It may not be so likely for Western Illinois to score a Saturday upset in the Summit League tournament, but it may be possible for IUPUI to live some March Madness glory.
Ever since the Jaguars became serious, every game between IUPUI and North Dakota State has come down to wire except for their meeting in the conference tournament last season, a game that IUPUI’s leading scorer over the last two years Darell Combs did not play in.
Seven teams in this conference have a legitimate argument for winning this tournament, and you got to like IUPUI’s chances in this one…just a little. This is like watching two of your friends going after the affection of the same girl, but one of your friends has a good job and his life pretty much together, while the other cannot hold down a job, barely showers, and is one bad financial decision away from moving back in with his parents. This pal doesn’t really do anything great, but he just kind of exists and keeps chugging along in life. While you’re watching this play out, you like the second friend’s chances and you really don’t have that great of a reason.
The Bison have a systematic offense designed to find the best shot. Their coaches preach quality decision making. They showed last year that they live for moments like the Summit League Tournament. North Dakota State is your friend that shows up to the party in a dress shirt and a pair of khakis.
The Jaguars play more chaotic. Players are taking ill-advised shots. A majority of the players appear lost on defense at times. IUPUI is your pal that shows up to the party in a shirt that says Slacker across the chest and jeans with holes they have owned since they were in high school. It’s possible they were hand me downs.
Your unorganized pal appears to have something up his sleeve. Sure, he isn’t going to win the affection of the girl talking about how he just wreaked havoc on 200 zombies in some video game with a Mature rating earlier that day, but he is going to win on his personality and heart. As much of his life appears to be in disarray, this pal is still the life of the party. That’s not to say your organized friend doesn’t have any heart, but your unorganized pal is willing to lay everything on the table for a shot at this.
The Jaguars lost to the Bison last year in the first round of the tournament without their leading scorer Darell Combs. They struggled to find any offense in that game, and ended up only scoring 45 points. It was one of the toughest Summit League games to watch all of last year. Now, as far as we can tell, Combs will be in the lineup and he will be with his back court teammate Kellon Thomas, who averaged over 11 points per game in the Summit League this year. The Jaguars have to have a sour taste in their mouth over their early exit from the tournament last season, so it must be a nice feeling to have the same team that ousted them last season.
IUPUI is not going to shoot 29 percent again in the tournament this season. They have a senior point guard, they have a senior shooting guard, they have a senior post player that can stretch the defense, and they have high energy guys off the bench. The Jaguars were playing like a team that needed to build chemistry all year, and it was coming together more and more all season.
I’m not saying that IUPUI is a lock in this game, just pointing out that they actually have a chance. There is not separation from the 2 seed to the 7 seed in this conference. The 7-9 record for the Jaguars is the best winning percentage for a 7 seed in the Summit League since 2011. The Jaguars match up well with the Bison, and it shows as biggest point differential in their regular season meetings was a 5 point overtime win for IUPUI earlier this season.
Even with Combs in the lineup, he has struggled against the Bison in his 2 years at IUPUI. Combs has averaged 15 points per game against the Bison, which isn’t too far off his career average at IUPUI, but he has shot 36 percent from the field versus North Dakota State against his 42 percent career average. He has averaged 3.5 turnovers against the Bison in 2 years, but had 10 turnovers in 2 games this season against NDSU.
On the other end, North Dakota State is the best in the conference at taking care of the basketball. They only averaged 10 turnovers a game against the Summit League, and only turned the ball over 18 times total in two games against IUPUI.
A key match up could be the two benches for the teams. There was a total of 50 fouls called in their first meeting with each other this season, which is going to happen when the game is so close and someone is trying to put the other on the foul line to get back into the game late.
Evan Hall and Dexter Werner is a great match up off the bench. Werner has made his career of being the best post player to come off the bench and create instant energy for his team. Hall can muscle Werner out of the post and bother him just enough to counter that energy. In addition to Hall, the Jaguars have Ron Patterson to come off the bench and make big plays on offense, and the Bison do not really have a guard to match off the bench, but Paul Miller will be fine if he can stay out of foul trouble.
The Bison are going to have to play their well disciplined style of basketball, and not let IUPUI’s chaos take over the game. Otherwise the pal with holes in his jeans is going to get the girl’s gamer tag and be killing zombies online.