RTC Conference Primers: #22 – Summit LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on October 14th, 2011
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. You can find him on Twitter at @CharlieParksRTC.
Ed. Note — yesterday’s Summit League primer was actually a re-publish of the summer update. We apologize for the error.
Reader’s Take I
For the Summit League, having someone win Player of the Year may be the ticket to a title. Five of the last seven conference champions have also been the home of the Summit League Player of the Year.
- Realignment Hits the Summit: Word got out recently that Oral Roberts was flirting with the Southland Conference. ORU bolting could be a devastating move for the Summit League, which would lose one of its few premier teams. The Summit would take a definite step back. As for ORU, the Southland Conference isn’t exactly an upgrade — in fact, it is probably a downgrade in RPI and level of competition — but the move just makes sense. The Southland offers more natural conference matchups with teams from Arkansas and Texas, and better local recruiting opportunities. Let’s face it; no one from Oklahoma wants to travel to North Dakota in January to play a conference game. Also, Pat Knight just took the head job at Lamar. The Suttons and Knights have always been pretty close, and they have a long history together in college basketball. Scott Sutton versus Pat Knight would be a nice “new” rivalry. But unless the Southland pays the Summit League’s $250,000 buyout for Oral Roberts, this move couldn’t happen until 2014.
- Bears With Bugs: Has the injury bug found its way to the Golden Grizzlies? Reggie Hamilton and Drew Valentine underwent some recent surgeries; Hamilton shouldn’t miss any time, but what about Valentine? It was a minor knee operation, but knives, knees and basketball don’t go well together at all. Oakland fans should keep a close eye on the situation, but I see no reason for panic… yet.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Oakland: 22-9 (15-3)
- Oral Roberts: 20-10 (14-4)
- IUPUI: 18-13 (12-6)
- South Dakota State: 20-11 (11-7)
- IPFW: 18-13 (10-8)
- North Dakota State: 15-14 (8-10)
- UMKC: 14-16 (7-11)
- South Dakota: 12-16 (6-12)
- Southern Utah: 9-21 (4-14)
- Western Illinois: 7-18 (3-15)
All-Conference Picks (key stats from last season in parentheses)
- G: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (19.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.1 APG)—South Dakota State is the only Summit League team starting a point guard who is not a senior, but he just so happens to be the best in the conference. Wolters is Ben Woodside-lite, and pretty soon he will be even better than Woodside. If he could just get the talent around him to match Oakland and ORU, he has the ability to lead the Jacks to a title.
- G: Reggie Hamilton, Oakland (17.6 PPG, 5.3 APG)—Hamilton is the king of the castle now that Keith Benson is gone, and he deserves the crown. Hamilton is a strong candidate for POY, and if this was any other year, he would be an easy preseason favorite. Hamilton has a chance to do great things for Oakland this year; he showed he had the substance last year against Texas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
- F: Dominique Morrison, Oral Roberts (19.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 51% FG)—This is Morrison’s year to lose. He played second fiddle to Keith Benson for three years, and now he is expected to take the torch as the best player in the Summit League. He is the heart and soul of the perennial contenders and his legacy at ORU is dependent on the next six months.
- F: Alex Young, IUPUI (19.7 PPG)—This guy is League material. He will likely be the coaches’ pick as the preseason Player of the Year, and why not? He has a great chance of landing in the NBA when it is all said and done. Young was second in scoring in the conference in 2009, and he led the league in 2010. He is also within striking distance of 2,000 career points, something only ten players have accomplished in Summit League history.
- C: Damen Bell-Holter, Oral Roberts (13.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG)—Bell-Holter is a physical specimen, cut from the Karl Malone mold, but he is also a notorious underachiever. He rarely plays up to his size and strength. He posts good numbers against mediocre teams and comes up big occasionally, but he has yet to show he can play with the best even in the conference. Keith Benson abused him in the championship game in 2010, and it cost ORU a trip to the dance. This season is his year to prove me and the other naysayers wrong. Quite frankly, there is no one who can physically match him in the Summit League, but with a deep bench at forward, Scott Sutton won’t hesitate to bench him for the hot hand if he struggles.
Sixth Man: Michael Craion, Forward, Oral Roberts (13.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2009 Newcomer of the Year)—Craion was a first team All-Summit League selection in 2009 before he missed all of 2010 with a foot injury. And with his health in question, and since ORU already has Damen Bell-Holter and 2010 Newcomer of the Year Steven Roundtree in the frontcourt, Craion will likely be coming off the bench.
