CIO…the Summit LeaguePosted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2012
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
- Oh, Pioneers—The University of Denver accepted an invitation to join The Summit League next season, rounding out the conference to 10 members. It’s a good move geographically for Denver, but besides a money saver on road trips, it doesn’t make much sense from a college basketball standpoint. Denver’s bad move could end up dissolving the WAC, as CBS’ Jeff Goodman pointed out in his short write-up about the move. Realignment will surely never end.
- Nate Wolters’ march towards history—No player in college basketball history has ever averaged 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in two separate seasons. Only five players have ever done it once—Norris Cole (Cleveland State 2010-11), Evan Turner (Ohio State 2009-10), Ricky Minard (Morehead State 2003-04), Speedy Claxton (Hofstra 1999-2000), and Nate Wolters (2011-12). Right now, Wolters is on the edge—averaging 19.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. It is an impressive stat that speaks volumes to this guy’s talent level and consistency. Something we will be keeping tabs on the rest of the season.
- Mid-Major Rankings—For the second consecutive week, two Summit League teams are ranked in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. South Dakota State is threatening to break into the top-10 if they keep the pace, rising to #13 this week. North Dakota State remains at #25. It’s a welcome sight for Summit League fans, who have suffered through an abysmal season so far, with six teams posting a record well below .500.
- South Dakota State (5-3, 1-0) — To be fair, South Dakota State hasn’t done much this season to be put on Cinderella watch. They showed some major weaknesses in their 27-point flop against Belmont, ending a three-game win streak against Montana, Cal State Bakersfield and NAIA opponent Dakota State. Their best win was a 78-77 nail biter against Marshall, a middle of the pack Conference USA team. On the bright side, the Jacks have one of the best point guards in the country, and as long as he is on the floor, they are going to dominate this conference. They aren’t as talented as they were last season, but neither is the rest of the league. Their next test comes against #16 New Mexico, but a more impactful matchup will take place on December 29th against their closest rivals in the Summit League—the North Dakota State Bison. We will know by then how ready the Jacks are to defend their title.
- North Dakota State (6-3, 1-0) — It’s hard to assess the Bison’s season with the games they have played and their level of competition. We won’t know for sure if the Bison are a contender until their bout with South Dakota State. If I had to make a prediction by looking at the season so far, North Dakota State might need to be considered the favorite. If you look at the stats, both teams are nearly equal in every meaningful category—field goal percentage, three point percentage, free throw percentage, and rebounding—but where the teams start to differ greatly is on defense. The Bison hold their opponents to 10 points fewer per game than the Jacks. The Bison also hold the best mark in the conference for defensive field goal percentage (.368 FG%). Again, it’s hard to really translate those numbers with the inconsistency of the non-conference opponents, but it’s clear the Bison have developed a better defense than their counterparts in the South.
- Western Illinois (7-3, 2-0) — Speaking of defense, Western Illinois once again is the class of the Summit League in that category. The Leathernecks have their own weaknesses when it comes to scoring, in fact they are one of the worst teams in Division I at putting the ball in the hoop—ranked 311th out of 347—but they allow a skimpy 51.1 points per game. They’ve held their opponents to fewer than 40 points three times and fewer than 60 points seven times. They slow the ball down and make you think you’re watching a fifth grade YMCA co-ed league game rather than Division I basketball. It’s painful to watch, in fact it’s downright boring, but it’s a philosophy that led them to the Summit League championship game last year and has them perched atop the Summit League standings with a 2-0 record and a five-game win streak. They face Oakland next, a high scoring offense that should test their defensive toughness. If they beat Oakland they could be looking at an unbeaten 5-0 league record heading into the final two months of the season. Seniors Ceola Clark and Terell Parks (27.4 points per game combined) are the extent of the Leathernecks offense — scoring almost half the team’s points by themselves.
- Oakland (2-8, 0-0) — Greg Kampe put his team through the ringer with an incredibly tough non-conference schedule through the first 12 games. It’s how Oakland likes to prepare. Kampe is on record with saying the tougher the schedule the better. It exposes the team’s weaknesses and it gets them ready for the conference-grind in January and February. Judging by their 2-8 record against D-I opponents, they have a lot to improve upon. Their only Division I wins have come against Texas Southern and Valparaiso by a combined four points (although they did take Pittsburgh to overtime, and they lost to West Virginia by five). Oakland can and will challenge for the conference title, but they have a long way to go. Travis Bader is an underrated talent, leading the conference in points and trailing Nate Wolters with 19.6 points per game.
- Fort Wayne (3-7, 0-0) — After the top three or four teams in this conference, the bottom half takes a big step down. You could honestly put any of the next five teams in any order and it really wouldn’t matter. The Mastodons are fifth because they have a little more talent than the other teams below them, with one of the best scoring guards in the conference in Frank Gaines (18.8 PPG). The Dons have yet to win a meaningful game and they are mired in a three game losing streak. They haven’t taken the court against a conference rival, so it’s hard to say where they really stand. But judging by the past few seasons, #5 seems about where they will hover all year.
- Kansas City (1-7, 1-1) — UMKC lacks a scoring threat, and they don’t have a player averaging 10 points per game through the first 11 games of the season. As bad as their non-conference games have gone, they are still just 1-1 in conference play, and they have plenty of time to get it together. UMKC missed the conference tournament last year, and they are just focused on improving in the Summit League, where it ultimately counts in the long run.
- South Dakota (2-7, 1-1) — Juevol Myles has immerged as a legitimate scoring threat, but he is streaky and can go cold at any time. He put up big numbers in their blowout win against IUPUI, scoring 26 points, but he went cold the very next game shooting just 2-of-12 against Iowa. South Dakota is 1-1 in the conference this season and is looking for that steady rise from the bottom to somewhere in the middle as they transition into the Summit League. Six or seven conference wins would be a big step for the Coyotes, but they are going to need more than Myles if they are going to get there.
- IUPUI (2-9, 0-2) — Life has not been good for the Jags since Ron Hunter left the program. Hunter built a solid program at IUPUI, with four 20-win seasons and an NCAA tournament berth in 2003. But it has not been a smooth transition at all for Hunter’s longtime assistant and current leading man Todd Howard. In just over one year, Howard has just an 18-27 record. He has been with the team for over a decade, and he will be given some time to turn this team around. IUPUI had built a solid mid-major reputation, but they risk losing that if they don’t start winning soon.
- Omaha (2-10, 0-2) — The season started out with a bang, winning their first game against Northern Illinois 77-64, but since that time, Omaha has dropped 10 of 11 against Division I opponents (and even one NAIA opponent). The Mavericks lost by 44 points to the Bison, 15 to the Jacks, and 36 to Denver. It has not been a good year for the new kids on the block. What makes it better? Just more time and recruiting on the Division I level.
A Look Ahead
The Summit League has had a slow start this season, with really only two contending teams in South Dakota State and North Dakota State. Western Illinois is threatening, but I’m not sold on them yet. I would like to see them have the ability to score points. All these teams are going to be facing off in the next couple of weeks; you could even throw in Oakland as a wild card—by then we will get a better idea of who has control of this conference. Just by the eye test, I would say North Dakota State has a slight edge. They are just a more complete basketball team.
- December 27: Oakland @ Western Illinois
- December 29: South Dakota State @ North Dakota State