North Dakota State was one of the best stories of last year’s NCAA tournament, a rag-tag group of kids that won a game in the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed while being led by the nation’s most quotable head coach in Saul Phillips. Despite replacing everyone, the Bison earned a share of the Summit regular season title with South Dakota State, who won 12 of their last 14 games.
When: March 7-10
Where: Sioux Falls, SD
Final: March 10, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Favorite: South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits lost their first two games in league play, road trips to NDSU and Denver, before winning 12 of their next 13. They whiffed on a chance to take home the outright league title with a loss at South Dakota in the finale, but the bottom line is there wasn’t a hotter team in the conference the last two months. Florida transfer Cody Larson is the best big man in the league, while Wisconsin transfer George Marshall and Deondre Parks flank him on the perimeter.
And if they lose?: North Dakota State
The Bison finished tied for the regular season title in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. They not only lost Taylor Braun, the league’s Player of the Year, and Marshall Bjorklund, they had to replace head coach Saul Phillips. But thanks to a Player of the Year season from Lawrence Alexander, NDSU was able to work through the changing of the guard.
- Oral Roberts: In their first season back in the Summit League, the Golden Eagles put together a strong year, finishing third in the conference. Obi Emegano is one of the league’s best scorers, as he put 34 on NDSU in the final week of the regular season.
- South Dakota: South Dakota is just days removed from ending South Dakota State’s bid for an outright Summit League title — they beat their in-state rivals on the last day of the regular season — and if they can get past a rematch with the Jackrabbits in the semis, they’ll be playing the final an hour away from their Vermillion campus.
Player of the Year: Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State
Alexander had a monster season to lead the Bison to a share of the league title, averaging 19.1 points while shooting 44.5 percent from three. He went for 30 twice this season, and can take over a game like no one else in the league.
Coach of the Year: David Richman, North Dakota State
Richman is a fairly obvious pick for the reasons explained above. The Bison had to replace their top three scorers from last season, including the league Player of the Year and a first team all-conference player, while changing head coach. Winning a share of the league title under those circumstances in impressive.
- Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts – Emegano averaged 18.1 points this season, the Summit’s second-best scorer and a guy that can take over a game. He had 34 in a win over NDSU.
- Cody Larson, South Dakota State – Larson was the best big man in the conference, leading the Jacks in scoring while earning Defensive Player of the Year honors.
- Steve Forbes, IPFW – The only thing keeping Forbes from putting up ridiculous numbers is the ability to stay on the floor. He only averages 24 minutes a night.
- Tyler Larson, South Dakota – The senior guard finished the year as the eighth-leading scorer in the conference while leading the league in rebounding despite standing just 6-foot-3.
CBT PREDICTION: North Dakota State knocks off South Dakota to make it back to the NCAA tournament.