RTC Summer Update: Summit LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on July 12th, 2011
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The newest update comes from our Summit League correspondent, Charlie Parks.
Reader’s Take – Almost every team in the Summit has its star this year, but to win this conference and have a legitimate shot at upsetting a powerhouse in March, you need a #2 option that is just as reliable in a big situation.
IUPUI appears to have the most talent with Alex Young and Leroy Nobles, as either guy can get you 20-plus easy-looking points at any given moment. But keep in mind, its not just the most talented duo, but also the two guys that give you the best opportunity to win. What doesn’t always show in the stat column can and often does show up in the win column (that little bit of Bobby knight-wisdom was for free).
- Coaching Carousel – There have been a few key coaching changes this offseason in the Summit League. The one that could affect the balance of power the most in the conference is the departure of Ron Hunter from IUPUI. After 17 years leading the Jags, Hunter took the job at Georgia State. His longtime assistant, Todd Howard, was promoted to fill the vacancy. Hunter led IUPUI to its only NCAA berth back in 2003, but you could sense a change was needed and that Hunter had taken IUPUI as far as it was going to go under his direction. He is a solid coach, but the new scenery may be beneficial for the Jags.
- More Carousel. The other coaching change of note is the departure of Dane Fife from IPFW. Fife moved on to accept a position on Tim Izzo’s staff at Michigan State. The move is a big bummer for the Mastodons, who have been steadily improving over the last six years under Fife, culminating in last year’s 18-12 record. His baby-faced assistant, Tony Jasick, now has the challenge of taking IPFW to the next level. IPFW may have taken a small step back in its ongoing quest for a conference title.
- Sutton Returns to Coaching. One team that improved with a new coaching change has to be Oral Roberts who hired former Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton. Sean served at ORU last year in an unofficial manner but he wasn’t able to really interact with players. But this year, the son of one of the legendary coaches in college basketball will try to bring the Golden Eagles back to the top. Sean was known as one of the best recruiters in the country during his long tenure as assistant coach under his father at Oklahoma State, so it will be interesting to see what kind of talent he will be able to attract to Tulsa.
- Rolling Out The Welcome Mat – Two new teams have joined the Summit League, and Division I: South Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha. Personally, I was hoping for an already established D-I school to join the fray, but The Summit obviously has an agenda by grabbing these start-up teams. UNO is the new “ooey-pooey” of the Summit League, at least as far as nicknames go. South Dakota will begin play this year, whereas UNO will start next season.
- Keith Benson Goes League – Keith Benson became the first Oakland player ever drafted when he was taken in the second round (48th overall) of the NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Reviews for Benson have so far been mixed, but he will definitely get his opportunities assuming the NBA plays basketball again.
- Oakland – The Golden Grizzlies may have lost Keith Benson to the draft, but they are in no way hurting for size or talent. Greg Kampe is the premier coach of this league, and he was able to land two big-time players in Matt Poches and Dante Williams. Scouts are pretty high on these two Michigan men, but their impact on next season remains to be seen. Oakland had one of the highest scoring offenses in the country last year, and the core of that team is still largely intact. The big question will be their depth. Who will play center, and how effectively? And who can pick up the scoring when Reggie Hamilton is on the bench? I have a real feeling that Travis Bader is the key to Oakland’s success. His development will determine if Oakland can stay at the top. With Benson having moved on, Kampe might look to run more in 2011.
- Oral Roberts – The Golden Eagles easily have the most talent, and yet you can never feel comfortable putting ORU as the favorite to win. Their inconsistent play and team health have been big question marks for the past few years. The roster has seen a bit of a shake-up this offseason, with several players exiting. They do have the best returning player in the conference in Dominique Morrison, and you always know what you are going to get from him when he steps on the court. But beyond Morrison, there is a bench full of question marks. The challenge will be to see if the Suttons can turn this group of raw talent into a mid-major force by March.
- South Dakota State – They finally proved that they are a legitimate conference contender last year, and the upward trend should continue next year considering the team loses only two seniors. Clint Sergent was a huge loss for this team, but last year’s recruiting class was the best in the conference, and it should start paying dividends this year. I would watch out for Marcus Heemstra and Jordan Dykstra to come alive this year. Don’t sleep on a team led by Nate “Lane Train” Wolters. He’s the best point guard in the conference.
