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.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
The “race to the Summit” (as the conference likes to call it) has begun. Or should we say, there is one team already at the Summit and they are rolling boulders down on everyone else trying to get to the top. Oakland asserted itself as the king of the hill on Thursday night with a convincing 85-77 win against Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Before the season started, ORU was ranked second, and a threat to dethrone Oakland (ashamedly, I thought they had what it took). But ORU has faltered, thanks to the season-ending foot injury to the 2009 newcomer of the year and preseason first-team selection, Michael Craion. Oakland can more or less put the bus on cruise control from here on out. Barring major injury, this will be an easy three months for the Golden Grizzlies.
In other news: IPFW has flexed its muscles, beating up ORU on the road and then taking care of business against Centenary. They will be an interesting team to watch if you are a Summit League fan.
IUPUI’sJohnAshworth was also named among 66 candidates for the 2011 Bob Cousy Award, honoring the nation’s top point guard.
Oakland (9-8, 4-0)—they survived the brutal non-conference schedule, now it’s all downhill. Greg Kampe will make sure they keep the pedal to the metal—all the way to March Madness. All five of Oakland’s starters scored double figures against ORU. It is clear now that no team can stop them. Will this be the easiest road to the NCAA tournament for any team in the nation?
IPFW (9-4, 4-0)—Once a fine basketball program during the Mid-Con days, we knew this team would put it together eventually. After about a four-year hiatus, they are once again in the hunt. The victory at ORU was their coming out party, and it was their show-us-what-you’ve-got moment of the season. A well deserved #2 spot. They lead the league in defensive rebound percentage (.708). Keeping teams to one-and-done on the offensive end is a big reason this team is rolling.
South Dakota State (9-4, 1-1)— This team is like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie. He’s made a couple good movies, but he has also made several movies that made my eyes bleed. What is he, a terrible writer/producer or a good one?! Leave me alone M. Night! The loss to North DakotaState may have been just a bump in the road for SDSU, and the UMKC blowout was more their style. Or perhaps it is the other way around? It’s really hard to read this team. Can we get them a good matchup already?! Have I mentioned Nate Wolters just might be the best point guard in the conference? I’m still trying to find a nickname for him.
Oral Roberts (5-10, 2-2) — the Golden Eagles have four players in the top 20 in scoring for the conference, more than any other team. But back-to-back home losses tell us a lot about this team: either the loss of Michael Craion has completely thrown them for a loop, or the team is just packing it in. Whatever the case, ORU is a long, long way from their preseason #2 selection. This team has zero ability to stop anyone on defense, which is usually the signature of a ScottSutton team. It’s still early, and they are still 2-2 in the conference, but Michael Craion is not walking through that door—and the way they defend and shoot—the Golden Eagles look just about done. They have missed 116 free-throws in 15 games. Let that sink in… At least you have baseball season to look forward to, ORU.
IUPUI (8-8, 2-1)—they have started to play better, almost upsetting #7 San Diego State, but they still rely way too much on Alex Young and LeroyNobles to carry them offensively. If Young and Nobles are the only guys capable of scoring, then the rest of the team needs to start playing better defense for them to win.
UMKC (8-6, 1-3)—Spencer Johnson had a huge game against NDSU, pulling down 21 rebounds in a two point victory. This team was starting to rise before they got throttled by South Dakota State. Let’s see if Jay Couisnard and Johnson can keep them in postseason contention.
Western Illinois (5-7, 1-2)—their biggest problem is scoring points. They have shown the ability to play good defense, so far allowing a Summit best 59 points per game. However, their scoring margin is only +1.5, which means they couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean. They have actually scored less than Centenary—whose scoring margin is -24.2.
North Dakota State (7-6, 1-2) — already with two conference losses: one to UMKC, and one to SouthernUtah. If you want to be considered a serious contender you have to beat both of those teams. They are third in the conference in scoring (78 points per game), less than a point behind Oakland. But guess what—Oakland plays defense, NDSU does not.
Southern Utah (4-9, 1-2)—They get to play South Dakota State next, and if they can handle them, we might be able to talk about Southern Utah making a move to the top 5 in the rankings. Why not? They would have a better record than ORU and IUPUI (man does this conference have a lot of letters or what?).
Centenary (0-4, 0-15)— Maxx Nakwaasah is the Gents’ leading scorer, and he is averaging just over 10 points per game. No one else is close to double digits. Keep playing hard, Centenary, you can’t lose them all…right? Maybe your coach will buy you all snow cones at the end of the season (bad joke, ok, I’m done)—Rest in peace, gentlemen.
