Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League.
The Week That Was
Collision Course: Oral Roberts and SouthDakotaState have set the stage for a fantastic final two weeks in regular season play. After splitting the season series, the Jackrabbits are just a game behind the Golden Eagles. Both teams are in the top-60 in RPI, both are ranked in the mid-major Top-25 , and both have an NBA-level talent in Dominique Morrison and Nate Wolters. This is setting up nicely for a rubber match in Sioux Falls on March 6.
Mo’ D-Mo: Morrison is closing in on 2,000 points for his career, which is some rarefied air in the Summit League. Just 11 players in the 30-year history of the conference have reached 2,000. IUPUI’s Alex Young was the latest to do so, and he is the active points leader in the nation with 2,142. This season has been opportunity to showcase some of the most impressive talent this conference has ever seen.
Competition To Come: Oral Roberts will face Akron in one of the 13 nationally televised ESPN BracketBuster games on February 18. Before the loss to South Dakota State, I would have said this game had big at-large implications, but now the Golden Eagles will really just be playing spoiler for the Zips. I think Oral Roberts should still be considered a contender for an at-large, and saying otherwise shows some major disrespect for the Summit League. However, I am not on the selection committee. A win will be good publicity for the Summit League, but Oral Roberts still needs to win the conference tournament to go dancing. Keep an eye out for South Dakota State on ESPNU as well.
IUPUI's Alex Young Has A Loyal Following Of Pro Scouts.
Records reflect only games against Division I opponents through Wednesday.
Oral Roberts (21-5, 13-1) — South Dakota State is a tough place to play, and losing to the Jackrabbits is not as bad as it looks. They landed a haymaker against the Jacks in the Mabee Center back in January and SDSU answered back with one of their own. The Golden Eagles bounced back with a road win against the third-place Bison, gaining some confidence for the home stretch. No one has ever finished the regular season perfect in the Summit League, and you knew they had to lose eventually. The Jacks were actually the best conference team they could have lost to. The Golden Eagles’ RPI actually went up after the loss. ORU is hot right now, shooting just under 50% as a team, good enough for tenth in the nation.
South Dakota State (19-6, 11-2) —Their last big test of the season will come against North Dakota State, and it could be the difference between ORU sealing the conference or South Dakota State sneaking in the back door for that all-important top seed. The Jackrabbits are in the top-15 in the nation in scoring and are nearly unbeatable when they get hot. Barring a stunning upset, it looks like both ORU and South Dakota State will finish the last two weeks undefeated and appear fated to meet in the postseason, which would be one of the most intriguing matchups during this championship week. Both teams have the DNA to topple a prolific Power Six team. 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:
Summit Continues To Rise: Last week, I thought the conference had reached its peak when it hit #14 in the RPI and Sagarin Conference rankings, but today the Summit sits at #12. Incredible, considering the Summit closed out last season ranked #21. This could mean something in March when the selection committee is deciding what seed the Summit champion will receive. So keep an eye on the rankings.
Featured Scorers: The Summit League entered the week with more players in the nation’s top 25 in scoring than any other conference. IPFW’s FrankGaines is ranked 9th, Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton 20th, South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters is 21st, and IUPUI’s Alex Young comes in at 23rd. Hamilton, Wolters and Young also rank in the top 10 for overall points.
Damen Bell-Holter Paces Oral Roberts And Hit A Buzzer-Beater To Sink Arkansas-Little Rock. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)
Oakland (6-4, 2-0) — They gave up a winnable game against Ohio at home, and they never had a chance against Michigan in a shootout. Those games are a little disheartening if you are Golden Grizzly fans, but there is no reason to panic. Oakland owns the best scoring offense in the conference, and is among the top 25 in the nation. They have the tops scorer in the conference in Reggie Hamilton, and they play much better defense than the other top scoring teams like South Dakota State and North Dakota State. The next few weeks will be key for Oakland. If they can take care of business against NDSU and SDSU, this conference could be decided by the end of January. They play Oral Roberts twice next month, and they are the only serious contender right now. Get ready for some early fireworks in the Summit League. 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.
