Minnesota’s Devoe Josephwill be suspended for the second time this season as a result of “some things that he needs to work on” according to head coach Tubby Smith, and has apparently told team members that he intends to transfer out of the program. Joseph missed the first six games of the season for an undisclosed violation of team rules and academic problems, but the timing on this particular suspension/transfer threat is particularly discouraging, as the Gophers need the talented guard in order to compete in the rugged Big Ten. Minnesota is already 0-2 in league play after road losses at Wisconsin and Michigan State, so their margin for error going into games versus Indiana and at Ohio State is slim.
Oral Roberts’ best player, Dominique Morrison, will be out of action for up to three weeks as a result of a torn left lateral meniscus that he recently suffered. The Summit League’s second-leading scorer this season at 18.4 PPG is a key component of a team that had been expected to compete with Oakland for the SL championship. The Golden Eagles, though, have had trouble putting things together for Scott Sutton this season, limping to a 5-11 overall start and 2-2 in the conference. Losing a player of this caliber makes it all but impossible to make up any ground on rival Oakland in the interim.
Missourihas had a promising season thus far in no small part due to the services of KC-born Marcus Denmon, the junior guard who has put together a tremendous campaign with averages of 18/4/2 APG/2 SPG in leading the Tigers to a 13-1 record and a top ten national rating. Sam Mellinger of the KC Star tells the story of the kid from the rough streets of Kansas City who has turned himself from Mike Anderson’s most valuable bench player last season to, quite simply, his most valuable player this year.
Reggie Smith, the freshman guard who transferred from Marquette last week after only a handful of games played is being sought by several mid-major schools including Fairfield, LaSalle, South Alabama and Tulane, with a few higher-majors such as Nebraska, TCU and UNLV also showing interest. Whether Smith and his stepfather will find the star-making vehicle they hoped for at any of those schools remains to be seen.
Were you left wondering how Oregon State handled Arizona over the weekend? So were we. And apparently so was head coach Sean Miller, as he called out the lack of toughness and aggressiveness from his team in that loss. After Washington, you might as well throw a bunch of hats into a circle to pick who the second-best team in the Pac-10 is this year. No fewer than five or six other teams have shown the capability to be that team, but as soon as you think somebody is wearing it well, something like an Arizona loss in Corvallis happens.
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.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
A third upset in two nights occurred late last night in Las Vegas as UC Santa Barbara went to Sin City and shocked UNLV at home. What are the chances of another upset tonight? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Oral Roberts @ #13 Missouri – 8 pm on FS Midwest, ESPN3.com and ESPN FullCourt (**)
Pressey Will Lead Mizzou Attack Tonight (AP/LG Patterson)
With Michael Dixonsuspended for a violation of team rules, Phil Pressey will take the point guard reigns for Mike Anderson, at least for one night. The highly-touted freshman hasn’t scored much but did dish out nine assists in Mizzou’s last game, a win over Presbyterian. Mizzou will be fine as long as Pressey understands his role as a distributor and not a scorer. Missouri will obviously look to push the pace and create turnovers against a guard-oriented Oral Roberts squad. The Golden Eagles are just 4-5 on the year but should be able to score against a Missouri defense that ranks in the 200’s against both the three and the two point shot. That’s good news for head coach Scott Sutton, son of legendary coaching figure Eddie Sutton. Oral Roberts shoots 40% from three, #29 in the nation, behind a duo of guards and a point-forward type player. Warren Niles and Hunter McClintock each shoot 40% from deep while 6’6 Dominique Morrison checks in at 36%. Morrison is listed as a forward but averages 17/5/3, the leading scorer and assist man on the team. He broke out against Western Illinois on December 2, scoring a career-high 35 points on 14-18 shooting. It is essential that Oral Roberts shoots the trey well or else they’ll get run out of the gym by the Tigers. On Missouri’s side, Marcus Denmon (51% from deep) can easily match Oral Roberts’ production from three but he’ll need help inside with Ricardo Ratliffe. Oral Roberts is a poor defensive team, putting opponents on the line often and failing to stop the three pointer. Playing at home, Denmon and Missouri should be able to weather whatever storm Oral Roberts brings from deep with shooting of their own and turnover margin. Additionally, Missouri will actually be the favorite on the boards, something Mizzou fans are not accustomed to seeing. The addition of Ratliffe really helps in this department and he’ll be on full display tonight. The Golden Eagles may hang tough early but Missouri’s talent and pressure defense will win out resulting in the Tigers pulling away towards victory.
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.
LaceDarius Dunn* – Sr, G – Baylor. Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: there’s no news. We know that in order for him to be an Impact Player for this region and to indeed fulfill the promise that’s implied when your name pops up on all sorts of pre-season All-America teams, LaceDarius Dunn has to actually see the floor, and as of right now he’s still suspended from competition. He’s practicing, he’s attending classes, but that suspension from games of any kind is indefinite, so what Dunn is doing most is waiting. So are we, because we want to see the guy play some more, and soon. We’ve backed LaceDarius since his first moments on the Baylor campus and we’ve enjoyed watching him grow as a basketball player during his time there. Dunn was a factor right from the start in Waco, averaging 13.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 22 MPG as a freshman, and he’s only gotten more impressive each season. You could see his confidence grow by the game through his sophomore year as he tacked a couple of points onto that scoring average (15.7 PPG) and took on more responsibility. Last season was probably the school’s best since 1950 and earned the Bears their best year-end ranking ever (#10), and Dunn was the centerpiece along with Ekpe Udoh. The unquestioned team leader, Dunn put his scoring gift on full display, contributing 19.6 PPG (33rd in the nation) in just over 32 MPG. Because of his quickness and his deep shooting range, he represents the ultimate defensive conundrum. If you play up on him, he’s by you. If you give him a cushion — and he doesn’t need much space at all — he’ll drill you from range. If you get physical, not only will he match you (Dunn is a disturbingly solid 6’4, 205), but he’ll be more than happy to repair to the free throw line (85.7% last season) and bleed you to death with paper cuts. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his game is that shooting accuracy. If Dunn can see the rim, he’s in range, and he has no qualms about letting it sail. He nailed 116 threes last season, a single-season record for the school. His next trey will be his 300th, and he’s already hit more of them than any other Baylor player. Those 299 threes put him 91 bombs away from breaking the Big 12 record of 389 held by Texas’ A.J Abrams, and seeing as how Dunn has had no problem breaking 100 the past two seasons, we think he’ll get there. Considering all that, his overall shooting percentage becomes that much more impressive. He shot 45.2% last year and has posted a 44.9% mark for his Baylor career. This brings up the question, again: how do you guard this man? It’ll be fun to watch Big 12 opponents make a go of it this season, that’s for sure — we just have to get the guy on the floor and past this current situation regarding the alleged assault. Because of the strange, conflicting stories from some of the people involved and the paucity of other details that have emerged about this matter, we’re not sure where the truth lies or what outcome would constitute justice. We just hope it’s one that results in LaceDarius Dunn playing basketball as soon and as much as possible.
If Dunn Keeps His Head, He Could Be Baylor's first AP All-American First Teamer
Jacob Pullen – Sr, G – Kansas State. Expectations, much? The last time Jacob Pullen’s Kansas State Wildcats were ranked as high as they are in the Preseason Coaches Poll (#3), John F. Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts. The year was 1959, and the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the final AP poll heading into the NCAA Tournament (regrettably, the Cats lost to Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati in the regional finals). In large part due to the big-shot making abilities of the six-foot guard who has a great chance to re-write the K-State record books this season, Frank Martin’s KSU squad is poised to make a run at its first Final Four since the 60s and its first Big 8/12 conference title since the 70s. Pullen, the Big 12 Preseason POY as voted on by the coaches, is expected to run more of the point now that last year’s starter at that position Denis Clemente has graduated, but his ability to successfully play either the one or the two position is well-documented by league opponents. Let’s be honest, though; with Pullen mimicking the scorer’s mentality of other height-challenged combo guards that have come before him, it doesn’t matter what “position” head coach Frank Martin puts him in. The Beard (which is rounding into form for the season, incidentally) will have the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time, just as he did in a 34-point explosion against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in the NCAA second round last season and in multiple overtimes in another win (and 28-point performance) against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s not very easy to stop a player who can routinely go for 20+ against some of the best defensive coaches in the country (16 times last year), but the one thing you do not want to do against Pullen is leave him open from behind the arc. Make him put the ball on the floor and try to get to the rim. He’s not a traditional dead-eye shooter by any stretch, but he can torch it from outside when he finds a groove — seven threes against UNLV and BYU; six against Alabama, Xavier, Baylor and South Dakota. Last year he tied Askia Jones’ school-record of 110 threes in a season because he’s learned how to pick his spots appropriately, exhibited by the nearly 40% conversion rate he enjoyed (a significant improvement from his 30% and 34% he shot from deep in his first two years in Manhattan). Perhaps reflecting the grit of his fiery head coach, Pullen is also an elite defender, having been selected as a member of the six-man Big 12 all-defensive team last year. Put all of this together — the scoring, the defense, the grit, the BEARD — and you’re faced with the simple fact that the K-State guard is on the short list of a dozen or so players who are in contention for 1st team All-American and national Player of the Year honors in 2010-11. The better he plays, the more likely it is that the fortunes of Kansas State basketball is on its way to reclaiming some of its ancient glory and make comparisons with teams a half-century ago completely moot.
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.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
2009-10 Summit League Standings
#1. Oakland 23-8 (17-1)
#2. IUPUI 22-9 (15-3)
#3. Oral Roberts 19-12 (13-5)
#4. South Dakota St. 14-15 (10-8)
#5. IPFW 15-14 (9-9)
#6. North Dakota St. 11-17 (8-10)
#7. Western Illinois 13-16 (6-12)
#8. UMKC 12-17 (6-12)
DNQ Centenary 8-21(3-15)
DNQ Southern Utah 7-22 (2-16)
Here are my Season Awards; the Summit’s selections shouldn’t be much different…
Player of the Year – Keith Benson (C), Oakland (16.9 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.3 bpg). Benson edges out his teammate Jon Jones because his work on defense and his rebounding were so far above anyone else in the conference. He was a matchup problem every single night, and his averages against league opponents are worthy of POY.
Newcomer of the Year – Warren Niles (G), Oral Roberts (12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg). Niles is the highest scoring freshman in the conference, and he started the last sixteen games for ORU.
A Very Wise Man. Arizona 76, NC State 74. Why is this our lead game tonight? Because it’s not often that you see two difficult length-of-the-court layups within the last ten seconds of a game, and it’s even less often that the player who hits the game-winner does so for the second game in a row. Nic Wise must have been a very good boy this year because Santa is treating him right this holiday season. Just two nights after making a ridiculously difficult touch/push three from about 25 feet to win a game against Lipscomb (we’ll overlook the fact that it probably shouldn’t have counted), Wise (17/3) did it again tonight. NC State’s Javier Gonzalez (18/3/6 assts) had tied the game at 74-all with a part-the-waters layin with around seven seconds to go. Wise immediately grabbed the inbounds pass and pushed downcourt. After a couple of hesitation/crossovers at three-quarter speed, he found a seam to his left and beat the trailing defenders to get the shot up off the glass with the wrong hand and won the game with a mere tick left on the clock (when we get the vid, we’ll post it below). Wise is like the anti-Jamelle Horne for Arizona. Awesome finish, and gives Arizona two more wins that they’ll need en route to putting together a resume for inclusion to their 26th straight NCAA Tournament later this season. UA shouldn’t have put themselves in this position, but they managed to blow a late eight-point lead by allowing NCSU to hit several threes down the stretch — the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams had 24/6 in the win.
Wise Keeping Arizona Afloat (AP/Dean Knuth)
Upset of the Night. Oral Roberts 75, #12 New Mexico 66. Unbeaten no more. We’re now down to just six undefeated teams left this season, and all six of those are currently ranked as the top six teams in America after Missouri State and now New Mexico dropped games this week. ORU has already beaten Stanford and Missouri thus far this season, so this shouldn’t be a huge shock (especially in Tulsa), but the Golden Eagles have also had some blowout losses (most notably, by 37 to Louisville, 21 to Virginia and 20 to Wake Forest). Tonight was a different story, though, as Scott Sutton’s team built a first-half lead and was able to hold on when UNM made its expected run late in the game. Michael Craion had a great game, going for 18/13/7 assts/2 blks, and Dominique Morrison had 17/4/4 assts/3 stls, but more importantly, the ORU defense forced the Lobo stars into tough nights — Darington Hobson shot 5-14 for 11 points and Roman Martinez was even worse at 1-9 for 4 points, and their 15 total points tonight was nineteen points off their combined average this year.
Braggadocio. Missouri 81, Illinois 68. Here’s the thing about naysayers who thought that Missouri would take a hard fall after losing DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons from last year’s team. So long as Mike Anderson has a stable of ten or so athletic players to run his modified 40MoH system, his teams will always be successful. Now, will this year’s version be as good as last year’s E8, thirty-win team? No way. But they’re still pretty darn good, and we’d expect to see the Tigers back in the Dance again, especially after a performance like tonight. For the first time in a decade, Mizzou won this rivalry game, and they did it behind their standard MO of forcing turnovers (21), hitting threes (10) and causing a faster-than-normal pace for their opponent. Kim English led the way with 24/6, but he got help from freshman Michael Dixon, Jr., (16/5 assts/3 stls) and JT Tiller (12/5/5 assts). As for the Illini, other than their amazing comeback win at Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we haven’t been impressed with this team yet this year.
We have a pretty big weekend scheduled for you here at RTC Live, with arguably the best game on Friday night (Oral Roberts @ Wake Forest), the best two games on Saturday (Creighton @ Dayton and Davidson @ Butler), and a pretty good tilt on Sunday (FIU @ Tulsa) scheduled.
As for Friday night, the ‘real’ opening night for approximately 252 teams, Oral Roberts brings a team that coaches and media are picking to finish second in the always-competitive Summit League to Wake Forest, a team that is searching for its identity after losing draft picks Jeff Teague and James Johnson to the NBA. Wake has plenty of big young talent in Tony Woods, Tony Walker and Al-Farouq Aminu, but it’ll be up to point guard Ish Smith to re-establish a leadership role as he did prior to Teague’s ascent as an all-ACC guard last year. ORU counters with preseason all-Summit forwards Dominique Morrison and Kevin Ford, two talented but undersized players who head coach Scott Sutton is expecting to have breakout years this season. It should be an interesting game in the Dash tonight as ORU visits the Demon Deacons at 8pm ET tonight.
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.