I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
It was a wild week for the TO26’s best teams, as seven of the teams ranked in our top ten — including our top five — all suffered losses. With Gonzaga, Creighton, VCU, Butler, and UNLV all going down, who has a rightful claim on the number one ranking? Does New Mexico slide all the way from 6th to 1st after their win over Colorado State?
Not quite. Yes, Gonzaga lost to Butler in a game played without Rotnei Clarke, Butler’s leading scorer. But it was in a hostile road environment, and even under those conditions, Gonzaga had a victory in hand with just a few seconds left on the clock. And on Thursday, the Zags followed up the loss with a 20-point drubbing of conference rival BYU. So Mark Few’s men will continue to hold the top spot in our rankings. But all of the action elsewhere will produce a substantial reshuffling. Without further ado, on the substantially revised Top 10, our weekly Honor Roll, and a few games to keep an eye on as the week unfolds.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
All Eyes On Wolters: Nate Wolters is still on pace for the improbable back-to-back 20-5-5 season. Wolters (as of 1/23) is averaging 20.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this seaon. It’s only happened five times in NCAA history, and he already owns one of those five seasons. If he keeps the pace, Wolters will be the only player in Division I history to average those numbers twice. Although there are questions about his ability to play at the next level, Wolters is having a historic college career, and it’s mostly gone unnoticed in the mainstream. Wolters is also one of 20 finalists for the Naismith Trophy, and he became the first player in SDSU history to reach the 2,000 point mark in a win over Western Illinois on January 17.
There Aren’t Many Chances Left To Catch Nate Wolters In Action. (AP)
The Summit League Rising: The Summit League has reached #16 in conference RPI as of January 22. With North Dakota State, Western Illinois and South Dakota State all reaching the mid-major Top 25 rankings, the Summit League seems to have been able to preserve the mid-major clout they had worked so hard to build in recent years despite realignment. We’re still looking for that Cinderella team to break through and get a win in March. This conference has had a strong candidate every season, and now it looks like the Summit has three strong contenders emerging from the ranks.
North Dakota State(16-4, 7-1):Taylor Braun is having a fantastic season, averaging 15.2 points and five rebounds per contest while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, but it is the Bison defense that has improved drastically to propel them to the top of the Summit League. NDSU is holding opponents to 56.2 points per game and under 38 percent shooting on the season. Their last loss was against Minnesota on December 11 before falling on Saturday to a very good Western Illinois team on the road. This team is doing its best to ruin the repeat party for South Dakota State. Read the rest of this entry »
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
After a one-week hiatus, we are back and just in time for a veritable orgy of great college hoops matchups today. Yes, there is Louisville v. Syracuse, Florida v. Missouri, Oregon v. UCLA, and Ohio State v. Michigan State. But things get no less interesting as you move down to the mid-major level, where several compelling matchups featuring conference contenders will unfold. Before we get to the Top 10, let’s take a look at what’s on tap today:
Gonzaga at Butler — The nation’s two Cinderella darlings will square off at the storied Hinkle Fieldhouse in a made-for-TV (yes, ESPN College Gameday will be in the house) contest. It will be the final game of Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule and, arguably, its toughest. The loss of Rotnei Clarke to a frightening neck injury will take some of the luster off of this matchup, as Butler will be playing without their leading scorer. The task will be no easier on the other end of the Court, as the Bulldogs will have to contend with a potent Gonzaga frontcourt, led by 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, who has emerged into a bona fide All-American candidate. But as we all know, being the underdog suits Brad Stevens just fine.
Creighton at Wichita State — Doug McDermott has wowed the nation over the past week with a pair of 30-point games, and between his dominance and Creighton’s three-point shooting, the Bluejays’ offense has become quite difficult to stop. But if there’s a team in the MVC who can do it, it’s Wichita State. The Shockers have the best defense in the league, which will have the added boost of a raucous home crowd for this premier matchup. The Shockers’ strong, quick guards will challenge Creighton at the other end, and Cleanthony Early might prove a tough matchup for McDermott. Carl Hall is also back in the lineup for the Shockers, so both teams will be at full strength.
