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.
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Friday afternoon games.
12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State (Buffalo pod)
West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.
The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.
12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota (Milwaukee pod)
The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee. Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday? Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan? really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening. Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team. When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup. The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though. Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well. This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession.
The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession.
Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region. If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at email@example.com.
South Region Notes(Patrick Sellars)
The first “upset” of the tournament occurred in the South Region when SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff took down the Big South tournament champion Winthrop, 61-44. The Golden Lions earned the right to play top seeded Duke on Friday night.
When #9 Louisville takes on #8 California on Friday night, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says he’ll be ready for the Bears’ “organized chaos.” There is also an interesting quote in the article from Cardinals’ guard Edgar Sosa that says he has heard Cal referred to as “poor man’s Marquette”.
Utah State’s leading scorer, junior guard Tai Wesley,broke his nose in the WAC tournament final on Saturday when the Aggies got pounded by New Mexico State. He will play in the Aggies’ upcoming game versus Texas A&M, but you have to wonder what kind of effect it will have on USU’s star. On TAMU’s side, they will have Dash Harris back in the lineup after he missed the Big 12 Tournament with a bone bruise in his right wrist. Head coach Mark Turgeon said that if his team wants any chance to win this weekend, they will need Harris healthy.
Fran McCaffery is not letting his Siena team think they can beat Purdue by just showing up in Spokane on Friday. He says Purdue is by far the best team Siena will face all season even without Robbie Hummel. You’d have to think a Butler Bulldogs fan would think otherwise.
Here is an interesting article from The Times-Picayune which highlights the #3Baylor vs. #14Sam Houston State game. Not only are the two teams from Texas, but they have two New Orleans natives returning to their home town for the first round. Star senior guards Tweety Carter (Baylor) and Ashton Mitchell (Sam Houston State) both played their high school ball in The Big Easy.
Villanova head coach Jay Wrighttold the Philadelphia Inquirer about his team’s lackluster play in first round games the past two seasons. Wright said “we’ve survived first-round games, but we really haven’t played well in first-round games.”
Three More Dance Cards Drawn Tonight. With tonight’s three conference titles from Butler, Oakland and North Texas, we’re noticing a trend this year that definitely makes all the bubble teams happy. Even in the one-bid leagues where it doesn’t impact the bubble picture as to who wins the conference championship, it’s predominantly the best teams that are winning titles. Out of the eleven auto-bids earned thus far, eight of them were the top seed or co-champion in the regular season. The only true Cinderella we’ve had so far this conference tournament season came from the Atlantic Sun where ETSU as a #5 seed won the bid; even in the Big South and WCC, the teams who won, while not co-champions, were still pretty good teams (Winthrop and St. Mary’s). With the Big East starting today and the Big 12 and Pac-10 starting tomorrow, will we see all chalk in those tournaments as well this week? Only time will tell.
Horizon League Championship. #12 Butler 70, Wright State 45. Butler finished off its dream season in the Horizon League by winning its twentieth conference game in a prolonged coronation that erased many of the bad memories from last year’s home loss to Cleveland State at the same point. The Bulldogs hit 52% from the field and got strong offensive contributions from Matt Howard (14/9) and Shelvin Mack (14/2) to completely outclass Wright State tonight. With the 18 regular season wins and the two HL Tourney wins, Butler became the sole conference team to go unbeaten all the way through conference play this year. This will be Butler’s fourth consecutive trip to the NCAAs, but how good is this team? With an RPI of #17, and the fourth toughest nonconference schedule this year, we’d expect to see the Bulldogs on the #4/#5 line next week. This would give them a reasonably easy first round game followed by a second rounder against someone like a Temple, Vanderbilt, Baylor or Maryland. Butler lost two tough neutral games to Clemson and Georgetown earlier this year, but they also beat Ohio State and Xavier, so we know they can beat teams of that caliber. The question we have is whether the defense will hold when Matt Howard inevitably gets into foul trouble against a big front line — the Bulldog center was better about this down the stretch of the season, but in games against six BCS teams plus Xavier and UAB, he committed 36 fouls, for an average of 4.5 per game. Butler will need Howard’s offense and rebounding to stay on the floor if they expect to make another run at the Sweet Sixteen.
