Oral Roberts’ Back to the Summit League a Good Basketball MovePosted by Adam Stillman on December 6th, 2013
Oral Roberts is headed back to its old stomping grounds. The school announced on Thursday that it would be returning to the Summit League effective July 1, 2014. The Golden Eagles are in just their second year as a member of the Southland Conference. Oral Roberts was a member of the Summit League from 1997-2012, capturing six regular season titles and three consecutive tournament titles from 2006-08. Fifteen of the university’s 16 athletic programs made the switch to the Southland Conference before the 2012-13 season in an effort to save on travel costs (ORU is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma). The men’s soccer program remained in the Summit League. However, with the Southland expanding to 14 members, including several football-playing schools (a sport Oral Roberts doesn’t offer), the original objective was no longer plausible. Hence the move back.
Oral Roberts finished third in the Southland Conference behind regular-season champion Stephen F. Austin and eventual NCAA Tournament participant Northwestern State a season ago. The Golden Eagles (the Southland favorites according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings) are off to a 5-3 start in 2013, although the three losses are to Kansas State, Saint Louis and Wisconsin. Oral Roberts gets a resume-boosting shot at Wichita State tonight.
So what does this move mean for the program? First, it gives the Summit League nine teams, which is perfect for a 16-game round-robin schedule. North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Oakland have represented the conference in the NCAA Tournament during the past five seasons, with Oral Roberts carrying the torch the three seasons prior. The league’s last non-play-in game win in the Big Dance came all the way back in 1998, when Valparaiso defeated Ole Miss and Florida State, but that was back when the league was dubbed the Mid-Continent Conference. Next season’s nine teams would include Oral Roberts, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Denver, IPFW, IUPUI, Nebraska-Omaha, South Dakota and Western Illinois.
Oral Roberts has been a competitive mid-major for quite some time now. The Golden Eagles even knocked off #3 Kansas back in 2006. While the regular season success hasn’t translated to the NCAA Tournament (zero tournament wins since 1974), Oral Roberts still has presented itself as the Summit League’s flagship program. Let’s face it, the Golden Eagles would be able to compete in either the Southland or the Summit. Sean Sutton’s squad will have a say in the battle for the Southland’s NCAA Tournament automatic bid, especially with a player like Shawn Glover (20.4 PPG) on board. The road, however, did get tougher when Obi Emegano (19.0 PPG) tore his ACL against Saint Louis on November 21. The outlook won’t change when the Golden Eagles return to the Summit League next season. They’ll be in the hunt for a berth in the Big Dance.
It’s unfortunate the move to the Southland didn’t work out. The attempt to save money backfired thanks to the never-ending cycle of conference realignment, leaving Oral Roberts’ best move a return to where it came from. It will probably be a better basketball move for the Golden Eagles, considering the Southland currently rates as a significantly worse basketball conference than the Summit, according to KenPom, thus giving Oral Roberts a better shot at an occasional at-large NCAA Tournament berth and additional national exposure if the other programs continue to improve.