Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Oakland 22-9 (16-2)
Oral Roberts 21-10 (15-3)
South Dakota St. 18-11 (11-7)
IUPUI 17-14 (9-9)
North Dakota St. 14-14 (8-10)
Southern Utah 13-16 (8-10)
Western Illinois 13-16 (6-12)
IPFW 11-18 (4-14)
UMKC 9-20 (4-14)
Centenary 6-23 (2-16)
Johnathan Jones (G), Sr, Oakland
Garret Callahan (G), Sr, South Dakota St.
Dominique Morrison (F), Soph, Oral Roberts
Jon Avery (F), Sr, IUPUI
Keith Benson (C), Jr, Oakland
6th Man.Hunter McClintock (G), Fr, Oral Roberts
Impact Newcomer. Larry Wright(G), Jr, Oakland. The junior transfer from St. John’s University, should have an immediate impact on the Summit League. Two years ago he led the Red Storm in three-point field goal percentage, and he should be the perfect replacement for Erik Kangas, The Oakland great who set the all-time single season mark last year with 145 threes. Wright’s long-range shooting could be the key to Oakland’s success.
What You Need to Know. The Summit League is like the little engine that could. Every year, it produces a scrappy team that creates some hype in the NCAA Tournament. Last year Ben Woodside and his rag-tag boys from North Dakota State challenged the defending national champs (Kansas), and just came up short 84-74. This year’s Summit League has the potential to produce a similar Cinderella story, with teams like Oakland and Oral Roberts reloading with some really talented players. Watch out for Oral Roberts and their newcomer Damen Bell-Holter (Mr. Alaska 2007, top 50 center prospect on Scout.com) who has the potential to dominate the lesser big men in the conference. Defense is the key to winning the Summit League. Last years champ NDSU held their opponents to 69.1 points per game, and Oral Roberts, in their three straight championships from 2006-08, held their opponents to 62.0, 64.9, and 68.1 points per game.
Predicted Champion. Oral Roberts (NCAA Seed: #14). With all the questions about age and inexperience with the Golden Eagles, it seems that Scott Sutton has the answers with his experience and skill level as a coach. Give him talented players, and his team will always compete. If Oral Roberts clinches another Summit league title, it will be their fourth championship in five years. I think a tough non-conference schedule (at Wake Forest, Missouri, New Mexico, Louisville,and Stanford) will be a trial-by-fire, and help their young freshmen mature quickly. The tough schedule also will help the NCAA Selection Committee give them a more favorable seed, especially if they win a couple of those big games (best bets are at home against New Mexico and Missouri). A #14 seed in the Big Dance will give Oral Roberts the Cinderella tag. A first round win is not out of the question for a Scott Sutton-led ORU squad.
WYN2K. Someone in PR at the Mid-Continent Conference decided that the league needed to be rebranded to effectively portray the goals and ideals of its member institutions. Hence, the Summit, which immediately reminds us of the orange and white monstrosity court at the University of Tennessee, but which league commish Tom Douple stated, represents “the top in athletics and academics.” Good luck with that, Tom. In the spirit of change, the league’s most well-known school (at least for hoops), Valparaiso, left for the Horizon League, while it added three new members – Indiana/Purdue-Fort Wayne (IPFW – shouldn’t it be IUPUFW?), North Dakota St., and South Dakota St. Of the three, only IPFW will be eligible for the league championship this season, as the Dakota schools will have to wait until 2008-09.
Predicted Champion. Oakland (#14 seed NCAA). We see four teams with championship credentials in this league, but Oakland stands out to us as the team most ready to take over the top spot from Oral Roberts. The small school from suburban Detroit (not California) returns three starters from a squad that finished second in both the regular season and tournament, and played ORU very tough in its last two meetings (Oakland won by 1 pt at home, but lost in the MCC championship game by 4 pts). Despite losing all-MCC player Vova Severovas, the Golden Grizzlies will have a superb backcourt led by Eric Kangas, an exceptional shooter who made 109 threes while shooting 43% from deep last year. Oakland is also expecting a big contribution from Rutgers transfer Dan Waterstradt, a 6’10 forward who possesses size and ability that most big men at this level do not have. We also like Oakland in close games – last year it’s ft% (76.9%) was third in the nation.
