Summit League Basketball Enters Home Stretch

The Summit League men’s basketball season has reached its halfway point, with every one of the eight teams having played at least seven conference games. While the cream has risen to the top in the standings, a tight middle of the pack ought to make for an intriguing tournament in Sioux Falls from March 3 to 6.

South Dakota currently run the proceedings in the conference. South Dakota State and South Dakota represent the Mount Rushmore State at No. 1 and No. 2 in the standings, respectively. It is anyone’s race for the No. 3 to No. 6 seeds, as only two games separate the four squads.

While South Dakota State appears poised to take their third consecutive Summit League title back to Brookings, all eight members of the conference are capable of making a run. Here are The Spectrum’s midseason Summit League progress reports.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits (18-6, 6-1 SL) 

The Jackrabbits are on course to hop off with yet another Summit League championship and subsequent March Madness berth. Their in-state rival South Dakota gave the blueprint of how to knock off the Jacks, even in spite of Mike Daum’s 18-point, 14-rebound performance. The Coyotes put the clamps on the Summit League’s top offense, limiting them to 68 points. Still, with Daum leading the offense alongside Reed Tellinghuisen and emerging freshman David Jenkins, SDSU will be a tough out.

South Dakota Coyotes (18-6, 6-2 SL)

Breathing down the necks of SDSU are the Coyotes, who made a statement in defeating the Jackrabbits by 19 points. Three days later though, they lost to Denver by 16. Not to be undersold, USD did put a scare into UCLA in the non-conference schedule. Matt Mooney’s 17.7 points per game rank fifth in the conference, and Trey Burch-Manning anchors the defense for a team that has the conference’s best marks in opponent field goal and three-point percentage.

North Dakota State Bison (12-10, 4-3 SL)

Ranked third in the Summit League, the Bison lead the midsection of the conference. NDSU’s conference slate got off to a rough start, as they dipped below .500 in conference action for the first time since 2016. The Bison have since rebounded and count a win in Vermillion amongst their notable contests of the season. Senior guard Paul Miller is setting the conference alight, increasing his season points per game mark in every game since Dec. 18.

Denver Pioneers (10-12, 4-4 SL) 

The Pioneers are a departure from style compared to the other teams, but they possess a definitive identity under head coach Rodney Billups. Steady scorers Joe Rosga, Daniel Amigo and Jake Pemberton keep the offense humming. The Pioneers have shown themselves capable of grinding down opponents, as evidenced by victories over South Dakota and North Dakota State, and four of their final six games are in the Mile High City, giving Denver a shot at a push for the No. 3 seed.

Fort Wayne Mastodons (14-10, 3-4 SL)

Senior Bryson Scott is the top scorer in the Summit League, averaging 22.8 points per game, even while struggling from distance. He leads an offense that ranks second in the conference in scoring. Fort Wayne is a volume shooting team, leading the conference in both field goal and three-point attempts. This leaves them sitting seventh in percentage in both categories, which would make a first-round matchup with Denver a major challenge.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (9-15, 3-4 SL)

The Golden Eagles ripped off three home triumphs to begin conference play, then proceeded to lose the following four games to teams ahead of them in the standings. Three consistent starters average 10 or more points per game, and Albert Owens causes problems off the bench. The offense runs through Emmanuel Nzekwesi, who tops the Golden Eagles with 13.3 points per game. The lack of a quality conference win is cause for skepticism, however.

Omaha Mavericks (7-16, 2-4 SL)

As the No. 7 seed in the Summit League, the Mavericks have their work cut out for them if they are to rise in the standings. Their defense has been abysmal, allowing opponents to score 83.8 points per game and shoot 47.2 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc. All three marks are in the Summit League basement. Their roster consists of six freshmen and five seniors, an uneasy balance. Zach Jackson is the team’s bright spot, ranking No. 4 in the conference with 18.1 points per game. They have surrendered 75 or more points in six of seven conference battles, which does not inspire confidence.

Western Illinois Leathernecks (10-10, 1-6 SL)

The expression “numbers don’t lie” does not apply to Western Illinois. In spite of performing well in key statistical categories, the Leathernecks have not gotten over the hump in conference play. WIU’s lone conference win came against Fort Wayne by one point; other than that, their six Summit League losses have come by an average deficit of 16.5 points. Flashy young star Kobe Webster is the Leathernecks’ best hope for a win in the tournament. The true freshman showcased his scoring prowess against NDSU, going for 18 points in the first nine minutes of the contest.

With slightly over four weeks to play until the tournament, some teams look primed to make a run, and others still must prove themselves. After SDSU and USD, it precipitously becomes a gray area with respect to who can truly make a run for the title.

The name of the game in mid-major college basketball is to heat up late in the season to slip into March Madness. Which team emerges from a contentious Summit League field will come down to who is in their best form going into Sioux Falls.

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