A Look Ahead
The next couple of weeks will be pretty quiet in the Summit League. The only major game of note will be UMKC at Kansas, on Wednesday, January 5, at 7 P.M. (CST)… it more than likely won’t be a good game, but it will be another opportunity for the Summit League. Thursday, January 6 will be IUPUI vs. Oakland, in Rochester… IUPUI is one of the few teams that pose any real threat to Oakland, so it will be interesting to see how that one plays out.
Oakland is the sole representative for The Summit League in this week’s CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. They are ranked at No. 21. North Dakota State received eight votes and South Dakota State received one.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
Keith Benson racked up another Summit League Player of the Week honor—averaging 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks in three games this week. In Oakland’s overtime win against Austin Peay, Benson had 22 boards. That’s good for fifth all-time for a single game in conference history. Benson is getting serious looks from NBA scouts, and he is the sole reason Oakland is the best team in the conference at this point. Both OU and South Dakota State remain in the Mid-Major Top 25 this week. Oakland sits at #14, and South Dakota State lands at their school’s all-time high of #17. SDSU also leads the nation in three-point percentage (49.5%), but a better stat: they have won 100 percent of their games. The Summit League is currently ranked #16 best conference on the November 30 Sagarin ratings, but so far this season, they are 0-6 against top 25 teams.
Oakland(4-3): One word; one name: Benson. You can take him to the bank, because this guy is money (yeah, I said it, so what—this is my column!). He is currently fifth in the NCAA with 12.8 rebounds a game, fifth in blocks with 3.5 BPG, and ninth in double-doubles with four. The team itself is stumbling a bit with a 4-3 record, but none of those losses came by the hand of a conference opponent, which is the only kind of loss that matters for Oakland. If Benson can’t be stopped in the Summit League then neither can Oakland.
South Dakota State (6-0):Undefeated so far in the non-conference portion of the schedule, although they didn’t really play anybody. But a perfect record is a perfect record.They are the top scoring team in the conference and they just bomb you from three. But like I always say: if you live by the three, you die by the three. Can they keep shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc? I’m leaning towards no.
North Dakota State(4-3): They score the third most points in the conference (78.6), just a point or so behind Oakland. They are third in the conference in rebounding, and first in field goal percentage. They rebound, pass, and shoot very well, and they have a legitimate post presence in Eric Carlson and a go-to-guy that knows how to win in Michael Tveidt. Though South Dakota leads in three point percentage, I think NDSU is the most dangerous team from three-land, and I think they will be more consistent throughout the season. They cracked the Mid-Major top 25 briefly before bowing out because of a loss suffered at the hands of Green Bay.
Oral Roberts(3-4): They have played much better the past two weeks — knocking off Utah, staying close with Texas Tech, and winning big against Western Illinois. Dominique Morrison dropped 35 points against WIU, and he may be the second best player in this conference. They have young talent, and it will be a rollercoaster ride until they get MichaelCraion back for good. The senior forward, who was a preseason first-team selection, made his season debut against WIU, playing nine minutes. But there is no guarantee that his foot will hold up. Even if he doesn’t play much this season, they may still be a half-decent team. One major problem: they can’t shoot free-throws, hitting only 63 percent as a team. That is bad enough for ninth in the conference. Just above Centenary.
IUPUI (4-4): What have you done for me lately, Jags? You lose to St. Louis by three, only putting up 55 points, and you beat Centenary, the worst team in the conference by just eight points? I picked them third in the conference; I thought they would be better. Maybe they are, and I just need to give it some time. But right now, I’m not really feeling any love for OOY-POOY.
IPFW(4-2): Ben Botts has turned into a fine point guard. He scored 20 in the OT win against UMKC, but he can create a lot of opportunities for IPFW to surprise some teams, like they did against the ‘Roos. They were down big early in the second half, but they came all the way back to force overtime and escape with a win. They have winnable games against Southern Utah and Toledo coming up. We could see the Mastodons stay at the top of the Summit League for at least another week.
UMKC (4-2): Big loss to IPFW. They had the game in the bag, and they let it get away. That is going to be a tough one to swallow. Joe Couisnard is 35th in the country with 20.3 points, and he leads the Summit League in scoring.
Western Illinois(3-4): And here I thought they may have a legitimate shot to be a pretty decent team after they stood down Missouri and lost a heartbreaker. But alas, they got beat soundly by ORU, and have now lost four of their last five. Ceola Clark III, their star and preseason first-team selection, has struggled mightily. He has been a huge disappointment, averaging just eight points in the four games, but he hasn’t been fully healthy, so maybe he can pull it together with time.
