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This week in the Summit League: Mount Rushmore State’s dominance continues

No. 23 South Dakota and South Dakota State continue their battle for first place, with each hosting games midweek before facing each other in a Sunday afternoon showdown that could have national poll and NCAA Tournament bid implications. Plus, some conference records are in trouble, the Player of the Week and more!

South Dakota’s Hannah Sjerven shoots over South Dakota State’s Tylee Irwin during their Jan. 6 meeting. The Coyotes won in double overtime, 105-98.
Courtesy of South Dakota Athletics via Twitter

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits could see their half-game lead for first place in the Summit League increase to a full game with a win tonight. But tomorrow, the No. 23 South Dakota Coyotes have the chance to grab that half-game right back, just in time for Sunday’s meeting between the two best teams in the Summit League.

Just like last season, the South Dakota schools are again battling it out at the top, each carrying 10-game winning streaks into this week of play. With three-and-a-half games separating the second-place Coyotes and third-place Western Illinois, it’s a two-team race for the conference regular-season title, and likely for the tournament title as well.

South Dakota is no stranger to long win streaks, carrying one of 20 games all the way to last season’s Summit League Tournament championship game. But that streak — which included a 14-0 showing in conference play — came to an end in a game that saw the Jackrabbits take the 15-point win and earn the conference’s sole NCAA Tournament bid.

This season, each team has a single loss on its record, with South Dakota State’s coming in double overtime to South Dakota in their Jan. 6 meeting, while South Dakota fell to Denver on Jan. 3. Both losses were high-scoring affairs, with the Yotes losing 104-99 and the Jackrabbits losing 105-98. It’s clear that neither team wants to lose, which is what makes their impending second meeting so exciting.

Right now, the only thing separating these teams in the standings is their schedules. South Dakota has played one fewer game, leaving the Coyotes with one fewer win (and second place). Assuming both the Coyotes and Jackrabbits win their midweek games — which would involve South Dakota avenging its earlier loss to Denver — the Yotes could take first place right back with a head-to-head victory.

Postseason outlook

For the second year in a row, the top teams in the Summit League are making their cases for being a two-bid conference come Selection Monday.

If South Dakota and South Dakota State meet in the conference championship game once more, it would seem criminally unfair that only one of these teams should be allowed to go to the NCAA Tournament.

The Jackrabbits, at 20-6, are already 20-game winners — a distinction several eventual conference champions and power conference at-large bids may not have. Half of those six losses came to ranked opponents, including single-digit losses to Baylor and Oregon, who are now the top two teams in the country. But South Dakota State also has a ranked win over then-No. 21 Drake: another one-loss mid-major that just re-entered the AP top-25 poll this week.

Meanwhile, the 23-3 Yotes’ schedule includes wins over then-No. 23 Iowa State and then-No. 22 Missouri, with their two non-conference losses coming by single digits to Drake and defending WNIT champs Indiana.

Unfortunately, there seem to be only two ways for both teams to make it into the NCAA Tournament:

  1. South Dakota State wins on Sunday, with both teams winning out and meeting in the tournament championship game. The regular-season series tie would keep the Jackrabbits in the picture.
  2. South Dakota wins on Sunday, keeping their top-25 status for the rest of the season, but South Dakota State wins the tournament championship game.

Such is the mid-major experience.

This week’s South Dakota fixtures

Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons (6-19, 2-11) at South Dakota State Jackrabbits (20-6, 12-1)

When: Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Frost Arena, Brookings, SD

How to watch: ESPN+, Jackrabbits All-Access

Denver Pioneers (14-11, 7-5) at No. 23 South Dakota Coyotes (23-3, 11-1)

When: Thursday, Feb. 21, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Sanford Coyote Sports Center, Vermillion, SD

How to watch: ESPN+, Go Yotes Live

No. 23 South Dakota Coyotes (23-3, 11-1) at South Dakota State Jackrabbits (20-6, 12-1)

When: Sunday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Frost Arena, Brookings, SD

How to watch: ESPN+, Jackrabbits All-Access

Elsewhere in the Summit League:

  • South Dakota State’s Tagyn Larson is the Summit League Player of the Week. Larson set a school record for field goal percentage in the Jackrabbits’ Feb. 13 win over Omaha, as she went 11-for-11 from the floor, including hitting all five three-point attempts.
  • Entering the poll last week, South Dakota’s national ranking marks the first time in 10 years a Summit League team has been in the AP Top 25. Naturally, it was South Dakota State that last had that honor — ending the 2008-09 season at No. 19.
  • Lauren Loven of Denver is seven three-pointers away from the single-season Summit League record of 99. Averaging 3.7 threes per game, Loven is on pace to hit the record comfortably in the Pioneers’ last four games.
  • Another Summit League record is within reach — this one for career points for South Dakota State’s Macy Miller, who is 119 away from the all-time mark. Hitting her 17 points per game average in every remaining game would likely seal it up.

Summit League full schedule and results