Siyani Chambers Is Having An Outstanding Freshman Year (Anthony Nesmith/CSM/Cal Sport Media/AP Images)
Harvard at Memphis — With Conference USA muddling through a down year, this could be be Memphis’ toughest opponent of the 2013 calendar year. The Crimson have turned in a quality season despite the unexpected one-year withdrawals of senior leaders Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey due to an academic cheating scandal. Much of the credit for that goes to freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who is fifth in the country in minutes per game. Tommy Amaker has put a great deal of faith in the young man, but he has rewarded him with a 31% assist rate, 50% three-point shooting average, and 88% FT shooting average. Chambers will lock horns with Joe Jackson, who has steadied himself this season to become a reliable scorer and team leader. The senior point guard has hit double-digits in points in 12 straight games, the longest mark of his college career.
Western Illinois at North Dakota State — North Dakota State has been one of the great underreported stories of the season, rolling up a 16-3 record and supplanting South Dakota State as the Summit League’s favorite. But Western Illinois has also creeped to the top of the league standings, just a game behind NDSU at 6-1. The Leathernecks are led by an inside-out combo of big man Terrell Parks (13.9 ppg, 9.4 rbg) and do-everything senior guard Ceola Clark. Clark is an excellent defender, and he’ll need to be at his best to help stop a North Dakota State that is a well-oiled, methodical, efficient machine. Marshall Bjorkland, the Bison’s 6-8 junior, is arguably the most efficient scorer in the country. He leads the nation in effective FG percentage (72.4%) and is fourth in true shooting percentage (71.2%).
Utah State at Denver — Louisiana Tech remains at the top of the WAC standings after holding off Idaho on Thursday night, but these two squads are just one loss behind them. So tonight’s game has a lot riding on it. Expect a low-scoring contest between two of the lowest tempo teams in the country. Royce O’Neale and Chris Udofia lead Denver’s Princeton offense, which wears down opponents with movement and relies heavily on the three-point shot. Utah State will look to Preston Medlin, who leads the team with 16.3 points per game, and center Jarred Shaw who gets lots of touches in Stew Morrill’s offense.
College of Charleston at Davidson — Charleston will have a chance to move into a tie atop the Southern Conference South standings with a win at Davidson. They’ll be led by their backcourt combo of Andrew Lawrence and Anthony Stitt, while their hosts will rely more heavily on their frontcourt tandem of De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen. Davidson can fall in love with the three-point shot to their detriment. They’re better when they get the ball to the versatile Brooks and Cohen. Getting the ball in the basket won’t be easy against Charleston, which has a pretty good defense anchored in the middle by Adjehi Baru.
Belmont v. Tennessee State — You would think that this game between the OVC’s two undefeated teams would lose its luster with the absence of Tennessee State’s star big man, Robert Covington, except for one thing — they’ve won every one of their six OVC games without him. Covington went down with a torn meniscus in a December 18 trip to Middle Tennessee State that the Tigers went on to lose by 38 points. At that point, they were 5-7 on the season but they’ve reeled off seven straight since and now sit atop the OVC East standings. But they may need more than the Ewing Effect when they travel across town to face off with Belmont. The switch from the A-Sun to the OVC hasn’t dimmed the Bruins’ ability to dominate their conference competition.
So there it is, a day-long feast for the glutton who craves mid-major hoops. We move on, now, to the updated Top 10 rankings, our weekly (starting this week) Honor Roll, and a few more games to keep an eye on as the week unfolds.
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Today, the Summit League.
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League.
Southern Utah and Oral Roberts Head For Greener Pastures: Southern Utah made its long-awaited transition to the Big Sky while Oral Roberts made a quicker exit to the Southland Conference, ending the most successful stretch of sustained competition for Summit League basketball. With the League favoring the Dakota teams and a move northward, ORU made a business decision: Cut ties and shift its focus south to more natural competition and recruiting. ORU was the most successful team in the recent history of the Summit League, but it was clear that league officials had a vision for the direction of the conference that ORU wasn’t too thrilled with.
IPFW and Oakland Lobby For Open Horizon League Spot: Speaking of new directions, this story came out a couple months ago reporting that Oakland was interested in filling Butler’s vacated spot in the Horizon League. Oakland has been courting that conference for a long time, but it is not likely they will get their wish; there hasn’t been any movement on the Horizon’s end in several months, if at all. Even IPFW kicked around the idea of moving up in the world to join the Horizon. The Horizon could use a mid-major like Oakland to give it back some of the firepower they lost in Butler, but IPFW should get comfortable with its spot in the Summit. They aren’t going anywhere.
