Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
Current Standings (Overall Record/League Record):
Oral Roberts (4-4/1-0)
North Dakota State (3-3/1-0)
Western Illinois (3-4/0-1)
Southern Utah (3-5/0-1)
South Dakota State (2-5/0-1)
Whatever could go wrong has gone wrong for Oral Roberts University to start this season. After getting an emotional win against Stanford, everything came crashing down to earth when they discovered that their junior point guard Rod Pearson became the third player THIS YEAR to suffer a season-ending ACL tear. To make matters worse, the third string point guard, sophomore Beloved Rodgers, quit the team last week as well. Apparently he was not happy with the minutes he was seeing. So Scott Sutton was forced to activate his fourth-string emergency guard, redshirt freshman Mikey Mangum. Who knew the most valuable player of the Golden Eagles season would not be a player at all, but the personal trainer? Here is a suggestion: stretch before games.
Oakland continues to roll, with Keith Benson earning player of the week honors, averaging 20/11/5 blocks in three games last week. Also, Oakland guard Jonathan Jones became the conference’s all-time assist leader when he dished out 11 in a win over Central Arkansas on November 28; he now has 639 for his career. The previous record holder was Valparaiso legend Bryce Drew (626).
The non-conference schedule is wrapping up for most of the Summit League, with only IUPUI, Centenary, and UMKC coming out on top with winning records. Oral Roberts and Oakland remain neck and neck according to their records, but in reality, Oral Roberts has fallen back even further with the loss of four key players. It’s never good when your second-string shooting guard, Kyron Stokes, now becomes your first-string point guard. The Summit is still the 20th or 21st best conference in the country, so the one coveted bid will hinge on the conference play. Anything can happen at this point, and this week will be a good indicator as to who are the true contenders.
Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks (9-20, 6-12)
Southern Utah Thunderbirds (6-23, 3-15)
22 out of 31. Conference RPI ranking for the Summit League in each of the last two seasons.
Oregon, Marquette, Oklahoma St., Kansas, Texas Tech, Utah. Casualties at the hands of Summit league teams throughout the past 2 seasons. Does beating Seton Hall count? What about Louisiana Tech, twice? Not bad, not bad. The Summit is not quite knocking on the door of the Missouri Valley in stature as of yet, but at least they’re in the neighborhood. Some will never be in the continent.
Guardplay. Guards rule this conference in more than one way. They not only light up the scoreboard from downtown, but they also grab more than their share of rebounds. Lots. Last season 6’5 Derick Nelson led the Oakland Grizzlies with 7.4, 6’6 Brett Winkelman led the North Dakota State Bison with 8.3, and 6’2 George Hill led IUPUI with 6.8. The big men you will find, and there are some actually, are your rudimentary mid-level giants who usually possess the muscle tone of Kevin Durant and the post-up game of Muggsy Bogues. Besides that, Summit league big men are studs
Predicted Champion.North Dakota State (#14 NCAA). Coincidentally this happens to be the very first season in which the Bison are postseason-eligible. But the Bison seem to be the consensus these days. And for good reason. The three-headed monster returning for the Bison all redshirted their freshman year so that they would be able to have an opportunity like this. The littlest of the fifth year senior trio, Ben Woodside, scored over 20 ppg last season while also dishing out over 5 feeds. At 5’10, Woodside is a very creative attacker and gauging from the few times I have seen him play in person, he will hoist from anywhere, anytime. The giant of the group is Brett Winkelman, all 6’6 of him. While you already know he’s a terror on the glass, he’s also quite the assassin on the perimeter, hitting 43.8% of his threes last year. Winkleman is an efficient player and one not to shy away from the dirty work. He’d be in any team’s rotation. 6’4 Mike Nelson is the third head of this Bison monster. Often overlooked because of the other two, Nelson just goes about his business, you know, the usual 46.1% from downtown, 13.8 ppg, and 32 mpg. Not a shabby third option. All numbers aside, this Bison squad is downright hungry. They’re ready for the limelight, ready for the Summit league tourney.
