To avoid the Dakotas, win in the Dakotas
The Denver Pioneers are still mathematically alive for the Summit League championship, but the odds are distinctly against them. First of all, the Pios would need to win out — a tall order, as they finish up with the toughest road trip on the league schedule, at the Dakota States (South and North) this Thursday and Saturday. Ken Pomeroy gives the Pios at 36% chance at SDSU and a 23% chance against NDSU. Their odds of winning both? Just 8%. And that’s not all. Denver would also need unlikely “help” in the form of South Dakota knocking off North Dakota State in Fargo on Thursday, which KenPom says has just an 11% chance of happening. Put it all together, and there’s approximately a 1 percent chance of Denver winning the Summit League regular season title.
Far more likely, though, is the following favorable scenario: Denver ends up with a #2 or #3 seed, behind #1 North Dakota State. South Dakota State falls to #4; South Dakota gets the #5 seed. This would put all three Dakota schools on the opposite side of the bracket from Denver. That’s highly significant, because the Summit League tournament is in Sioux Falls, and thus the “Dakotas Three” have something of a home-court advantage. With all due respect to IPFW, the opportunity to reach the championship game without playing a single Dakota school would be a major blessing. (I would expect IPFW fans to feel the same way, with all due respect to Denver.)
While last year’s quarterfinal loss to Texas State — to say nothing of the recent terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day at IUPUI that prompted the hashtag #MitchHyderSuicideWatch — proves that nothing is guaranteed, I gotta say: I really, really like the idea of an all-Indiana/Illinois path to the Summit title game.
So, what’s needed to make that happen, and how likely is it? It begins with a win at South Dakota State on Thursday (36% chance). Then, the following two pieces need to fall into place:
- North Dakota State wins at least one of two at home against South Dakota (89%) or Denver (77%). 97% chance they win at least one of these.
- At least one of the following three things happens: IPFW wins at Western Illinois (53%), IPFW wins at Nebraska Omaha (36%), or South Dakota wins at SDSU (19%). 76% chance at least one happens.
Put it all together, and there’s a 74% chance both of those pieces will fall into place. In other words, if Denver wins at SDSU, they will probably get a Dakota-free path to the Summit League title game.
A loss at South Dakota State, on the other hand, means a high probability of excessive exposure to the “Dakotas Three” in the tourney. If Denver loses at SDSU but wins at NDSU, the Pios would be either the #3 seed with SDSU as the #2 (if IPFW loses at least 1 of its final 2), or the #4 seed (if IPFW wins out). If Denver loses both games, the Pios would be no better than the #4 seed, and could even slip to the #5 seed if South Dakota wins out. Yikes.
(Many of these scenarios involve potential tiebreakers between some combination of SDSU, Denver, IPFW and USD at 9-5 or 8-6. I’m 95% sure I’m doing the math right, but feel free to check my work. Current standings here.)
Either way, this would be very bad news in terms of avoiding the Dakotas in the Summit tourney. As the #3 seed with SDSU as the #2, Denver would face a tough semifinal matchup against the Jackrabbits in Sioux Falls if they get by (most likely) Western Illinois in the quarterfinals. Even worse, if they end up as the #4 (or #5) seed, DU would potentially face all three Dakota schools in Sioux Falls: USD in the quarterfinals, NDSU in the semis, and, if they pull the upset there, probably SDSU in the final. Not an easy road, by any stretch of the imagination.
If the Pioneers want to avoid facing that gauntlet of quasi-road games in the single-elimination Summit League tournament, they will need to pull off one of the biggest road wins in Joe Scott’s tenure as head coach, and beat South Dakota State on its home floor this Thursday.