Point Guard/Advanced Stats Community Dreamboat Nate Wolters Shines For The Jackrabbits. (South Dakota State Photo)
How They Stack Up
South Dakota State: Oakland closed the gap a little bit with their recruiting haul, but South Dakota State still boasts the best player and arguably the best front court of any team in the conference. Its recruiting class wasn’t as flashy as in years past, but it addressed several holes they had and added some depth. The Jacks should still be the favorites heading into the season.Notable additions: Jacob Bittle, point guard; Connor Devine, center.
Oakland: The Golden Grizzlies impressed the most out of all the teams with their recruiting class, adding two transfers that can help right away in Tommie McCune (West Virginia) and Ralph Hill (Dayton). They also added Lloyd Neely, The Detroit Public School League MVP from 2012 and Mr. Basketball finalist. The Golden Grizzlies had to find a way to replace Reggie Hamilton, the 2012 NCAA scoring leader, and it looks like they are well on their way. Notable Additions: Tommie McCune, guard; Lloyd Neely, forward, Michigan Mr. Basketball finalist. Read the rest of this entry »
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League. You can also find his musings online on Twitter @CharlieParksRTC.
The Week That Was:
Climbing Up The Charts: The Summit League hit a new all-time high at #14 in the November 28 Sagarin conference Ratings. The league was 18th in the preseason, but has risen steadily in the past couple weeks. There is no doubt the conference has likely reached its apex in the eyes of the mainstream college basketball fans with Oakland, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota State playing so well. Unfortunately, this won’t last with Oral Roberts departing next season and being replaced by Nebraska-Omaha. Enjoy the respect while it lasts!
Oakland Tops Tennessee…Again: The Volunteers fell to the Golden Grizzlies 89-81 on Monday for the second time in two seasons, and now it is clearly safe to say Greg Kampe and Company own the University of Tennessee. Will the Volunteers ever schedule Oakland again? The win marked just the third time in the 30-year Summit League history that a “power six” conference lost a game in back-to-back seasons to a Summit League team. Wow.
Racking ‘Em Up: IUPUI’s Alex Young is currently leading the nation as the NCAA active points leader with 1,753 to start the week, and he will likely close out his career with over 2,000. Right now he is ranked 18th in conference history, and could close in on the top ten by the end of the season.
The Golden Grizzlies Will Be The First To Tell You That Beating Tennessee Doesn't Qualify As An Upset.
Oakland (4-2) – The Golden Grizzlies beat down Tennessee again, this time at home with ReggieHamilton dropping 35, and he is among the leaders the conference in scoring with 20.7 points per game. Oakland has been much better than most expected, and they have ripped off four consecutive wins. The Tennessee win was huge for their confidence. They trust themselves, and they know they can get the job done without Keith Benson. Keeping this mentality will be crucial once the conference grind begins. Oral Roberts is a force, and they are hungry, but it has been a long time since Oakland lost to Oral Roberts, and they still hold a slight edge.
Oral Roberts (5-2)-The Golden Eagles had a huge 68-63 win against Missouri State at home on November 30. The way they won was impressive—pulling down offensive rebounds, hitting free-throws and playing tough defense. They are starting to get that Scott Sutton look. The Golden Eagles have so many weapons on offense, especially since Damen Bell-Holter is finally back although he is not quite 100 percent. There are four guys who can shoot beyond the arc, and at least that many who can bang around down low. This might be the most complete team in the Summit League, and we will find out if this is the case when they play Oklahoma next week.
North Dakota State (5-0) — NDSU has a big-time streak going, they have a chance to really make a statement with games against Western Illinois and IUPUI coming up. I’m not buying the perfect start until I see how they show up in a battle with a conference foe. They are winning because they are shooting lights out. They rank 29th in the nation in field goal percentage which is mostly due to sophomore big-man Marshall Bjorklund, who is shooting 72% from the field and leading the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game. If they keep this up they will be 8-0 going into the December 10 showdown with Arizona State.