Butler is Soaring to the NCAAs Again (Indy Star/R. Scheer)
Summit League Championship. Oakland 76, IUPUI 64. Oakland head coach Greg Kampe didn’t hold back on confidence when he stated after his team’s championship tonight that he believes Oakland is the best team in the history of the Summit League and that they plan on pushing on through to the Sweet Sixteen in next week’s NCAA Tournament. It helps when you have someone like Derick Nelson on your side — broken nose and all — when he shoots 15-23 from the field for 36/9 in a career-best performance. Whatever Nelson wasn’t doing, center Keith Benson was, as he ripped down 17 rebounds and blocked six shots to ensure the school’s second NCAA berth in its history (OU also went in 2005). The Golden Grizzlies are now riding an 11-game winning streak and have won 20 of 21 since a pasting at the hands of Syracuse just before Christmas. With a trio of excellent players at the point (Johnathan Jones), wing (Nelson) and post (Benson), Oakland is certainly an interesting team to consider as a first round cinderella next week.
Keith Benson Blocked Oakland into the Dance (AP/E. Landwehr)
Sun Belt Championship. North Texas 66, Troy 63. The Mean Green of North Texas earned its second-ever NCAA bid in the last four years by hanging on down the stretch against Troy and getting a key bucket from mighty mite Josh White with 22 seconds remaining to break a tie and send his team on its way. North Texas switched to a zone in the second half and dominated the boards (+10) which led to numerous second chances that they were able to convert tonight. UNT is on a bit of a tear now, having won eleven games in a row and setting a new school record for wins in a season with 24. In 2007, #15 seed North Texas gave #2 Memphis a solid game en route to a fifteen-point loss. Coach Johnnie Jones is hoping for another similar performance this time around.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
2009-10 Summit League Standings
#1. Oakland 23-8 (17-1)
#2. IUPUI 22-9 (15-3)
#3. Oral Roberts 19-12 (13-5)
#4. South Dakota St. 14-15 (10-8)
#5. IPFW 15-14 (9-9)
#6. North Dakota St. 11-17 (8-10)
#7. Western Illinois 13-16 (6-12)
#8. UMKC 12-17 (6-12)
DNQ Centenary 8-21(3-15)
DNQ Southern Utah 7-22 (2-16)
Here are my Season Awards; the Summit’s selections shouldn’t be much different…
Player of the Year – Keith Benson (C), Oakland (16.9 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.3 bpg). Benson edges out his teammate Jon Jones because his work on defense and his rebounding were so far above anyone else in the conference. He was a matchup problem every single night, and his averages against league opponents are worthy of POY.
Newcomer of the Year – Warren Niles (G), Oral Roberts (12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg). Niles is the highest scoring freshman in the conference, and he started the last sixteen games for ORU.
Preseason favorite Oakland is having to get better the hard way, losing to Eastern Michigan by four and Wisconsin by 16 to start the season 0-2. Its not getting any easier, as Michigan State and Kansas await the Golden Grizzlies. I don’t think Oakland fans should worry too much, ranked 20th on the College Insider mid-major poll, they are still clearly the strongest team in the conference.
Oral Roberts’ campaign to recapture the Summit League title has taken a huge hit with the loss of their top freshman, Hunter McClintock, to a season-ending ACL tear during a routine practice drill. McClintock, who hails from Patterson HS in North Carolina,and was recruited by Kentucky and Hawaii before committing to ORU, was expected to be a big contributor right away. ORU will have to dig deep to get past this loss.
IUPUI forward Robert Glenn earned his second career player of the week honors after opening the season with a 37-point performance at Drake. A nice win for IUPUI, and a career best for the senior as he is trying to make the most of his final season by keeping IUPUI in the discussion as one of the top teams in the conference.
SDSU – 2 days before Christmas the Jackrabbits beat Iowa State on the road by 7. While the Cyclones are anything but a powerhouse team, props to SDSU for getting this win and holding Iowa State’s second leading scorer to 5 points on 2-12 shooting.
