth-place in the league at 5-9, it was ineligible for the conference tournament this season due to its status as a reclassifying Division I program.

Tournament action will tip off on Saturday afternoon when sister schools the IPFW Mastodons and IUPUI Jaguars square off in quarterfinal action. The Mastodons enjoyed their most successful season in school history -- their 22 wins are already four more than their previous best -- and they swept IUPUI in the two-game regular-season series by a combined 39 points. The squad has an outstanding offensive attack, as it ranks 11th in the nation in field goal percentage (.491) and 13th in 3-point percentage (.395) for 76.6 ppg, which is enough to support a modest defense (70.7 ppg). Luis Jacobo pours in a team- best 14.9 ppg, Steve Forbes nets 12.3 ppg on a lofty 63.8 percent field-goal shooting and six others add at least 6.7 ppg to the balanced attack. As for the Jaguars, they endured a dreadful 6-25 season with a 1-13 conference mark and should be thankful that the Summit League invites all of its eligible teams to the postseason. They have struggled both offensively (65.5 ppg) and defensively (76.6 ppg). Ian Chiles (15.9 ppg), Mitch Patton (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Khufu Najee (10.l1 ppg) are the top performers for the disappointing squad.

Action will continue on Sunday afternoon when the fourth-seeded Denver Pioneers take on the fifth-seeded South Dakota Coyotes. The teams split the two matchups on the year, with each side winning at home. Although the Pioneers ended the regular season with back-to-back losses, they were still a solid 15-13 overall with a 8-5 league ledger. They don't have much to brag about on the offensive end of the court (66.3 ppg), but they've remained competitive thanks to an outstanding defense that allows only 63.7 ppg. Brett Olson is the top scoring threat with 14.5 ppg thanks to his stellar showings from 3-point range (.434) and the free-throw line (.926). Chris Udofia is one of the league's most well-rounded forwards with 12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.4 bpg and 1.5 spg. South Dakota, meanwhile, was significantly worse than Denver despite the close seeding, as it finished just 6-8 in the league and 12-17 overall. While the Coyotes' offensive effort has been solid, shooting 44.2 percent from the field for 70.0 ppg, they have been hindered by a defense that yields 71.8 ppg. Brandon Bos puts up a team-high 11.8 ppg, despite shooting just 38.2 percent from the field. Trevor Gruis brings 11.3 ppg (on 54.2 percent from the field) and 5.9 rpg to the table.

The last of the quarterfinal matchups will take place between the third-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits and the sixth-seeded Western Illinois Leathernecks on Sunday evening, which is a positive draw for SDSU after sweeping WIU in the regular season. The Jackrabbits come into this event red- hot with wins in eight of their last nine as they catapulted up the standings in recent weeks. They shoot an identical percentage as their opponents this season (.449) but still owns a +3.7 scoring margin thanks in part to their excellence on the glass (+5.0 rebounding margin) and at the free-throw line (.760). Jordan Dykstra ranks second in the league in scoring (16.4 ppg) and first in rebounding (7.7 rpg), while stretching the floor with 45 3-pointers made at a 39.8 percent clip. Brayden Carlson (15.1 ppg) and Cody Larson (13.4 ppg) have also been impressive. A year removed for a 22-win campaign, WIU have fallen flat in 2013-14 (10-19, 4-10 Summit) and had been losers of seven in a row prior to winning its regular-season finale against last-place IUPUI (75-70). The Leathernecks play great defense (62.4 ppg) but have been held back by the league's worst scoring attack (61.7 ppg). Garret Covington is the lone player in double figures with 14.6 ppg, while Adam Link (9.3 ppg), Michael Ochereobia (8.8 ppg) and Jabari Sandifer (8.8 ppg) have been solid.

NDSU's Summit League schedule got off on the wrong foot after dropping the opener to IPFW (82-71) but it quickly righted the ship en route to the league title, and it enters this event as hot as ever with seven straight victories. As the league's most well-rounded team, the Bison score 76.7 ppg, while allowing just 66.2 ppg, and their field goal percentage (.509) ranks as the nation's best. Pacing the squad is the Summit's top scorer Taylor Braun, who pours in 18.0 ppg on 48.9 percent shooting from the field and 77.5 percent at the free-throw line, while adding 5.5 rpg, 4.0 apg and 1.7 spg for good measure. Marshall Bjorklund (13.6 ppg) boasts an eye-popping field-goal percentage (.639), and Lawrence Alexander (11.3 ppg) and TrayVonn Wright (11.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) are also integral pieces of the puzzle. 

Courtesy: Sportsnetwork.com