Southern Utah (2-5): They had the unfortunate obligation to play Oakland on Thursday—stopping Keith Benson is not exactly any Summit teams’ favorite thing to do. SUU lost the rebound battle 35-31, but that is only the second time all year they have been outrebounded. Their strength will be inside crashing the boards—which will keep them in games. Now they just need to find someone who can score the ball.
Centenary (0-8): they won’t be winless forever. They stayed with IUPUI and lost by only eight points. In their final season as a Division-I school, it is all about the moral victories for the Gents. But you never can be too hard on an overmatched team that plays with heart every game.
A Look Ahead
Oral Roberts faces IUPUI on Saturday, December 4. It will be the first marquee matchup in the Summit League this season. Both teams are a threat to win the conference. Watch out for Dominique Morrison, as he is heating up and averaging 19 points a game.
Oakland will try and knock-off #21 Illinois on December 8. Keith Benson and the boys will attempt to get the Summit League its first victory against a ranked opponent this year—if they can avoid an onslaught from fire-breathing Demetri McCamey and ignore that crazed Illini student section.
A Very Wise Man. Arizona 76, NC State 74. Why is this our lead game tonight? Because it’s not often that you see two difficult length-of-the-court layups within the last ten seconds of a game, and it’s even less often that the player who hits the game-winner does so for the second game in a row. Nic Wise must have been a very good boy this year because Santa is treating him right this holiday season. Just two nights after making a ridiculously difficult touch/push three from about 25 feet to win a game against Lipscomb (we’ll overlook the fact that it probably shouldn’t have counted), Wise (17/3) did it again tonight. NC State’s Javier Gonzalez (18/3/6 assts) had tied the game at 74-all with a part-the-waters layin with around seven seconds to go. Wise immediately grabbed the inbounds pass and pushed downcourt. After a couple of hesitation/crossovers at three-quarter speed, he found a seam to his left and beat the trailing defenders to get the shot up off the glass with the wrong hand and won the game with a mere tick left on the clock (when we get the vid, we’ll post it below). Wise is like the anti-Jamelle Horne for Arizona. Awesome finish, and gives Arizona two more wins that they’ll need en route to putting together a resume for inclusion to their 26th straight NCAA Tournament later this season. UA shouldn’t have put themselves in this position, but they managed to blow a late eight-point lead by allowing NCSU to hit several threes down the stretch — the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams had 24/6 in the win.
Wise Keeping Arizona Afloat (AP/Dean Knuth)
Upset of the Night. Oral Roberts 75, #12 New Mexico 66. Unbeaten no more. We’re now down to just six undefeated teams left this season, and all six of those are currently ranked as the top six teams in America after Missouri State and now New Mexico dropped games this week. ORU has already beaten Stanford and Missouri thus far this season, so this shouldn’t be a huge shock (especially in Tulsa), but the Golden Eagles have also had some blowout losses (most notably, by 37 to Louisville, 21 to Virginia and 20 to Wake Forest). Tonight was a different story, though, as Scott Sutton’s team built a first-half lead and was able to hold on when UNM made its expected run late in the game. Michael Craion had a great game, going for 18/13/7 assts/2 blks, and Dominique Morrison had 17/4/4 assts/3 stls, but more importantly, the ORU defense forced the Lobo stars into tough nights — Darington Hobson shot 5-14 for 11 points and Roman Martinez was even worse at 1-9 for 4 points, and their 15 total points tonight was nineteen points off their combined average this year.
Braggadocio. Missouri 81, Illinois 68. Here’s the thing about naysayers who thought that Missouri would take a hard fall after losing DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons from last year’s team. So long as Mike Anderson has a stable of ten or so athletic players to run his modified 40MoH system, his teams will always be successful. Now, will this year’s version be as good as last year’s E8, thirty-win team? No way. But they’re still pretty darn good, and we’d expect to see the Tigers back in the Dance again, especially after a performance like tonight. For the first time in a decade, Mizzou won this rivalry game, and they did it behind their standard MO of forcing turnovers (21), hitting threes (10) and causing a faster-than-normal pace for their opponent. Kim English led the way with 24/6, but he got help from freshman Michael Dixon, Jr., (16/5 assts/3 stls) and JT Tiller (12/5/5 assts). As for the Illini, other than their amazing comeback win at Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we haven’t been impressed with this team yet this year.