IPFW – The Mastodons finally broke through for a W in league play with a 100-66 smackdown of South Dakota State (Jan.2). Former Kansas St. forward Deilvez Yearby scored 19, grabbed 9 boards and swatted 5 shots. Former Oakland forward David Carson scored 24.
The big story for the Bison so far is their 5’11 point guard Ben Woodside.
The performance of note (I’m sure you all have heard about it by now) came against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. North Dakota State lost by 1 in a triple OT, but Woodside scored the most points by a DI player since Arizona State’s Eddie House put up 61 in 2000. Having seen Woodside play live before, the outburst did not surprise me. If you haven’t been lucky enough to watch Woodside play before, think of him as a mix between a Chris Quinn streaky shooter type and as a sneaky drive to the basket and flip it up Tony Parker type player.
Ben is one of the few Summit League players that has a fighting chance at a NBA future.
Anyways, Ben scored 60 points, 30 of them were from the charity stripe. And even more impressive was the fact Woodside only made 2 three pointers.
The Southern Utah Thunderbirds are in first place. Enjoy all of the perks that go with it, Thunderbird fans. But remember, Duke football got out to a cute little start this season and that didn’t end so well, did it?
This unfamiliar madness all started on Tuesday (Dec. 2) as the Southern Utah Thunderbirds kicked off Summit League conference play at home with an upset of epic proportion over Oakland. Alright, relax self, so maybe Oakland isn’t the UNC of the Summit League, but the 82-66 victory was somewhat of a surprise considering the Thunderbirds came into the game on a 4 game losing streak and, frankly, Southern Utah head coach Roger Reid wasn’t exactly feeling ecstatic about the match up with Oakland prior to the game,
Ryan Pravato of CollegeFastBreak is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
Summit League Digest (NOV.21)
The first 10 days or so of the college basketball season has been refreshingly cosmic. My penchant has always been my college hoops fandom. It’s an impulse that will not die.
It’s like Rasheed Wallace snapping “Ball Don’t Lie” after an errant free throw.
It’s, you know, automatic.
Summit League Headlines
Two days before Oakland’s opener at Cleveland St., star guard/forward Derick Nelson injured his foot. He’ll be out until late Decemberish. A huge blow to not only Oakland, but also to the dozens of participants who selected Derick in their fantasy mid major only college basketball draft.
IUPUI senior guard Gary Patterson (12.9 ppg last season) has missed the team’s first 3 games because of a broken left hand he suffered in late October.
0-9. The Summit League’s record versus other DI teams before Oakland’s overtime win @ Oregon on November 17th. And it wasn’t as if Summit League teams were playing perennial powerhouses like UCLA or UNC every game. Some of these losses were against Kennesaw State (yes, they’re DI), San Jose State, Northern Illinois, Cleveland State and Northeastern. UMKC even lost to first year DI team North Dakota. So technically that’s a 0-10 DI record prior to the Oakland win.
Oral Roberts (1-1) So far in 2 games of action only Robert Jarvis is averaging double figures in points. Jarvis is also averaging 5.5 rebounds as well. Don’t expect that to continue.
Key upcoming games: Nov. 30 @ Mizzou, Conference opener Dec. 4 @ North Dakota State
UMKC (1-2) 5 days after losing to DI newbie North Dakota, the Kangaroos beat Wichita State on the road by 3. Sophomore guard Reggie Hamilton is averaging 15.3 ppg.
Key upcoming game: Nov. 30 @ Florida
IUPUI (1-2) 3 point loss at Indiana on the 18th. 6’5 freshman Alex Young is leading the squad in scoring with 15.7 so far. Good young nucleus needs veteran Gary Patterson back to seriously contend.
Key upcoming game: Nov. 29 @ Western Michigan
IPFW (0-2) The Mastodons have played Xavier and Michigan State thus far and actually had a second half lead against the Spartans before succumbing to their freakish athleticism. Sophomore guard Ben Botts is the only player averaging double figures.
Key upcoming game: Conference opener Dec. 4 @ Southern Utah ( first of 7 straight road games)
North Dakota State (1-0) The Bison doubled up NAIA school Mayville State 128-64 on the 18th–7 players scored in double figures. Star guard Ben Woodside scored 28 in just 16 minutes.
