Men look to upset Jackrabbits

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Kobe Webster reaches out to guard his man.

Michael Harms, Courier Staff

A king will be crowned at the end of the highly anticipated Summit League Men’s basketball tournament. After a grueling three-month season, it all comes down to four days at Danny Sanford Premier Center from March 3-6.

The regular season ends with the South Dakota State Jack Rabbits on top with a 13-1 record for league play. The rest of the league is seeded as follows: second South Dakota 11-3, third Denver 8-6, fourth Fort Wayne 7-7, fifth North Dakota State 5-9, sixth Oral Roberts 5-9, seventh Omaha 4-10 and finally in last place Western Illinois with a record of 3-11.

The state of South Dakota is represented strongly with both USD and SDSU have been the two powerhouses on top of the conference and are expected to meet in the final matchup for the title. Six other teams have plans to stop them. However, the question must be asked who stands a chance? Starting off, Western Illinois challenges South Dakota State in the first round. Western Illinois lost both matchups in the regular season, first 98-70 and the second 82-62. Western has brought little challenge to the defending champions and looks to end their eight-game winning streak for their first matchup in Sioux falls. Western’s primary concern will be freshman guard David Jenkins who put up 20 points and then 27 in the two games facing Western. Despite his impressive play, the true leader for the Jack Rabbits is senior forward Mike Daum. He leads the league in points per game with 26 and 10.1 rebounds per game. His talents throughout the season has earned Daum seven Summit League Player of the Week awards and a strong case for taking Summit League Player of the Year for the second time in a row. The Jacks will look at their most skilled player for leadership throughout this tournament to hold up another banner.

The other potential upset is Omaha taking on USD. On the other side of the bracket as SDSU, USD must win their first matchup to try and get to the finals. In order to make this upset happen, Omaha must rely on junior guard Zach Johnson who averages 17.4 points per game and shoots 52 percent from the field.

Last time the Mavericks went up against the Coyotes, they lost 64-79. Johnson had one of his worst performances as he only put up three points on seven attempts. On the other hand, the Coyotes used their talents on the defensive side of the ball. They only allow, on average, 68.4 points per game, leading the league for points allowed. They force the most turnovers in the league and have also limited their own turnovers as they are third in the league for turnovers. The first round should not be difficult, but in the last two rounds they will look to their senior guard Matt Mooney to advance. He averages 18.2 points per game and leads his team in assists and steals. He has proven he has what it takes in big games as both times against their rival South Dakota State he has scored over 28 points and was heavily relied upon.

The other matchups in the first round include North Dakota State versus Fort Wayne, and Oral Roberts versus Denver. One player to watch in these games is senior guard Paul Miller for NDSU who is third for points per game in the league with 19.4 and fourth for assists per game with 3.6. If NDSU has any chance of making it to the finals, expect Miller to be shining in the tournament. Fort Wayne appears as a formidable opponent as they have a player in the top five of the summit league in five stats; scoring, assists per game, steals per game, rebounds per game and field goal percentage. The only two teams that have beaten the top two teams in the conference besides each other are North Dakota State and Denver. Denver beat USD 84-68 behind Joe Rosga’s performance as he put up 23 points and shot 71 percent beyond the arc. Every team wants to win, but all are chasing the two teams at the top.

At the end of the day, everyone wants the same trophy, title,and a banner. Both South Dakota schools have the best statistical chance of getting to the title game, but March is about upsets and drama, and Sioux Falls is sure to experience at least quite a bit of drama. South Dakota State is defending its title, their rivals are looking to take a title for themselves, and every other team wants to snag it from under their noses. March 3rd-6th will determine who is the best in The Summit League Men’s Basketball Tournament.