South Dakota State (4-3)—The Jacks are still looking for that consistent second option to compliment Nate Wolters. Unlike their rivals in the North, South Dakota State is struggling mightily to shoot the ball, which is uncharacteristic of this team. Wolters himself may be struggling the most; he is shooting just 27% from three and 40% overall. A little help from his friends may take some of that pressure off his shoulders. They have the same upcoming schedule as North Dakota State, so we will get a chance to see where both of these teams stand in comparison early on in the season.
Western Illinois (1-2) – Their 59-55 loss to #15 Michigan opened some eyes. The Leathernecks are a much more athletic than anticipated with freshman Obi Emegano emerging as a star. Ceola Clark seems to have hit his stride as well, and the duo has formed a dangerous one-two punch. Western has a lot of holes, but right now they have some confidence and are looking forward to a big matchup with North Dakota State.
IPFW (0-2) – The ‘Dons haven’t picked up a Division I win yet, but they could get a nice head start in the conference standings when they face UMKC and South Dakota this week. Frank Gaines in playing out of his mind right now, averaging 23 points per game (7th in the nation), and the team is 41st in the nation with 75 points per game. They are one of the better scoring teams in the conference, and they have played some tough opponents— losing to #14 Xavier and Iowa. It is still early, and the ‘Dons have a strong overall game. Let’s see what they can do at the start of this conference schedule.
UMKC (2-4)— Losing to Northwest Missouri State, barely escaping Nebraska-Omaha, and then Getting dismantled by #11 Wisconsin by 46 points was bad for the Kangaroos look. They have the worst scoring offense in the Summit League, and two big conference games against IPFW and Oakland loom. Reggie Chamberlain has been the lone bright spot for UMKC this season, averaging 17.1 points per game. It is always a hard transition when you lose two great seniors like UMKC did, but the Kangaroos will need to play with a lot more energy if they don’t want to end up at the bottom of this conference.
Southern Utah (2-3) – They have looked rough to start the season. Despite shooting 48% from the field, they are scoring just 69 points per game. Their two wins against Division I schools have come against Bryant and UC Davis, and they have been close games at that. But other than the blowout loss to San Diego State, the Thunderbirds losses have been winnable games coming down to the final possession. Their height and rebounding ability has really become a problem and they sit 236th in the NCAA for total rebounds with 34 per game. They are about to face Oral Roberts, maybe the best in the Summit, then square off against Weber State, who may be the best in The Thunderbirds new conference. Thunderbird fans have little to be optimistic about in the coming weeks.
IUPUI (1-5)- As bad as the bottom half of the Summit League has looked in the opening month, the Jags have looked so much worse. IUPUI is pulling down just 33.9 rebounds per game and scoring 68.3 points per game—despite having the most talented player in the conference in Alex Young. Even Young is struggling—averaging 17 points per game off 38% shooting. IUPUI hosts the Dakotas before traveling to Louisville to get hammered by the Cardinals. This could get worse. Much worse. I don’t see them contending for a conference championship this season. There are just too many teams in the Summit that are playing better than they are at this point in the year.
South Dakota (0-3)—The Coyotes are still looking for their first Division I win, and they may be looking a little longer with Oakland and IPFW coming up next. They have the second-lowest scoring offense in the conference, but they have at least been competitive in their three losses. The wins will come for South Dakota, but they should view this season as a growth period as they transition into Division I.
North Dakota State at IUPUI, December 3— North Dakota State will look to continue their undefeated streak against the struggling Jags. This is an important game for teams that are headed in opposite directions. IUPUI needs this win to get on track, while North Dakota State needs this to compete with Oakland and Oral Roberts down the stretch.
Oral Roberts at Oklahoma, December 8— This is an important matchup for Oral Roberts. They are still looking for their annual power conference upset, and this is the perfect game for them to do it. Oklahoma looked strong early in the season, but were dealt their first loss of the season by Saint Louis over the weekend.
#15 Michigan at Oakland, December 15— Oakland got embarrassed last season by Michigan right after the Golden Grizzlies upset #7 Tennessee, will the tables be turned in this year’s rematch?
POY Stock Watch
Reggie Hamilton, Oakland (20.7 PPG, .891 FT%)—Trending: UP. The team is on a roll thanks to Hamilton’s back-to-back 35-point games. He is one of the leading scorers in the conference so far, and he is playing to prove to everyone that he doesn’t need Keith Benson on his team for them to shine.