Others considered.Oral Roberts, the Summit League representative in the tourney the previous three years, will always be in the discussion for the title. Oral Roberts consistently plays defense year in and year out the way it should be played: stay between your man and the basket. Alright, that may not be their textbook philosophy on defense, but a casual fan watching this team would probably not argue against it actually being THE PHILOSOPHY. Offensively speaking, combo guard Robert Jarvis and forward Marcus Lewis are the only returning players that averaged north of 5 ppg last season. Jarvis is a star though. He’s without a doubt the most streaky player in the conference (16.1 ppg in 29 mpg…off the bench). I’m not real sure Oral Roberts can survive the shoot first mentality of Jarvis as their point guard, but it sure looks like that will be their only chance to make it 4 straight tourney appearances. Oakland finished third in the conference in 2008. They have one heck of an opening stretch of road games to begin the year. If they can come out of it with an upset or three, it might just be all the confidence this team needs to make a run. Scoring the ball is not a concern for head coach Greg Kampe. Guards Johnathon Jones, Erik Kangas and Derick Nelson all averaged over 14 ppg last season. Nelson has a tendency to try to do too much, but when he plays within himself, he can hurt you in a variety of ways, whether it’s on the offensive glass, in transition, or with an occasional trey. Defense and rebounding seem to be the problem for this team, especially up front. They can usually get away with lackluster defensive lapses against the weaker teams, but losing four out of five to last year’s strongholds IUPUI and Oral Roberts should be an indication of what Oakland must drastically improve on to legitimately be considered a threat . A pair of highly touted freshman (as opposed to lowly touted), 6’9 Jay Thames and 7’0 Ilija Milutinovic, hope to give this lacking front line a boost. Ilija, says coach Kampe, might be just what the doctor ordered: “There is a lot of hype with him and we have never had this much hype about a recruit before. He turned down six figures to play professionally in Serbia because he wants to go to the NBA.” Kampe later referred to Ilija as “very comparable” to Darko Milicic. I’m still not sure what to make of that.
RPI Boosters/Games to Watch. You won’t see many of the Summit League teams on tv, but if you live in a midwestern state, chances are you’ll be able to take in a game at a very reasonable price.
For the state of Michigan at least, Oakland vs. Michigan State (12.27.08 @ The Palace) will be a fun affair. Last season Oakland lost @ MSU by only 4.
NDSU @ Minnesota (11.29.08). Intriguing early season test for the Bison against an up-and-coming Minnesota team.
Oral Roberts @ North Carolina (12.13.08). This game will be on ESPN2.
NDSU @ Oral Roberts (2.28.09). Last game of the regular season for both of these schools, a #1 seed could be on the line.
And of course the Summit League Tournament, where mascots take themselves seriously (see below). This is a one bid league fellas.
Did You Know.
Oral Roberts freshman Beloved Rogers led all Maryland high schoolers in scoring last season with 27.8 ppg.
UMKC senior Dane Brumagin, had games of 40, 35, 29, and 27 points last season while improving his 3pt% by almost 10% from the previous season. Unfortunately for Dane there’s not much else besides a possible conference scoring title to look forward to this year. UMKC players 6’8 or taller equal the number of playoff series Tracy McGrady has won.
Valparaiso is the last school to win a non-PiG NCAA tournament game as a member of this conference (known as the Mid-Continent Conference until 2007). Valpo won 2 games back in the 1998 NCAA tourney.
Waste Management Court at Western Hall is home to the Western Illinois basketball team. I know, I know, ‘Coach K Court’ and ‘Jim Boeheim Court’ are so much more original.
65 Team Era. The MCC/Summit has had a fair amount of success throughout this era, going 8-24 (.250), but most of those wins were performed by teams no longer affiliated with the conference ten or twenty years ago (Valpo, UW-Green Bay, Northern Iowa, Cleveland St.). In the past ten years, only Oakland has won a game, and that was the dreaded #16 v. #16 play-in game. In the ten first-round games of the last decade, the MCC/Summit representative has lost by an average of 21.4 points. The only close game was #14 Southern Utah’s three-point loss to #3 Boston College in 2001.
Final Thoughts. In the end I feel like there are five to six quality teams in this conference, but only three of them have any realistic shot at knocking off somebody come NCAA Tourney time. Oral Roberts has the defensive discipline and experience factor going for them. Oakland can put points up in a hurry and is the deepest team in the conference. North Dakota State has the firepower and sense of urgency. They have not had the chance to taste March Madness. Those talented seniors get one crack at it, and they’re ready to battle. Heck, give which ever team wins the tourney a shot at Duke. We all saw the trouble perimeter savvy Belmont gave them. Bring ’em on!