Jackrabbits surge into tournament


Joclyn Haven

Jackrabbit guard Dru Gylten looks to pass the ball on Denver’s Emma Smith in SDSU’s 82-34 win over the Pioneers Feb. 16.

Jon Akre, Sports Reporter

The 41st annual Summit League Basketball Championships kick off this weekend at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, but things will look a little bit different this year.

The tournament will now include all 10 conference teams, allowing everyone the chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

South Dakota State took the top seed right away and never looked back. They are the first Summit League team since the 1993-94 season to go 18-0 in conference action, capping it off with a 92-67 road victory over Oral Roberts Saturday. The Jackrabbits are the heavy favorites, but when it comes to college basketball in March, anything can happen.

Here is a look at all 10 Summit League teams heading into the tournament:

No. 1 South Dakota State (25-5, 18-0 Summit)

South Dakota State hasn’t lost since Dec. 15, an 18-point loss to top-ranked South Carolina. Since then the Jackrabbits have been one of the nation’s hottest teams. This season, the Jackrabbits have an average margin of victory of almost 18 points, and over a 27-point margin of victory against Summit League opponents. The Jackrabbits have a 49-1 regular season record against Summit League opponents in the last three seasons. In the tournament, they will have a first-round bye and will await the winner of No. 8 St. Thomas and No. 9 Western Illinois. This Jackrabbit team has one of the deepest rosters in the Summit League, including veteran leadership from players like Myah Selland and Paiton Burckhard, as they look to continue their historic run. 

No. 2 North Dakota State (18-10, 12-6 Summit)

NDSU has had a season full of ups and downs leading them to the No. 2 seed. The Bison started the season out strong, winning their first six non-conference games before losing four in a row. The Bison again came out looking strong in conference play, winning seven of their first nine conference games. They began to cool off at midseason, losing four out of five, before finishing on a four-game win streak. The Bison are looking to take that momentum into the conference tournament, where they received a bye and will play the winner of No. 7 Denver and No. 10 Kansas City. They are led by Heaven Hamling, who is averaging 16.5 points per game, the fourth-highest in the Summit League this season.

No. 3 North Dakota 

(18-10, 11-7 Summit)

UND comes in as the No. 3 seed, but if it wasn’t for a late-season push, the Fighting Hawks could’ve been in a much different situation. North Dakota started the season strong, finishing their non-conference season at 7-3. But after the first 11 games in conference play, they sat at 5-6 in the Summit. After a 75-57 loss to the Jacks, the Fighting Hawks went on a run, winning six of their last seven games. North Dakota is led by one of the best players in the Summit League, Kacie Borowicz, who is second in the Summit League this season in points per game and first in assists per game. They will face off against No. 6 Omaha in the quarterfinals.

No. 4 South Dakota 

(14-15, 10-8 Summit)

After a historic run in the NCAA tournament last year, USD lost their coach, Dawn Plitzuweit, and some key players like Chloe Lamb and Hannah Sjerven. The Coyotes got off to a rocky start this year, finishing with a 4-7 non-conference record. After a back-and-forth conference season, the Coyotes finished with two straight wins. Grace Larkins has stepped up big for the Coyotes, finishing the regular season in the top three in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Coach Kayla Karius is looking to make a statement in her first year with the Coyotes, but she has a tall task ahead. South Dakota will take on No. 5 Oral Roberts in the quarterfinals, with a potential second-round matchup with SDSU.

No. 5 Oral Roberts 

(11-18, 8-10 Summit)

Oral Roberts comes into the tournament after a disappointing run to end their season. They struggled to start the year, losing their first five games. Going into the conference season with a 3-8 record, the Golden Eagles recovered and started conference play strong, winning eight of their first 12, with one of those losses being a narrow 83-80 loss to the Jacks. They then dropped their last six games of the regular season. But the Golden Eagles still have one of the best duos in the Summit League. Hannah Cooper and Tirzah Moore are two of the top four players in field goal percentage. Against USD, they will be hungry for their first win in nearly a month.

No. 6 Omaha 

(13-16, 8-10 Summit)

The Mavericks have improved significantly since last season when they won just seven total games. Despite a losing record this year, many of their contests have been close. Eight of their 16 losses this season have been within 10 points, two of those losses being in overtime, and another two losses were by just one possession. They even gave the Jackrabbits a good fight, losing 68-61 Jan. 19. The Mavericks are led by the most efficient scorer in the Summit League, Elena Pilakouta (63%), giving them a potential upset bid over No. 3 North Dakota.

No. 7 Denver 

(12-17, 8-10 Summit)

The Pioneers also improved their record from last year, going from 10 total wins to 12, and from five conference wins to eight. They started the season going 4-7 in non-conference games. The Pioneers then started the conference season solid, winning three of their first four games. They would go on to lose six in a row, before finishing the season winning five of the last eight games. Denver is led by Emma Smith, averaging 13.5 points per game on the year. The Pioneers will play No. 10 Kansas City in the first round.

No. 8 St. Thomas 

(12-16, 7-11 Summit)

The Tommies are looking to make a statement in their first Summit League tournament appearance after transitioning to Division I last year. They have proved that they can compete at the D1 level, finishing their non-conference season at 5-5. St. Thomas had a rough start to their conference schedule, losing the first six games. After winning three of their next seven, they finished the year strong, winning four of their last five games. If they can get past Western Illinois in the first round, look for the Tommies to put up a fight against SDSU.

No. 9 Western Illinois 

(10-19, 5-13 Summit)

The Leathernecks have taken a step back compared to last season, where they finished with 14 total wins. Last year they also finished with five conference wins and were the seven seed in the conference tournament. But with the rest of the conference getting better, they moved further back in the standings. WIU has had a rough run to end the season, losing 10 of their last 14 games. It’ll be another uphill climb for the Leathernecks, starting with No. 8 St. Thomas in the first round.

No. 10 Kansas City 

(7-22, 3-15 Summit)

After losing many players from last season, Kansas City finds itself in a similar position as USD. Coming off a great season last year where they finished as the No. 3 seed in the Summit League and made an appearance in the WNIT, the Roos have been in rebuild mode. While they might not be what they were last year, they still have three quality wins against UND, Oral Roberts and Omaha.