Dominique Morrison, Oral Roberts (17.6 PPG, 44% FG)—Trending: HOLD. When Oral Roberts needs a big basket they go to Morrison. It seems like he can drop 30 points at any time, but he is content to move the ball and create good offense for his teammates.
Stephen Roundtree , Oral Roberts (13.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG)—Trending: UP. He exploded onto the scene last year leading all NCAA freshmen in scoring, and this season he has turned into a dominant presence inside for Oral Roberts. He has an array of low post moves, and his hustle and determination on the glass is what sets him apart.
Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (20.4 PPG, 6.1 APG)—Trending: DOWN. Wolters has struggled to shoot the ball, and his team is in a funk.
Alex Young, IUPUI (17.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG)—Trending: DOWN. Shooting just 38% from the field has hurt Young in the early going. His team is in shambles, and Young has his work cut out for him if he wants to bring his team back into contention.
Frank Gaines, IPFW (23.0 PPG)— Trending: UP. Gaines leads the conference in scoring and he has put IPFW in position to contend for a conference title this season.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
Oakland finally gets their upset—an 89-82 road victory over the #7 Tennessee Volunteers.
It will be known from now on as the program’s signature win, just the second top 25 win in Oakland history. Keith Benson was fantastic—draining mid-range jumpers and even two three pointers on his way to a 26/10 night. One observer said he looked like Amare Stoudemire with his mid-range game. He proved to be more than just a post presence; He is an all-around, NBA-ready, mid-major star.
Benson Was Dominant
In case you missed it, this was Oakland’s close call earlier in the week against Michigan State.
In other news: Oral Roberts got pounded in their rubber-match with Missouri, 81-62, in a game the #12 Tigers called “a revenge game” after the Golden Eagles shocked them in the final seconds last year. It was close early, with the Golden Eagles up 22-19, but the Tigers used an 18-2 run before halftime to put them away. Oklahoma used a similar first-half run in Oral Roberts previous game to put them to bed early. Apparently, the ORU coaching staff thinks halves last 15 minutes.
Oakland (6-5, 2-0) —Surprise! Imagine if they had beaten Michigan State the other night, would they crack the top 25 this week? Oakland has three players averaging double figures; they are the best offense in the Summit League, despite little production from one of their main guys, starting guard LarryWright. They have the best coach in the conference, and the best player to ever play in the Summit League/Mid-Con conference (apologies to George Hill, Bryce Drew, and Caleb Green). By the way, I am predicting Keith Benson will be a lottery pick in the NBA draft. In fact I will go as far to say top 10 to Detroit. This is not Hyperbole. If you were able to see this guy in the Big East every night on ESPN, you would be saying the same thing. Benson dismantled the Vols—posting a 26 point 10 rebound and zero turnover night. He is only the fifth player in 15 years to do that against a ranked opponent. The other four: David Noel (UNC, 2005-06), Troy Murphy (Notre Dame, 1999-00), Brad Miller (Purdue, 1997-98), and Raef LaFrentz (Kansas, 1996-97). It’s time to sit back and enjoy this, Summit fans, because I don’t think you will see a player like Benson for quite a while. You heard it here first.
North Dakota State (7-3, 1-0) —I love this team. They are like a mini version of Oakland. They score a lot of points (second in the conference with 79.3, 36th in the NCAA), and they play good defense (68 points allowed per game), those numbers are similar to past champions. They are just a well-rounded group. The Bison have been quietly gaining experience and confidence, and this team is a somewhat of a dark horse to make a run. They just dismantled their cross-tundra rival, North Dakota, 81-55, and they already beat the previous #2 team in the conference, South Dakota State. It’s still way too early, but they look good. Did I mention they have the fifth-highest three-point field goal percentage in the nation? Okay, just checking.
Oral Roberts (4-6, 2-0) — let’s face it, the Golden Eagles are good, but they’re not Oakland-good. That doesn’t necessarily mean this team can’t win the conference title—anything can happen in a conference tournament—but it means they will have to be near-perfect if they want to beat a mature, complete team like The Golden Benson’s (err, I mean, Golden Grizzlies). Oral Roberts has the talent to win the conference, but it is young, raw, talent (that’s code for: “why the hell did they just do that!?”). Right now, I would describe the Golden Eagles as a team in search of its soul. Don’t count them out, they have over 200 wins, 16 NCAA Tournaments appearances and two final four appearances on the bench between Scott and Sean Sutton. Dominique Morrison is steady leader, fourth in scoring with 17.3 points per game (less than a point behind Keith Benson), but it may take more to rise above Oakland.
