The Summit League was one of the more exciting conference races to follow throughout the season.
South Dakota State entered the new year as the favorite to win the conference in large part due to the fact that a) they won the automatic bid last season and b) they have a kid by the name of Nate Wolters that everybody was in love with. But the Jackrabbits came out and lost two of their first three games in conference play, digging themselves a hole that needed 12 wins over the course of the next 13 games to get out of.
Western Illinois finished tied with SDSU atop the league, but since SDSU swept WIU this season, the Leathernecks were forced into being the No. 2 seed. North Dakota State looked like they might be the best team in the conference early in the season, but a broken foot sidelined Taylor Braun for a long time, costing them valuable league games. Braun scored 22 in the regular season finale, just his second game back from injury.
Of note: Wolters (53 points) and Oakland’s Travis Bader (47 points) have the two highest scoring totals for one player in any games this season.
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Where: Sioux Falls, SD (Sioux Falls Arena)
When: March 9-12
Final: March 12th, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Favorite: South Dakota State
Not only are the Jackrabbits the No. 1 seed, but the tournament is being hosted in Sioux Falls, SD, which is just a quick drive down I-29 from Brookings, where SDSU is located. Throw in that the Jackrabbits are the league champs, they have the league’s Player of the Year and went to the tournament a season ago, I think it’s fair to call them the favorite.
And if they lose?: Here’s the thing to remember about North Dakota State: they went 2-4 against the top four teams in the Summit League they beat SDSU and Oakland in their only games with Braun, a 6-foot-7 wing and their leading scorer, in the lineup and 0-4 without him. They were the best team in the conference before he got injured, and Kenpom likes them to win the tournament with Braun back in the lineup.
Western Illinois is good as well, but they are one of the most boring teams in the country to watch. Think Wisconsin, but without the dunking from Jared Berggren and Sam Dekker. Winning is winning, but I want to see wins with points.
Sleepers: Oakland is a dangerous team. They don’t defend all that much, but they have a talented roster — Travis Bader is as good of a shooter as you’ll find in the country when he gets hot and Duke Mondy is a transfer from Providence — that can put up points in a hurry.
– Travis Bader, Oakland: He scored 47 points in a game and averaged 22.0 points on the season. Do. Not. Let. Him. Get. Hot.
– Marshall Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright, North Dakota State: Braun is the guy that gets all the attention for the Bison, but Bjorklund and Wright kept them relevant while he was injured.
– Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: Duh.
CBT Prediction: I’m taking North Dakota State. Braun scored 22 in his second game back. He looks healthy, and when he’s healthy, NDSU is the best team in the league.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.