GPAC playoff picture: Where do the DWU basketball teams stand as the season comes to a close?

Feb. 6—MITCHELL — The Great Plains Athletic Conference basketball season has only three weeks left before the conference tournament commences on Feb. 28.

In the meantime, both Dakota Wesleyan basketball teams find themselves right in the middle of intriguing races on both ends of the standings, with still a lot up for grabs.

As both Tiger teams have six games remaining in the regular season, here's a look at the state of the GPAC, along with potential NAIA tournament implications.

Following Dordt's 84-79 victory over Concordia (Neb.) Monday night, the Defenders continue to sit at the top of the GPAC standings.

They're now in prime position to repeat as regular-season champions.

The No. 1-ranked Defenders have run through the GPAC table through their first 16 games, and have yet to lose to an NAIA opponent all year. Dordt's lone loss came on Dec. 12 against Division I South Dakota State.

With six games remaining, the Defenders (21-1, 16-0 GPAC) now have a three-game lead over the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (19-3, 13-3 GPAC), which now only has a one-game advantage over Dakota Wesleyan (17-5, 12-4 GPAC). Dordt can lock itself into the No. 1 seed as early as Feb. 11 if the Defenders can beat Morningside and College of St. Mary's with Concordia falling to either CSM or DWU. Dordt also can clinch on Feb. 14 with a win against Jamestown regardless of what the Bulldogs do, as the Defenders hold both the head-to-head and conference opponent tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep of Briar Cliff, while Concordia split its season set with the Chargers.

The Bulldogs could catapult into the top seed by winning their remaining contests, including a rematch with Dordt on Feb. 17, but they'll need the Defenders to drop their Feb. 21 game against DWU and either one of their remaining games to hold the second tiebreaker, with a sweep of the Tigers trumping Dordt's potential season split.

Otherwise, Dordt will claim one of the GPAC's two automatic conference berths into the NAIA tournament, regardless of how the conference tournament goes. Concordia can claim the second spot if it wins the GPAC tournament or finishes second to the Defenders, and most likely would receive an at-large bid if neither scenario materializes.

Below the top three in the GPAC, six teams are currently fighting for five spots in the conference tournament, led by Briar Cliff (15-7, 10-6 GPAC) in fourth. But the Chargers' margin to ninth-place Hastings (11-11, 7-9 GPAC) is only three games, with the Broncos having dispatched them 71-63 on Jan. 28.

Sandwiched between them are Jamestown, Northwestern, and Morningside at 9-7, and Doane, which holds the eighth spot at 8-8.

Out of this group, the Jimmies are in the safest position with its Jan. 17 victory over the Chargers and holding conference results tiebreakers over the remaining teams except Northwestern. Jamestown will face the Red Raiders on Feb. 7, having previously fallen to them on Nov. 21.

Briar Cliff has the most opportunities to cement its spot in the tournament, as it has games remaining against all in the group. In terms of strength of schedule, both Doane and Hastings only have one game remaining against the top three teams in the GPAC, while having the benefit of two games against the bottom of the table (Midland, Mount Marty, CSM).

Conversely, Morningside has a difficult remaining schedule, with three games against Dordt, DWU, and Briar Cliff. The Mustangs will likely decide the final playoff spots along with the Chargers, Doane, and Hastings, as each of them has one remaining game against each other this season.

Amidst all the chaos, DWU sits comfortably in third place with a two-game advantage over Briar Cliff, and can clinch its spot in the tournament with a win against the Chargers on Feb. 7 and Doane losing to Mount Marty.

Barring losses to Briar Cliff and Jamestown, the Tigers will likely be playing their first-round game at the Corn Palace. The only question now pertains to seeding for the tournament.

Mathematically, DWU can reach the top seed in the GPAC standings if the Tigers win out, but Dordt would have to lose all but one of its remaining games, including its Feb. 21 matchup with the Tigers, and Concordia losing two of its last six games. The second seed is the more realistic possibility, with DWU and Concordia facing off on Feb. 11, with both teams' games against the Defenders serving as a potential tiebreaker. DWU also has games against Morningside (12-9, 9-7 GPAC) and College of St. Mary's (1-20, 0-16 GPAC).

If the tournament were to begin today, DWU would face off against Northwestern at home in the first round. Both teams split their regular season set, as they each won on their respective home courts.

Having received votes in the last two coaches' polls, the Tigers could potentially earn an at-large bid into the NAIA tournament, with their performance in the conference tournament only increasing their chances of dancing in March.

No. 8 Doane (13-9, 8-8 GPAC) at No. 1 Dordt (21-1, 16-0 GPAC)

No. 5 Jamestown (13-9, 9-7 GPAC) at No. 4 Briar Cliff (15-7, 10-6 GPAC)

No. 6 Northwestern (13-9, 9-7 GPAC) at No. 3 Dakota Wesleyan (17-5, 12-4 GPAC)

No. 7 Morningside at No. 2 Concordia (19-3, 13-3 GPAC)

In the hunt: Hastings (11-11, 7-9 GPAC)

The men's side of the GPAC presents even more uncertainty in the seeding, although all eight teams currently in position to make the conference tournament have a three and a half-game cushion on ninth-place Midland (9-14, 4-11 GPAC).

Concordia finds itself atop the standings following the Bulldogs' victory over Dordt on Monday night. However, the top-five teams in the conference are separated by only one game, with No. 12 Northwestern, No. 19 Morningside, and Hastings holding down the second through fourth seeds at 10-4. The Defenders find themselves as the No. 5 seed at 10-5.

Below Dordt, DWU holds a half-game advantage for sixth place over Briar Cliff and Jamestown, who are currently tied for seventh at 7-7.

The Tiger men hold the sixth seed, sitting four games ahead of Midland in the conference standings. They'll be able to clinch their postseason spot on Feb. 7 with a win against Briar Cliff and Midland falling to Hastings, as DWU holds the conference record tiebreaker due to its victory over Morningside.

There's still a chance DWU could be playing its first-round game at the Corn Palace, but the Tigers face a difficult path to get there. All of their remaining games come against GPAC teams in the top-eight, including matchups against Concordia, Morningside, and Dordt.

Winning out can propel DWU into the fourth seed and a home playoff date if Morningside loses three of its final six games and Dordt loses two of its final five. The Tigers would then have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Morningside and the conference record tiebreaker over Dordt after sweeping the Mustangs.

There's also an outside chance of the Tigers reaching the second and third seeds, but both Hastings and NWC must lose four of their final six games as they control the tiebreakers over DWU. The Broncos also have three games remaining against Midland, Doane, and Mount Marty, and the Red Raiders also face the Warriors and Lancers in their final stretch of games.

Losses to Briar Cliff, Concordia, and Jamestown could see the Tigers be the last team in at the eighth seed. The Chargers would have the head-to-head tiebreaker and the Jimmies, with their victory over the Bulldogs on Jan. 3, grab the conference record tiebreaker over DWU.

No. 8 Jamestown (12-10, 7-7 GPAC) at No. 1 Concordia (18-5, 11-4 GPAC)

No. 5 Dordt (17-6, 10-5 GPAC) at No. 4 Hastings (15-7, 10-4 GPAC)

No. 6 Dakota Wesleyan (13-10, 8-7 GPAC) at No. 3 Morningside (15-6, 10-4 GPAC)

No. 7 Briar Cliff (13-9, 7-7 GPAC) at No. 2 Northwestern (17-5, 10-4 GPAC)