Checking In On… The Summit LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2012
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League. You can also find his musings online on Twitter @CharlieParksRTC.
The Week That Was:
- How Far Can Oral Roberts Go?: In their final season as a member of the Summit League, the Golden Eagles are enjoying one of their best runs in the past 30 years. The Golden Eagles are on a seven-game winning streak that started with the trashing of Xavier. They have dismantled the Summit League on their way to a top-50 RPI, and depending on how they fare in the ESPN BracketBuster, could even position them for the unthinkable—an at-large bid. Don’t laugh, Oral Roberts could potentially be a 25+ win team with another top-50 RPI win (depending on the BracketBuster), hell, why not shoot for a an 11-seed? ORU’s play has gotten national attention from the talking-heads of college basketball, and it’s time we give them their due here as well. Scott Sutton has had his squad in this position before, and it hasn’t panned out they way they hoped. This one looks different. Beware, Cinderella is on the loose.
- League Growing In Respectability: The Summit League is rising fast thanks to Nate Wolters and Alex Young turning NBA-heads, coupled with ORU’s nearly flawless play and strong seasons from the rest of the teams in the Summit. The conference is now ranked #12 in the Collegiate Basketball News RPI (rpiratings.com) and #15 in the Sagarin Ratings—that’s about six places higher than it was last season. I expect the Summit League may take a big hit in the rankings next season when ORU departs, but for now, they are one of the top mid-major conferences in 2012.
- Oral Roberts (14-4, 6-0) — You expected ORU to eventually take its place at the top, but how the Golden Eagles have done it was unexpected. The way they grabbed the #1 spot from South Dakota State and North Dakota State was just dominant, and it has propelled them into the national spotlight. They won’t be giving up first any time soon, and they made that abundantly clear. There are a lot of factors that have gone into the Golden Eagles’ success this season. For one, they are relatively healthy for the first time in three years. Dominique Morrison, as reliable as he is, has played at a level no one has ever seen him, and I cannot help but think the addition of Sean Sutton as an assistant coach has not factored into this as well. But what is the biggest difference about this year’s team? One name—Mike Craion. The senior forward redshirted last season for medical reasons, and the Golden Eagles struggled without him. He is not the best player on the team, that honor goes to Morrison, and he may not be the flashiest player, but he is the most important piece on the ORU squad. Craion is a defensive rock that has great vision. He has the ability to outrebound bigger players and score when it is needed. His stats don’t accurately tell the story (11.1 PPG/6.7 RPG). He doesn’t need the ball, and his maturity on the floor brings that team together. He has single-handedly won games with his defense and big plays. If he is not a first-team All Summit League selection it will be a crime.
- South Dakota State (13-5, 5-1) — Let’s not forget South Dakota State. They were blown out by Oral Roberts, but this team is fully capable of returning the favor when they play at home. Sure, they may have been a little overrated based on the love that Nate Wolters has been getting around the college basketball world, but they are still the biggest threat to the Golden Eagles. They have the home court advantage no matter what during the Summit League tournament with games being played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they have one of the two best players in the conference. This team is not going away. Their offense is very good, but they can get caught camping behind the arc. Their defense and rebounding are suspect, but they are a hungry team. People tend to ignore and overlook them because let’s face it—who has ever been intimidated by a bunch of white guys from South Dakota? The contenders have to fight that mentality. Scott Nagy is a winning coach, and he has a lot of weapons.
- North Dakota State (9-4, 4-2) — The Bison have proved to be a great shooting team, ranking fifth in the nation with a ridiculous shooting percentage of 50.4%, but they have already dropped two summit League games—one to Western Illinois and one to Oral Roberts. The Oral Roberts game got away—they shot over 60% and still lost—but the Western Illinois is a bit concerning. In three of their four losses, including the loss to Western Illinois, the Bison have been held under 60 points. They are a dangerous shooting team, but they don’t rebound or respond well to tough defenses, and it could end up costing them. Having said that, they are still easily the second or third best team, and they are still in position the take the conference as well. This final stretch in January will show us if the Bison are true contenders.
- Western Illinois (7-5, 4-2) — This short run in the past two weeks that the Leathernecks have put together has convinced me; they are forreal this season. They dominated South Dakota, Oakland, and IPFW. They lost two very close games to South Dakota State and North Dakota State, and they face Oral Roberts on Thursday. Jim Molinari finally has Western Illinois playing good basketball after three years at the helm. They are undersized, with just one player over 6’7″ on the team, but they have the best defense in the conference. Western Illinois has really benefited from the play of freshman Obi Emagano, who is averaging 13.9 points per game. In my book he is the frontrunner for the Newcomer of the Year. Don’t look now folks, but the Leathernecks are just two games out of first.
