Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. You can find him on Twitter at @CharlieParksRTC.
Ed. Note — yesterday’s Summit League primer was actually a re-publish of the summer update. We apologize for the error.
Reader’s Take I
For the Summit League, having someone win Player of the Year may be the ticket to a title. Five of the last seven conference champions have also been the home of the Summit League Player of the Year.
Realignment Hits the Summit: Word got out recently that Oral Roberts was flirting with the Southland Conference. ORU bolting could be a devastating move for the Summit League, which would lose one of its few premier teams. The Summit would take a definite step back. As for ORU, the Southland Conference isn’t exactly an upgrade — in fact, it is probably a downgrade in RPI and level of competition — but the move just makes sense. The Southland offers more natural conference matchups with teams from Arkansas and Texas, and better local recruiting opportunities. Let’s face it; no one from Oklahoma wants to travel to North Dakota in January to play a conference game. Also, Pat Knight just took the head job at Lamar. The Suttons and Knights have always been pretty close, and they have a long history together in college basketball. Scott Sutton versus Pat Knight would be a nice “new” rivalry. But unless the Southland pays the Summit League’s $250,000 buyout for Oral Roberts, this move couldn’t happen until 2014.
Bears With Bugs: Has the injury bug found its way to the Golden Grizzlies? Reggie Hamilton and Drew Valentine underwent some recent surgeries; Hamilton shouldn’t miss any time, but what about Valentine? It was a minor knee operation, but knives, knees and basketball don’t go well together at all. Oakland fans should keep a close eye on the situation, but I see no reason for panic… yet.
This Texas A&M to the SEC thing has certainly gotten interesting. Despite previous assurances from the Big 12 that none of its ten institutions would create a legal barrier to TAMU leaving the conference, Baylor, perhaps seeing the CUSA or WAC writing on the wall, has other thoughts in mind. Mike DeCourcy is correct in writing that Big 12 schools (and really, all of the schools around the country) are being extremely shortsighted in their our-time, right-now mentality, but the SEC has been clear in that it will only take a school into its league if it is free and clear of any legal liabilities. Texas A&M was all set to join the SEC on Wednesday, but Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe stated in an email to the SEC on Tuesday night that previous conversations in fact only referred to conference obligations, and that individual schools would still need to waive their rights in order for A&M to move to the new league. Apparently eight of the nine remaining conference members, with Oklahoma as the lone exception, are currently unwilling to waive their rights. “We are being held hostage right now,” TAMU president R. Bowen Loftin said on Wednesday. So what next? Our best guess is that Texas A&M will negotiate some kind of settlement agreement with Baylor that will ultimately destroy the Big 12, but the truth is that nobody really knows at that point.
Washington announced that its junior point guard and former McDonald’s All-American, Abdul Gaddy, has been cleared by his doctors to go 100% back on the court in practices. The much-maligned player tore his ACL on January 4 last season during a Husky practice, and after 13 games at 21 MPG, he appeared to be slowly adjusting to his role as a pass-first point guard on a deep and athletic Washington team. His 3.1 assist to one turnover ratio was very promising, though, on the heels of a freshman season where it was much closer to even (1.3 to 1). Lorenzo Romar’s team lost a huge amount of its production from last season’s NCAA Third Round squad, but big things are expected from sophomores CJ Wilcox and Terrence Ross so the Huskies will need Gaddy at full strength to get them the ball on the wings in the right spots. Most every analyst believes that the 19-year old Gaddy has some talent, his problem has been simply a matter of harnessing it.
Yesterday Luke Winn brought us a list of the top ten most efficient guards of the so-called ‘efficiency era.’ Today he moves on to the wings. If you are in the business of guessing who the top players are in the last decade from an efficiency standpoint, you probably won’t do a lot better than JJ Redick, Adam Morrison and Brandon Roy in 2005-06 season. These three players in that single year represent three of the top five seasons from the wing in the last ten years — perhaps you’re not surprised by Redick and Morrison as a college hoops fan, but Roy’s 2006-07 NBA ROY season perhaps was a clue to just how good he was in college too.
