Conference Preview: Summit League

SUMMIT LEAGUE

The Summit League certainly made some noise during the non-conference portion of the season last year.  South Dakota and South Dakota State both won at Minnesota.  South Dakota State also won at TCU.  Oral Roberts won at Tulsa.  IUPUI took Marquette to overtime before falling.  And Western Illinois, the team that finished in last place and did not even qualify for the conference tournament, won at then 17th-ranked Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, the postseason was not as kind as South Dakota State lost to Maryland in a 5-12 first round game, and Fort Wayne (NIT) and Omaha (CBI) also fell in their first games.  No other Summit League teams participated in postseason events, though North Dakota State did finish with 20 wins on the year.

This season, the Summit League  will most likely be a two-way battle between Fort Wayne and North Dakota State. IPFW has senior guard Mo Evans back healthy and is adding in several key transfers including Bryson Scott from Purdue, a former Top 100 recruit.  NDSU has 7 of their top 8 players back from a 20 win squad that almost went to the Big Dance for the third straight season last year.  IUPUI, South Dakota State and Omaha could all be factors this year as well.  Perhaps the biggest wild card in the league is Denver, a team that under-performed under head coach Joe Scott for years.  Rodney Billups takes over as head coach this season and just how quickly his system is able to replace Scott’s Princeton offense will determine just how competitive his team is.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Fort Wayne – The Mastodons are loaded with Mo Evans healthy again, John Konchar, Purdue transfer Bryson Scott and more.  They went 12-4 in conference play last season and could be even better than that this one.

2. North Dakota State – Seven of last year’s top eight players return, giving the Bison a stacked lineup led by juniors Paul Miller and A.J. Jacobson.

3. IUPUI – The Jaguars have a chance to contend despite the strength of the conference as returnees Darell Combs and Matt O’Leary will be joined by Kent State transfer Kellon Thomas.  Thomas was the starting point guard for the Golden Flashes last season and averaged 12.3 points per game in that role.

4. South Dakota State – Three starters and long-time head coach Scott Nagy may be gone, but Mike Daum averaged over 15 points per game coming off the bench last season and could be the conference Player of the Year as a starter this one.  How well the newcomers brought in by new head coach T.J. Otzelberger gel with the returning players will be the key to the team’s success.

5. Omaha – Despite losing their top two scorers, the Mavericks’ fast tempo will still create a ton of points, especially when led by Tra-Deon Hollins, Tre’Shawn Thurman and a healthy Marcus Tyus.  Hollins will be key on both ends of the court as he led the nation in steals last year.

6. Western Illinois – The Leathernecks would love to recapture the magic that led to their win at Wisconsin last November.  With senior guard Garret Covington leading the team, they should at least be able to avoid a return to the league cellar.

7. Denver – Four starters do return, but the big question is the learning curve as the Pioneers move from Joe Scott’s Princeton offense to new head coach Rodney Billups’ faster pace.

8. Oral Roberts – Obi Emegano averaged 23.1 points per game for a team that went 14-17 overall and finished in seventh place in the conference.  Emegano is gone now, and even matching last year’s win total may be a stretch.

9. South Dakota – The good news for the Coyotes is that they are opening a new 6,000 seat, $66 million facility this season.  The bad news is that they have no returning starters from last year’s 18 loss team.  Head coach Craig Smith will have to find a way to get a bunch of newcomers to play together and produce if the team wants to finish in the top 8 and qualify for the conference tournament.

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