Schnepf: It would be rare if NDSU pulled off another Summit League title

FARGO Matt Landis of Fort Wayne was named this year's Summit League men's basketball player of the year. That means, according to history, Fort Wayne will win the Summit League tournament that began this weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D.The way Landis...

Kory Brown of North Dakota State performs a layup with Jake White, left, and Tra-Deon Hollins of Nebraska Omaha during their basketball game Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in Fargo.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Kory Brown, middle, of North Dakota State performs a layup with Jake White, left, and Tra-Deon Hollins of Nebraska-Omaha during their basketball game Jan. 7 in Fargo. (FNS Photo by Michael Vosburg)

Matt Landis of Fort Wayne was named this year’s Summit League men’s basketball player of the year. That means, according to history, Fort Wayne will win the Summit League tournament that began this weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The way Landis and top-seeded Fort Wayne took care of South Dakota with an 86-70 win in an opening-round game Saturday night, it appears history may very well repeat itself.
And the way No. 2-seeded South Dakota State avoided an upset with a 73-70 win over Oral Roberts, it appears the top seeds could eventually meet in the championship game for the 15th time in tournament history. That would mean North Dakota State would fall short of becoming only the third school in the 34-year history of the league to win three straight championships.
But don’t tell that to the Bison - who open tournament play at 5 p.m. today against Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis. Even though they enter the tournament as the No. 5 seed, the Bison like their chances to reach a third straight NCAA Tournament.
“I do,” Bison head coach Dave Richman said. “But I think everybody does. We’re all 0-0.”
This isn’t the first time that’s been said this time of year when conference champions are crowned and NCAA tournament celebrations are splashed all over the ESPN airwaves. But for the Summit League, this may be one of the few times that there is no clear-cut favorite.
This may be the first time that a No. 1 or No. 2 seed does not win this tournament since 2005 - when Oakland went dancing as a No. 7 seed.
“There is not a great separation from top to bottom,” Richman said. “I think that is just going to make this a fun and interesting tournament.”
It has certainly been fun for NDSU the last two years.
Two years ago, Taylor Braun lived up to his promise when the Bison won the tournament title. It was the previous year after the Bison finished second to South Dakota State that Braun vowed the Bison would win the next tournament.
And it was fun last year when Lawrence Alexander led the No. 2-seeded Bison to a mild upset over top-seeded SDSU in the championship game.
Braun and Alexander continued this trend: to win a tournament title, you need a player of the year. Since 1984 when the league’s first postseason tournament was held, only four teams have won tournaments without having the player of the year - Cleveland State in 1986, Wisconsin-Green Bay in 1994 and Valparaiso in 1997 and 2004.
“This could be a whole different year from a team standpoint and from a players’ standpoint,” Richman said. “You look at the league from an individual standpoint, it was tough to pick a player of the year - just because there are multiple good players and multiple good teams.”
At this level of Division I basketball - often labeled Mid Major - it’s not easy for a team to create a dynasty. It usually has to rebuild for at least a year or two.
That’s why if NDSU was able to make a run and win its third straight tournament, it would be quite the accomplishment. Valparaiso pulled it off when it won six straight from 1995 to 2000. Oral Roberts was the last team to win three straight from 2006 to 2008.
NDSU is certainly not entering this tournament as a hot team. The Bison lost its last two regular-season games on the road to SDSU and Denver. Then again, remember what happened to last year’s Bison in a regular-season finale?
“We got our butts beat really handily at Oral Roberts going into this thing,” Richman recalled of a 74-58 loss. “And our guys were able to refocus and lock in. We’ve been good at home and we haven’t been very good on the road. Now we are going to a neutral site and hopefully we can lean on some past experiences to make us feel good.”
Bison junior Dexter Werner knows all about those experiences.
As the Summit League’s sixth man of the year last season, Werner saw Alexander score 25 points and watched SDSU miss a 3-pointer in the final seconds as the Bison hung for a 57-56 championship win.
As a backup freshman two seasons ago, Werner saw Braun score a traditional 3-point play with 12 seconds remaining as the Bison beat Fort Wayne 60-57 in the title game.
“We are taking a lot of young guys down who haven’t been to that Sioux Falls tournament before,” Werner said, comparing the previous two seasons to this season. “It will be a unique experience because there will be a lot of guys playing a lot of big minutes who haven’t been there before. Honestly, you have to go down and play your own basketball.”
Much like 2009 when Ben Woodside hit a game-winning shot to lift NDSU to its first tournament championship. Werner was a high school freshman in Bismarck then.
Did he have any idea then that he would be a part of the Summit League tournament hoopla?
“I think that was probably in the back of my mind,” Werner said. “Seeing that might have planted the seed for a few years later for coming here. I remember how big of a deal it was back then.”
And he and his Bison teammates are hoping it’s a big deal again - it would be an even bigger deal if they become only the second No. 5 seed to win this tournament, only the fifth team to win it all without a player of the year or only the second program to win three straight.

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