Unfortunate news from the WCC, but Santa Clara senior star Marc Trasoliniwill miss his senior season after tearing his ACL in an exhibition game in his hometown, Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday night. He came down awkwardly just a mere two minutes into the game and doctors diagnosed his injury soon thereafter. Trasolini was the second leading returning scorer for the Broncos at 13/6 and his absence in 2011-12 definitely puts a crimp in plans for Kerry Keating’s team to make a run at Gonzaga and St. Mary’s in the league next season.
There’s been a lot of discussion about how schools might try to game the APR/930 system now that they can actually lose scholarships, and eventually, postseason opportunities, as a result. This article from the off-the-beaten-path of the Dakotas suggests that even at that level, schools might use their last few scholarships to load up on high GPA students in order to make sure they reach the written threshold. As South Dakota head coach Dave Boots states, “all three of the [international] kids that we signed are really good students.” Mid-major games but big-time grades — is that what we’re heading toward? Rest assured that if a marginal couple of D-I schools like South Dakota and South Dakota State are already doing this, the power conference schools have institutionalized it. As we wrote several weeks ago, this is not a good thing.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The newest update comes from our Summit League correspondent, Charlie Parks.
Reader’s Take – Almost every team in the Summit has its star this year, but to win this conference and have a legitimate shot at upsetting a powerhouse in March, you need a #2 option that is just as reliable in a big situation.
IUPUI appears to have the most talent with Alex Young and Leroy Nobles, as either guy can get you 20-plus easy-looking points at any given moment. But keep in mind, its not just the most talented duo, but also the two guys that give you the best opportunity to win. What doesn’t always show in the stat column can and often does show up in the win column (that little bit of Bobby knight-wisdom was for free).
Coaching Carousel – There have been a few key coaching changes this offseason in the Summit League. The one that could affect the balance of power the most in the conference is the departure of Ron Hunter from IUPUI. After 17 years leading the Jags, Hunter took the job at Georgia State. His longtime assistant, Todd Howard, was promoted to fill the vacancy. Hunter led IUPUI to its only NCAA berth back in 2003, but you could sense a change was needed and that Hunter had taken IUPUI as far as it was going to go under his direction. He is a solid coach, but the new scenery may be beneficial for the Jags.
More Carousel. The other coaching change of note is the departure of Dane Fife from IPFW. Fife moved on to accept a position on Tim Izzo’s staff at Michigan State. The move is a big bummer for the Mastodons, who have been steadily improving over the last six years under Fife, culminating in last year’s 18-12 record. His baby-faced assistant, Tony Jasick, now has the challenge of taking IPFW to the next level. IPFW may have taken a small step back in its ongoing quest for a conference title.
Sutton Returns to Coaching. One team that improved with a new coaching change has to be Oral Roberts who hired former Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton. Sean served at ORU last year in an unofficial manner but he wasn’t able to really interact with players. But this year, the son of one of the legendary coaches in college basketball will try to bring the Golden Eagles back to the top. Sean was known as one of the best recruiters in the country during his long tenure as assistant coach under his father at Oklahoma State, so it will be interesting to see what kind of talent he will be able to attract to Tulsa.
Rolling Out The Welcome Mat – Two new teams have joined the Summit League, and Division I: South Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha. Personally, I was hoping for an already established D-I school to join the fray, but The Summit obviously has an agenda by grabbing these start-up teams. UNO is the new “ooey-pooey” of the Summit League, at least as far as nicknames go. South Dakota will begin play this year, whereas UNO will start next season.
