Today begins the 2016 - 2017 Summit League conference play for basketball. The "often competitive when it matters most" NDSU Bison Mens basketball team kicks off against the Jack Rabbits of South Dakota State. The Jacks have become a legitimate rival to the grid iron gang, but I think that the hard court squad actually beat them to that.
Three of the last four Summit League Tournaments have ended with the border rivals facing off in Sioux Falls. Each of the four years has resulted in one or the other in the big tournament. In my opinion, both teams must win for a rivalry to be of the greatest ilk. In contrast to the football side of things (where NDSU has the big advantage in recent years), the basketball is very much a rivalry.
As it has ended before, so it begins this year. According to Team Rankings, Fort Wayne is the early favorite to be the representative this year with NDSU clocking in at #2 and SDSU in the middle of the pack. With all due respect to them, I wouldn't bet against either of the SU's.
NDSU for their part has been up and down so far this season. I didn't think they would beat Xavier and wasn't surprised by that out come, but did watch the game anyway. But troubling is the fact that they haven't had a good win this year. If I had to pick one of their wins as the best one I'd have to say the North Dakota victory is it, but the pickin's are slim. They have 16 more chances to develop and get the signature wins to inspire confidence going into Sioux Falls so need to panic or anything like that.
If Fort Wayne is as formidable this year as the odds indicate then going to Sioux Falls again will be all the better. Beating the #3 ranked team in the country certainly plays into that but it may not factor in that Indiana is down to #16 and the Dons got beat handily by the Irish two weeks later.
It seems like this will be a tight race with two, three or even four potential teams in the running for representation in the Madness. Unfortunately the Summit is in a place where it has no chance of receiving an at large team. The flip side to that is, that each team has to fight all the harder to win when March comes along.
So that's a little bit of primer and a projection of how it may turn out. To make it clear, as much as I hate to say it, I think that the Jacks will once again represent the Summit the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. There's a lot of basketball to be played between now and then so only time will tell how it actually ends up! What seems apparent is that it will be a fun ride to the 2017 Summit Championship.