Key upcoming game: Nov. 29 @ Minnesota
Oakland (1-1) Upset Oregon on the road (17th) in overtime with the help of a phenomenal 32 point performance by junior point guard Johnathon Jones. Even more impressive was the fact that Jones only made one three pointer.
South Dakota State (1-2) Sophomore guard Clint Sargent is averaging 17.3 ppg and 8.3 rebs/gm. He’s 10 for 20 from downtown thus far.
Key upcoming game: Nov. 29 @ Central Florida.
Centenary (1-2) 6’1 senior guard Nick Stallings scored 31 in a Nov. 20th win against Troy. Guards Chase Adams and Gary Redus II are playing well early on too.
Key upcoming game: Conference opener Nov. 4 @ South Dakota State
Southern Utah (1-1) The Thunderbirds gave the Florida Gators a decent game on the 20th in a 14 point loss. Junior guard Davis Baker had 23 points and 8 rebounds. 6’10 senior John Clifford struggled mightily (fouled out, scored just 5). John wishes Southern Utah could play the likes of DII Mesa State more often (scored 24).
Key upcoming game: Nov. 29 @ Boise State.
The Summit League is what it is. The guard dominated league will pull off a few solid upsets in the coming weeks against those big school beasts, but along the way there will be plenty of blowouts, some camel spider cringe worthy.
Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks (9-20, 6-12)
Southern Utah Thunderbirds (6-23, 3-15)
22 out of 31. Conference RPI ranking for the Summit League in each of the last two seasons.
Oregon, Marquette, Oklahoma St., Kansas, Texas Tech, Utah. Casualties at the hands of Summit league teams throughout the past 2 seasons. Does beating Seton Hall count? What about Louisiana Tech, twice? Not bad, not bad. The Summit is not quite knocking on the door of the Missouri Valley in stature as of yet, but at least they’re in the neighborhood. Some will never be in the continent.
Guardplay. Guards rule this conference in more than one way. They not only light up the scoreboard from downtown, but they also grab more than their share of rebounds. Lots. Last season 6’5 Derick Nelson led the Oakland Grizzlies with 7.4, 6’6 Brett Winkelman led the North Dakota State Bison with 8.3, and 6’2 George Hill led IUPUI with 6.8. The big men you will find, and there are some actually, are your rudimentary mid-level giants who usually possess the muscle tone of Kevin Durant and the post-up game of Muggsy Bogues. Besides that, Summit league big men are studs
Predicted Champion.North Dakota State (#14 NCAA). Coincidentally this happens to be the very first season in which the Bison are postseason-eligible. But the Bison seem to be the consensus these days. And for good reason. The three-headed monster returning for the Bison all redshirted their freshman year so that they would be able to have an opportunity like this. The littlest of the fifth year senior trio, Ben Woodside, scored over 20 ppg last season while also dishing out over 5 feeds. At 5’10, Woodside is a very creative attacker and gauging from the few times I have seen him play in person, he will hoist from anywhere, anytime. The giant of the group is Brett Winkelman, all 6’6 of him. While you already know he’s a terror on the glass, he’s also quite the assassin on the perimeter, hitting 43.8% of his threes last year. Winkleman is an efficient player and one not to shy away from the dirty work. He’d be in any team’s rotation. 6’4 Mike Nelson is the third head of this Bison monster. Often overlooked because of the other two, Nelson just goes about his business, you know, the usual 46.1% from downtown, 13.8 ppg, and 32 mpg. Not a shabby third option. All numbers aside, this Bison squad is downright hungry. They’re ready for the limelight, ready for the Summit league tourney.