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League. You can also find his musings on Twitter @CharlieParksRTC.
The Week That Was
Bad news for Oral Roberts — senior guard Ken Holdman tore his ACL and is out for the season. This is a huge blow for the Golden Eagles as they look to unseat Oakland in their final season in the Summit League. They are now down to just seven scholarship players available. This is not anything new for Oakland, a team who has suffered four major knee injuries in the past two seasons resulting in players missing the entire season. You hate to see contenders hobbled by injuries, so let’s hope they find a way around this.
I still think this season may be one of the most hotly contested in the Summit League, as there are a few teams that are talented enough to win it and it won’t be a clear favorite like it has been in years past. Doug Gottlieb named ORU as one of his five underrated mid-major programs, but ESPN.com writer Myron Medcalf picked Oakland to win the Summit League– one of the few publications (besides RTC, of course) to pick Oakland over ORU.
Jay Bilas ranked his top three-point shooters of all time, and Oakland guard Travis Bader made his list as the next great shooter beyond the arc. Some good pub for OU, but I think it also just affirms the fact that Bader really is the key factor for Oakland to win its third Summit League championship in a row.
Nate Wolters (middle) Is Getting Plenty of Pub, But Needs Help To Lift The Jackrabbits To The Top Of The Summit
Oakland (0-2)– A loss to No. 15 Alabama is hard to gauge at this point, but one telling statistic from that game was that Oakland only managed four three-pointers. Oakland was a team last season that was very good from outside and it made them one of the top five offenses in the nation, but they could only get 12 points beyond the arc on Monday? It could be some early season rust, or it could be a sign that without the inside presence from last season, open shots will be much harder to come by. Again, it was a loss to a Top 20 team and those guys usually make you look bad, but it is something to consider.
Oral Roberts (1-2)—Losing the first two games of the season to West Virginia and UTSA are tough to swallow for Golden Eagles fans — especially since the losses were by a combined eight points. However, the Ls don’t really tell us much about the team or how their season will finish. The one thing ORU fans can take away from the opening games: Depth is clearly an issue. I don’t know what team you are watching, but they literally have six guys who can play basketball right now (and by “play basketball” I mean guys who don’t hurt the team every time they step on the floor. They may need to dip into the walk-on jar if center Damen Bell-Holter’s injury persists.
North Dakota State (4-0)- Those Bison have been the most impressive Summit League team so far. They have played some solid low-major teams and played very good basketball to pick up some dominant victories. NDSU has had balanced scoring so far in the season, with their two guards Taylor Braun and Mike Felt combining for 29.4 PPG. The Bison are similar to South Dakota State in that they lean heavily on three-point shooting, but they are not married to the arc like SDSU and they are a much more efficient from the field. The Bison are shooting 37% from three and 51% overall from the field—almost ten points higher than South Dakota State. Keep an eye on the Bison.
South Dakota State (1-2)- I don’t like reading into non-conference wins and losses, especially early in the season, but SDSU’s first two games raised some eyebrows. They had a nail-biter against Western Michigan, even with Nate Wolters scoring 32 points and dropping 11 dimes. They made it clear in that game that they were going to live and die by the three (no surprise), and the blueprint for beating SDSU is simply stop Wolters. Their second game was a 71-55 loss to Minnesota. The Gophers are an average team, and maybe Oakland, ORU, and NDSU would have kept that game a little closer or even pull out a win against Minnesota. Wolters still had 20 points, but the Jacks shot 36% from the field. I don’t want to oversimplify this, but it is early, so I will — squeakers against bad teams and big losses to average teams means something needs to be fixed.
IUPUI (1-2)— IUPUI had an impressive showing against, well, Anderson University. Alex Young proved once again that he will be a force, scoring 20 points in 26 minutes, but the 75-70 loss against UALR really exposed some weaknesses with the Jags. The Jags are going to have trouble grabbing boards this season. They were outrebounded 36-26 by the Trojans, which is a massive gap in a five-point game. The Jags’ big man, senior Christian Siakam, had just two rebounds in the game. He is their biggest inside presence, and he must do a better job to give his team a better chance to win. This team won’t go anywhere if Young continues to lead the team in rebounding.
