Forget the numberr 6. The teams are seeded and therefore labeled for this week’s Summit League Championships in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Fort Wayne Mastodons “earned” the 6th seed in an 8-team tournament after defeating Western Illinois in overtime, 96-92.
The casual fans would consider their chances slim if there are really five teams “better” than the Mastodons as the tourney gets underway Saturday night with top-seeded South Dakota playing Western Illinois. But a deeper look inside the teams and the statistics makes it appear that the label “6th” is the ultimate misnomer being applied to Fort Wayne.
The Mastodons lead the league in almost all season-long statistical categories. Including scoring, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, total assists, and rebounding. The Mastodons have four players averaging in double-figures and a fifth (Brent Calhoun) that has averaged 17.4 points per game over the last five, including a career-high 21 points and 12 rebounds in the regular season finale, and averages over nine points per game this season.
No other team can boast the fact that they led in the second half of every single conference game. Not only did the Mastodons have second-half leads, they were within one possession in the closing seconds of five of their eight losses. The worst defeat of the 16 conference games was when Fort Wayne blew a 59-53 second-half lead at home to South Dakota before losing 93-82. No one else can claim that competitiveness…even South Dakota, with a 12-4 record, suffered a 10-point loss to Oral Roberts, and the Golden Eagles finished 9th out of the 9-team league and didn’t qualify for the tournament.
According to schedules, results, and tie-breakers, Fort Wayne, despite tying for 4th place in the standings, enters the tourney as the 6th seed. This is a “virtual” 3 vs 4 game. In fact, the Mastodons defeated Omaha in both head-to-head meetings this year, so the 3 vs 6 labels is more than just a bit misleading.
Based on the match-ups, the ‘Dons should really consider this a “3 vs 6 game” in which they are the third seed wearing dark uniforms. If you consider the Mastodons a three seed, does your opinion of their chances, change significantly?
If they look at themselves as the three seed (and they should in this particular pairing), they have a very good draw. Their side of the bracket doesn’t have either of the teams they went 0-2 against this season (South Dakota and South Dakota State). It avoids the home-court advantage for South Dakota and South Dakota State (both are less than an hour from Sioux Falls) until a potential championship round. The top-seeded team on the ‘Dons side of the bracket, North Dakota State, is a team the Mastodons just thoroughly handled at home two weeks ago (a 77-61 win) and played nearly even in Fargo, ND.
In fact, Fort Wayne has outscored each of the other three teams on their side of the bracket (NDSU, IUPUI, and Omaha) if you combine the scores of the season’s two head-to-head meetings.
So for a critic or a casual observer, the “6th seed” label next to the Fort Wayne name may lead them to believe their chances in Sioux Falls must be slim. But for those that know this league, their chances could be as good as anyone else.