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Midseason Summit League hoops outlook: South Dakota State women, Oral Roberts men stand as clear favorites

SDSU's women are undefeated through nine conference games, while ORU's men are 8-0 in league play. In both cases, the closest challenger is two games back with five weeks to play.

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South Dakota State's Paiton Burckhard (33) attempts to drive past UCLA's IImar'I Thomas during the first half of a Women's National Invitational Tournament semifinal contest on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at Frost Arena, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic
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SIOUX FALLS — Five weeks down, five to go.

As the Summit League college basketball season flies by the midpoint of the conference slate and into the sixth of 10 weekends featuring conference play, there's still plenty to sort out on both the men's and women's standings.

Both are headlined with a program yet to lose to another Summit League opponent, with a group of pursuers that has started to take shape but remains open to significant shifts with a month to go before the final regular season conference games are played on Feb. 25.

The Summit League tournament runs March 3-7 in Sioux Falls, now taking place over five days from Friday to Tuesday . All 10 teams are involved in the conference tournament this year, with the 7-versus-10 and 8-versus-9 games taking place on Friday prior to the traditional eight-team bracket.

Here's what to know about both halves of the Summit League basketball picture:

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Women

Atop the standings: South Dakota State (16-5 overall, 9-0 Summit).

Few have been able to keep pace with the Jackrabbits for 40 minutes, as SDSU has won seven of its nine league games by double figures. SDSU has also appeared to right some of the offensive woes it faced in a challenging nonconference slate, posting at least 80 points in six conference games and twice going over 100. As such, the Jacks pace the Summit League in scoring offense (86 points per game, nine more than No. 2 Oral Roberts) and scoring defense (63 points allowed per game, five fewer than No. 2 Denver). The 23-point average margin of victory is 18 points, with North Dakota State the next closest at 5.1.

Myah Selland is a surefire conference player of the year candidate once again, ranking in the top 12 individually in scoring (16.1), shooting percentage (52.3%), rebounds (6.1), assists (2.7) and steals (1.5) per game.

It's a sizeable gap that SDSU has created for itself, as the Jackrabbits look to claim a third-straight Summit League regular season championship.

Leading the chase: North Dakota State (13-6, 7-2) and South Dakota (10-10, 6-3).

Now in year four under head coach Jory Collins, the Bison are the clear top contender to end the run of No. 1 and No. 2 finishes by SDSU and USD. NDSU clipped the Coyotes by three points in Vermillion on Jan. 7, though both of its conference losses to date came by 22 and 31 points to ORU and SDSU, respectively.

Heaven Hamling has played a key role in boosting the Bison this season, posting 15.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game.

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South Dakota's Grace Larkins puts up a shot during the Coyotes' Summit League quarterfinal game against Western Illinois on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
Dave Eggen / Inertia

Though there have been some growing pains at USD — three conference losses are already the most in a single season for the program since 2016-17 — following the departure of a historically great senior class and established coaching staff, the Coyotes haven't ceded their place near the top of Summit standings under first-year head coach Kayla Karius.

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Grace Larkins, the reigning Summit League sixth woman of the year, has further established herself as one of the top talents in the conference, owning top five marks in scoring (17.9), rebounds (6.9), assists (4.4) and steals (2.1) per game.

Sorting out the rest: Oral Roberts (8-12, 5-4) is the only other program with a conference record above .500 and has shown the ability to compete with the top three with a close loss (83-80) at SDSU and a 22-point home win over NDSU.

However, the Golden Eagles have struggled with consistency, also having a 44-point loss to USD and losses at St. Thomas (7-12, 2-7) and Kansas City (6-14, 2-7), the bottom two teams in the standings. Of note, ORU has the second-leading scorer in the league in Hannah Cooper (19.7 points per game) and the only player averaging a double-double in Tirzah Moore (13.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game).

Omaha (9-11, 4-5) has also displayed an ability to stick in games, playing both SDSU and USD to within seven points last weekend, while UND (11-8, 4-5) is undefeated at home in conference play but has yet to find a road win.

Western Illinois (8-12, 3-6) owns the best win of anyone in the bottom half of the standings, having defeated USD (76-67 on Dec. 31). Meanwhile, Denver (7-13, 3-6) is in search of a win to correct its course, with a 3-1 start to league play giving way to an active five-game losing streak.

