The “Bracket” section of this story has been updated.
It took 95 minutes to settle two games between South Dakota and South Dakota State this season. The points differential in both games combined was three, in favor of the Coyotes. Yet with one non-Jackrabbits loss on their schedule, once-ranked South Dakota was relegated to the two-seed in this tournament. Meanwhile, South Dakota State not only avenged their loss to the Coyotes in these teams’ first meeting, but also grabbed the one-seed in the process.
Denver — the team that took down South Dakota back on Jan. 3 — can’t be counted out of this tournament, though each of their other three games against the South Dakota schools ended in double-digit losses. The Pioneers’ 62.5 percent shooting performance ended the Coyotes’ nearly two-year Summit League regular-season win streak. Although that kind of output would be difficult to repeat, it’s not impossible.
Even still, the major storyline for the Summit League tournament is this: South Dakota and South Dakota State must meet in the final — for the second straight year — in order for both of them to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. The added bonus, of course, is what should be an exciting rubber match.
If South Dakota State were to win and grab the automatic bid, South Dakota would have to rely on its prior top-25 ranking and statement wins — including over the Jackrabbits — to hopefully grab an at-large bid. The same is true for South Dakota State should the Coyotes win, although the Jackrabbits were never ranked.
In a conference where the top two schools are so evenly matched and have had such solid seasons, the frustrations of being a mid-major could come out in full force no matter which team prevails. And especially — especially — if it comes to pass that this isn’t a two-team conference after all, and a massive lower-seed upset derails either South Dakota team’s plans for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
When: Saturday, March 9 — Tuesday, March 12
Where: Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, Sioux Falls, SD
How to view: ESPN+ (quarterfinals/semifinals), ESPNU (final)
The top two seeds made quick work of their quarterfinal opponents in Saturday’s games. South Dakota State put up a 28-9 first-quarter lead and never looked back, eventually beating Purdue Fort Wayne 88-50. In the day’s second game, South Dakota similarly produced a double-digit first-quarter lead that they wouldn’t give up as they beat North Dakota State 74-51.
No. 1 South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs. No. 8 Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons
Saturday, March 9, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 2 South Dakota Coyotes vs. No. 7 North Dakota State Bison
Saturday, March 9, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Oral Roberts nearly gave up all of its 12-point halftime lead, but it held on to edge out Western Illinois, 68-64. The second quarterfinal saw the tournament’s first upset, as North Dakota rallied from as many as 16 points down to defeat Denver, 80-67. The Fighting Hawks scored 52 points in the second half, including a 16-0 run to close out the game.
No. 4 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles vs. No. 5 Western Illinois Leathernecks
Sunday, March 10, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 3 Denver Pioneers vs. No. 6 North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Sunday, March 10, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
South Dakota State made quick work of Oral Roberts in the day’s first game, winning 86-55 for the Jackrabbits’ 15th straight win. In the second game, South Dakota similarly blew past North Dakota, 84-61. This sets up the fifth championship meeting between the South Dakota schools in seven years, all of which South Dakota State has won.
No. 1 South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs. No. 4 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Monday, March 11, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN+
No. 2 South Dakota Coyotes vs. No. 6 North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Monday, March 11, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
In a drastically different game than their previous two meetings, South Dakota State outscored South Dakota 53-32 in the middle two quarters to secure the 83-71 win. The Jacks shot 50 percent to the Yotes’ 32.4 percent in a purely dominant effort. During the game, tournament MVP Macy Miller broke the Summit League career scoring record.
No. 1 South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs. No. 2 South Dakota Coyotes
Tuesday, March 12, 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU