Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
The “race to the Summit” (as the conference likes to call it) has begun. Or should we say, there is one team already at the Summit and they are rolling boulders down on everyone else trying to get to the top. Oakland asserted itself as the king of the hill on Thursday night with a convincing 85-77 win against Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Before the season started, ORU was ranked second, and a threat to dethrone Oakland (ashamedly, I thought they had what it took). But ORU has faltered, thanks to the season-ending foot injury to the 2009 newcomer of the year and preseason first-team selection, Michael Craion. Oakland can more or less put the bus on cruise control from here on out. Barring major injury, this will be an easy three months for the Golden Grizzlies.
In other news: IPFW has flexed its muscles, beating up ORU on the road and then taking care of business against Centenary. They will be an interesting team to watch if you are a Summit League fan.
IUPUI’s John Ashworth was also named among 66 candidates for the 2011 Bob Cousy Award, honoring the nation’s top point guard.
- Oakland (9-8, 4-0)—they survived the brutal non-conference schedule, now it’s all downhill. Greg Kampe will make sure they keep the pedal to the metal—all the way to March Madness. All five of Oakland’s starters scored double figures against ORU. It is clear now that no team can stop them. Will this be the easiest road to the NCAA tournament for any team in the nation?
- IPFW (9-4, 4-0)—Once a fine basketball program during the Mid-Con days, we knew this team would put it together eventually. After about a four-year hiatus, they are once again in the hunt. The victory at ORU was their coming out party, and it was their show-us-what-you’ve-got moment of the season. A well deserved #2 spot. They lead the league in defensive rebound percentage (.708). Keeping teams to one-and-done on the offensive end is a big reason this team is rolling.
- South Dakota State (9-4, 1-1)— This team is like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie. He’s made a couple good movies, but he has also made several movies that made my eyes bleed. What is he, a terrible writer/producer or a good one?! Leave me alone M. Night! The loss to North Dakota State may have been just a bump in the road for SDSU, and the UMKC blowout was more their style. Or perhaps it is the other way around? It’s really hard to read this team. Can we get them a good matchup already?! Have I mentioned Nate Wolters just might be the best point guard in the conference? I’m still trying to find a nickname for him.
- Oral Roberts (5-10, 2-2) — the Golden Eagles have four players in the top 20 in scoring for the conference, more than any other team. But back-to-back home losses tell us a lot about this team: either the loss of Michael Craion has completely thrown them for a loop, or the team is just packing it in. Whatever the case, ORU is a long, long way from their preseason #2 selection. This team has zero ability to stop anyone on defense, which is usually the signature of a Scott Sutton team. It’s still early, and they are still 2-2 in the conference, but Michael Craion is not walking through that door—and the way they defend and shoot—the Golden Eagles look just about done. They have missed 116 free-throws in 15 games. Let that sink in… At least you have baseball season to look forward to, ORU.
- IUPUI (8-8, 2-1)—they have started to play better, almost upsetting #7 San Diego State, but they still rely way too much on Alex Young and Leroy Nobles to carry them offensively. If Young and Nobles are the only guys capable of scoring, then the rest of the team needs to start playing better defense for them to win.
- UMKC (8-6, 1-3)—Spencer Johnson had a huge game against NDSU, pulling down 21 rebounds in a two point victory. This team was starting to rise before they got throttled by South Dakota State. Let’s see if Jay Couisnard and Johnson can keep them in postseason contention.
- Western Illinois (5-7, 1-2)—their biggest problem is scoring points. They have shown the ability to play good defense, so far allowing a Summit best 59 points per game. However, their scoring margin is only +1.5, which means they couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean. They have actually scored less than Centenary—whose scoring margin is -24.2.
- North Dakota State (7-6, 1-2) — already with two conference losses: one to UMKC, and one to Southern Utah. If you want to be considered a serious contender you have to beat both of those teams. They are third in the conference in scoring (78 points per game), less than a point behind Oakland. But guess what—Oakland plays defense, NDSU does not.
- Southern Utah (4-9, 1-2)—They get to play South Dakota State next, and if they can handle them, we might be able to talk about Southern Utah making a move to the top 5 in the rankings. Why not? They would have a better record than ORU and IUPUI (man does this conference have a lot of letters or what?).
- Centenary (0-4, 0-15)— Maxx Nakwaasah is the Gents’ leading scorer, and he is averaging just over 10 points per game. No one else is close to double digits. Keep playing hard, Centenary, you can’t lose them all…right? Maybe your coach will buy you all snow cones at the end of the season (bad joke, ok, I’m done)—Rest in peace, gentlemen.
A Look Ahead
The next couple of weeks will be pretty quiet in the Summit League. The only major game of note will be UMKC at Kansas, on Wednesday, January 5, at 7 P.M. (CST)… it more than likely won’t be a good game, but it will be another opportunity for the Summit League. Thursday, January 6 will be IUPUI vs. Oakland, in Rochester… IUPUI is one of the few teams that pose any real threat to Oakland, so it will be interesting to see how that one plays out.
Oakland is the sole representative for The Summit League in this week’s CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. They are ranked at No. 21. North Dakota State received eight votes and South Dakota State received one.