by Michael Hadley
Both the men and the women have gone through some rough patches on the court this year. The women are in slightly better position to get a decent seed, sitting at 7-9 (tied-4th) with two games left in the Dakotas. The men, suffering a disappointing seven-game losing streak at one point, find themselves in the tournament for sure but can end up anywhere from seventh to fifth. Regardless of final seeding, both squads have quite the opportunity to make waves in Sioux Falls.
Let's begin with the renewed women's squad, shall we? Austin Parkinson's ladies had a great chance to wind up 8-8 before the final weekend, but a setback against UMKC last night put them into the logjam that is the women's standings right now. South Dakota State is in position to take the number-one seed, sitting at 14-2, which would certainly help propel them to their fourth straight Summit League Tournament title. Oral Roberts trails by a game and a half at 13-4, but with only one game left to play (against Southern Utah) there just isn't much time left to catch the Jacks. South Dakota, whom IUPUI beat soundly on Saturday, is unable to make the tournament in their single year of "transition" though their 10-6 record would be good enough for third. Their vacant position opens things up for the so-called logjam. UMKC sits safely (for now) in third at 9-7, Oakland, IUPUI, and Western Illinois are at 7-9, and IPFW and North Dakota State are all 6-10. Southern Utah is the odd-man-out this year. In reality, eighth place NDSU could finish as high as fourth (with help), and third place UMKC can go as low as sixth. Ah, the joy of the Summit League...
What's fantastic about the Jaguar women this year is they are real competitors. They definitely aren't the "warm body" squad that snuck into the tournament because Centenary didn't have scholarships, oh no, they have a REAL chance at winning this thing. Just like I'll go over shortly with the men, Parkinson has his women playing far above their fifth place record. A few bounces that could have gone their way didn't but even a 15-point deficit on the road was challenged. The women have played well in every conference game they've played, and they have certainly been in each game regardless of opponent. My worry is the loss to Southern Utah on the road, but the strength they demolished 13-4 ORU with was beyond impressive and when those ladies get hot, they're the best team in the league.
Their final two games will be extremely tough and they will need to win at least one to ensure they don't fall too far. The bright side is that another team below them, Western Illinois, must play the same teams, while UMKC and South Dakota both play IPFW and Oakland. There will be a lot of movement in the last Monday of the season and a 1-1 record will solidify a decent seed. If they can get favorable match ups, particularly avoiding SDSU until the final, IUPUI has a chance to ruin a lot of celebrations for the top half of the bracket. I don't see WIU fairing better than IUPUI will out west, nor do I see IUPUI winning two while Oakland (or NDSU) loses both. IUPUI has a fifty percent chance of ending up where they are right now - fifth - a five per cent chance of moving up to third, a ten per cent chance of moving up to fourth, a twenty-five percent chance of moving down to sixth, and a ten per cent chance of moving farther down than that.
Realistic Regular Season Finish: 5th
Realistic Tournament Hopes: Semifinalist (Top 4) - Most likely falling because of a horrible shooting performance, despite a great defensive effort
The men have probably the most talent of any Summit League team in their starting five players, and to me the only argument for any other team is probably Oral Roberts. That said, IUPUI finds their current seed slightly lower than what they had imagined. Oral Roberts has clinched first place with their 16-1 record to this point and a game on the road against floundering Southern Utah will almost certainly push their record to 17-1. South Dakota State has clinched the second seed at 13-3, and then, yes, another logjam. North Dakota State and Oakland are both 9-7, Western Illinois is 8-8, Southern Utah is 8-9, and IUPUI rounds out the "in for sure" teams at 6-10, and they can potentially jump both SUU and WIU. IPFW and UMKC both have tall tasks to get into tournament and I will definitely have my eye on their match up in Kansas City on Saturday. (UMKC battles Oakland and IPFW takes on South Dakota on Thursday, and quite frankly I expect both teams to flop.)
IUPUI will take on North Dakota State and South Dakota State this Thursday and Saturday respectively. While I'm sure many of the Jaguar faithful are probably a little pessimistic, I think the men are peaking at the perfect time. The four-point win at Nicholls State probably should have been more like twenty, even though the two teams were fairly even in RPI which tells me everything I need to know. While the Jags have struggled on the road, they are finally getting real productivity from all three seniors as well as sophomore transfer Ian Chiles. I've talked to Christian Siakam a couple times about the importance of the games and they seem locked in enough to take at least one, if not both. South Dakota will be celebrating senior night on Saturday and, since the game "means nothing" in terms of standings, I have a feeling the Jags could definitely steal one in Brookings. As for Thursday's game, North Dakota State has been playing fairly poorly over the last month. They absolutely thumped Oakland 96-69 back at the end of December, and from there it was a tailspin. A one-point victory over UMKC really highlighted the problems for NDSU - a lack of constant interior presence. They stole a game against Oakland in Rochester Hills, but lost to IPFW by nine on the same trip. Again losing to UMKC, this time by eleven, the Bison were embarrassed in their rivalry game with SDSU, being shellacked by twenty-three. Why did I highlight all of these games? Oakland has no real inside game, UMKC does, IPFW does, and SDSU doesn't. Oakland lost because they relied on the three and flopped, SDSU relied on it and didn't. If IUPUI can get the ball inside to Christian, they can and will be successful. Their guards, Chiles and Stephen Thomas, need to open the floor up with some early perimeter shooting, but it can be done.
In the tournament, IUPUI's opponent will definitely be the deciding factor in their success. If IUPUI can win both games in the Dakotas, and WIU loses both of their, IUPUI will wind up as the fifth seed in perfect position to take on either Oakland or, more likely, North Dakota State. IUPUI would have beaten both teams on their current run. A win in the 4-5 game would pit them against Oral Roberts, a side they have nearly beaten twice this year. If they lose both game they'll finish seventh, facing the all-powerful South Dakota State under an hour from the Jack's home court. Sixth would see them face either North Dakota State or Oakland, again a game they can win, but in this case the winner would face (assumedly) SDSU. Not a great outlook. So, I put IUPUI's chances of getting the five-seed at about twenty per cent, six-seed is probably around thirty per cent, and staying in seventh would be fifty-fifty. Let's face it, the Dakotas are nearly impossible to sweep, and IUPUI has one conference road win this year. Doubling that number on the road, especially in the Black Hills, is extremely unlikely. But what's life without hope?
Realistic Regular Season Finish: 7th
Realistic Tournament Hopes: Quarterfinalist (Top 8) - A good, close game against SDSU on Saturday, but no more than that.
Yes, I will be in Sioux Falls this March. Yes, I will be wearing suits in the front row. Yes, I will be screaming my head off for BOTH teams. I wouldn't miss it for the world.