Sutton: 'NDSU in the driver's seat'
FARGO -- The way Scott Sutton sees it, his Oral Roberts men's basketball team is now a backseat driver. "No question, North Dakota State is in the driver's seat," Sutton said, referring to NDSU's 2 1/2 -game lead in the Summit League standings. "...
FARGO -- The way Scott Sutton sees it, his Oral Roberts men's basketball team is now a backseat driver.
"No question, North Dakota State is in the driver's seat," Sutton said, referring to NDSU's 2½-game lead in the Summit League standings.
"But, there's a lot of basketball yet to be played."
If the Bison win four of their remaining five league games, they will clinch the Summit League regular-season championship and earn a top seed for the league's postseason tournament -- in which the champion advances to the NCAA Tournament.
A regular-season championship would also guarantee the Bison a berth into the National Invitational Tournament - if they would fail to win the league's postseason tournament.
"We had two goals going into the season ... a regular-season championship and a conference tournament championship," said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. "A regular-season title would be 50 percent of our checklist completed."
If the Bison win three of their remaining five league games, it could end up in a tie for first place -- providing Oral Roberts wins its remaining six league games, including a season-finale home game against the Bison.
"North Dakota State does have a difficult road swing at the end of the year," Sutton said, referring to NDSU's final games at Centenary and Oral Roberts. "I do know this, we had to play awfully well to win at Centenary."
Here's one scenario in which NDSU and Oral Roberts could finish tied for first place:
The Bison win their next three games at home (where they have a 12-game winning streak) and lose at Centenary and Oral Roberts while Oral Roberts wins its remaining six games.
According to the Summit League's tie-breaking criteria, the top seed would be determined by head-to-head records against league opponents -- starting with the third-place team and working down.
In that case, NDSU would end up cheering for Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne to finish ahead of Centenary in the league standings. NDSU would be 2-0 against IPFW -- a team that split with Oral Roberts with last Saturday's 74-65 home win.
"That was a big blow," Sutton said of the loss, which came two days after a 81-69 loss at Oakland. "If these losses make us more hungry, I can live with that."
If NDSU and Oral Roberts share the regular-season championship, whoever is determined the top seed for the league tournament will be awarded the NIT berth, according to NIT policy.
"How focused can this group stay ... that's their challenge," Phillips said of his team that is riding a 10-game winning streak. "We have tried to keep it 'one game at a time' all year. You just hope that routine calms you down, regardless of what is on the line."
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