Key dates remaining:
Feb. 2: USD at NDSU (First meeting: NDSU 79, USD 76)
Feb. 4: SDSU at NDSU (SDSU 94, NDSU 63)
Feb. 11: SDSU at USD (SDSU 118, USD 59)
Feb. 18: ORU at NDSU (ORU 75, NDSU 53)
Feb. 23: USD at ORU (USD 101, ORU 57)
Feb. 25: SDSU at ORU (SDSU 83, ORU 80)

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Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas cheers during their men's basketball game against North Dakota State on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.

Men

Atop the standings: Oral Roberts (17-4 overall, 8-0 Summit).

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The 2021 NCAA tournament darlings are back as top contenders to make the Big Dance again this season behind the play of Max Abmas, whose 22 points per game are the fourth-most in Division I this season.

Of the Golden Eagles' four losses (all in nonconference play), two came by single digits to AP Top 25 programs Saint Mary's and New Mexico, another was by 10 points at Utah State and the final was at AP No. 3 Houston.

ORU is the top offensive team in the conference at 84.2 points per game and has averaged a 16.8-point margin of victory in league games. When ORU met South Dakota State to open Summit League play, the Golden Eagles ran away with a 79-40 win. Of note, ORU was one of four teams that had an early conference game postponed, so the Golden Eagles have yet to face off with South Dakota.

With a two-game lead on SDSU and at 3.5 games up on everyone else, a top-two seed (likely No. 1) feels like a lock for the Golden Eagles.

Leading the chase: South Dakota State (11-9, 6-2).

After starting the conference slate with a 39-point loss at ORU, the Jackrabbits have won six of seven, including an active four-game streak, with the only trip-up coming at North Dakota State. SDSU was also part of the four-team pod that had an early league game postponed due to weather and will play Kansas City twice in the final eight games.

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South Dakota State forward Matt Dentlinger (32) brings in a post entry pass in front of St. Bonaventure's Daryl Banks III (5) during a men's college basketball game on Nov. 15, 2022, at the Sanford Pentagon, in Sioux Falls.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

Zeke Mayo is averaging 19.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists in conference games, all top-five marks in the league, while Matt Dentlinger puts up 13 points and six rebounds per outing in league play.

Health is likely to play a big role in determining how much of a push the Jacks can make, as forward Luke Appel and guard Charlie Easley have both missed significant time and the timetable for either's return remains unknown as February approaches.

Sorting out the rest: Half of the conference is within one game of .500, creating quite the scrum for seeding in third through seventh position. At the top of the cluster sits Western Illinois (12-8, 5-4) and North Dakota State (8-13, 5-4), who are trending in different directions after last weekend's action — the Leathernecks have won three straight while the Bison dropped two in a row after a 5-0 surge.

Sandwiched in the middle are the other two programs to have eight conference games to date instead of nine, South Dakota (9-11, 4-4) and Kansas City (8-13, 4-4). The Roos won the head-to-head meeting, but both have one win over a team ahead of them in the standings, as USD defeated WIU and Kansas City defeated NDSU.

Rounding out the five-team group is St. Thomas (13-9, 4-5), which is the only team undefeated at home other than ORU, but has not won an away conference game.

Denver (12-10, 3-6) and Omaha (7-14, 3-6) aren't far removed from making creating even more chaos in the middle of the standings, while North Dakota (7-15, 1-8) completes the standings.

Key dates remaining:
Jan. 26: USD at WIU (Prior matchup: USD 80, WIU 63)
Jan. 28: SDSU at WIU (SDSU 71, WIU 64)
Jan. 30: USD at ORU (first meeting)
Feb. 2: NDSU at USD (NDSU 73, USD 61)
Feb. 4: NDSU at SDSU (NDSU 65, SDSU 59)
Feb. 11: USD at SDSU (SDSU 82, USD 64)
Feb. 11: ORU at WIU (ORU 87, WIU 63)
Feb. 18: NDSU at ORU (ORU 92, NDSU 69)
Feb. 23: ORU at USD (first meeting on Jan. 30)
Feb. 25: ORU at SDSU (ORU 79, SDSU 40)
Feb. 25: WIU at NDSU (WIU 79, NDSU 60)

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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