Checking In On… the Summit LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2011
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League. You can also find his musings on Twitter @CharlieParksRTC.
The Week That Was
- Bad news for Oral Roberts — senior guard Ken Holdman tore his ACL and is out for the season. This is a huge blow for the Golden Eagles as they look to unseat Oakland in their final season in the Summit League. They are now down to just seven scholarship players available. This is not anything new for Oakland, a team who has suffered four major knee injuries in the past two seasons resulting in players missing the entire season. You hate to see contenders hobbled by injuries, so let’s hope they find a way around this.
- I still think this season may be one of the most hotly contested in the Summit League, as there are a few teams that are talented enough to win it and it won’t be a clear favorite like it has been in years past. Doug Gottlieb named ORU as one of his five underrated mid-major programs, but ESPN.com writer Myron Medcalf picked Oakland to win the Summit League– one of the few publications (besides RTC, of course) to pick Oakland over ORU.
- Jay Bilas ranked his top three-point shooters of all time, and Oakland guard Travis Bader made his list as the next great shooter beyond the arc. Some good pub for OU, but I think it also just affirms the fact that Bader really is the key factor for Oakland to win its third Summit League championship in a row.
- Oakland (0-2)– A loss to No. 15 Alabama is hard to gauge at this point, but one telling statistic from that game was that Oakland only managed four three-pointers. Oakland was a team last season that was very good from outside and it made them one of the top five offenses in the nation, but they could only get 12 points beyond the arc on Monday? It could be some early season rust, or it could be a sign that without the inside presence from last season, open shots will be much harder to come by. Again, it was a loss to a Top 20 team and those guys usually make you look bad, but it is something to consider.
- Oral Roberts (1-2)—Losing the first two games of the season to West Virginia and UTSA are tough to swallow for Golden Eagles fans — especially since the losses were by a combined eight points. However, the Ls don’t really tell us much about the team or how their season will finish. The one thing ORU fans can take away from the opening games: Depth is clearly an issue. I don’t know what team you are watching, but they literally have six guys who can play basketball right now (and by “play basketball” I mean guys who don’t hurt the team every time they step on the floor. They may need to dip into the walk-on jar if center Damen Bell-Holter’s injury persists.
- North Dakota State (4-0)- Those Bison have been the most impressive Summit League team so far. They have played some solid low-major teams and played very good basketball to pick up some dominant victories. NDSU has had balanced scoring so far in the season, with their two guards Taylor Braun and Mike Felt combining for 29.4 PPG. The Bison are similar to South Dakota State in that they lean heavily on three-point shooting, but they are not married to the arc like SDSU and they are a much more efficient from the field. The Bison are shooting 37% from three and 51% overall from the field—almost ten points higher than South Dakota State. Keep an eye on the Bison.
- South Dakota State (1-2)- I don’t like reading into non-conference wins and losses, especially early in the season, but SDSU’s first two games raised some eyebrows. They had a nail-biter against Western Michigan, even with Nate Wolters scoring 32 points and dropping 11 dimes. They made it clear in that game that they were going to live and die by the three (no surprise), and the blueprint for beating SDSU is simply stop Wolters. Their second game was a 71-55 loss to Minnesota. The Gophers are an average team, and maybe Oakland, ORU, and NDSU would have kept that game a little closer or even pull out a win against Minnesota. Wolters still had 20 points, but the Jacks shot 36% from the field. I don’t want to oversimplify this, but it is early, so I will — squeakers against bad teams and big losses to average teams means something needs to be fixed.
- IUPUI (1-2)— IUPUI had an impressive showing against, well, Anderson University. Alex Young proved once again that he will be a force, scoring 20 points in 26 minutes, but the 75-70 loss against UALR really exposed some weaknesses with the Jags. The Jags are going to have trouble grabbing boards this season. They were outrebounded 36-26 by the Trojans, which is a massive gap in a five-point game. The Jags’ big man, senior Christian Siakam, had just two rebounds in the game. He is their biggest inside presence, and he must do a better job to give his team a better chance to win. This team won’t go anywhere if Young continues to lead the team in rebounding.
