Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Dakotas: A Hotbed for College Basketball

For years North and South Dakota were two of only three states not represented by a Division I college athletic program. But a few years ago, North Dakota State and South Dakota State began the move to D-I. Neither was eligible for Division I postseason play until this season.

While most basketball programs in their first year of Division I eligibility are lost in the bottom half of a lesser known conferences, each of the Dakota State schools will be sending a team to the NCAA Tournament.

The South Dakota State women's basketball team is 31-2 and ranked in the top 20 in both polls. They have wins over Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Gonzaga; their only losses are to Maryland (currently ranked #4) and Oakland (who finished second in the Summit League with a record of 26–6). The Jackrabbits should end up with a 6 or 7 seed, and their best player is the subject of this tear-inducing story that ran in USA Today a few weeks back.

Meanwhile in Fargo, the North Dakota State men's team overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat Oakland and win the Summit League's automatic bid to the Big Dance. Senior Ben Woodside hit a jumper with three seconds left to give the Bison, who spent much of the year atop the Summit standings, the win. NDSU, which likely will end up with a 13 or 14 seed, has the kind of senior-led team that could pull off a major first-round upset.

Earlier this season in South Dakota, Don Meyer, coach of Division II Northern State, overcame a severe car accident and the amputation of his left leg to become the all-time winningnest coach in men's college basketball.


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