- IUPUI – It’s always hard to predict how a team will react to a new coach, but IUPUI still has some of the best talent at guard in the conference. But like most teams in the Summit, that go-to inside presence is just not there, and it killed them in the postseason last year. A new coach along with question marks in the post make it very difficult to side with their overwhelming talent at guard. The master motivator/intimidator, Ron Hunter, is no longer there to draw out max effort from these guys. 2011 may be a down year for the Jags.
- IPFW – Hopefully the new Tony Jasick regime can pay a little more attention to the obvious needs in the interior. Against bigger teams, the Mastadons were abused in 2010-11. Size does matter, especially in the smaller conferences, where recruiting is critical. Your move, Trey McCorkle.
- UMKC – The ‘Roos have a surprising offense that kept them in the games they were not supposed to win last year. But now Spencer Johnson and Jay Couisnard are gone, and the result is that the ‘Roos will struggle once again. It’s hard to imagine anyone on their roster now replacing those guys, but you can never tell until the games begin.
- North Dakota State – With Michael Tveidt gone, it seems the sparks from 2008 have finally been extinguished. The reality is that Saul Phillips is an average coach running an average program. As the fans of this conference know, you can cause problems in this conference if you have a great point guard, and Phillips caught the wave in 2008 with his undersized, NBA-type talent Ben Woodside and a group of established seniors sprinkled around him. He has nothing close to that returning in 2011-12. North Dakota State may be the odd team out this season.
- South Dakota – The newest member of the Summit League should be fairly competitive right away next year. In coming over from the bidless Great West Conference, there’s a modicum of D-I experience, but it might as well be in name only. The Coyotes have been gathering a number of recruits, including a couple junior college transfers, which is what these lower-tier mid-major programs have to do to have a shot. The question is whether USD can get these guys to play on a D-I level right away. They did well against the D-I schools they played last year, which included Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Marquette. Really, I have no idea what to expect from this team except that there will be early growing pains.
- Southern Utah – The next team to leave the Summit League, Southern Utah is looking to the future but has to deal with the reality of next season first. Last year their defense was one of the worst in the conference, and it should be a point of emphasis this offseason. They signed Chris Nsenki, a 5-A all-state player from Kansas City, Missouri. He will be given his opportunity to make this team his own, but as a freshman in the Summit League, it’s hard to predict how he will perform. Needless to say, Thunderbird fans are pretty excited with the kid’s athleticism.
- Western Illinois – The Leathernecks signed NJCAA All-American Don McAvoy (who I have nicknamed “Tin Cup”), and hopefully he can help bring some excitement to the team. Unfortunately, Western needs more than just one player to compete. They lack athletes, and unless their five new signees have sensational freshman campaigns, it will be another long season for the Leathernecks.
A Look Ahead
With the additions of South Dakota this season and Nebraska-Omaha in 2012, it is now clear that the Summit League has turned into what its fans feared it would become: a starter home for new Division-I entrants. There are a few quality schools at the top in Oakland, Oral Roberts, sometimes IUPUI, and sometimes a Dakota… but who are we kidding? The bottom of the conference is bad, and it really drags down the conference RPI and seeding when it comes to March Madness. Look at Oakland last year – they were almost good enough to beat Texas, a #3 seed, and they could have beaten or challenged anyone from a #5 seed on down. But there is no way Oakland gets consideration for that elusive #12 seed because they played 1-29 Centenary twice last year. The good teams don’t get credit or recognition for their level of play because they steamroll too much garbage throughout the year. It will take more than just Oakland having a good year for the Summit to rise; it will take at least half the conference, and that won’t be happening any time soon.
Oakland made some more progress last year by nearly pulling off the upset over Texas in the Big Dance, and this year I believe two teams have the talent to take a similar shot this season. Obviously, Oakland will be the favorite to start the season, but the team that I really think is on the cusp of breaking through this year is Oral Roberts. They have been collecting good talent for the past few years but have run into bad luck with several injuries. If this team could ever put their best five players on the floor at one time, they would win this conference. This is the last run for their core players; is this the year? Whichever team emerges will be worthy of the Cinderella title.
Road To Redemption
The comeback of Sean Sutton is one of the better stories this year in college basketball. After being unceremoniously ousted in Stillwater, and then later arrested for drug posession, he has worked his way back into the game he loves and is once again coaching full-time. Sports are all about redemption, and Sean Sutton is getting his second chance. There will be high expectations that follow him to Tulsa, but he has the resume to back it up. He has 13 NCAA Tournament appearances as an assistant, and he was named the 2005 Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year. ORU hopes he can bring that experience and recruiting prowess to their school. Regardless, Sean Sutton’s road to redemption has officially begun.