South Dakota State comes to Lincoln to take on Nebrasketball as an “underdog”

Friday night, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits basketball team will come to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. At the start of Friday, the Cornhuskers are a 6.5 point favorite for the game.  If the Jackrabbits were to pull off a win, would it be considered an upset?

Maybe?

Summit League schools going up against a power conference school always seems like this big event. The smaller schools get to come check out the big time facilities, play in front of larger crowds they’re not used to, and get the opportunity to possibly play on national television.

Nebraska is not an environment the Jackrabbits should walk in to scared like it’s some haunted house. If you’re a Nebraska fan, you may want to sit down for what I’m about to tell you.

Out of the games Nebraska has played so far, South Dakota State has the highest RPI they have seen, and Nebraska will have the lowest RPI of any team they have seen so far.  Actually, I hope you weren’t sitting down for that, RPI is pretty worthless at this point in the season.


If you are a Nebraska fan, and you just want to think I’m some Anti-Nebrasketball fan, I would love to present you with this.

I am a Nebrasketball fan. I’ve enjoyed watching Nebrasketball since Tyronn Lue played for the Huskers. I can also tell you that I am a life long Boston Celtics fan, and Tyronn Lue on the Lakers team made me care about the Lakers for a few seasons. I was called a bandwagon fan those years, and it still hurts my feelings to this day. I’m pretty sure Nate Johnson played for the Lakers summer league team at some point and I paid attention to that as well.  Terran Petteway played for the Celtics summer league team a couple seasons ago, and it was a big time for me. I also hate the Cleveland Cavaliers, so Lue coaching them was also rough for me.

I’m not sure if this helps, but typically for someone to prove their fan hood, they have to answer a riddle as old as sports: “I bet you can’t name 5 players for (Sports Team).” I ran into this situation over this Summer when some Kansas City native (he was a Creighton student too) questioned my Royals fan hood and said he bet I couldn’t name 5 Royals other than Alex Gordon…actually, the Royals roster last season was a little rough to find player names in my mind, so instead I named off the 5 pitchers from the 2010 season. That my friends was Zack Greinke, Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar, and Bruce Chen.  I was trying to lose weight that season and watched every game on a treadmill.  I yelled a lot.

I don’t think I can sit here and name off the current Nebrasketball roster without looking up their names, mostly because of the new faces. I could sit here and say there are two junior college transfer guards, a French freshman I prefer to call “YoGo,” a couple grad transfers, one from Seattle and one from Florida Gulf Coast.  Essentially, this year’s roster to me is like from a NCAA video game and the game doesn’t give any names, everyone is just “#14” and whatever other number. It’s like when you walk into a party and you know everyone’s faces, but you can’t remember from where, because you likely met them while intoxicated.

I can name off a list of Husker players who had okay seasons in their first years of Nebrasketball and as Husker fans we would say “oh man, we’re going to be so good with (dude’s name) in a year or two” but then they just ended up disappointing us in one way or another…Joe McCray, Jamel White, Jim Ledsome, Jay-R Strowbridge, Cookie Miller, Eshaunte Jones, Christopher Neimann, Jorge Diaz, Christian Standhardinger (who I thought would be in the NBA), Deverell Biggs, Walter Pitchford, Nate Hawkins, Jake Hammond.

Cool, let’s all go cry now.


Nebrasketball and South Dakota State are two teams I do regularly follow.  I haven’t had the opportunity to actually sit down and watch either of them this season, but I have paid attention to the rosters, box scores, and all that stuff that makes you feel like you know what you’re talking about in conversation.

Both teams have a lot of fresh faces on their rosters, including new coaches. South Dakota State returned 18% of their scoring from last season, which was last in the Summit League. I haven’t done the math to see the percentage of returning scoring for what the Huskers brought back, but I’m fairly sure Thorir Thorbjanarson is the only returning player from last year’s roster, and he averaged 2 points per game in 2018-2019.  So unless Nebraska scored 10 points per game as a team last season, the Jackrabbits should have returned more scoring.

