The one team in the Summit League that the whole nation knows about is Oakland. The Golden Grizzlies upset Tennessee, which was then in the top 10, in non-conference play. In addition, they almost upset a few other strong opponents.
As a result, most people are ready to sketch Oakland in as the champion of the Summit League. The Golden Grizzlies, who won all but one of their league games, still need to win three games in order to go to the NCAA Tournament with an automatic bid.
In order to see if Oakland will prevail or if the Golden Grizzlies NCAA Tournament hopes will be crushed, here is a game-by-game preview for the Summit League tournament.
Quarterfinals, March 5 & 6
No. 1 Oakland vs. No. 8 Southern Utah
Good luck to Southern Utah in this one. Oakland is by far the better team in this matchup, proving it by defeating the Thunderbirds twice already this year.
The Golden Grizzlies are much more talented and have every stat in their favor for their quarterfinal matchup. They will be ready to smother the Thunderbirds on Saturday.
My pick: Oakland by 21
No. 4 IPFW vs. No. 5 South Dakota State
All year, South Dakota State has had trouble rebounding. However, the Jackrabbits got a little lucky as IPFW shares the same weakness.
South Dakota State used that to its advantage in the regular season, dominating IPFW twice.
Although the general stats only slightly favor South Dakota State, the fact that the Jackrabbits dominated IPFW twice already this season shows that they have the clear advantage in this game.
Also, South Dakota State is a great three-point shooting team, and IPFW is not great on the perimeter in terms of defense. As long as the Jackrabbits are not ice cold in terms of shooting, they will advance to the semifinals.
My pick: South Dakota State by 11
No. 2 Oral Roberts vs. No. 7 North Dakota State
North Dakota State has shown some good sparks this year, but the Bison are not consistent enough to be counted on to pull off a quarterfinal upset. The Bison have had some good games and some awful games.
On the other side, Oral Roberts has not only been consistently good this year, but the Golden Eagles have been one of the better teams in the Summit League for the last number of years.
My pick: Oral Roberts by five
No. 3 IUPUI vs. No. 6 UMKC
These two teams have practically identical statistics. Both teams average about 70 PPG, UMKC has a slight advantage in rebounding, and IUPUI has a slight advantage in turnover margin.
However, the key stat for this game will be free throw shooting.
In a game that will most likely be somewhat close, free throws will be tremendously important to gutting out a win down the stretch. Every basketball fan has seen how poor free throw shooting can easily throw away a game in a playoff atmosphere.
IUPUI has the big edge in free throw shooting. The Jaguars shoot 78.3 percent from the line, and the Kangaroos shoot only 66.4 percent. The whole IUPUI team can shoot well from the line, and this will be the key to avoiding a first round upset.
My pick: IUPUI by six
Semifinals, March 7
No. 1 Oakland vs. No. 5 South Dakota State
This game will definitely be close, and South Dakota State will definitely give Oakland a good fight. It will definitely be a good game to watch (the Summit League website says it will be streamed on ESPN3).
Both teams love to score and play an up-tempo offense with a lot of shooting. Plus, both teams have talented players to watch for.
Although South Dakota State will be outmatched on the boards, the Jackrabbits are not out of this game. They are the much better defensive team.
The Jackrabbits and the Golden Grizzlies score about the same amount of points per game, the Jackrabbits allow less points per game. Of course, it does not mean that Oakland will not be able to score on South Dakota State. The Golden Grizzlies scored 105 points just a few weeks ago against the Jackrabbits.
But along with their better defense, the Jackrabbits have extremely explosive three-point shooting. The Jackrabbits shoot 41.6 percent from three-point range and make nine three-pointers per game. They will have that working to their advantage since Oakland plays awful three-point defense. Golden Grizzly opponents make 40 percent of their three-point shots.
South Dakota State's goal has to keep Oakland under 85 points to pull off the major upset. Once the score gets higher, it will be clear that Oakland is in complete control and is overpowering the South Dakota State defense.
My pick: South Dakota State by two
No. 2 Oral Roberts vs. No. 3 IUPUI
A month ago, IUPUI would have won this game. Then, the Jaguars were playing great basketball and had just beaten then undefeated Oakland.
At this point, Oral Roberts has been red hot and IUPUI has been on and off. And remember, Oral Roberts easily beat IUPUI just a few games ago. The Golden Eagles play their best games against poorer rebounding teams, and that plays out to their advantage against a team like IUPUI.
My pick: Oral Roberts by eight
Championship, March 8, ESPN2
No. 2 Oral Roberts vs. No. 5 South Dakota State
Unfortunately for the underdogs from South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits' style of play will not translate well when playing Oral Roberts.
First off, Oral Roberts has South Dakota State's number this year. The Golden Eagles swept the Jackrabbits and managed to beat them once in a high-scoring game and once in a low-scoring game.
Unlike Oakland, Oral Roberts has a more defensive approach to the game. The Jackrabbits will not get the same number of looks at open shots as they would against Oakland. Oral Roberts' defense is not strong enough to dominate the Jackrabbits, but it is strong enough to limit them enough for the Golden Eagles to come through as Summit League champions.
My pick: Oral Roberts by five
Follow Jesse Kramer on Twitter @Jesse_Kramer for more college basketball news and information.
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