South Dakota State (7-2, 0-1) —You see the 7-2 record and the 79.3 points per game and think this team might have something. They had two nice wins against Iowa and Nevada—but so far, they really haven’t beaten anyone. They have lost two of their last three (the win came against Mayville State). If you are an SDSU fan, fourth-best is not a bad spot to be right now with guys like Nate Wolters (17.2 PPG, 48% from three) and Clint Sargent (13.1 PPG).
IPFW (7-2, 2-0) — They are sitting on top of the Summit standings—but they beat the teams at the very bottom to get there. Until they face and beat a tougher opponent (like one of the teams above them on this list) this is where they deserve to be ranked. Valparaiso, Purdue, and ORU await the Mastadons. Let’s see how they look after that.
IUPUI (5-6, 1-1) —Ooey-Pooey beat Ohio, and they gave Ohio State everything they could before fading late and losing by 11. However, they did lose at home to ORU. This team was the preseason #3 in the Summit, and I still think it will shake out that way, but right now they just look mediocre at best. They play good defense, which will have to be their mantra for the season. Ron Hunter is relying solely on Alex Young and Leroy Nobles to carry this team offensively; they are combining to average 34 of the team’s 66 points per game.
Western Illinois (5-5, 1-1) — Every once in a while, they will show flashes of goodness, especially on defense. But they struggle to score points, posting only 61 per game. Matt Landers is second in the conference in scoring with 17.9 per contest, and when they start getting production from their all-conference first team selection, Ceola Clark, they will stay competitive in most of their games.
UMKC (5-4, 0-2) — The Roos have fallen pretty far down the list, losing both conference games. But I expect them to bounce back, especially with their duel threat in Spencer Johnson and Jay Couisnard. Right now, I see UMKC battling for that fourth-to-sixth place in the conference tournament for the rest of the year.
Southern Utah (3-7, 0-2) — They lost to Weber State by six, the best in the Big Sky Conference, which is the silver lining in the dark storm clouds. What does that mean? Maybe nothing, but it could mean the Summit League is better than the Big Sky Conference. Let the debate begin!
Centenary (0-2, 0-11) — No one should lose them all, but right now, Centenary is in danger of doing just that. The Summit League has been improving steadily, and it will be extremely difficult for this team to escape with a win or two. You can’t blame them; they just don’t have D-I talent. I hate watching teams suffer like this, so let’s just ignore the situation.
A Look Ahead
Saturday, Oakland takes on Michigan in Ann Arbor. Oakland could really get heads turning if they could deal with the Wolverines on the road. Then on Thursday, December 30, Oakland will go on the road to take on ORU in Tulsa. Both of these teams should be undefeated in the conference going into this game, and it will be the best the Summit League has to offer. If you only watch one Summit League game a year, this should be it.
The Summit League is ranked #16 in the December 14 Sagarin Ratings. Oakland is currently #12 on the collegeinsider.com top 25 mid-major poll, while South Dakota State is #18, but I suspect both of those will change. Oakland will be in the top 10, especially after the win at Tennessee.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
Keith Benson racked up another Summit League Player of the Week honor—averaging 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks in three games this week. In Oakland’s overtime win against Austin Peay, Benson had 22 boards. That’s good for fifth all-time for a single game in conference history. Benson is getting serious looks from NBA scouts, and he is the sole reason Oakland is the best team in the conference at this point. Both OU and South Dakota State remain in the Mid-Major Top 25 this week. Oakland sits at #14, and South Dakota State lands at their school’s all-time high of #17. SDSU also leads the nation in three-point percentage (49.5%), but a better stat: they have won 100 percent of their games. The Summit League is currently ranked #16 best conference on the November 30 Sagarin ratings, but so far this season, they are 0-6 against top 25 teams.
Oakland(4-3): One word; one name: Benson. You can take him to the bank, because this guy is money (yeah, I said it, so what—this is my column!). He is currently fifth in the NCAA with 12.8 rebounds a game, fifth in blocks with 3.5 BPG, and ninth in double-doubles with four. The team itself is stumbling a bit with a 4-3 record, but none of those losses came by the hand of a conference opponent, which is the only kind of loss that matters for Oakland. If Benson can’t be stopped in the Summit League then neither can Oakland.
