By: Payton Havermann
The Summit League tournament kicks off at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on March 6th. The tournament will feature eight of the Summit League’s nine teams, with only 9th place Denver not making the cut. The tournament will be the culmination of what was a highly competitive season in the Summit League, one which saw the top four teams in the conference all bunched together in a logjam for first. The regular season title was ultimately claimed by the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who have been one of the powerhouses of the conference since the early 2010s.
It’s hard to say who is the definitive favorite going into the tournament this year, as the top four in the conference, South Dakota State, South Dakota, North Dakota State and Oral Roberts, could all conceivably win it. The safe bet would probably be the Jackrabbits, who missed some games due to Covid but finished with a 9-3 record in conference play. The Jackrabbits are an efficient offensive team, averaging 79.9 points a game, good for 28th in the nation. They are led in scoring by sophomore guard Noah Freidel (16.0 PPG), and senior forward Douglas Wilson (16.1 PPG). The Jackrabbits also have a good third option in sophomore guard Baylor Scheierman who is averaging 14.7 points per game and 9.1 boards a game. The Jackrabbits use a deep 9 man rotation to great effect and there’s no reason to believe they won’t have similar results in the tournament.
Rounding out the top 4 in the conference were South Dakota, North Dakota State, and Oral Roberts in that order, and all three are all sleepers to win the tournament. Oral Roberts is an offensive powerhouse, placing 15th in the nation in points per game with 82.0. The Golden Eagles are led by sophomore guard Max Abmas who averages a ridiculous 24.8 points per game, and also gets big numbers out of junior forward Kevin Obanor who averages 18.6 points a game and 10.0 rebounds a game. Oral Roberts also has all 15 players on the team averaging five minutes or more a game, making them ridiculously deep. What holds them back is their mediocre defense which ranks 6th in the conference, but if the Golden Eagles can stay hot on offense, they’ll be a tough out for anyone in the tournament.
On the other side of the coin is North Dakota State. The Bison rank as the conference’s 2nd best defensive unit, but just the 7th best offensive group in the Summit. Despite their offensive woes, the Bison were able to reach double digit conference wins. The Bison played their fellow top four conference opponents twice each this season, losing one and winning one against all of South Dakota, Oral Roberts, and South Dakota State, including taking the Jackrabbits down to the wire in both games, losing by one in the first meeting and winning by two in the next. North Dakota State can hang with anyone in the conference, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bison take home the Summit league championship.
South Dakota, seeking their first ever NCAA tournament appearance, was in the driver’s seat of the Summit League for much of the season, but a late season loss to North Dakota State dropped the Coyotes to 2nd in the standings to end the year. The Coyotes are a very well-rounded team, placing top three in the conference in both total offense and defense. The Coyotes have the capability to beat anyone in the Summit League, and this may be their best shot yet to finally make the NCAA tournament.
The player to watch this year is undeniably Oral Roberts sophomore Max Abmas. Abmas was named Summit League player of the year, and it was not an undeserved honor. Abmas averaged 24.8 points a game and is a lethal shooter. He shot 48.9% from the field on 16.7 shots a game and shot a ridiculous 46.1% from beyond the arc on 8.7 three point attempts a game. Abmas has shot teams out of the gym this season and he’ll be a fun watch for the conference tournament.
The Summit League is a very top heavy league that will have a tournament filled with offensive juggernauts, defensive powerhouses, and the best of both sides. This year has teams hoping to punch their ticket for the first time ever and teams hoping to continue a dynasty. The tournament should be a fun watch for anyone that has an interest in college basketball in general, as eight teams battle in South Dakota in an effort to reach the summit of the league.
Edited by Tyler Kading