(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- Batman Daum Finds a Robin: South Dakota State's Daumination continued, and a big part of that was the emergence of freshman David Jenkins as a legit second banana and all-conference level player. Jenkins scored 20 or more points 6 times in league play, including a career high 31 in a narrow road win at Denver (he also scored 31 at Colorado - he likes playing in that state...). His shooting provides yet another threat alongside Daum's inside-out presence, making the league's #1 offense all the more potent.
- The Mount Rushmore State Rules: South Dakota State and South Dakota went a combined 22-2 against the other 6 squads, underlining the dominance those two teams had over the rest of the conference. With the tournament being played in Sioux Falls, it would be awfully surprising to not see the two meet for a rubber match with an NCAA bid on the line.
- Summit Reaches Its Own Summit: The league ranked 13th in KenPom's conference rankings, topping its previous high of 15th since it changed its name from the Mid-Continent. The last time a Summit team won a tourney game was 2014, but if either of the top 2 get a 12/13 seed, it could definitely happen again this year.
The Summit uses the most basic 8-team tournament format possible - neutral site, no re-seeding, no byes. Not much of an advantage for doing well in the regular season, so let's hope one of the top two still emerges...
What to Watch:
- Mr. Daum has won this tournament in both his first two years of eligibility, but both were by a hair - will his luck run out this year? Of course, it might not take luck to win this time around, as the Jackrabbits are highly talented and sport the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Freshman of the Year.
- Two of the other award winners reside on 6-seed Oral Roberts - Sixth Man of the Year Albert Owens and Transfer of the Year Austin Ruder. Paul Mills has done an admirable job during his first year in Tulsa, bringing Scott Drew's amorphous matchup zone with him from Baylor. Of course, the defense has been the problem all year - the Golden Eagles have thrived through elite work on the offensive glass (another Baylor trait).
- The last time a school not ending in "Dakota State" won this tournament was in 2011, and that was by Oakland, who now toils in the Horizon League. Before that, you have to go back to 2008, when Oral Roberts rolled to the title. Will that dominance continue? Or will South Dakota, Denver, or someone even less likely unseat the "Dakota State Dynasty?"
- Fort Wayne has knocked off big brother Indiana two straight years now (including a thorough ass-kicking in Bloomington this year), but Jon Coffman has never figured out how to assemble a competent defense. The Mastodons can light up the scoreboard, but if teams are constantly getting lay-ups, it's hard to envision them getting far - especially when matched up against annual threat North Dakota State in round 1. They did sweep the Bison this year, but hey - tough to beat a good team three times!!!!!
Who Will Win:
- South Dakota St. - The impact of Daum's individual abilities heightens during tournament play as the game bogs down, as his ability to get a bucket on anyone differentiates the Jackrabbits. The shooters around him (Jenkins, Reed Tellinghuisen, Skyler Flatten) make the offense tough to stop. The concern here is the defense - they wall up in the paint, but they don't force any turnovers, so if an opponent is hot, the Jacks could prove vulnerable.
If Not Them, Then:
- South Dakota - The Coyotoes' four-out motion is extremely difficult to prepare on quick turnarounds, and even though every other Summit team has seen them twice, that could be a serious factor in Sioux Falls. They took SDSU behind the woodshed in Vermillion, and they'll certainly be looking for a repeat if they face Daum & Co. in the title game.
- Denver - The Pioneers are definitely a major underdog, but they did just rip off four wins in a row against the league's bottom 4 seeds, helping lift their KenPom ranking from 268 in mid-January to 204th. Turnovers have been a serious issue, though, and the feisty Coyotes lurk in the semifinals.