Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
The Summit League standings were shaken up one final time as the regular season comes to an end. All eight teams clinched a spot this week in the tournament, and Oakland became the first conference regular season champion of 2011. The win guarantees them a spot in the NIT should they falter in the conference tournament. The Golden Grizzlies were also bumped all the way up to #6 on the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll, just one spot behind Gonzaga and six spots ahead of last year’s NCAA runner-up, Butler. But perhaps the biggest winner in the weekend drama was ORU. Thanks to a dominant 18 point drubbing of IUPUI, the Golden Eagles locked down the coveted #2 seed—which quite frankly—almost gives them an easier road to the Conference Championship game than top-seeded Oakland. It was the final big momentum swing that has now aligned us for a fantastic Championship weekend.
1. Oakland (21-9, 16-1)—There have been grumblings among Summit fans who think Oakland has lost a little of their edge— they have been involved in some close games against conference foes, including a loss to IUPUI—but I don’t think there is really anything for this team to be concerned about until the conference championship game. The only team Oakland could have trouble with would be ORU. Simply because ORU is the only team that could match their size and depth. However, Oakland won’t face them again until the championship game—so until then, rest easy Golden Grizzly fans. Oakland is nearly unstoppable on offense—they are third in the country in scoring and eighth in field goal percentage. Even in their one conference loss to IUPUI, they scored 88 points. To beat Oakland, you have to get their big men in foul trouble, and hope you can outlast them in a shootout.
2. Oral Roberts (16-14, 12-5)—They are on a seven-game win streak and are playing better than any team in the conference, including Oakland. They have dominated their opponents by an average of 13 points per game during the win streak. They have been brought back to life by the vastly improved guard play, and a renewed team focus. Veteran guard Kyron Stokes was also cleared to play basketball by his neurologist after suffering what seemed to be career-ending concussions earlier in the year. But He is back, head gear and all, not a moment too soon. Not only is he the best perimeter defender and most experienced player Scott Sutton has, but he is also one of the vocal leaders on the team. Adding guys like that only make you better. We will see how it pans out next week as they push for the championship.
3. IUPUI (17-13, 11-6)—They had a great chance to clinch the #2 seed, and it looked like they would after defeating Oakland by 12 on February 5, but a blowout loss to Oral Roberts gave them their third loss in five games. It is nothing short of a monumental collapse that will haunt the Jags. They have an NBA-material forward in Alex Young, but he can’t carry a team alone. This team really struggles to play defense, and their point guard play is less than impressive. Two elements they must have to make it to Championship weekend.
4. South Dakota State (18-10, 10-7)—They salvaged the season a bit down the stretch, winning five of their last seven with losses to the two best teams in the conference. They will likely get the four-seed, which will match them against IPFW in the first round, a team they dominated twice in the regular season.
5. IPFW (10-7, 17-11) — IPFW finally collapsed down the stretch like I predicted. There were too many times during the year when you looked at their roster and said “how are they winning?” They were too small and too streaky to stay on top forever. Looking back, the best team the Mastodons beat all year was ORU. The last month they struggled in the Conference, going 3-4 in the month of February, and they failed to score 80 points against any conference opponent in that span.
6. UMKC (16-12, 9-8)—The Roos, like IPFW, have somehow competed hard despite having no size to work with. There was a stretch in January where no one really wanted to play UMKC—taking ORU, IUPUI, and NDSU to five overtime periods combined. But recently they have been getting demolished by the top teams, and have slowly faded into the pack. They are still a dangerous team when they shoot well, but it won’t be enough to win three days in a row next week.
7. North Dakota State (13-14, 7-10)—Despite the record, I am sure Oral Roberts would rather play Southern Utah in the first round than North Dakota State. No matter what their seeding, NDSU is going to be a tough out. They still have Michael Tveidt, who was a key member of their Cinderella run from a couple years ago, so if anyone has an upset left in them it is NDSU. They are limping into the tournament, but sometimes the most dangerous animal is a wounded animal—and they have nothing to lose.
8. Southern Utah (11-17, 7-10)—Southern Utah will have an interesting next couple of week. On Saturday, they play Oakland in the final regular season game, and then face them again in the first round of the Conference tournament. Is that an upset I see on the Horizon? (Nah).
9. Centenary (1-28, 1-16) — No one deserves to lose them all, and Centenary avoided infamy by defeating Western Illinois 73-60—ending a 33-game losing streak. This team might be the worst team in NCAA history, but tonight, they are winners. That convincing win is good enough to bring them out of the cellar for the first time all season, at least in my poll.
10. Western Illinois (2-15, 7-21)—they will always be remembered as the only team to lose to the worst team of all-time…by 13.
A Look Ahead
The Summit League conference championship starts Saturday March 5, for the men and women, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s all high-stakes basketball from here on out. Win, you advance with dreams of making the Big Dance; lose, and you go home with nothing to show for it. Don’t you love mid-major basketball? A Conference Championship preview is coming up next week.