SDSU, NDSU headline men’s tournament field

Landon Dierks, Sports Editor

While South Dakota State and North Dakota State pulled away as the top two teams in the Summit League, parity is prevalent as ever in the eight-team field.

As many as five teams have reasons to believe they can win three games and take home the title, which likely means tournament attendees are in for an interesting four days of basketball.

Here’s how the men’s tournament is shaping up.

1. North Dakota State (22-8, 13-3 Summit) | Trending: UP

NDSU captured a share of the Summit League crown by winning nine of its final 10 games, including a two-point overtime win over then-league-leader SDSU Feb. 27. Seniors Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward have led the defending conference tournament winners to the top seed, combining for 34.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists per contest and look to guide the Bison to back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths for the first time since 2014-15.

2. South Dakota State (22-9, 13-3 Summit)Trending: UP

Picked to finish fifth in the conference under first-year head coach Eric Henderson, SDSU earned a share of the conference title and came one basket short of winning the title outright in last week’s loss to NDSU. The biggest storyline entering the tournament is the health of star forward Douglas Wilson, who was injured during the Feb. 23 contest  against South Dakota and missed the game against the Bison. If Wilson and his 18.6 points per game and defensive versatility are unavailable, winning three games in four days could prove to be too difficult for the seventh-youngest team in Division I.

3. South Dakota (20-11, 10-6 Summit) | Trending: DOWN

Between Jan. 19 and Feb. 12, USD made a charge for a top-two seed in the tournament by reeling off eight straight wins, but the once red-hot Coyotes lost three in a row before winning their season finale against North Dakota. Still, the ‘Yotes are capable of beating any team in the Summit on a given day, as all five starters average in double figures for the 15th-ranked scoring offense in the nation. Led by senior sharpshooter Tyler Hagedorn (18.1 points per game), USD will look to correct late-season struggles to claim its first NCAA Tournament berth.

4. Oral Roberts (16-13, 9-7 Summit) | Trending: EVEN

By virtue of playing well through a tough nonconference schedule, ORU was thought to be a strong contender in the Summit League when the calendar turned to 2020, but outside of four consecutive wins in mid-January, the Golden Eagles have failed to find the consistency necessary to assert themselves in the league’s top tier. However, ORU has at least one win over every other team in the field except for SDSU, indicating the Golden Eagles are still very much in the hunt.

5. Omaha (16-15, 9-7 Summit) | Trending: EVEN

UNO began their conference slate with back-to-back home wins over SDSU and ORU, but do not own a win over a team in the top half of the field since. This doesn’t bode well for the Mavericks’ chances to make a postseason run, but something that could help get UNO over the hump is experience. Matt Pile, K.J. Robinson and J.T. Gibson all average at least 11.9 points per game and were on the team that made a run to the conference championship game a season ago.

6. North Dakota (13-17, 7-9 Summit) | Trending: DOWN

While there were some inconsistent results in Paul Sather’s first season as head coach, UND was competitive for much of the conference season. Outside of a 21-point loss at SDSU in mid-January, no Summit League result — win or loss — was more than 15 points. The Fighting Hawks also boast the Summit League’s leading scorer, Marlon Stewart (18.9 points per game), and forward Filip Rebraca, who averages 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds and has recorded a league-best 12 double-doubles.

7. Purdue Fort Wayne (13-18, 6-10 Summit) | Trending: DOWN

Similar to UNO, PFW struggled to win against the league’s top teams. The Mastodons own only one win over a team seeded fifth or higher (Jan. 1 against USD). Since then, four of PFW’s five wins have come against last-place Western Illinois and eighth-place Denver. Notching a first-round upset over SDSU will likely be a difficult task, but the ‘Dons flustered the Jacks in the first half of the last meeting and led by 10 at halftime — not to mention SDSU may be without Douglas Wilson due to injury this time around.

8. Denver (7-23, 3-13 Summit) | Trending: UP

Not a whole lot went right for DU this season, as it took a win in the season finale over WIU to avoid being the one Summit League team left out of the men’s tournament for the second year in a row, but no individual in the conference played better than the Pioneers’ Ade Murkey over the final five weeks of the season. In DU’s last 10 games dating back to Jan. 23, Murkey scored fewer than 20 points just once, averaging 25.9 points per game during a stretch that included a career-high 42 points at SDSU and a 33-point effort in the tournament berth-clinching win over WIU.