By: Eric Graves
March Madness is on its way, but before the tourney can begin, conference battles must be fought. For some teams, winning their conference tournament is their only hope of making it to the Big Dance. The Summit League has nine of these teams, each with dreams of dancin’.
The last four years in the Summit League have been dominated by the Dakotas. North Dakota State won in both 2014 and 2015. South Dakota State won the two years before that, 2012 and 2013. The top of the Summit League this year has been led by the South Dakota State Jackrabbits 12-4 in conference play (23-7 overall) and the IPFW Mastodons 12-4 in conference play (23-8 overall). South Dakota State and IPFW are my two favorites to punch their ticket for the Big Dance this year.
The Jackrabbits are lead by highly experienced head coach Scott Nagy who is in his 21st year at his position. Nagy has two stellar senior guards, Deondre Parks and George Marshall. Marshall is averaging 15 points per game with Parks pouring in 14 points of his own. Parks and Marshall are aided by freshman standout Mike Daum averaging nearly 15 points a game with 6 rebounds to boot in just 20 minutes for the Jackrabbits. The Jackrabbits are riding a three game winning streak into the tournament with their last loss coming to their biggest threat, the IPFW Mastodons.
IPFW is looking for their first Summit League Championship ever and second year coach Jon Coffman is looking to make the moves to get his team into the tourney and have their best opportunity to do so this year. The Mastodons are lead by senior Max Landis who is averaging 18 points while shooting a scorching 46% behind the arc. Point guard Mo Evans is pushing 17 points a game with 5 dimes as well. The Mastodons also have a standout freshman in 6-4 John Konchar. Konchar is putting up 12 points and pulling down 9 boards a game. Where Konchar really helps the squad is in the offensive rebound game with almost three a game.
Outside of the Jackrabbits and Mastodons, the Omaha Mavericks have the best shot at cutting down the nets at the Summit League Championship. The Mavs have only been in the Summit League since 11-12 but experienced head coach Derrin Hansen and two headed monster, guard Devin Patterson with 17 a game and 34% from long range and forward Jake White putting in 17 of his own with a team high 6 boards per game. Junior guard Tra-Deon Hollins is capable of doing it all for the Mavs, putting 12 points on the board, almost 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and most impressive, a nation-leading 4 steals per game. With a team of dynamic playmakers, Coach Hansen looks to lead the Mavs to an upset in the Summit League Tournament.
My prediction for the 2015-16 Summit League Tournament Championship is the IPFW Mastodons. IPFW is gonna steal the Summit League title away from the Dakotas this year with solid shooting behind the arc and dominant post presence. As a team the Mustangs are splashing 41.6% of their threes, led by the hot hand of senior Max Landis. The Mastodons can also battle down low, their four main post players come in at 6-4, 6-6, 6-8, and 6-8. These four bigs grab 21 of the 36 rebounds the Mastodons average per game. The combination of dominance down low and fire from downtown is what will lead IPFW to their first Summit League Championship title and getting their ticket punched.