IPFW (1-1)— Good teams tend to expose your weaknesses, and that is exactly what No. 14 Xavier did to the Mastodons when they ran them out of the building, 86-63. IPFW has a lot of work to do before they can seriously contend. They need to decide what kind of team they are going to be. Last year they were a pretty good shooting team from downtown, but they shot just 25% from the field against Xavier. Frank Gaines is a really good player, and he is one of the team’s best rebounders (15 in the first two games, great for a guard). Gaines is also the clear heart and soul of this team’s offense. He dropped 29 points against Nebraska-Omaha and 22 against Xavier, but those points came off 14-44 shooting (31%). Somebody else has to step up and take the pressure off Gaines, both as a scorer and a rebounder.
Southern Utah (3-1)- They scraped by UC Davis in a one-point win and were completely destroyed by San Diego State 70-37. Southern Utah struggled to shoot the ball against the Aztecs, going 13 -43 with 26 turnovers. Whenever you have twice as many turnovers as you do made baskets, you are really in for a tough practice the next day. I don’t think Southern Utah is terrible, but they have looked pretty bad in the early going, although they did manage to beat Montana State-Billings. Their offense needs to improve, and they need to find a way to rebound. They have height problems - Matt Massey is their starting center at 6’9″ – but that is the least of their worries at this point. The turnovers need to stop, most importantly. The T-Birds have 71 of them in the first four games.
UMKC (1-2)- You know you are in trouble when you get run out of your own gym by Division II Northwest Missouri State. UMKC has shot 32% and 36% from the field in the losses to Northwest Missouri State and Bradley. So far it looks like the offense is their main weakness. They don’t really have a clear scoring threat, with guys like Reggie Chamberlain going from being the leading scorer one night to a non-factor the next. This is obviously just a team that has lost its two best players from last year and is stuck in a transition period. Kirk Korver is not exactly the sharpshooter his brother was, he is just 6-20 so far on the season for the Kangaroos.
South Dakota (0-2)—Their Division I transition has not gone well so far, losing big to Nebraska and then falling by nine to Eastern Washington. They have a very low 35% field goal percentage, and they are near the bottom in the country with 54 points per game. There is a lot of basketball to be played, but for now, just expect the Coyotes to struggle as they find their feet in Division I. However, I still think in the overall picture, this team will be better than Western Illinois, Southern Utah, and UMKC by the time the conference schedule comes around.
Western Illinois (0-2)— Ceola Clark is the best player on this Leatherneck team, but he did not play in the 87-58 beating that was inflicted on them by the Dayton Flyers, who are an average team in the Atlantic-10 Conference. It is just one game, but it was an ugly one. Let’s hope this team doesn’t have a year like Centenary did last season. After their surprisingly close loss to Michigan, they will have what most teams would consider a cupcake schedule—with games against Greenville, North Dakota, Eastern Illinois, Illinois-Chicago and Eureka—but they will likely struggle to win against even these teams with their 293rd-ranked offense.
A few decent shots at better mid-majors are going to crop up around Thanksgiving. Among them:
Austin Peay at Oral Roberts, Nov. 19—This is a very important home non-conference game for the Golden Eagles. ORU can’t afford to dig themselves and their confidence out of a deep hole like they did last year. They are the favorites this season and expectations begin to have a crushing effect when teams don’t live up to the hype. If they want to be considered a contender, these are the games they have to win.
Oakland at Houston, Nov. 22— A winnable game for Oakland against a Conference USA opponent. This is one of those confidence boosters you hope for early in the season, especially since they have gotten run by two tough non-conference opponents already.
North Dakota State at Fresno State, Nov. 26— A 6-0 start for North Dakota State would be very impressive, and Fresno State is their next test. Although the Bulldogs are not as tough as they once were, they still are a difficult team at home. It will be a good gauge for the Bison to see how they stack up against Summit-level teams this year.
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George Mason’s band director, Dr. Michael W. Nickens, has his swagger on. Pic via @davestipe on Twitter.