The Face of the 2009-10 Season. #4 Kentucky 64, #12 Connecticut 61. Ladies and gentlemen, if there was any doubt whatsoever about who the face of college basketball was, is, or will be this season, consider it no more. The buzz was already there. There have been sketchy highlights of Johnathan Hildred Wall from Raleigh, NC, dressed in a Kentucky uniform and easily floating game-winners over Miami and Stanford; there have been a couple of filthy dunks and drives against North Carolina that had you out of your seat shaking your head when you saw them on SportsCenter; but there wasn’t this. No, not this. This being a nationally-televised game with no other competition on the tube where the too-young-to-know-how-good-he-is Mr. Wall emphatically and with reckless abandon introduced himself to the sports world beyond the hoops diehards, shouting from the top of New York’s Empire State Building to the rest of the world… “I am College Basketball.” Dramatic? Possibly. Truthful? Absolutely.
Sure - Why Not??
John Wall (25/2/6 stls) scored twelve of the last fifteen points of the game for his team, and as our RTC Live correspondent Ballin is a Habit put it at the game, “Garden security should kidnap Wall and throw a Nate Robinson jersey on him. Who will know?” That’s the point. Wall is probably nearly as good as anyone on the Knicks (or Nets) roster, and the star-studded NYC crowd was electric tonight as they knew this was but a first glimpse of WonderWall and that they would be seeing this kid play for a very long time at the Garden. When it came down to the last five minutes of the game tonight, the scoring went back and forth, but as you were watching the action you already knew where the ball was going when Kentucky got it. You also knew what the result would be — several clutch jumpers followed by a strong and-one when Wall drove from the left side, absorbed contact, and still finished the play to put UK up two with a half-minute left. After a Kemba Walker (12/8/6 assts) miss and Ramon Harris FT for Kentucky, UConn took and missed a couple of threes to finish the game and push Calipari’s team to 9-0 and John Wall into hype overdrive.
We’re just as guilty as anyone of being awed by the guy, but the last time we saw a freshman player who was so spectacular (must-see tv) was when Kevin Durant was dominating everyone in his path at Texas. You tuned in because you sensed that anything could happen when Durant had the ball, and people are starting to sense that about John Wall as well. One key difference in their careers at this point – Wall has already won three games down the stretch by himself. We’re not sure that even Durant did that before Christmas of his freshman season! John Wall — the 2009-10 Face of College Basketball.
Upset of the Night. Green Bay 88, #23 Wisconsin 84. Students RTC’d after the Fighting Phoenix of Green Bay upset the flagship university of the state in overtime tonight (send pics or vids!) in a classic trap game for Bo Ryan’s Badgers. Bryquis Perine (22/3/3 stls) and Randy Berry (13/12) led the way for UWGB, who, despite having ten fewer boards than Wisconsin were able to force 18 turnovers from normally surehanded Badgers to grit out the win. For the Phoenix, this was the first win in their last fifteen games against Wisconsin, and the Badgers will now face home games against Marquette and UW-Milwaukee in the next two weeks to try to regain state supremacy.
Another Upset. Oral Roberts 60, Missouri 59. We had a feeling that this would have upset written all over it, and sure enough it did (complete with a mini-RTC at the end – see below video). Missouri fans have to be beating themselves up over this one, though, as the Tigers had a ten-point lead on the road with just over five minutes remaining and they couldn’t close out the game. Michael Craion’s layup with 0.9 seconds remaining (first video) capped a 15-4 closing run for ORU that gave the Golden Eagles their second win over a BCS team this season (although a considerably better one than Stanford). ORU got 21/7/4 assts from Dominique Morrison and 10/13 from Kevin Ford, and it was just enough for Scott Sutton’s program to pull off the upset tonight. One major concern for Mizzou has to be that they only attempted three FTs tonight (making one), which signals a lack of aggressiveness on the offensive end.
And a Third. Harvard 74, Boston College 67. Is this an upset after how well Harvard has been playing and especially after last year’s Harvard win at BC? Well, it is still Harvard, so we’ll say yes. Jeremy Lin continues to impress, dropping 25/3/4 assts just a few nights after ripping the Connecticut defense up for thirty, and BC is at some point going to have to realize that winning a single ACC game doesn’t mean they can take the next night off (as they did last year as well). The Crimson shot 50% from the field, held BC to 38%, and stood toe to toe with the bigger Eagles on the boards. Furthermore, when crunch time came around, Harvard, especially Lin, calmly walked up to the line and sealed the win, which is something winning programs tend to do. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Cornell would once again own the Ivy League this year, but could Harvard challenge the Big Red in the Ancient Eight?