While trying to figure out their new team, the Huskers have gone 0-2. As the Big 10 team, you would think the Huskers would at least have enough talent to beat Big West and Big Sky teams. I had this conversation with my boss last night. We were both like, it’s understandable the Huskers are still in trying to figure it out mode, but they still lost to two teams they should have beat. During the conversation, I did also learn my boss thought South Dakota State was division 2 in everything except for basketball. So there was that.

You might think the Big 10 team has the more talented roster. I’m not entirely sure that’s accurate in this instance. I legitimately don’t know. I do think the Jackrabbits will have the best player on the floor in junior college transfer Douglas Wilson, and it appears the likes of two true freshman will be responsible for guarding the post player averaging 19.5 points per game and shooting 58% from the floor so far this season.

I do know intangibles matter in games like this. South Dakota State football played Minnesota football better than Nebraska football did, and much of the credit was given to so many Jackrabbit players knowing the Gopher program so well. A lot of people got down on the Gophers after that game, they’re 9-0 right now.

The Jackrabbits will have two Nebraska natives on the roster, ready for the chance to play in Pinnacle Bank Arena. There will also be plenty of Jackrabbit fans in the arena. It’s not a long drive from Brookings, and large number of South Dakota State alumni reside in the city of Omaha. There is a reason Baxter Arena’s largest attendance for basketball is South Dakota state versus Omaha every season.

I also found tickets to this game on Seat Geek for 1 dollar.

I’m not here to argue South Dakota State will definitely win this basketball game. I’m here to say that it is an actual toss up of a basketball game. If these two teams played each other 10 times, and they were all played in Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska might win 7 of them.

The thing is, so early in the season with Nebraska trying to figure things out, this could be one of those three times.

 

 

 

 

Have we taken JT Gibson for granted?

I once watched this video of this on some recruiting website of this high school basketball player out of the state of Minnesota. I thought he had kind of a weird way of dribbling the ball, like it came up too high in between hitting the floor and coming back to his hand, I also thought he had a slow release on his shot.

The reason I watched the video of this kid was because he was given scholarship offers by South Dakota State, North Dakota State, North Dakota, and Omaha.

That kid became the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year. He eventually became one of the best Mavericks to shoot a basketball.

It’s JT Gibson’s fifth year in Omaha, and just his first being the number one guy. Even if he is the number one guy, you as a Maverick fan, probably haven’t really considered him as the number one guy, yet.

In November of 2015, Omaha opened up their season in the brand new Baxter Arena. It was Omaha’s first game in their new home, it was their first game being eligible for the Summit League tournament. Some Omaha people saw it as the first Maverick basketball game that actually mattered.

It was one of the weirdest nights, honestly.

I bought season tickets, I was 8 rows behind the team bench, it was the first time I bought season tickets to anything. I think it was the most excited I had ever been to attend a basketball game. There were over 3500 people to see the Mavericks in the new arena.

I showed up thinking Marcus Tyus would be in the starting lineup. Nope, they decided to scratch him from the game, and the season due to an injury. Some freshman named Zach Jackson, who didn’t seem as highly touted as that other freshman from Minnesota, was thrown into the starting lineup.

This all seemed off…

Neither UC Santa Barbara or Omaha could make a basket in the first half of that game. The Gauchos* shot 31% in the first half and the Mavericks shot 29% from the floor and were 0-of-9 on threes. Along with 3500 other people, I was wondering if Baxter Arena was broken. I think some of us spent that first half wondering if this division one experiment would fail.

*UC Santa Barbara is the Gauchos, right? I’m too lazy to go look that up.

In a game that was frustrating to watch with so many misses, you were thinking to yourself everyone needs to drive to the basket and just see a ball go in the basket. There wasn’t even great defense in that game, there were open shots all over the place and no one was even close.

Halfway through the second half, Omaha was down by 14, and it felt as if they were going to lose by 25 on opening night.