Keith Benson Goes League – Keith Benson became the first Oakland player ever drafted when he was taken in the second round (48th overall) of the NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Reviews for Benson have so far been mixed, but he will definitely get his opportunities assuming the NBA plays basketball again.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
Oakland is the sole representative of the Summit League in the latest CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, moving up to #11. They have now won 23 of the last 24 conference games. Who knew this team would be better without Derick Nelson, Johnathon Jones, and Eric Kangas? It must be the shoes…or maybe it’s all Greg Kampe.
Caught On Film:
This Alex Young Dunk made SportsCenter’s Top 10:
Oral Roberts basically saved their season with a big road win against SDSU, despite not having Dominique Morrison or Mike Craion. The win kept them from falling to 2-4 in the conference, and bought them some more time to get healthy. Things may be looking up for the Golden Eagles.
1. Oakland (11-8, 6-0)–Nothing new here, the Golden Grizzlies are still the best team. They should have no problem finishing undefeated. They can even afford to drop a couple conference games in a worst case scenario (i.e. major injury), but Greg Kampe will keep his team running hard through the finish line.
2. Oral Roberts (7-12, 4-3)– They lost first-team selection Mike Craion for the season and the second best player in the conference, Dominique Morrison, for three weeks to a meniscus tear. It looked like ORU was done. But a 90-82 victory against South Dakota State basically saved the Golden Eagles’ season. Back-to-back conference wins without their two stars proves this team is still dangerous. Improved guard play is the main reason they have risen in the rankings. They also have the schedule working in their favor, with basically only one unwinnable game left — at Oakland.
3. South DakotaState (12-5, 4-2)—This is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the conference, but if you live by the three, you also die by the three. Cold shooting days are bound to come. I hesitate to keep this team near the top because of how far they can swing. However, with four conference wins so far, they have given themselves a great opportunity to finish in the top two or three. Clint Sargent is a huge distraction for defenses, and NateWolters is arguably the best point guard in the conference. He leads the conference in scoring with 19.3 PPG. And thanks to some SDSU fans, I have finally settled on a nickname for the young man; he is now Nate “the Lane Train” Wolters. Don’t hate it.
4. IUPUI (10-9, 4-2) — Their two conference losses came against the top two teams, and even those were close games. The Jags have two big-time threats in LeroyNobles and Alex Young–both guys are in the top eight in scoring. Coaching is what wins close games late in the season and in the conference tournament, and Ron Hunter deserves to be mentioned with the Kampes and the Suttons of the world.
5. IPFW (11-5, 5-1) — I know they are 5-1 in conference play, but I just can’t keep them above the big boys. They have one impressive conference win so far (at ORU). They also have the toughest part of their conference schedule remaining, starting off Saturday against Oakland. How will they weather the storm?
6. North Dakota State– (9-7, 3-3) In reality, this team is right in the middle of the race for the #2 seed, but the loss to IUPUI really hurt those chances. The Bison have two quality wins against SDSU and ORU, but two disastrous losses to UMKC and Southern Utah.
7. Southern Utah–(4-12, 1-5)– Southern Utah runs a beautiful offense — a ton of plays that they run with such precision — but the T-birds just don’t have the firepower to overcome the more talented teams. If only they could recruit some ballers…SUU should be a top team in the Big Sky Conference sooner than you think.
8. UMKC–(10-7, 3-3)– they split against the Dakotas and followed that up by taking care of business against Southern Utah and Centenary. Spencer Johnson is second in rebounding, and Jay Couisnard is fifth in scoring; It’s been the difference for UMKC.
9. WIU–(1-5, 6-10) their only conference win came in a six point squeaker against Centenary, and they just lost to SDSU by 31. Turn the lights out.
10. Centenary– (0-18, 0-7)– 0-31: that’s the combined records of the Centenary men’s and women’s basketball teams.
A Look Ahead
This is moving week for the Summit, and it seems like everyone is playing in a big game. UMKC at Oral Roberts, Oakland at IPFW, and SDSU at IUPUI on January 17 will have some big-time effects on the overall standings…MLK Day will be a great day for Summit Fans.
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.