It’s never a must-win in Summit League basketball until March when the conference tournament rolls around, but it’s getting close for the Bison men when they host South Dakota on Saturday afternoon. It’s a must in the following regard: although they beat the Coyotes last month on the road, it’s getting to the time when they have to prove they can beat the top teams with the tourney right around the corner. South Dakota State is 8-1 in the league and USD 7-2. The Bison are 4-4 with four road and two home games remaining.
The key to reaching the NCAA tournament is to get the No. 1 or 2 seed in the conference tourney, meaning you play on Saturday and get Sunday off before the semifinal and final rounds on Monday and Tuesday. To win three straight on consecutive days is a beast. The Bison can still catch the Coyotes for the second seed and if they sweep they would have the head-to-head advantage in case of a tie. It’s a huge game.
The Bison were on the road at SDSU on Thursday, but they should be a bit more fresh than the Coyotes, who played at Western Illinois on Thursday. USD bused to Macomb, Ill., on Wednesday, making a couple of stops to break up the trip. The first was to walk around a mall in Des Moines, Iowa. The second was to practice further down the road. At least USD was able to charter a plane to Fargo on Friday, which is rare for the program.
“It’s the first time we’ve taken a charter,” said head coach Craig Smith. “Our administration stepped up. They did the same for the (USD) women when they played at Fargo and then at Western.”
Everybody in the Summit knows the schedule needs work. The fluctuation with IUPUI leaving at the last mintue helped create this year’s mess. UND coming into the league next year should help some consistency, with probable traveling partners being NDSU and UND, SDSU and USD, Omaha and Oral Roberts, Fort Wayne and Western and the gap of Denver, if Fort Wayne hasn’t bolted to the Horizon by then.
“Denver is easy to get to, so I think it will be better for everybody next year,” Smith said.