Others considered.Oral Roberts, the Summit League representative in the tourney the previous three years, will always be in the discussion for the title. Oral Roberts consistently plays defense year in and year out the way it should be played: stay between your man and the basket. Alright, that may not be their textbook philosophy on defense, but a casual fan watching this team would probably not argue against it actually being THE PHILOSOPHY. Offensively speaking, combo guard Robert Jarvis and forward Marcus Lewis are the only returning players that averaged north of 5 ppg last season. Jarvis is a star though. He’s without a doubt the most streaky player in the conference (16.1 ppg in 29 mpg…off the bench). I’m not real sure Oral Roberts can survive the shoot first mentality of Jarvis as their point guard, but it sure looks like that will be their only chance to make it 4 straight tourney appearances. Oakland finished third in the conference in 2008. They have one heck of an opening stretch of road games to begin the year. If they can come out of it with an upset or three, it might just be all the confidence this team needs to make a run. Scoring the ball is not a concern for head coach Greg Kampe. Guards Johnathon Jones, Erik Kangas and Derick Nelson all averaged over 14 ppg last season. Nelson has a tendency to try to do too much, but when he plays within himself, he can hurt you in a variety of ways, whether it’s on the offensive glass, in transition, or with an occasional trey. Defense and rebounding seem to be the problem for this team, especially up front. They can usually get away with lackluster defensive lapses against the weaker teams, but losing four out of five to last year’s strongholds IUPUI and Oral Roberts should be an indication of what Oakland must drastically improve on to legitimately be considered a threat . A pair of highly touted freshman (as opposed to lowly touted), 6’9 Jay Thames and 7’0 Ilija Milutinovic, hope to give this lacking front line a boost. Ilija, says coach Kampe, might be just what the doctor ordered: “There is a lot of hype with him and we have never had this much hype about a recruit before. He turned down six figures to play professionally in Serbia because he wants to go to the NBA.” Kampe later referred to Ilija as “very comparable” to Darko Milicic. I’m still not sure what to make of that.
RPI Boosters/Games to Watch. You won’t see many of the Summit League teams on tv, but if you live in a midwestern state, chances are you’ll be able to take in a game at a very reasonable price.
For the state of Michigan at least, Oakland vs. Michigan State (12.27.08 @ The Palace) will be a fun affair. Last season Oakland lost @ MSU by only 4.
NDSU @ Minnesota (11.29.08). Intriguing early season test for the Bison against an up-and-coming Minnesota team.
Oral Roberts @ North Carolina (12.13.08). This game will be on ESPN2.
NDSU @ Oral Roberts (2.28.09). Last game of the regular season for both of these schools, a #1 seed could be on the line.
And of course the Summit League Tournament, where mascots take themselves seriously (see below). This is a one bid league fellas.
Did You Know.
Oral Roberts freshman Beloved Rogers led all Maryland high schoolers in scoring last season with 27.8 ppg.
UMKC senior Dane Brumagin, had games of 40, 35, 29, and 27 points last season while improving his 3pt% by almost 10% from the previous season. Unfortunately for Dane there’s not much else besides a possible conference scoring title to look forward to this year. UMKC players 6’8 or taller equal the number of playoff series Tracy McGrady has won.
Valparaiso is the last school to win a non-PiG NCAA tournament game as a member of this conference (known as the Mid-Continent Conference until 2007). Valpo won 2 games back in the 1998 NCAA tourney.
Waste Management Court at Western Hall is home to the Western Illinois basketball team. I know, I know, ‘Coach K Court’ and ‘Jim Boeheim Court’ are so much more original.
65 Team Era. The MCC/Summit has had a fair amount of success throughout this era, going 8-24 (.250), but most of those wins were performed by teams no longer affiliated with the conference ten or twenty years ago (Valpo, UW-Green Bay, Northern Iowa, Cleveland St.). In the past ten years, only Oakland has won a game, and that was the dreaded #16 v. #16 play-in game. In the ten first-round games of the last decade, the MCC/Summit representative has lost by an average of 21.4 points. The only close game was #14 Southern Utah’s three-point loss to #3 Boston College in 2001.
Final Thoughts. In the end I feel like there are five to six quality teams in this conference, but only three of them have any realistic shot at knocking off somebody come NCAA Tourney time. Oral Roberts has the defensive discipline and experience factor going for them. Oakland can put points up in a hurry and is the deepest team in the conference. North Dakota State has the firepower and sense of urgency. They have not had the chance to taste March Madness. Those talented seniors get one crack at it, and they’re ready to battle. Heck, give which ever team wins the tourney a shot at Duke. We all saw the trouble perimeter savvy Belmont gave them. Bring ’em on!