Checking in on… the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 18th, 2010

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.

Power Rankings:

  1. 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 Larry Wright. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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 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.
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ATB: Upset Night in the Mid-South

Posted by rtmsf on December 15th, 2010

The Lede.  Is there such a thing as an RTC Jinx?  Some might think so after a couple of our recent feature articles.  On Monday, we wrote a piece discussing how a couple of coaches who endured fairly miserable offseasons have turned water to wine with their teams so far this year — Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl.  On Tuesday, Zach Hayes split the difference with his Contenders & Pretenders article, putting the Vols as a top contender while categorizing the Cards as a pretender.   Of course, the thematic logic behind these articles still hold — Pearl and Pitino are having good seasons and UT is still a contender — but with both teams suffering pronounced home upsets against true mid-majors tonight, we’re starting to wonder if the RTC jinx is in effect.

Tough Night in Knoxville (GoVolsXtra)

Your Watercooler MomentThe Burden of Expectations Doesn’t Suit Bruce Pearl.  There’s no doubt that Bruce Pearl is a phenomenal coach.  The fact that he’s made Tennessee basketball (on the men’s side) relevant in the sport is all anyone really needs to say.  He’s won 133 games in six years, put up a banner for an SEC regular season championship, gotten the Vols to an Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, and repeatedly knocked off elite teams in regular season matchups.  But he’s at his best when little is expected of him and his team.  During his first year in Knoxville, with UT coming off a 14-17 season the year before, the Vols throttled #2 Texas in an early-season matchup in Knoxville.  A couple of years later, his team went into #1 Memphis’ house and knocked the cocky Tigers off their perch.  Just last year, mere days after his team imploded as a result of the Tyler Smith guns/drugs fiasco, Tennessee knocked off #1 Kansas.  On Saturday, as we all still have fresh in our minds, the Vols blew up #3 Pittsburgh in their own backyard.  When Pearl can convince his team that they’re their backs are up against the wall, that nobody believes in them, that they’re the plucky little underdogs from down south… he’s fantastic.  When instead his team is suddenly thrust in the role of The Hunted, as the Vols are every time they defeat one of the above list of teams, they fall, and they fall hard.  Whether Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, a bad Kentucky team or Oakland, Tennessee just isn’t comfortable playing the part of alpha dog.  And until they shed that mentality, they’ll never become a serious contender for the national championship.

Upset of the Night #1Oakland 89, Tennessee 82.  Obviously, any time a top ten team loses to a mid-major, even one with an NBA draft pick such as Keith Benson on its roster, it’s a major upset.  This had all the makings of a trap game, with Tennessee coming off its huge upset victory over Pittsburgh last weekend, and the Golden Grizzlies entering Knoxville as a two-time NCAA participant having already played the likes of Michigan State, West Virginia, Purdue and Illinois.  They hadn’t actually beaten any of those teams,  although Greg Kampe’s team came painfully close over the weekend against MSU.  Oakland wasn’t fazed when they found themselves down eleven at halftime tonight, nor did they get rattled when Benson cooled off after a 20-point first half (he finished with 26/10).  Instead, they actually got better, using the quickness of Ledrick Eackles and Larry Wright to break down the UT defense and get easy looks for everyone else.  A 13-0 Oakland run in the late second half put the GGs ahead for good, as a shocked Tennessee crowd endured both the men’s and women’s teams losing on the same dark, cold evening.  There are several reasons for this upset win on both sides, but if you wanted to point fingers at something other than the dreaded Letdown, try looking directly at Scotty Hopson.  The UT star who was transcendent on Saturday must have been reading about himself in the interim, because he played more like the same old inconsistent player of old (1-7 for seven points) than this year’s new, improved version.  The other issue tonight was Tennessee’s defense — the swarming spaghetti monster of arms and legs that we saw over the weekend looked frozen in place tonight, and Oakland exploited the Vol statues, hitting for 54%, the season high against the UT defense by far.  As UT’s Melvin Goins said after the game, “the hunger wasn’t there as much [as against Pitt].”  And therein lies the difference between a very good and a great team — the great ones stay hungry, even against schools named Oakland.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.12.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 12th, 2010