- IPFW (1-1)— Good teams tend to expose your weaknesses, and that is exactly what No. 14 Xavier did to the Mastodons when they ran them out of the building, 86-63. IPFW has a lot of work to do before they can seriously contend. They need to decide what kind of team they are going to be. Last year they were a pretty good shooting team from downtown, but they shot just 25% from the field against Xavier. Frank Gaines is a really good player, and he is one of the team’s best rebounders (15 in the first two games, great for a guard). Gaines is also the clear heart and soul of this team’s offense. He dropped 29 points against Nebraska-Omaha and 22 against Xavier, but those points came off 14-44 shooting (31%). Somebody else has to step up and take the pressure off Gaines, both as a scorer and a rebounder.
- Southern Utah (3-1)- They scraped by UC Davis in a one-point win and were completely destroyed by San Diego State 70-37. Southern Utah struggled to shoot the ball against the Aztecs, going 13 -43 with 26 turnovers. Whenever you have twice as many turnovers as you do made baskets, you are really in for a tough practice the next day. I don’t think Southern Utah is terrible, but they have looked pretty bad in the early going, although they did manage to beat Montana State-Billings. Their offense needs to improve, and they need to find a way to rebound. They have height problems - Matt Massey is their starting center at 6’9″ – but that is the least of their worries at this point. The turnovers need to stop, most importantly. The T-Birds have 71 of them in the first four games.
- UMKC (1-2)- You know you are in trouble when you get run out of your own gym by Division II Northwest Missouri State. UMKC has shot 32% and 36% from the field in the losses to Northwest Missouri State and Bradley. So far it looks like the offense is their main weakness. They don’t really have a clear scoring threat, with guys like Reggie Chamberlain going from being the leading scorer one night to a non-factor the next. This is obviously just a team that has lost its two best players from last year and is stuck in a transition period. Kirk Korver is not exactly the sharpshooter his brother was, he is just 6-20 so far on the season for the Kangaroos.
- South Dakota (0-2)—Their Division I transition has not gone well so far, losing big to Nebraska and then falling by nine to Eastern Washington. They have a very low 35% field goal percentage, and they are near the bottom in the country with 54 points per game. There is a lot of basketball to be played, but for now, just expect the Coyotes to struggle as they find their feet in Division I. However, I still think in the overall picture, this team will be better than Western Illinois, Southern Utah, and UMKC by the time the conference schedule comes around.
- Western Illinois (0-2)— Ceola Clark is the best player on this Leatherneck team, but he did not play in the 87-58 beating that was inflicted on them by the Dayton Flyers, who are an average team in the Atlantic-10 Conference. It is just one game, but it was an ugly one. Let’s hope this team doesn’t have a year like Centenary did last season. After their surprisingly close loss to Michigan, they will have what most teams would consider a cupcake schedule—with games against Greenville, North Dakota, Eastern Illinois, Illinois-Chicago and Eureka—but they will likely struggle to win against even these teams with their 293rd-ranked offense.
A few decent shots at better mid-majors are going to crop up around Thanksgiving. Among them:
- Austin Peay at Oral Roberts, Nov. 19—This is a very important home non-conference game for the Golden Eagles. ORU can’t afford to dig themselves and their confidence out of a deep hole like they did last year. They are the favorites this season and expectations begin to have a crushing effect when teams don’t live up to the hype. If they want to be considered a contender, these are the games they have to win.
- Oakland at Houston, Nov. 22— A winnable game for Oakland against a Conference USA opponent. This is one of those confidence boosters you hope for early in the season, especially since they have gotten run by two tough non-conference opponents already.
- North Dakota State at Fresno State, Nov. 26— A 6-0 start for North Dakota State would be very impressive, and Fresno State is their next test. Although the Bulldogs are not as tough as they once were, they still are a difficult team at home. It will be a good gauge for the Bison to see how they stack up against Summit-level teams this year.