Summit League Men’s Tournament Preview: Jackrabbits Open with Western Illinois, Coyotes Draw Fort Wayne
When the 2015 Summit League men's basketball season started, there was a lot of uncertainty for South Dakota State and South Dakota.
The Jackrabbits graduated 64 percent of their offense from last year's team, and was relying on some talented newcomers to pick up some slack. The Coyotes were operating under their third different head coach in as many seasons, and picked to finish eighth in the nine-team league.
SDSU recovered from an 0-2 start in conference play to share to league regular season crown with North Dakota State. Transfers George Marshall and Deondre Parks performed so well in their first season in Brookings, both earned spots on the Summit League's All-Newcomer Team. Returning starter Cody Larson was on the all-conference team and was named the Summit League's Defensive Player of the Year.
USD won four of its last five conference games to grab the number five seed at this weekend's tournament. Along the way, the Coyotes beat every other team in the Summit League at least once this season. South Dakota is led by all-conference guard Tyler Larson, who was the fourth best rebounder in the Summit this season.
As the top seed, South Dakota State plays in the first men's semifinal Saturday night. The Jackrabbits opponent is number eight Western Illinois, a team they beat for the tournament crown three years ago. The Leathernecks were swept by SDSU this season, losing by 31 in Brookings, and by a basket at home. Guard Garret Covington struggled in the first meeting, going just 3-of-10 from the floor for 11 points, as WIU shot just 29 percent in the first half. In the rematch, the sophomore was 13-of-17 for 31 points. SDSU coach Scott Nagy says the 20-point improvement for Covington had more to do with his play and not the Jackrabbit defense:
Tipoff is 6:00 PM Saturday in Sioux Falls. The winner plays either South Dakota or Fort Wayne in Monday's semifinals.
The Coyotes and Mastodons square off in the quarterfinals Sunday night. The two teams split during the regular season, each winning on the other's home floor. USD by two in Indiana, IPFW by 11 in Vermillion. One constant for Fort Wayne is the play of center Steve Forbes, who gave the Coyotes fits in both games, missing just four of his 23 shot attempts, scoring a combined 45 points, for the team picked by the Summit League coaches to win the conference this year. USD head coach Craig Smith on what makes Forbes so special:
Tipoff is 6:00 PM Sunday night in Sioux Falls.