Now that IUPUI has moved over to the Horizon League, the Summit League is down to eight members (though it will be back to nine next year when North Dakota joins). Amongst those eight, cases can be made for a finish at or near the top of the standings for as many as seven teams this season. The pick to win the title is defending tournament champion South Dakota State, a team led by the league’s best player, Mike Daum. At over 25 points per game last season, including a 46 point effort against Fort Wayne and a 45 point output against Denver, Daum has the ability to single-handedly carry his team to the title, as he pretty much did in last year’s conference tournament final against Omaha.
Beyond South Dakota State, cross-state rival South Dakota and a resurgent Denver team appear to be the most likely to contend. However, North Dakota State can never be overlooked in this conference, while Fort Wayne looks to bounce back from a disappointing conference season — and has the returning players capable of doing just that. Even Oral Roberts and Omaha could be in the mix if they get their newcomers to gel with returnees in time for conference play to begin. This has all the makings of an incredibly fun and exciting season in what may prove to one of the most balanced conference top-to-bottom in all of Division I.
Predicted Order of Finish
- South Dakota State – The Jackrabbits have the nation’s top returning scorer, forward Mike Daum, who averaged over 25 points and 8 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season, leading them to the conference tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. They also return three other starters and three top bench players, all of whom are juniors or seniors. This team has the depth, experience and talent to take both the regular season and tournament titles this year.
- Denver – The Pioneers return seven of their top eight scorers from a team that was among the best in the entire nation in shooting percentages. They have a legitimate big man down low in Daniel Amigo, and plenty of depth as well. In short, the Pioneers have a chance to take a big step up this season and contend for the conference title.
- South Dakota – The Coyotes won the regular season crown last season and return three starters including top scorer Matt Mooney. They will need to make up for the offseason losses of Tyler Flack and point guard Trey Dickerson, but if Triston Simpson can take over the point and Nebraska graduate transfer Nick Fuller can help in the frontcourt, they have a chance to repeat.
- North Dakota State – The Bison do return two of their top three scorers from last season, Paul Miller and A.J. Jacobson, but have to fill holes in the post and, even more importantly, at point guard. If they cannot find the answers there, they could take an even bigger step back than this.
- Fort Wayne – November 22, 2016 will be remembered for a long time by Mastodon fans — the night they hosted Indiana and upset the Hoosiers 71-68 in overtime. Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go as well, finishing only 8-8 in league play. Fort Wayne does return three starters that averaged double figures, led by John Konchar and Bryson Scott, and could be a factor this season. They will need to find a way to not suffer from late-game let-downs that plagued them last season.
- Oral Roberts – The Golden Eagles have one of the best returning frontcourt tandems in the conference, with Albert Owens and Emmanuel Nzekwesi back. Owens averaged over 17 points per game while Nzekwesi was conference Freshman of the Year. The problem will be filling holes in the backcourt, where junior college and graduate transfers (such as Austin Ruder from Missouri State) will need to step in and contribute a lot immediately.
- Omaha – The Mavericks only return one starter, though that one player, Zach Jackson, averaged more than 10 points per game. They also do bring back their sixth man Mitch Hahn (11.7 points per game), who figures to start as well. However, there are still a lot of holes for a talented group of newcomers to fill, meaning that this team is probably a year away from making any serious noise.
- Western Illinois – The Leathernecks went 8-20 last season. Their top two players from that team, Garret Covington (the school’s all-time leading scorer) and Mike Miklusak, are both gone. The only good news is that they won’t miss the conference tournament — because with IUPUI gone to the Horizon League, all eight teams will qualify.