Then JT Gibson finds himself wide open at the top of the key and puts up this three and it rattled in, like it was kind of a mistake that it went in, but ball don’t lie. The Gauchos** missed their next shot and Tre’Shawn Thurman grabbed the board and threw it down the floor. Gibson found himself open again and drained his second three in less than 30 seconds.

**Seriously, I’m not going to go look it up. I can remember that Mitch Kupchak’s son played for UC Santa Barbara, but I cannot remember if they are the Gauchos or what.

The crowd went crazy. We suddenly gave a shit, even if the Mavericks were down by 8. The Mavericks eventually came back in the game, and had a 3 point lead late in the game. They still ended up losing by 1, but I’ll forever give credit to JT Gibson for providing life to the Mavericks and Baxter Arena that night.

Gibson eventually got hurt that season and we only got 8 games out him that year, receiving a medical redshirt. If you think about it, the Mavericks shouldn’t even have Gibson on their roster this season. Actually, if he wouldn’t have committed to the Mavericks, he could have committed to South Dakota State and they would of had Mike Daum, David Jenkins, and JT Gibson on one basketball team. Yikes!

Gibson’s second chance at a freshman season was about as inconsistent as any other freshman at a mid-major level. On one of the the best Maverick teams ever, Gibson was lost in the rotation behind arguably the best back court Omaha has had with Marcus Tyus, Tra-Deon Hollins, and Daniel Norl.

His sophomore season, the Mavericks had a season to forget. I’m pretty sure we all forget this season. It’s okay to forget it. The summer was filled with players transferring, the regular season was filled with injuries, losses, and selfish play.  Injuries allowed Gibson to find himself in the starting lineup and average 10.2 points per game.

With the Mavericks having such a bad 2017-2018 campaign, there wasn’t much optimism heading into the 2018-2019 season for the Mavericks outside of Omaha, or even from our own home base, I suppose. Even as the Mavericks exceeded expectations on the season, Gibson was just another “double digit scorer” to people. He was the third option on offense, and I’m willing to bet you can’t really remember a single JT Gibson moment from that season. You’re not some weirdo like me who vividly remembers a 30 second span from a basketball game 5 years ago.

His junior season, he was the third scorer for the Mavericks. So much attention was given to the seniors Zach Jackson and Mitch Hahn for their stellar play, big shots, and leadership. Matt Pile was given celebrity status due to his size and freakish strength. KJ Robinson was even known for leading the offense and keeping the team under control helping lead the team to the fewest turnovers in the Summit League.

In the Mavericks most successful reason, he was seen as just another scorer. With Pile, Hahn, and Jackson in the front court, Gibson really didn’t have many rebounding opportunities, but still managed to pull off grabbing nearly 3 rebounds per game. He was also second on the team in assists.  Gibson also led this team in steals, which was third most by a junior since Omaha transitioned to division one. I doubt anyone cares about that stat, but the only two guys in front him in that stat are Tra-Deon Hollins and Devin Patterson, who were probably the two best perimeter defenders the Mavericks have ever had.

At a certain point in time, Gibson may of had the reputation as “The Next Marcus Tyus.” It’s easy to compare the two, as they’re both from Minnesota, and both primarily play basketball from the perimeter. Gibson made 76 three point field goals his junior season, which is the most by any Mavericks since transitioning to division one. The second most was by Tyus, who made 72 threes in the 2016-2017 season.

Tyus saw success as being more than 3 point shooter. He had a nice pump fake and speed to get by his defenders to get to the basket, something we haven’t seen Gibson do much. Gibson’s speed is underrated, he does have a second gear. I cannot give you a specific example from an exact point, but there was a game last season I was streaming and he stole the ball near around the three point line and took off to the other basket for the score, and literally no one could catch him.

He has that capability just as Tyus did, and he has shown it off a bit already this season.

A wrist injury may have slowed down Gibson before the start of the 2019-2020 season, and it seems most attention for the Mavericks has gone toward Matt Pile, the emergence of Ayo Akinwole, and people being sad about the graduation of Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson.

