Summit League title, top seed on the line for UND men's basketball this weekend

Feb. 28—GRAND FORKS — UND men's basketball fifth-year forward Brady Danielson summed up the importance of the Fighting Hawks' final two regular-season games this week simply: "Biggest weekend of the year," he said.

"We know what's at stake," he continued. "It's a big weekend for us, and we're excited to get out there and see what we can do."

The game results this weekend will determine the Summit League regular-season champion and the top seed in the conference tournament.

There are four teams — South Dakota State, UND, North Dakota State and Kansas City — that have a chance to win the league title and earn the No. 1 seed.

For the 9-5 Hawks, Thursday's home game against South Dakota State (10-4) at 7 p.m. at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center is a must-win game if UND is to win the league crown. If the Jackrabbits beat UND, SDSU will clinch the conference title. UND would be in line for the No. 2 seed.

If UND beats SDSU, then beats South Dakota at home Saturday (1 p.m. tipoff), the Hawks would win the league title if SDSU drops its final game at NDSU.

If the Jackrabbits go 1-1 this weekend, and UND wins out, it sets up a tiebreaker for first. The tiebreaker is the head-to-head record between the teams. The second tiebreaker is the teams' record against the top-seeded team not involved in the tie.

The added wrinkle in these scenarios is the possibility of North Dakota State and Kansas City winning their final two games and ending with 10-6 records. The Bison and Roos would need the Jackrabbits to lose out and the Hawks to drop one game to set up a tiebreaker.

NDSU plays at South Dakota on Thursday and hosts SDSU on Saturday. Kansas City plays at Denver on Thursday and at Oral Roberts on Sunday.

If UND loses its final two games, the farthest the Hawks could drop is to a No. 5 seed.

"We know we have to get it done," Tsotne Tsartsidze said.

The Hawks lost to SDSU in Brookings 80-61 in the second game of Summit League play. UND feels its playing at a different level at this point in the season than the Hawks did at SDSU.

UND was in the middle of a six-game skid. B.J. Omot and Treysen Eaglestaff were held under 10 points. Amar Kuljuhovic played just 12 minutes off the bench.

"We're a different team, but so are they," UND coach Paul Sather said. "I think they've shortened their bench. They had some injuries early on they were dealing with. I think they're playing really well in the second half."

South Dakota State mostly plays two bigs and three guards, like UND. The Hawks feel they match up well and have a better chance to beat the Jackrabbits at this point of the season.

SDSU, though, finds themselves in a similar position at the top of the league at the end of most seasons. The Hawks haven't received a Top 5 seed in the Summit League tournament since 2021, when UND was No. 5.

"Very veteran team," Sather said. "Guys who have been through it a lot. Between the shooters, and between the guys they have inside, just really experienced veteran guys that have been in big games and situations before."

UND hasn't beat SDSU since Dec. 15, 2011. The Jackrabbits have won the last 16 meetings.

The Hawks know what's on the line, but Sather doesn't want to "blow this game up bigger than what it is," he said.

"It'd be awesome to win a Summit League championship, I'm not going to lie," he said. "That's a want. Our guys want that. But I also want them to understand we've been a team, on several different occasions, that have gone on good runs and played really good basketball. I think we've won eight of our last 10. We've competed, most every time, really hard. I like where we're at mindset-wise. The most important thing is, as this season finishes and we go into postseason play, let's be playing our best and let's keep that focus.

"A team that can win three in a row can get to an NCAA tournament, and I think we're one of several teams in our league that can do that. Our guys understand. They'll be ready to get out there and compete, and we're going to have our hands full on Thursday."