18-0 Jackrabbits look to recapture Summit League title


Joclyn Haven

South Dakota State’s Charlie Easley drives on a St. Thomas defender in a Summit League game.

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor

After South Dakota State’s men’s basketball team became the first in Summit League history to go undefeated in conference play, they now set their sights on the conference tournament in Sioux Falls this weekend March 5-8.

And other teams in the conference have reasons to believe they can beat the Jackrabbits and win the Summit League title. In what could shape up to be an interesting four days, the heavily-favored Jacks hope to recapture the conference title after getting upset in the tournament the last three years.

Here’s the layout of the men’s tournament teams:

No. 1 South Dakota State (27-4, 18-0 Summit) – Trending: UP

In the most historic season in school history, coach Eric Henderson’s Jackrabbits are currently riding an 18-game win streak, tied for longest in the nation. They are also one of only two teams in the country to go undefeated in their conference (Murray State). Throughout their conference schedule, the Jacks have won in many different ways. While 12 of their 18 conference wins were by double digits, they’ve also had to win some hard-fought games, such as two four-point victories against NDSU and a 106-102 overtime win against Oral Roberts. But expectations are high for this Jackrabbit team to win their first conference title since 2018.

No. 2 North Dakota State (21-9, 13-5 Summit) – Trending: UP

Picked second to win the Summit League behind South Dakota State, the David Richman-led NDSU Bison have lived up to expectations this season. They have won seven of their last eight games, with the one loss coming to Kansas City. They’ve also been impressive in conference matchups all season. In both their matchups with SDSU, they played tough, losing both games by only four points. In the quarterfinals of the tournament, NDSU is set to face a Denver team they beat twice in the regular season by a combined 27 points.

No. 3 Oral Roberts (18-11, 12-6 Summit) – Trending: DOWN

Led by fifth-year coach Paul Mills, the defending Summit League tournament champions return to postseason basketball after a sweet sixteen appearance in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. The Golden Eagles had a chance to finish as the second seed but three losses in their last four games, including an 18-point loss to the Bison and the loss to SDSU where they led by double digits, dropped them to the No. 3 seed. But despite trending down over the past few games, ORU remains a threat to beat anybody. Thanks to reigning Summit League Player of the Year Max Abmas and his conference-leading 22.7 points per game, they still have a good chance to repeat as conference champions.

No. 4 Kansas City (19-11, 12-6 Summit) – Trending: UP

In their second season in the Summit League, Kansas City has made their conference tournament in all three years under coach Billy Donlon. And the Roos just may be peaking at the right time, winning seven of their last nine games. They’ve also had some impressive conference wins this season, such as sweeping their matchups against NDSU and their opponent USD in the quarterfinals. They also beat every other team in the field other than SDSU and Oral Roberts. Evan Gilyard II is the second-leading scorer in the Summit League with 16.9 points per game.

No. 5 South Dakota (18-11, 11-7 Summit) – Trending: EVEN

In a bit of an up-and-down season for the Coyotes, their conference schedule didn’t get off to a good start. In their first five games, fourth-year coach Todd Lee’s squad lost three and had two others postponed. After that, they got a lot better, winning five straight games before an overtime loss to NDSU on Jan. 27. Since then, USD compiled a 6-3 record over their last nine games, but only one of those wins came against a team with a winning record (Western Illinois). And their next opponent is a Kansas City team they lost to twice 

No. 6 Western Illinois (16-14, 7-11 Summit) – Trending: DOWN

In terms of overall record, this season was the best Western Illinois has had since the 2012-13 season. Led by second-year coach Rob Jeter, and the Summit League’s third-leading scorer Trent Massner, WIU has at times shown that they can compete with some of the league’s best. After a one-point loss to Oral Roberts in January, the Leathernecks recovered and beat the Golden Eagles in Tulsa by five. They also beat NDSU in overtime earlier this season before falling to them in double overtime. But losses to teams like St. Thomas, Omaha and Denver show that WIU lacks some consistency.

No. 7 Denver (11-20, 7-11 Summit) – Trending: EVEN

Despite a decent 7-11 record in the Summit League this season, only one of Denver’s wins came against a higher-seeded team (Western Illinois Feb. 26). But this season was a massive improvement for first-year coach Jeff Wulburn’s team, who finished with a 1-13 conference record a year ago. They have been trending a bit in the right direction as of late, winning their last two games after a four-game losing streak. But Denver faces an uphill battle against No. 2 seed NDSU, a team they haven’t beaten in over three years.

No. 8 Omaha (5-24, 4-14 Summit) – Trending: DOWN

It’s been a tough season for Omaha. Led by 17th-year coach Derrin Hansen, the Mavericks were barely able to make the top-eight, edging out Summit League newcomer St. Thomas by virtue of a tiebreak. For the most part, UNO struggled against the top Summit League teams. In their two games against the Jackrabbits, the Mavs lost by a combined 30 points. But three of their four conference wins were against teams in the bracket. Despite their poor conference record, the Mavs do have a recent win, a 72-69 win against Denver Feb. 17, which was enough to get them in the tournament.



No. 1 SDSU vs. No. 8 Omaha Saturday @ 6 p.m.

No. 2 NDSU vs. No. 7 Denver Saturday @ 8:30 p.m.

No. 4 Kansas City vs. No. 5 USD Sunday @ 6 p.m.

No. 3 ORU vs. No. 6 Western Ill. Sunday @ 8:30 p.m.