With the turn into March, sports fans begin the tumultuous four weeks known as March Madness. While there is still over a week to go until Selection Sunday, conference tournaments for both the men and women are next up on the schedule.
The eight teams of the Summit League will descend upon Sioux Falls, South Dakota this weekend for the Summit League tournament. While the men’s side is close, and potentially unpredictable, the women’s side is clearly cut into classes. There are three teams that have double-digit conference wins, three with less than three wins and a pair of 7-7 sides.
No. 1 South Dakota Coyotes vs No. 8 Fort Wayne Mastodons
Like the men’s tournament, South Dakota schools sit on the top of the Summit League standings. For the women, it is the Coyotes who claim the top seed.
Perhaps the best indication of who will win this is the current form of the teams. South Dakota comes in winners of their last 18 games dating back to Dec. 16 against Tulsa and are perfect in the Summit.
Fort Wayne comes in without a win in 10 games. Their singular win of the calendar year came against Omaha Jan. 9 at home.
The Mastadons hold the worst defense in the league, giving up 79.6 points per game (PPG). Couple that with the worst offense in the league producing just 50.9 PPG, the mountain may be too large for Fort Wayne.
The Coyotes bring one of the most balanced offenses in the conference. USD has four players averaging over 10 PPG in Summit League play. In the regular season, South Dakota handled Fort Wayne easily, taking both games, winning 85-43 in Vermilion and 79-60 in Fort Wayne.
No. 2 South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs No. 7 North Dakota State Bison
The Jacks suffered just two losses in the Summit League this season, and both were two possession losses to South Dakota.
NDSU meanwhile comes in with just two conference wins, both over bottom-of-the-barrel Fort Wayne.
The difference can be seen in the experience of the starting lineups. SDSU starts a pair of seniors, one true and one redshirt junior and a redshirt sophomore. The Bison have just one senior and one junior, neither of whom have started consistently in Summit League play.
Macy Miller and Madison Guebert lead the conference’s top offense for the Jacks. Miller leads the Summit with 18.2 PPG this season, and Guebert sits fourth at 15.1 PPG. Miller is dangerous from deep, knocking down 46.8 percent of her 3-point attempts.
NDSU doesn’t quite carry the same offensive threat. Reilly Jacobson leads the Bison in scoring with 12.9 PPG in the Summit. Sarah Jacobson is the only other Bison averaging double digits.
The key for the Bison is to play a full 40 minutes. NDSU suffers from a minus 95-point differential in the second half. The Jacks are plus-238 in the same time frame. With two losses in the last week where NDSU were either close or leading at halftime, NDSU’s morale may be low in the second half.
The Jacks took both games in the regular season in dominate fashion. A 83-63 beating of the Bison in Brookings and a 85-64 win in Fargo sets the stage for an opening round win for the Jackrabbits.
No. 3 Western Illinois Leathernecks v No. 6 Omaha Mavericks
Wester Illinois has lost to just two teams in the Summit, and they both hail from South Dakota. The Mavericks have just three wins, snatching two from the Bison and one from Fort Wayne.
The Leathernecks play at a break-neck pace with quick cuts and solid shooting. In contrast, Omaha tends to take advantage of Courtney Vaccher down low with Amber Vidal running the point.
WIU is led by the one of the best players in the conference in Emily Clemens. On the season, she enters the tournament a single point behind SDSU’s Miller in the scoring charts, but has averaged 20.3 PPG in conference play. Add to that seven assists per game to another pair of players who average over 14 PPG in Taylor Higginbotham and Morgan Blumer, and Clemens is perhaps the most dangerous player in the Summit.
Omaha will need a clean game to keep the game close. WIU holds a 7.6 advantage in the turnover battle this season. Omaha is minus 2.7 in that statistic this year.
Western Illinois put up 90 and 103 in the teams’ two meetings this season and look set to put up big numbers again in Sioux Falls.
No. 4 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles vs No. 5 Denver Pioneers
The battle of the .500s seems like it will be the closest game of the opening round of the tournament.
Both teams went 7-7 in conference play and split the season series with the home team winning. Overall, both teams have 16 wins, and Denver lost just one more game.
Both teams average nearly 70 points per game. ORU does hold a slight edge in points allowed, 61.3 PPG to Denver’s 69.5.
Oral Roberts gets a bunch of offense from their top three shooters. Faith Ihim leads the team with 14.6 PPG and the third-best field goal percentage in the Summit at 56.7 percent. Maria Martianez and Maya Mayberry also average double-digit points for the Golden Eagles.
Denver meanwhile has just one player averaging more than 10 points. Claire Gritt averages 10.3 PPG. Behind her is a balanced offense with five more players averaging over eight points per game.
The game will be won down in the paint and off the glass. Denver’s Jordyn Alt leads the conference with 8.3 rebounds per game. Oral Roberts holds down the next two spots on the list with Ihim at 8.1 and Martianez averaging 7.5 rebounds.
Neither team seems up to stop the top-seeded Coyotes in the semifinals. USD looks prime to make the finals for the fifth time in six years.
On the other side of the bracket, it is hard to see the high-seeds getting upset. In their two meetings, Western Illinois has failed to find an answer for the Jacks’ defense, putting up a measly 48 and 42 points in the games.
All the stars have aligned for the third all-South Dakota final in the last four years. SDSU has won the championship both times, as the two seed, when USD won the regular season championship.