South Dakota State (6-0):Undefeated so far in the non-conference portion of the schedule, although they didn’t really play anybody. But a perfect record is a perfect record.They are the top scoring team in the conference and they just bomb you from three. But like I always say: if you live by the three, you die by the three. Can they keep shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc? I’m leaning towards no.
North Dakota State(4-3): They score the third most points in the conference (78.6), just a point or so behind Oakland. They are third in the conference in rebounding, and first in field goal percentage. They rebound, pass, and shoot very well, and they have a legitimate post presence in Eric Carlson and a go-to-guy that knows how to win in Michael Tveidt. Though South Dakota leads in three point percentage, I think NDSU is the most dangerous team from three-land, and I think they will be more consistent throughout the season. They cracked the Mid-Major top 25 briefly before bowing out because of a loss suffered at the hands of Green Bay.
Oral Roberts(3-4): They have played much better the past two weeks — knocking off Utah, staying close with Texas Tech, and winning big against Western Illinois. Dominique Morrison dropped 35 points against WIU, and he may be the second best player in this conference. They have young talent, and it will be a rollercoaster ride until they get MichaelCraion back for good. The senior forward, who was a preseason first-team selection, made his season debut against WIU, playing nine minutes. But there is no guarantee that his foot will hold up. Even if he doesn’t play much this season, they may still be a half-decent team. One major problem: they can’t shoot free-throws, hitting only 63 percent as a team. That is bad enough for ninth in the conference. Just above Centenary.
IUPUI (4-4): What have you done for me lately, Jags? You lose to St. Louis by three, only putting up 55 points, and you beat Centenary, the worst team in the conference by just eight points? I picked them third in the conference; I thought they would be better. Maybe they are, and I just need to give it some time. But right now, I’m not really feeling any love for OOY-POOY.
IPFW(4-2): Ben Botts has turned into a fine point guard. He scored 20 in the OT win against UMKC, but he can create a lot of opportunities for IPFW to surprise some teams, like they did against the ‘Roos. They were down big early in the second half, but they came all the way back to force overtime and escape with a win. They have winnable games against Southern Utah and Toledo coming up. We could see the Mastodons stay at the top of the Summit League for at least another week.
UMKC (4-2): Big loss to IPFW. They had the game in the bag, and they let it get away. That is going to be a tough one to swallow. Joe Couisnard is 35th in the country with 20.3 points, and he leads the Summit League in scoring.
Western Illinois(3-4): And here I thought they may have a legitimate shot to be a pretty decent team after they stood down Missouri and lost a heartbreaker. But alas, they got beat soundly by ORU, and have now lost four of their last five. Ceola Clark III, their star and preseason first-team selection, has struggled mightily. He has been a huge disappointment, averaging just eight points in the four games, but he hasn’t been fully healthy, so maybe he can pull it together with time.
Southern Utah (2-5): They had the unfortunate obligation to play Oakland on Thursday—stopping Keith Benson is not exactly any Summit teams’ favorite thing to do. SUU lost the rebound battle 35-31, but that is only the second time all year they have been outrebounded. Their strength will be inside crashing the boards—which will keep them in games. Now they just need to find someone who can score the ball.
Centenary (0-8): they won’t be winless forever. They stayed with IUPUI and lost by only eight points. In their final season as a Division-I school, it is all about the moral victories for the Gents. But you never can be too hard on an overmatched team that plays with heart every game.
A Look Ahead
Oral Roberts faces IUPUI on Saturday, December 4. It will be the first marquee matchup in the Summit League this season. Both teams are a threat to win the conference. Watch out for Dominique Morrison, as he is heating up and averaging 19 points a game.
Oakland will try and knock-off #21 Illinois on December 8. Keith Benson and the boys will attempt to get the Summit League its first victory against a ranked opponent this year—if they can avoid an onslaught from fire-breathing Demetri McCamey and ignore that crazed Illini student section.
For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series. The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season. Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package. As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy. What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays. Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.