***** – 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.

Although the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer was granted an exception, tonight is the NCAA-mandated start of the college basketball season. Here are five games to keep an eye on this evening. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#18 Georgetown @ Old Dominion – 7 pm on Comcast-D.C. and WSKY Hampton Roads (VA) (****)

Georgetown & ODU Re-Convene a Solid Rivalry Tonight (WaPo/J. McDonnell)

 Perhaps the most anticipated game of the night features two teams starting a new era without their best players. Gone are Greg Monroe of Georgetown and Gerald Lee of Old Dominion, but each team returns its four other starters. Both teams are known for playing excellent defense and a slower tempo style, so tonight’s game figures to be in the 50s or low 60s as a consequence of that. Among the Georgetown returnees are Austin Freeman, the Big East preseason POY, and senior point guard Chris Wright. Freeman is a terrific all-around player and a major threat from the three-point line for the Hoyas. If you’re looking for a good indication of the final result during the game, look no further than the enigmatic Wright. In games where he scored ten points or less last year, Georgetown was just 3-7. When he had at least 11 points, the Hoyas were 20-3. In contrast to past Georgetown teams, this group of Hoyas will run their offense almost exclusively through their backcourt. Freeman, Wright and Jason Clark are arguably Georgetown’s best players and none of them happen to be taller than 6’3. That isn’t to say Georgetown has nobody up front. Julian Vaughn returns for his senior season after transferring from Florida State at the conclusion of his freshman year. Last year against Old Dominion, Vaughn had 13 points on 5-8 FG. Gerald Lee was saddled with foul trouble and thus a non-factor in the game (six points and only one rebound). With Lee now departed, Vaughn may have another good game in the paint for Georgetown. For the Monarchs of ODU, four starters return from a 27-win team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Their key players in this game will be Frank Hassell battling inside with Vaughn, point guard Kent Bazemore and Ben Finney who had 13/6/5 assts the last time these teams met. That last meeting was on campus at Georgetown, a game won by the Monarchs. In fact, the visiting team has won every game in this series since it started in the 2006-07 season. Bazemore is an interesting player. He’s a lefty point guard (there are actually two other lefties on the ODU roster) who shot the exact same percentage from the floor and the free throw line last year (48.6%). For Blaine Taylor’s team, free throw and three-point shooting could cause major problems in this game, especially against a defense as tight as Georgetown’s. Keyon Carter is Old Dominion’s best returning three-point shooter and he only shot 34.7% from behind the arc last season. This should be a hard fought, close game that may come down to the final possession. Georgetown was a difficult team to prepare for last year as they had the talent to beat both NCAA finalists Duke and Butler, but also lost games to the likes of Ohio, Rutgers and South Florida. Good guard play and a solid effort from Vaughn should allow Georgetown to grab a nice road win to start the season. For ODU, Hassell must contain Vaughn while Finney and Bazemore have to hold their own against Georgetown’s vaunted backcourt. If Taylor’s team can hold the Georgetown backcourt in check, look for the Monarchs to pull out a win. We hate to go cliché but that’s easier said than done.

Northern Iowa @ #11 Syracuse – 7 pm on (***)

The last time Northern Iowa won a game, this happened. Times have changed as Ali Farokhmanesh, Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder have graduated. This is Kwadzo Ahelegbe’s team now. The senior averaged 10.6 PPG last season and now anchors a relatively young team. Against Syracuse’s strong 2-3 zone tonight, Northern Iowa must work the ball into the paint and free throw line area effectively. To do that, sophomore Jake Koch must start to become the impact player coach Ben Jacobson hopes he’ll be. Playing largely behind Eglseder last year, the Ashwaubenon, WI, native only played 13.6 minutes a game last year. He’ll be counted on for much more this time around, along with Johnny Moran and Lucas O’Rear. For UNI to win tonight the guards must be on fire shooting over the zone and Koch has to avoid foul trouble. The Panthers have nobody else on the roster 6’8 or taller who saw any significant action last season. Look for Syracuse to take advantage of that and eat Northern Iowa alive in the paint. The player most likely to do just that is freshman stud Fab Melo. At 7’0 and 265 lbs, Melo is a force inside for which UNI has no answer. You could see a really big freshman debut for Mr. Melo this evening. Syracuse just has too much up front for Northern Iowa to contend with. Rick Jackson, Melo and everybody’s favorite breakout candidate Kris Joseph should dominate at home for the Orange. The backcourt tandem of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine only adds to the ‘Cuse’s talent and depth (we haven’t even mentioned their bench). Both can play the point and shoot it well from the arc. All in all, Jim Boeheim’s club just has too much talent for Northern Iowa tonight. We’d be surprised if the final margin was less than ten points.

Oakland @ West Virginia – 9 pm on (***)

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #17 – Summit League

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2009


Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Oakland                          22-9        (16-2)
  2. Oral Roberts                  21-10     (15-3)
  3. South Dakota St.            18-11     (11-7)
  4. IUPUI                               17-14     (9-9)
  5. North Dakota St.           14-14     (8-10)
  6. Southern Utah                13-16     (8-10)
  7. Western Illinois             13-16     (6-12)
  8. IPFW                               11-18     (4-14)
  9. UMKC                             9-20        (4-14)
  10. Centenary                      6-23        (2-16)

All-Conference Team:

  • 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 NewcomerLarry 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.

summit league logoWhat 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 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 ChampionOral 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.

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Grumbling at Grambling

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2009

This story got lost in the Friday afternoon rush of people heading to happy hour, but Grambling St. University basketball made national news for the third time in a year that day, and unfortunately, not for anything good.  Rick Duckett, the head coach who (likely) orchestrated this particular crime against hoop-anity back in January, reportedly resigned after one of his transfer players, Henry White, fell ill during workouts and later died.   

rick duckett

Connecting the dots, it might make sense to presume that Duckett somehow felt responsible for White’s death, as the White family attorney asserts that it was common practice for Grambling coaches to run their players outside during intense summer heat and humidity, and had in fact done so that day (where two other players also fell ill).  The problem with that theory is twofold: first, Andy Katz reported on Saturday that Duckett claims he didn’t resign at all; rather, he was fired (technically he’s on leave until Oct. 31, then he’ll be released).  And not just him, but his entire staff of assistants save one (new interim coach Robert Washington, Jr.).  Second, on the day that White collapsed during workouts, Duckett wasn’t even at practice.  In fact, he wasn’t even on campus.  Instead, he was instead having an undisclosed medical procedure of his own at the time. 

So what in the name of Eddie Robinson is going on here? 

We understand the legal concept of vicarious liability, and if Duckett directed his assistants to run players through the sweatbox known as Louisiana humidity against all better judgment, we could believe that university officials are looking to CYA here.  But one question.  Don’t Grambling football players also run drills in the sweatbox throughout August?  In pads?  If true, it would appear difficult for us to believe an argument that it’s ok for the football team to run outdoors, but not the basketball team.   

It’s also clearly not performance-related.  Grambling takes its football team very seriously; basketball is pretty much an afterthought.  Duckett’s 6-23 record in his first and only year didn’t turn any heads, but the school’s had only two .500+ seasons since 1994, so there’s really nothing unusual about that.  The last head coach, Larry Wright, wasn’t much better: over nine seasons, he turned in a record of 88-160 (.355).  Furthermore, Duckett was successful at the D2 level, so there was reason to believe he could turn around the Grambling program. 

The bottom line about this is that something is missing from the story – Grambling officials are leaving something out.  Considering their recent history of making up stories about SWAC refs when it suits them, we’re not exactly surprised. 

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