Summit League Preview: Jackrabbits carry momentum into conference tournament


Joclyn Haven

Jackrabbit guard Zeke Mayo backs down an Oral Roberts defender in a Summit League men’s basketball game Feb. 25 at Frost Arena.

Marshall Minihan, Sports Reporter

The South Dakota State men’s basketball team now looks ahead to defending its Summit League title after narrowly losing its last regular-season game to Oral Roberts.

This year’s tournament will feature all ten Summit League teams. Despite that, just three of them have winning conference records with Oral Roberts, North Dakota State and SDSU.

Here’s what to look for on each team ahead of this year’s tournament:

No. 1 Oral Roberts (27-4, 18-0 Summit)

Going undefeated didn’t seem like a challenge for Oral Roberts, mainly because of senior guard Max Abmas. The Texas native has been stellar all season, leading the conference with 22.3 points per game, as well as sitting fourth in the conference with a 44.5% field goal percentage. The Golden Eagles have had the best offense throughout the season, scoring 84.1 points per game. Defensively, Oral Roberts is allowing the third least points per game with 70.4, as well as forcing the most turnovers. The undefeated Golden Eagles receive a first-round bye and will face the winner of Denver and North Dakota.

No. 2 South Dakota State (18-12, 13-5 Summit)

After nearly beating Oral Roberts, guard Zeke Mayo and the Jacks are looking to potentially knock the Golden Eagles out of the tournament. The Jacks have lost five conference games, two of them to Oral Roberts. Mayo has made a big impact for SDSU this year, averaging 18.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Other contributing Jackrabbits this year have been Matt Dentlinger and William Kyle III, who rank second and third respectively in scoring for SDSU. Their defense has been effective this year ranking second, allowing 69.6 points per game. They will await the winner of Kansas City and Omaha.

No. 3 North Dakota State (14-16, 11-7 Summit)

Sitting as the third seed, the Bison could make an impact in this year’s tournament. NBA prospect Grant Nelson has been making an impact for NDSU on both sides of the ball this season, averaging nearly 18 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks per game. The Bison have a very even team this year, sitting around the middle of the conference in both offensive and defensive statistics, averaging 72.9 offensively and allowing opponents 72.5 per game. The Bison could prove to be a difficult team to beat, as they play USD in the quarterfinals.

No. 4 Western Illinois (16-13, 9-9 Summit)

The Leathernecks are tied with St. Thomas with a 9-9 conference record. Senior guard Trenton Massner has been averaging an impressive 19.3 points per game, second in the conference along with his 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. He also averages 1.5 steals per game, third in the Summit League. The Leathernecks average 73.5 points per game, third in the conference. On defense, Western Illinois has been great at stopping three-point shots, with opponents only making 32.2% of their threes. They will play St. Thomas in the quarterfinals.

No. 5 St. Thomas (18-13, 9-9 Summit)

Once St. Thomas’ conference season started, it’s been pretty even, including beating a shorthanded Jacks team in January. With Andrew Rohde’s 16.7, Parker Bjorklund’s 14.7, and Riley Miller’s 12.7 points per game, the Tommies have been the second-highest scoring offense in the conference, though they average 31 rebounds per game, the lowest in the conference. With both St. Thomas and Western Illinois having 9-9 records in the conference, their first-round matchup should be an interesting one.

No. 6 South Dakota (12-18, 7-11 Summit)

Despite their losing record, the Coyotes have shot well from three with eight players shooting above 40% from long range. Though deadly from distance, USD has struggled this season shooting in general, ranking ninth in the conference with a 43.1% field goal percentage. Defensively, USD is below average, allowing 73.7 points per game (eighth), 1.5 blocked shots per game (10th), and 4.5 steals per game (eighth). USD will face NDSU in the quarterfinals, a team they beat in Vermillion in their last matchup.

No. 7 Kansas City (11-20, 7-11 Summit)

Kansas City has one of the best defenses in the Summit League, allowing the fewest points per game with 68.6, and are ranked second in blocked shots with 3.7 and steals with 6.1. They also lead the league in rebounds with a season total of 1,147. Despite their defensive success, Kansas City has the worst offense in the conference, averaging the least points scored a game with 64.5, only making 39.3% of their field goals and 28% of their threes. The Roos also average the least assists per game at 9.3. They are still favored to beat Omaha, with the winner set to face SDSU.

No. 8 Denver (15-16, 6-12 Summit)

Sitting near the same spot they were last season, the Pioneers have shot well this season, making 48.7% of their shots to lead the conference. Denver was successful all season rebounding the ball, getting 35.1 boards per game as well as averaging the least amount of opponent rebounds at 31.2 per game. Junior guard Tommy Bruner has been the standout for Denver this season, averaging 15.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. The Pioneers have struggled at turning the ball over this season, doing it 15 times per game, the highest in the conference.

No. 9 North Dakota (12-19, 6-12 Summit)

The Fighting Hawks rank sixth in the conference in points scored per game (71.5) and seventh in points allowed per game (73.4). On offense, the Hawks have been solid at shooting from behind the arc. Their 35% mark from three is fourth in the conference. On the defensive side, they rank last in opponents’ field goal percentage at nearly 47%. B.J. Omot is UND’s leading scorer at 12 points per game. Tsotne Tsartsidze is their leading rebounder (5.6 per game) while Jalun Trent is their leader in total assists (77).

No. 10 Omaha (8-22, 4-14 Summit)

Overall, it’s been a tough season for Omaha, who ranks second to last in scoring offense, averaging 68.8 points per contest and last in scoring defense, allowing 77.1 points per game. Their leader in scoring and assists is Frankie Fidler with 14.6 points and 5.7 assists per game. Their leader in assists is JJ White with 120 total this season. Despite their struggles, Omaha could still potentially pull off an upset.