Others Considered. We’re not sure who will be the second-best team in the Summit, so we copped out and predicted a three-way tie among the next tier of teams – Oral Roberts, North Dakota St., and IUPUI. IUPUI is the media/coaches pick to win the league, with three of its top four scorers returning as well as guard George Hill, the presumptive best player in the league who had a broken foot that kept him out of action last season. Our main concern with IUPUI is whether Hill will be able to seamlessly transition into the backcourt after a productive first season from guards Austin Montgomery and Gary Patterson, the top two vote-getters for newcomer of the year. If things are rosy, IUPUI could make a run at the title. Another team we considered was North Dakota St., an independent last season who ran off twenty wins (20-8) including a win at Marquette (64-60) and near-misses vs. Texas Tech (81-85) and Kansas St. (81-83). NDSU isn’t eligible for the league title, but it returns four starters and seven of its top eight scorers. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they ended up with the league’s regular season crown? We’d be remiss if we didn’t also consider two-time defending league champion Oral Roberts as well. Scott Sutton returns a lot of players, but we can’t overlook the two he lost – Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, who combined for six all-conference selections, three POY awards (all Green), and scored over 4500 pts (!!!) for the program. If ORU’s depth, and there is plenty of that, can overcome the loss of those two stalwarts, we might just see the Golden Eagles in March again this year.
Games to Watch. The Summit will play a true round-robin of 18 games each, so there will be ample opportunity for each team to distinguish itself against the other good teams.
IUPUI @ Oral Roberts (01.17.08) & Oral Roberts @ IUPUI (02.16.08)
Oral Roberts @ Oakland (01.12.08) & Oakland @ Oral Roberts (02.07.08)
The Summit Championship Game (03.11.08) ESPN
RPI Booster Games. The Summit loves its Big 12 and Big 10 teams. Last year the league went 2-22 (.083) against BCS teams, with Oral Roberts pulling one of the biggest early-season shockers of last year (ORU 78, #3 Kansas 71) as well as defeating Seton Hall 76-74. There are some good opportunities this year, and several of them will be televised:
North Dakota St. @ Florida (11.09.07)
IUPUI @ Marquette (11.10.07) ESPN FC
UMKC @ Kansas (11.11.07) ESPN FC
Oral Roberts @ Texas A&M (11.13.07) ESPNU
Oakland @ Michigan St. (11.24.07)
Texas Tech @ Centenary (12.01.07) ESPN FC
North Dakota St. @ Minnesota (12.03.07)
Wichita St. @ UMKC (12.15.07)
Oral Roberts @ Oklahoma St. (12.20.07) ESPN2
Oregon @ Oakland (12.22.07) ESPNU
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Still none, although we wish they’d let NDSU into the Summit League Tournament just to see what might happen if they won.
Neat-o Stat. By most objective measures, Western Illinois was one of the worst teams in America last year. Its record was 7-23 and its offensive and defensive efficiencies were among the bottom fifty. However, it was also one of the unluckiest teams in America, losing two more games than would be expected by its overall statistical profile and losing eight games by four points or less, the most such instances in the nation.
64/65-Team Era. The history of the league shows that the MCC has had a tendency for one team to dominate for a while before ceding its power to another. From 1987-1990, Southwest Missouri St. won four consecutive NCAA bids. After a few years of several teams winning the league, Valparaiso started its run of seven NCAA bids in nine years in 1996. The last two years Oral Roberts has been winning the bids, with a great shot at a third straight this season. Over the 23-year era, the league has a solid low-major record of 8-23 (.258) in the NCAA Tournament, including two trips to the Sweet 16 (1986 – #14 Cleveland St.; 1998 – #13 Valparaiso). Unfortunately, in the nine years since that Bryce Drew-led run by Valpo, the league has lost its first round game (avg: #15.0 seed) by an average of 21.7 pts (excluding the 2005 PiG, where Oakland, with a 13-19 overall record, defeated Alabama A&M 79-69). Speaking of young Mr. Drew…
Note: video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.
Final Thought. Notwithstanding the name change, the Summit appears to be a league in transition. Oral Roberts has already shown a commitment toward building a serious program by keeping Scott Sutton on board with a seven-year contract extension. Oakland and IUPUI have also shown signs of long-term progress, and a newcomer like North Dakota St. is well positioned to be competitive in the league immediately. Last year the league earned its highest computer rankings (mid-teens) of the last decade and even with the loss of Valpo, the conference should have enough talent in its top half to keep it among the best of the low majors.
