It’s amazing how much can change in just a few weeks. The Summit League Basketball Tournament tipped off on March 9 with the South Dakota State men’s and women’s basketball teams coming in as the top seeds. Both programs looked poised to cut down the nets in Sioux Falls, until we witnessed the biggest upset in tournament history with the Jackrabbit men falling to eight-seed Western Illinois.
North Dakota State was able to play its best basketball at the end of the season, rallying to win three games in three days to earn the programs fourth NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bison beat North Carolina Central in the ‘First Four’ and played competitively with Duke for twenty minutes before losing by 23 points to finish the season 19-16. Those were two pretty significant surprises, but we were just getting started.
Less than a week after that Bison loss in Columbia, SC, SDSU Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger, unexpectedly left for a new job at UNLV, and Assistant Eric Henderson was promoted to take over the program. Both of those things happened on the same day, which is also very unusual - and is another significant change.
You almost have to expect the unexpected covering a mid-major basketball conference, but that is why this level is so interesting. The way coaches and players come and go, it is nearly impossible to predict which programs will remain on top and which may take a step back from year to year…on the men’s side anyway. I mean, who would like to make a prediction on next year’s favorite in the Summit League, based on what has transpired in the last three weeks? No thanks!
However, there are some things you can count on almost every year. One would be the South Dakota State women’s basketball program. Under Head Coach, Aaron Johnston, the SDSU women just keep things rolling, year after year. The Jackrabbits won every game by twelve points or more in the Summit League Tournament en route to their ninth tournament title in the past eleven seasons. They are making their 13th-straight postseason appearance overall, and that in itself is amazing. That all being said, even that team and program is in uncharted territory after earning a spot in the Sweet 16, knocking off Syracuse on its home floor. This is not only a ‘first’ for the program, but also The Summit League.
The Jacks will have another difficult challenge ahead of them, taking on Oregon Friday night. It’s a team they have played close already this season so who knows? It’s been a memorable month in many different ways, but it’s what makes this time of year so special and also a lot of fun.