Shelvin Mack – Jr, G – Butler. There were times during Butler’s superb run to the national championship game last season where you’d be excused if you thought Shelvin Mack, a 6’3 guard with icewater in his veins, was the best player on the floor. In BU’s first round NCAA game against UTEP, his explosive 18-point second half where he drained five threes in the first eleven minutes fueled a 22-4 blitz that awakened his sleepwalking team and drove the Bulldogs into the second round (and beyond). He also added four boards, four assists and a couple of steals in that one just for kicks, but it was seemingly like that all season long. While Horizon League POYs Gordon Hayward (2010) and Matt Howard (2009) garnered most of the publicity, Mack quietly went about his business of doing whatever was needed to win games — 25 points against UW-Milwaukee; 7 rebounds against K-State; 8 assists against Northwestern and Green Bay; sticky defense every night out. And win Butler did, to the tune of 25 victories in a row and an unprecedented march to play Duke for the title. Neither the Bulldogs nor Mack will sneak up on anyone this year, especially after a summer with USA Basketball where the stocky junior opened the eyes of NBA scouts and his peers by earning a spot on the USA Select team ahead of such notable guards as Jimmer Fredette, Jacob Pullen, LaceDarius Dunn, Scoop Jardine, William Buford and Scotty Hopson. Go ahead — check any preseason all-american list and you’re likely to see quite a few of those names on it. If anyone actually believes that Butler was a one-year flash in the pan, they haven’t been paying attention. It’s very difficult for any school to make the Final Four in a given year, but the Bulldogs with Mack leading the way along with Howard and a cast of other returning players, will once again be in that conversation. Sometimes you just know when a player is a winner — he has that little extra something that doesn’t always show up in the box score yet you know he’ll find a way to get it done? That’s Mack, a true example of the “Butler Way” if ever there was one. All-American forward Gordon Hayward will be missed, but we have absolutely no doubt that Butler will again be a top ten caliber program in 2010-11 in large part due to the heretofore overlooked glue player whose time has come to take the spotlight.
Butler's Heart & Soul Returns to Indy (AP/P. Sakuma)
E’Twaun Moore – Sr, G – Purdue. Less than a week ago Purdue was one of the three favorites along with Duke and Michigan State to win the national title this coming April, but a Robbie Hummel ACL injury later and everyone has been talking about another lost season for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. However there is still some hope in West Lafayette that comes in the form of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson (Moore, Hummel, and Johnson were part of a loaded Boilermaker recruiting class in 2007). As talented as Johnson is it will be Moore and his all-around brilliance that will have to be driving force behind the Boilermakers if they are to make a push for the Final Four, of which they are still capable even with the loss of Hummel (to injury) and Chris Kramer (to graduation). Coming off a season where he was first team All-Big Ten and honorable mention AP All-American and an off-season where both he and Johnson briefly flirted with entering the NBA Draft before deciding to come back for their senior year, Moore will be expected to increase his scoring load and pick up some of the defensive slack created by the departure of Kramer. On the offensive end, Moore averaged 16.6 points per game providing the Boilermakers with their most explosive offensive threat since the days of Glenn Robinson while adding 2.7 assists per game, a figure that may not need to increase as the Boilermakers should be bolstered by the full-time return of Lewis Jackson. However it is the other side of the ball where Moore will really have to step up. Although he averaged a respectable 1.5 steals per game Moore was not expected to exert himself significantly on the defensive end as he had Kramer taking on the tougher defensive assignments and being an all-around Steve Wojciechowski-like pest to help create opportunities and cover up for the mistakes of others on the defensive end. To get the Boileramakers back to the Sweet 16, which they got to last year without Hummel, and beyond Moore will have to step around his all-around game while still maintaining his scoring even as teams continue to put an increased focus on him during their game-planning.
The Summit League is not a power conference, and they have struggled in the NCAA Tournament, but the top teams continue to land big-time talent and improve as they seek respect from the big boys. When it was first assembled, the conference champs would end up a #16 seed in the Big Dance, but for the third straight year, the Summit League earned a #14 seed—not exactly Final Four contention, but they certainly have the ability to wear those glass slippers when March Madness rolls around. The all-conference team I selected above might be the best mid-major talent we have seen in quite some time. Everyone on my all-conference team has one thing in common: if they go down, they go down swinging—that’s a must-have ingredient for a small school looking to compete on the big stage. I think this is the year we see the Summit League move past the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and take down some giants during the regular season.