- Oakland (9-10, 3-4) — The Golden Grizzlies ruled the Summit League with an iron fist for two years, and in just one week that has all been forgotten. Oakland suffered four consecutive blowout losses to conference foes, and they now find themselves in the midst of a 3-8 skid. It is now very clear; Oakland is just an average team. They are a talented team, and they have a dominant player, Reggie Hamilton, leading the Summit with 23.2 points per game, but they aren’t the mighty team they once were. Their defense that was anchored by Keith Benson in the past has now allowed nearly 80 points per game, which is last in the Summit League. It seems like every conference team they face is taking out their frustration on the Golden Grizzlies for the past two seasons. Greg Kampe will have to prepare his team for a grinding stretch, and hope they can still make some noise in the Summit tournament. The two-time defending champs will be hard to put away, but clearly not as hard as it used to be.
- IPFW (6-7, 3-4) — The Mastadons have clearly taken a step back in their first season under Tony Jasick, and the lone bright spot keeping them afloat is Frank Gaines and his 20.6 points per game. Their three conference wins have come against the bottom of the Summit, and their next five games to close out January are absolutely brutal as they face Oakland, ORU, North Dakota State, and South Dakota State. IPFW allows the second most points at 75.6 per game, and their offense is fifth in scoring with 72.8, not a good sign when you are trying to win games.
- Southern Utah (5-9, 2-4) — I liked the way Southern Utah looked earlier in the season, especially the way they played ORU tough. But the bottom line is this team can’t rebound and they can’t play defense. The Thunderbirds have the second highest field goal percentage in the conference, and they still have just two conference wins. The T-birds have talent like Ray Jones Jr. and Jackson Stevenett who give them a fighting chance, but head coach Roger Reid may be in over his head. Despite an impressive coaching history that includes college and the NBA, he is just 47-89 as the head man at Southern Utah.
- IUPUI (8-10, 2-4) — The Jags have leveled out since freefalling early in the season—ripping off six consecutive wins before dropping back-to-back Summit League games. Alex Young continues to be the nation’s active scoring leader and he is just five away from 2,000 points for his career. But even Alex Young can’t carry a team by himself, and IUPUI struggles offensively. They sit in last place in field goal percentage in the conference.
- South Dakota (3-9, 1-5) — They picked up their first ever Summit League win, and senior Charlie Westbrook is having a memorable season averaging 17.5 points per game. They have a chance to be the spoilers of the 2012 season if they can figure out a way to knock off one or both of their rivals South Dakota State and North Dakota State. Head coach Dave Boots is closing in on 500 career wins at the helm of USD. He sits at 489, and it may be impossible to get to 500 this season, but it is something South Dakota fans should look out for.
- UMKC (6-11, 1-5) — It is a bummer that the Kangaroos have dropped this far. Last year, they looked like a team that could really compete, but this year has seen the ‘Roos take a step backward. What you can say about UMKC is that they play hard, and you see them stick around in big games against conference opponents, but they just don’t have the firepower to get over the hump. They are nearly last in the Summit in both rebounding and scoring.
- South Dakota State at North Dakota State, January 21 — Not only is this a big rivalry game for these two schools but it has huge conference implications. The winner of this game will have the edge on the other for the #2 seed.
- Oral Roberts at Western Illinois, January 12 — The Golden Eagles have a seven-game winning streak on the line, and this might be their toughest challenge before the rematch with South Dakota State on February 2. Western Illinois and ORU play stellar defense, and it will be a physical game. This has potential to be a trap game for ORU if they don’t stay focused. No team has ever gone undefeated in the 30-year history of the Summit League, so ORU has to lose sometime … Right?
Player of the Year Watch
- Dominique Morrison—Trending: Up. He is averaging 27 points per game during the Golden Eagles’ win streak, and he simply cannot be stopped by anyone in the conference. His 38 points against Nate Wolters has put him squarely at the top of this list.
- Nate Wolters—Trending: Down. Getting run by ORU was bad for his look, but he is still a phenomenal point guard with a great mid-range game. He is getting a lot of love from scouts and writers, and it is well deserved. If you haven’t seen him yet, go ahead and check him out.
- Reggie Hamilton—Trending: Hold. His team is spiraling out of control, but Hamilton remains steady. Let’s see if he can turn Oakland around like a true Player of the Year contender.
- Alex Young—Trending: Down. His great play is getting lost in the fact that IUPUI keeps piling up losses.
- Frank Gaines—Trending: Down. His production has dipped from the start of the year and his team is losing, this may be it for his POY candidacy.