The 2018-2019 Omaha Mavericks had a reputation of being “all business” and Gibson fits that mold. Before squaring off against Bethune-Cookman, I saw Gibson during the women’s game, and he was already completely dialed in. He was 100% business and ready to go.

In warm ups, in the past, Gibson had a lot of smiles and joked around with teammates. Before playing Bethune-Cookman, Gibson was focused on the upcoming game. He’s taken on the role seriously, just as last year’s seniors Hahn and Jackson did.

Bethune-Cookman was the first game of the season for the Mavericks seen as a toss up. The expectations for Wichita State were just hoping the Mavericks kept it close, and yay they beat the spread. Then Midland was well, it was a game against Midland.

This was the first must win game of the season to prove yourselves as a team. Gibson came out aggressive against a tired Bethune-Cookman team, came off ball screens and read the defense maybe better than he ever has.  At one point I looked up and said “oh wow, he’s on pace to score 40 tonight.”

With Zach Thornhill, Matt Pile, and Ayo Akinwole, this may not be a year that the Mavericks need Gibson to have a good game in order to win, but there is no doubt that this is Gibson’s basketball team.

 

 

 

 

My trivial Summit League rankings: Nov 12

The first week of college basketball passed on by, and now we no longer have to discuss basketball teams in terms of what they have coming back from last season.  We can gauge them on how they beat up on division three opponents and how they kind of came close against teams from better conferences.

1. South Dakota, 3-0

My preseason ranking: 1st

The Coyotes started their season undefeated in Hawaii as part of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic with 2 neutral games against Pacific and Florida A&M, as well as a game at Hawaii.

Even though Nebraska transfer Brady Heiman was granted a waiver, it appears he’ll still be sitting out this season. The Coyotes were still able to prove they had plenty of depth with 5 players scoring in double figures over the weekend.

The Coyotes shot over 50% from the field and 50% from behind the three point line over the weekend. Three players averaged 17 points or more in Hawaii.

6’7″ true freshman Hunter Goodrick out of Australia showed off as a nice surprise averaging 7.3 points and 5.7 rebounds through the first three games.

2. Oral Roberts, 1-1

My preseason ranking: 2nd

Down by as many as 14 in the second half, Oral Roberts was able to come back and almost beat Oklahoma State. The Golden Eagles are now 2-0 against the spread this season.

With three seniors off the bench, the Golden Eagles will be a mature team and that teams will have to play a complete 40 minutes against.

Sophomore RJ Fuqua came back to the lineup after sitting out 2018-2019. Maybe it was rust, but Fuqua had 10 turnovers and shot 25% from the field through the first two games and may not be the appropriate point guard to lead this team who had the most turnovers in the Summit League this season. He almost seems to be too fast, if that’s possible.

Kevin Obanor hasn’t had a great start to the season. Coaches say the biggest jump for players can be from their freshman to their sophomore season, but sometimes a sophomore slump can occur. Obanor got in foul trouble in his first two games this season and has shot 2-of-12 on the year. He really didn’t use his large frame to get inside baskets and relied on the three just a bit much.

Still with Obanor and Fuqua struggling, the Golden Eagles took Oklahoma State to the wire and beat Houston Baptist by 14.

3. North Dakota State, 2-1

My preseason ranking: 3rd

The Bison haven’t started as hot as they would have hoped to, shooting 29% on threes, but it’s the North Dakota State Bison and they will come around.

4. Omaha, 2-1

My preseason ranking: 4th

The suspension of KJ Robinson has allowed for Ayo Akinwole to step up into a starring role, and allow Zach Thornhill and Wanjang Tut to showcase their talents as they’re being integrated into the starting lineup.

Without Robinson, the Mavericks are averaging nearly 15 turnovers a game.

Not having Robinson and UMKC transfer Marco Smith, the Mavericks are only playing with 7 players, which is depth that won’t get you too far in conference season.

