After leading in the Summit League standings for the entire season, the North Dakota State men’s basketball team slid down to second place on the final day.
Falling to Omaha on Saturday by a score of 96-92, the Bison failed to lock up the regular season conference title.
The University of South Dakota swooped in to grab the title, downing IUPUI on Saturday. It was enough to vault the Bison in the standings. Winning the regular season title assures that at the very least USD will participate in the NIT.
The Coyotes, riding the momentum of a six game winning streak, earned the No. 1 seed in the Summit League tournament, and will face Western Illinois in the first round.
Meanwhile, the Bison will face No. 7 IUPUI in the first round. NDSU split the season series with the Jaguars, earning a tightly contested home win and losing on the road in overtime.
The men’s side finished the year with a 19-10 overall record and 11-5 record within the conference. The Herd won seven of their first eight games in conference play. The level of parity in the hotly contested Summit League ultimately undid them.
At the mid-major level, conferences are very competitive and any team can beat another on any night, especially during tournament season. For this reason, both the Coyotes and Bison should not take their opposition lightly this upcoming weekend. Both of the top two sides will be targeted as the underdogs of the conference take aim, hoping to clinch their spot in the NCAA tournament.
Case in point, in spite of opening conference play with a 2-6 record, South Dakota State has risen from the cellar to No. 6 seed, posting an inverse mark in the second half of the season. Mike Daum has been a force to be reckoned with down low. His 26 points against NDSU earlier this month was a “quieter” game.
Even No. 8 Western Illinois, who are 5-11 in conference and have lost four games in a row, are finally rounding into late-season form. This positive trend was on full display against NDSU last Saturday. After the Bison thumped the Leathernecks by 31 points at home, WIU took the Herd to double overtime on senior night.
Saturday night’s loss also highlighted and issue that has plagued the Bison all year, spotting teams second half leads. NDSU did it against Fort Wayne and Oral Roberts at home, but came back to win. They also did it away at Fort Wayne, and lost. It was a similar story against Omaha, as the Mavericks led by as much as 18 in the second half.
The Summit League tournament will be held March 4-7 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Bison and IUPUI play their quarterfinal matchup at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be televised on MidcoSN and ESPN3.
At this time of year in mid-major conferences, it’s anyone’s game. With a berth to March Madness on the line, the Bison must bear in mind that their toughest games of the season are not yet in the rearview mirror.