So the Mavericks are 3-1 against the two teams currently in the Summit League Championship, and I am not bitter about it at all.
We all knew from the start of the year that these were the two teams to beat in the conference. Even though IPFW tied for the best record, they were never a guaranteed lock to win over North Dakota State. We also knew that this conference tournament would be incredibly tough to come out on top and every game had potential to be great and filled with drama…and both of these teams are entering the championship game after roller coaster and emotional wins. Every game in this tournament has been extremely difficult to win, well IPFW over South Dakota was pretty easy it seemed, and North Dakota State didn’t really pull away until late in their 15 point win over IUPUI.
I’ve liked South Dakota State to win the league the whole year, but it hasn’t been as dreamy as people have thought it would be. At half time last night, Scott Nagy said his team was playing pretty well defensively, but they were playing poorly on offense. It didn’t get any better in the second half. The only player for the Jackrabbits that has played well offensively in the first two games of the conference tournament has been Mike Daum. Could Daum be the tournament MVP if the Jackrabbits win this game? A freshman taking home 1st Team All Conference and other awards, on top of Tournament MVP? We’re going to have 3 more years of this? I mean that’s great and all, but with all the other solid freshmen in the league, could this be the groundwork to make this a multi-bid conference in the future?
The Jackrabbits’ other 1st Team All Conference player, George Marshall, has looked like the opposite of an All Conference Player. Marshall is 2-of-16 from the floor in the first two games of the conference tournament, and it kind of looks like he keeps looking at the bench wondering when someone will replace him on the court. North Dakota State could have their two top players on the bench in foul trouble and still beat the Jackrabbits if Marshall is shooting that poorly in the championship game. We could bring in Western Illinois to play and they could beat the Jackrabbits if Marshall continues to play like this, or Eastern Illinois.
You would think that South Dakota State could win this game on (basically) a home court advantage and the extra day of rest over North Dakota State. I have to say, though, there has been a lot of green and yellow in the seats there in Sioux Falls. I guess it could be Oregon Duck fans, but I will go with my instinct on this one. The Bison are in the heads of the Jackrabbits, having an advantage over them in the last few seasons. After the Jacks easily handled IPFW in January, the Bison beat the Jackrabbits by 11 in Fargo and held the Jackrabbits to 29% shooting. Deondre Parks went 1-of-10 from three in that game.
The Bison also appear to just have more weapons on offense to throw at the Jackrabbits. SDSU has 5 games that can shoot from anywhere and go off on any given night, but as pointed out, 4 of those 5 guys have not played well lately. AJ Jacobson, Paul Miller, and Kory Brown all average double figures in scoring for the Bison. Freshman Khy Kabellis has had his fair share of big scoring games and is coming off a 19 point performance against IPFW. Dexter Werner is that off the bench high energy post player every team wishes they had, and he just had 18 points and 11 rebounds against IUPUI in the first round. Carlin Dupree scored 22 points last night against the ‘Dons and made clutch play after clutch play. The Bison also have senior center Chris Kading who can come in and affect the game with his defense.
Scott Nagy has built a strong reputation as a coach around the Summit League, but for some reason he has not fully connected with Marshall and Parks. David Richman is the best coach in the league at getting his players to believe in themselves and play to his style. The Bison lost almost everything from 2013-2014, and he got everyone to buy into him in his first season in 2014-2015. This season, they lost the Player of the Year from 2014-2015, and he was able to convince them all that they could pick up the missing scoring and not have much of a drop off. If it had not been for some poor free throw shooting and key injuries, the Bison could have finished with 1 to 2 more wins and been 3rd or 4th in the conference…maybe even 2nd depending on who they beat. South Dakota State also had some injuries along the way to affect their season. Nagy has questioned his team’s toughness for the last 3 months, and they are going up against a team that proved their toughness in a huge comeback win over the number 1 seed in the tournament. You could rate the Jackrabbits’ toughness up there with the toughness of the lemurs in “Madagascar.”
With all of this, I generally feel like South Dakota State should win this game, but there is obviously no way to count out North Dakota State. Like, there is not even that much confidence riding on the Jackrabbits in this. I feel like the biggest challenge almost is that weave offense that the Bison run. Facing the weave, after facing Denver’s Princeton offense, is 2 straight nights of constantly having to move, switch, and rotate on defense. Both of those offenses are designed to mentally and physically tire out their opponent, among other things. The lack of movement on offense by South Dakota State on offense really showed just how mentally exhausting it had become last night, and if they continue to play that way, they are going to lose this game. At least the lemurs can move it move it. .
This game has all the makings of going down to the wire and being won or lost on a last possession just like the last year when these two teams played in the championship game. So that means one of these teams will probably route the other and win by 20.