Previewing the 2013 Summit League Tournament

When and where: Saturday to Tuesday at 6,300-seat Sioux Falls Arena, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Last year: Tounament MPV and that-guy-from-South-Dakota-State-that-everyone-talks-about Nate Wolters led the second-seeded Jackrabbits to their first-ever Summit Tournament title in an overtime win against No. 4 Western Illinois, 52-50. And yes, they really were down by 12 points in the second half.

This year: Even with last year's top seed, Oral Roberts, tearing it up in the Southland Conference, the top of the Summit remains congested. Only one game separated the top three seeds in the final season standings in a conference that ranks as the most efficient (by adjusted points per possession) in the nation — mostly due to a lack of defense.

The favorite: I'm taking No. 1 South Dakota State (22-9 overall, 13-3 Summit League), the team that only has to travel 45 miles to the get to the tournament, to repeat as champs.

There's really not much to not like about this year's Jackrabbits. Senior point guard and probable NBA draftee Nate Wolters is doing utterly insane things, SDSU boasts far and away the conference's most efficient offense at 1.17 points per possession, and 19 of the last 20 winners of the Summit League Tournament have been either a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed. 

Coming in, the Jackrabbits have won 10 of their last 11 conference games, junior wing Jordan Dykstra (related to Joe Dykstra?) is snagging boards at a 22.0 percent clip while outpacing Wolters from 3-point range (51-119 vs. 60-146), and Scott Nagy's men have shown improved defense.

Their path likely winds through teams that SDSU has beaten at least once this season: IUPUI, Oakland, and Western Illinois or North Dakota State. Oh, and the Jackrabbits haven't lost an actual home game (conference or non-conference) since Jan. 27, 2011, so that 45-miles part really is a thing.

The contender: No. 3 North Dakota State (22-8, 12-4) caught my attention because of their defensive efficiency which ranks 31st in the nation on Pomeroy's charts. The Bison have allowed opponents an untouchable 0.88 ppp in conference play thanks to formidable shot defense and board crashing.

NDSU returned their entire corpse of unclassmen starters from last season, and they're making real inroads under the steady guidance of Saul Phillips. Junior Marshall Bjorklund is one of the nation's top 5 shooters (by eFG%), and he, along with juniors Trayvonn Wright and Taylor Braun, lead a decently efficient offense that shoots hot from everywhere.

The Bison won the tournament as a one-seed under Phillips in 2009, and are one of three Summit teams which managed to take down SDSU at home this season.

The dark horse: But how could the No. 2 seed, Western Illinois (21-7, 13-3), count as a dark horse, you might find yourself asking in the most perfect wording ever. The Leathernecks' top scoring threat, senior center Terell Parks is still considered questionable for their opening round game vs. South Dakota after a foot injury during Bracket Busters sidelined him for the last two games of the season. This is why the world hated you, Bracket Busters.

WIU managed to pull out a pair of wins in both of those final games to help their seeding, but the level of competition (home games against UMKC and South Dakota) was scoffable, and the 'Necks escaped with only a one-possession advantage in each.

The tight scheduling of the Summit League Tournament means that Parks has to be considered questionable for the whole thing if he's questionable for the first game, but if they can get him back at some point they may a shot. Western has never made the NCAA Tournament, but came closer than ever last season.

Their broodingly slow pace (59.5 possessions per game) has seemingly put some teams to sleep this season as the Leathernecks picked up a pair of wins over North Dakota State to go with a win over South Dakota State. They boast solid shot defense and a keen ability to get to the stripe.