This time of the year does not need an introduction.
This is March, the time where even the most casual fan spends their time checking brackets and having twenty minutes of pity for themselves when their bracket gets busted. Things will be crazy, but before that begins, there is the small matter of conference tournaments.
The Summit League Tournament starts Saturday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with top-seed Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne taking on the University of South Dakota. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has picked IPFW to win the tournament and clinch a spot in the Big Dance.
The other half of the bracket sees the other conference co-champions South Dakota State take the two-seed against seventh-ranked Oral Roberts University and conference leading scorer Obi Emegano.
The match-up most relevant in Fargo will be the early game on Sunday, when the Bison take on Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis in the Nos. 4/5 game at 6 p.m.
The Bison are the two-time defending tournament champions, but to get back into the NCAA Tournament, the team will have to win three games in as many days, starting with the Jaguars. During the regular season, the two sides split the contests, with the home team winning both games. January 31 saw the Jaguars hold off the Herd 72-71 in Indianapolis. The Bison returned the favor two weeks ago, stretching out a 63-59 win inside Scheels Arena.
The Jaguars have momentum on its side, as the team downed IPFW at home last Saturday to close the season, finishing the regular season with a 13-18 overall record, 9-7 in the Summit League. IUPUI was led by junior guard Darell Combs, who scored 31 points to lead his team to an 80-77 victory. The effort got Combs honored as the Summit League’s Player of the Week.
The Bison meanwhile come in with little momentum, having struggled last weekend on its trips to SDSU and University of Denver, dropping both games to finish the regular season at 18-12, 8-8 in the Summit League. The Bison have struggled away from Fargo late in the season, only getting one win from eight out of town contests in the last two months.
That said, the Bison do have experience when it comes to winning in Sioux Falls. All but four of the players on the Bison roster were on the roster last season, and five players, Carlin Dupree, A.J. Jacobson, Kory Brown, Chris Kading and Dexter Werner, were on the 2013-14 roster for the first of the two tournament championships.
The Bison did get one boost last weekend with the return of leading scorer Paul Miller after he missed six games with a knee injury. Miller leads the Bison with 15.9 points per game. Miller, along with Jacobson and Brown, may be able to spring the Bison past the Jaguars and a likely meeting with IPFW in the semifinals and find themselves a game away from another tournament.
Then again, it is March. This is the month that can be as unpredictable as the local weather forecast. Only one thing is certain: uncertainty. The team that comes out on top will handle the madness the best.
Let the games begin.