Unless you notice because your team happens to take advantage of the rule in a given summer, one of the open secrets among college hoops fans is that many teams are allowed to get a jumpstart on their season by implementing NCAA Bylaw 30.7 – “Foreign Tours and Competition.” This rule permits teams to take a basketball-related road trip to a non-US territory (yes, even Canada) once every four years, and allows for ten days of practice and as many as ten games against international teams so long as no class time is missed.
Playing Hoops in Far-Flung Places
With only 25 or so days of practice after Midnight Madness prior to the first regular season games, ten extra days in August to get a team prepared for the season can really make a difference. Not to mention the additional experience of playing games against real competition in sometimes hostile environments (we’ll never forget the story of Rick Pitino famously getting ejected by an Italian official on an overseas jaunt while at Kentucky). An experienced team can use this trip to revitalize the well-oiled machine it left on the floor last March; whereas, a young team can use the trip to build camaraderie and let the coaching staff assess where team strengths and weaknesses will lie. Either way, short of a devastating player injury, there are no downsides.
Since so many programs use this rule, and data about who/when is difficult to come by, we can’t quantifiably state for a fact that the rule helps teams in the season of which it was used. But it’s reasonable to believe that more practice time ultimately begets a better team, and at least we can point to the 2006-07 Florida Gators as an example of where it worked – the Gators spent Labor Day weekend 2006 in Canada reminding themselves just how good they were by destroying the Brock Badgers (as you can see from the vid, Brock’s defenders are invisible) and Guelph (hugs!) in succession.
So here are ten schools who are taking advantage of the rule this summer:
Tennessee – the preseason top 5 Vols spent 11 days on the Continent from Aug 8-19, and Bruce Pearl rated his team only a “C+” in terms of basketball while there. The Vols lost one game to Slovakia, but according to this article, they came away with a greater sense of appreciation for each other and understanding of roles, necessary after losing glue guy Dane Bradshaw and adding super-soph Tyler Smith to the mix.
Utah – Coming off an extremely tough 11-19 season, new head coach Jim Boylen’s team spent twelve days in Australia from Aug 7-19 working on teamwork and confidence. The Utes went 3-3 on their trip to chilly (it’s still winter there) Australia, but they came away with a sense that the “floor was higher,” which is pretty much a shot at the work ethic and demands of former coach Ray Giacolletti.
Stanford – likely preseason top 25 Stanford left for Italy on Aug 20 and will spend twelve days (six games) in Rome, Florence and Milan touring the piazzas and showcasing the interior game of the Lopez twins and the outside shooting of Anthony Goods. Somehow that trip just screams Stanford the only way Stanford can.
Indiana – another team with high expectations for the coming season is now practicing in preparation for its Labor Day weekend trip to the Bahamas – wait a minute, Kelvin, is this a vacation ($895 – all-in) or a basketball trip? The Hoosiers waited until school began so that it could include uber-frosh Eric Gordon in the practices and the trip.
USC – Tim Floyd is using the same holiday weekend to take his sqaud to Mazatlan, Mexico for four games. OJ Mayo will begin practicing with the team during the first day of classes on Aug 27. Assuming he can be bothered to show up, of course.
Clemson – the Tigers are another veteran team with four starters returning who will be taking the long Labor Day weekend to go to the Bahamas. Maybe Clemson fans and Indiana fans can both pretend they’re in Maui instead. Who are we kidding – all 440,000 toothless Clemson fans will be in Death Valley that weekend.
Oral Roberts – Eddie’s Other Son lost the two stars (Ken Tutt and Caleb Green) who led ORU to 86 wins in the last four seasons, so he’s using their Labor Day weekend trip to Toronto as an opportunity to rebuild with some young faces. Toronto, eh? No word on how ORU’s penalty killing and shift changes are looking this year.
Alabama - what is it with these schools going to Canada? The Tide will spend Labor Day weekend in Ottawa, of all places – a city even further north than Toronto. Bama will be without star point guard Ronald Steele, who is still rehabbing both knees after a disappointing season in 2006-07. Still, Gottfried has a solid core coming back, and the last time they made this trip, they went to the Elite 8 (2004).
Washington – another disappointing team last year with promise of better things this season, the Huskies are now practicing in preparation for an extended Labor Day trip to Greece from Aug 31 – Sept 4. Head man Lorenzo Romar said that only one of his five starting positions is taken at this point – the rest are up for grabs (F – Jon Brockman).
Belmont – these trips aren’t limited to just the bigger programs, as tiny NCAA Tournament darling Belmont University took a nine-day trip to Europe from Aug 11-20, including stops in Paris and London. That’s more like it.