Impact Newcomer: Matt Poches, Guard, Oakland— Poches is a highly-touted local kid who will be an important part of Oakland’s attempt to replace Keith Benson. Poches isn’t quite the shooter that Travis Bader is, but he is solid from mid-range, and he may be the best freshman in the conference. If he doesn’t redshirt, he is a strong candidate for Newcomer of the Year.
Player of the Year – Dominique Morrison
- Oakland (NCAA Seed: #13): This was a tough call, but the way I see it, you are the champ until someone knocks you off. And so far, nobody has been able to knock Oakland off their perch for a very long time. The Golden Grizzlies have won 91 games over a span of four seasons, and have fallen to conference opponents just twice in two years. However, all of this was done with Keith Benson, the Atlanta Hawks’ second round pick in the 2011 draft. With Benson gone, the playing field has been leveled. Another factor that may slow the Golden Grizzlies is injuries. Reggie Hamilton and Drew Valentine are recovering from offseason procedures. Hamilton is expected to be ready for the season, but Valentine’s status for the start of the season is in question. So the competition has just gotten a little bit closer in Oakland’s rearview mirror. Oral Roberts, who challenged Oakland last season for the title, is returning all five starters. This will come down to the wire—it always does in a single-bid conference—but Oakland still has the firepower to pull this one out for the third year in a row.
- Oral Roberts—If ORU is not the favorite, it’s typically the top contender. Nothing has changed this year for the Golden Eagles, but they just got deeper and stronger. This team was already pretty good, now they are scary good. A lot of hype has gone into this year, but I’m not necessarily buying it. A trend that I have noticed, particularly with this group, is the inability to buy into Scott Sutton’s trademark defensive scheme. Sutton has always won his championships on the backs of selfless players who bust their butts on defense and grind out wins the hard way—with a little blood and guts. This team has one or two players like that. Can Sutton get this team to play his way before he misses a real opportunity? Don’t get me wrong, the players respect Sutton, but they don’t want to play defense. ORU has played in six of the last eight conference title games, but they have come away with just three tickets to the dance. Can we trust this team?
- South Dakota State- The Jacks have two reasons for being on this list: Nate Wolters and home court advantage. Two years ago, the Jacks were able to get a good group of young recruits, and last year they started to improve. I fully expect Wolters, who is the best guard the Summit League has to offer, to mold his supporting cast of Marcus Heemstra, Jordan Dykstra and Griffin Callahan into a championship contender. And with the conference championship being played in their backyard, upsets are bound to happen. All it takes is one great run.
- IUPUI— this team has been through a lot of transition this season with longtime coach Ron Hunter moving on and losing first team All-Conference selection Leroy Nobles to graduation. This team has one reason and one reason alone for being in shouting range of a conference title: Alex Young. Without him, The Jags are toast.
Reader’s Take II
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
- Alex Young — Young is the most likely to find his way into the Association out of everyone in the Summit League. He has the coveted mix of athleticism, size and shooting ability. His defense is a question mark, but he reminds everyone of a stronger George Hill.
- Reggie Hamilton — Hamilton is a strong two-guard who regularly takes over the point guard duties. He can slash to the hoop whenever he wants, and he is killer from three-point range. He may even be the fastest player in the league. His defensive ability will be what scouts look for this season.
- Dominique Morrison — He may be the hardest working player in the conference, and perhaps the most consistent. You always know what you are going to get from Morrison. He plays tough defense on the perimeter and he can score from anywhere. He is a high IQ player that doesn’t make mental mistakes. But he is a little slow for his position, and his size is a question mark. A good season would do wonders for Morrison.
Spotlight on… March
The Summit League is 2-15 in the past 15 years in the Big Dance (outside of one win in the play-in game). And if you exclude Bryce Drew and Valpo’s antics in the 1998 tournament, that leaves the Summit League’s record at a crisp 0-14. But it wasn’t until recently that the Summit earned respect from the selection committee. Whomever emerges will be the perfect underdog, and there is always a Cinderella story waiting to happen. Keep an eye on the league this year.
With their tough non-conference schedules, Oakland and ORU both have a great opportunity this season to make a mark on the national scene. With ORU possibly leaving for the Southland Conference, this may be their last chance to have one of those classic mid-major, season-long struggles. This year has potential to be one of the all-time greatest seasons in the 30-year history of the Summit League.