It’s time to take the turn and hit the back 9 in Summit League basketball play before reaching the culmination of the season in Sioux Falls on March 4-7. So what do we know?
High Scores Are Not an Anomoly
I wrote earlier in the season that we were seeing some of the highest scoring games in conference history. The average scoring output between all nine teams is right around 80 points a game, up seven points from last year. I believe this is a combination of a few different things.
- There is more offensive talent across the board and teams are playing faster. It has been amazing to watch teams shoot the ball. NDSU and Fort Wayne combined to hit 29 three-point field goals in a game. That is bonkers.
- Teams just aren’t very good at defending the ball. Every team I have seen so far this season, at one point or another, struggled to stop dribble penetration. Guards are getting into the lane, working off high screens and doing a lot of damage. It has led to coaches doing a lot of head-scratching trying to figure out how to get stops. I have never seen anything like it in the dozen years I have watched this league. Can this improve the second time through the schedule? You’d like to think some adjustments can be made.
- The games are officiated differently. The physical play, grabbing, clutching, bumping that has been allowed in the past away from the ball is no longer tolerated. I looked back at some old game tape from years past and just watched action away from the ball. Next, I watched some replays of games in conference this season. Players are moving more freely and easily off screens and motions. You can tell there has been a point of emphasis to clean up the game and officials are taking it to heart. Coaches and players continue to adjust.
Road Wins Tough to Come By
Through 36 Summit League men’s games, there have been only 10 road wins (.278 winning percentage), which shows just how tough it is to get separation from your opponents. There is nothing ‘routine’ about the schedule, and travel can be brutal. So far, North Dakota State has three road victories, while holding serve on its home floor, which is why they have jumped out to a two-game lead over everyone else. But the Bison still have to go to Fort Wayne, Tulsa, Omaha and Indianapolis in the second half of the season. Nothing easy about that.
It really takes a mental toughness to find ways to win on the road and that toughness comes through experience. So far, the Bison have handled adversity and clutch situations the best. In their seven conference wins, NDSU has trailed in the final 10 minutes of five of them (IUPUI, Fort Wayne, Oral Roberts at home, South Dakota and South Dakota State on the road). When the margin for error is as slim as it is from top to bottom, the final four minutes is where you have to play your best.
In Sioux Falls, Anything is Possible
The depth of the league is incredible. Coaches I have spoken with say it may not be as good at the top as it has been in some past years, but that teams in the bottom half right now are better. This parity is going to mean four wild days of basketball in Sioux Falls this March. It will be interesting to which teams make the biggest strides in February and who can develop the depth and consistency night in and night out.
Hold on tight folks – it will be quite the ride.