Entering the final night of the Summit League season seeds 3-8 were all up for grabs. When the dust settled Oakland completed a mid-season turnaround to take the #3 seed and Western Illinois, projected to finish 9th, jumped up to 4th place. North Dakota State lost 5 of their last 6 league games to fall into 5th place while Southern Utah limps into 6th place. The state of Indiana holds down the last two seeds with IUPUI finishing in 7th place and IPFW beating out UMKC for the last spot in this weekends tournament.
Regular season champion Oral Roberts is the favorite while the two seed South Dakota State will take the court with the support from a majority of the crowd. Sioux Falls is a short drive from the SDSU campus making the game feel more like a Jackrabbits home game than a neutral court atmosphere. Here is the schedule for the opening round:
Saturday: #1 Oral Roberts vs #7 IPFW
#2 South Dakota State vs #7 IUPUI
Sunday: #3 Oakland (2-time defending champ) vs #6 Southern Utah
#4 Western Illinois vs #5 North Dakota State
The past couple of years Oakland entered the tourney as heavy favorites thanks a couple of 17-1 regular season records. Now it’s ORU who has the gaudy 17-1 mark, but are they the heavy favorites? For all the winning Scott Sutton has done with the Golden Eagles his teams have never won a tournament championship outside of Tulsa. ORU has never cut down the nets when the tournament was played in Ft.Wayne, Kansas City, and Sioux Falls. However, his team is loaded with experience and possible player of the year Dominique Morrison.
ORU has a nice road to Tuesdays title game and the #1 team should have a nice path. After facing the Dons in opening round play they will get either WIU or NDSU. Western is the more difficult match-up, but I wouldn’t expect the Eagles to trip up. It’s a guess, but privately they may be preparing for a title game showdown with South Dakota State.
You would expect the #2 seed to enjoy a nice path, but it will not be easy for Scott Nagy’s SDSU club. First up is the rematch with the Jaguars and there is no question Todd Howard’s club has the talent to win. The Jags lost a wild December shoot out in overtime and Saturday built a 13 point 1st half lead, but we’re overwhelmed by three’s and the Jacks offensive movement. The Jacks will have to beat IUPUI for a third time this year to advance and the high octane Oakland Grizzlies will likely be the opponent. Entering the tournament the 4 teams playing the best basketball are ORU, SDSU, Oakland, and IUPUI. In order to win the Summit Leagues automatic birth SDSU will have to beat the best and hottest teams in the league. One heavy advantage will be the backing of the crowd. Since the league moved to Sioux Falls the support for the Dakota schools has always dwarfed the other schools. I bet you could add up the other 6 schools fan base, multiply it by two and it doesn’t equal the support for NDSU and SDSU.
If the top two sees met in the title game ORU will face a road atmosphere.
The Jags finished the season with a 14-17 record and a 7-11 mark in league play. They were pegged to finish 4th in the preseason polls, but stumbled out of the gates at 2-8 including two league losses. Then IUPUI bounced back with 6 straight wins including dubs vs Ball State and the Horizon League regular season champion Valparaiso Crusaders. At the end of December the Jags were 8-8 and 2-2 in league play and ready to make a move. It never happened as they lost 7 straight to fall into last place. The postseason was in doubt and the players were facing the prospect of becoming the first team to miss the postseason. They found a way to turn it around to win 6 of their last 8 and finish the year on a high note. After an up and down year the only consistent thing this season was their inconsistency.
The up and down play doesn’t matter because anything can happen in March. IUPUI will be the underdogs in every game they play from here on out.
SOME BRIEF COMPLAINING
The Summit League loves the tournament in Sioux Falls because of the total attendance and the money generated by sponsorship dollars. I understand and outside of the weather the city does a really nice job of hosting the tournament. Now let me gripe for just a minute.
NDSU and SDSU and soon South Dakota have the benefit of taking a short bus ride to the tournament. Because of this the league should not have them host games the weekend before the tournament. For the second time in the past three seasons IUPUI has finished the season at SDSU and had to turn around less than four days later to fly back to the Dakota’s. Travel is tough, but weather can cause even more problems.
Tonight the IUPUI women play in Fargo and they are scheduled to fly home Tuesday morning at 6:45 am. Fargo is expecting 6 to 10 inches of snow and there is concern the flight may not happen. So the women will board a bus after the game and travel 14 hours home. Normally they would take the flight and wait out any delay, but because they are scheduled to fly back to the Dakota’s on Thursday they want to get back to campus as soon as possible. The quicker they get back the sooner they can rest at home before returning for the tourney.
I’m sure the Dakota fans would tire of Senior night in the middle of February instead of the end of the month. They would just have to except the fact that due to the shirt trip to the tournament they have to finish on the road.
Ok, I’m done complaining. I’m turning bitter because a long bus ride is ahead for me and the women’s team.
HOW ABOUT A HAND FOR AUSTIN PARKINSON
Monday night the IUPUI women’s basketball team will play at North Dakota State and the winner will be the 4th seed in the Summit League tournament. Head coach Austin Parkinson’s squad was picked to finish in 9th place and it was hard to argue with the preseason pick. Last season Coach Park was named the women’s coach just four days before practice was scheduled to begin. What was even more unusual was his decision to jump from the men’s game to the women’s game. In his first year as a head coach and first year in the women’s game the Jags won only four games. Yet as you watched the team you could see a steady improvement and an excitement entering this season. The improved talent and Coach Park’s defensive mentality have turned the Jags from an easy win to a title contender.
Junior Kerah Nelson is deserving of 1st team consideration while sophomore Katie Comello, Junior Emily Phillips, and true freshman Nevena Markovic may all make the all-newcomer team. This will be the schools first trip to the postseason since March 2009. A win tonight gives the team a fourth place finish and in my opinion Austin Parkinson a coach of the year award.
I’ll be adding more and more to the blog this week as the Jags prepare for March Madness.