5. South Dakota State, 3-0

My preseason ranking: 8th

The Jackrabbits are 3-0 with a team entirely made up of newcomers. We’ll have a little to compare them to as their first opponent, UT Rio Grande Valley will square off against North Dakota State this Friday.

Sophomore Matt Dentlinger was a huge surprise notching a double-double in their home opener.

Junior college transfer Douglas Wilson is on his way to being candidate for Newcomer of the Year, averaging 21 points and 8.7 rebounds through three games.

6. North Dakota, 1-0

My preseason ranking: 5th

The Fighting Hawks haven’t fought too hard, only playing one game so far against division three Crown College.

Paul Sather’s team will play the opposite of opponents tonight when they faces off against Gonzaga.

7. Fort Wayne, 1-2

My preseason ranking: 7th

The Mastodons only beat Division 3 Manchester by 11 points?

With not much of a point guard presence, the Mastodons look lost on offense and everything appears to be played in random.

8. Denver, 1-1

My preseason ranking: 9th 

The team everyone thought would get beat up by everyone this season actually has not looked bad to start the season.

With an 11 point loss to Colorado State and an 12 point win over Utah Valley, the young team can look to build on some confidence. They were able to beat Utah Valley with Ade Murkey scoring just 9 points, and people said the Pioneers would live and die with Murkey.

9. Western Illinois, 0-2

My preseason ranking: 6th

I don’t even want to talk about Western Illinois right now. They’re 0-2 with an understandable loss to Indiana and a 2 point loss at home to Stetson. They lost at home against Stetson only committing 5 turnovers in the game.

A biased and trivial Summit League preseason ranking preview: The top tier

Here it is. The top 3 teams in this exercise.

I mentioned there are 3 tiers to the Summit League. The bottom tier, which is just Denver. The middle tier which was 5 teams who’s seasons will depend on health and rest against each other, as they have some talent, but may not be that deep.

Then we have the top tier here. These three teams are stacked with talent, and will be able to survive health issues, should they arise. The top tier are the locks to finish in the top three. They’ll all be competing for a top 2 spot in the Summit League tournament for that extra day of rest.

All three teams should end up receiving Mid Major Top 25 votes at some point in the season.

alec


South Dakota

Projected Conference Wins: 11 to 13

Projected Regular Season finish: 1st to 3rd

Key returning players: Brandon Armstrong (Sr), Tyler Hagedorn (Sr), Cody Kelley (Sr), Tyler Peterson (Sr), Triston Simpson (Sr), Stanley Umude (Jr),

The Coyotes have one of the best teams the Summit League has seen on paper in a while. They’ve really got it all: size, depth, experience, athleticism, shooting, speed, defense.

In Todd Lee’s first year, South Dakota faced injuries up and down the roster, sometimes only playing 7 players on a given night. 6’10” Tyler Hagedorn faced an injury in the beginning of the year elected to use his redshirt for the 2018-2019 season.

Hagedorn was selected as a 2nd Team All Conference player in the preseason. He was actually healthy and practicing with the team half way though the season, but he didn’t want to play just half a season. Without Hagedorn in the lineup, South Dakota didn’t have a go to player in the post, and it obviously impacted the Coyotes’ season as they lost 11 games by 7 points or less, 6 games in the Summit League. With Hagedorn back in the lineup, the Coyotes can close those gaps and turn this season around.

According to Jeff Goodman, Nebraska transfer Brady Heiman was granted a waiver and will be eligible to play this season. Heiman did not play in South Dakota’s exhibition game against Concordia St. Paul, so it’s still unclear if the 6’10” sophomore will play or still use a redshirt this season.

Lee claimed in order to be good at this level in college basketball, you have to be experienced, and the Coyotes certainly have experience.

The combined total of division one minutes on the Coyotes’ active roster is 11455 career minutes. That’s more than 1000 minutes over the next closest in the Summit League, North Dakota State. The 11455 minutes, does not include Heiman’s minutes at Nebraska.

If Heiman doesn’t play, he’ll be on the practice squad and scout team with Nebraska-Kearney transfer Kanon Koster and Augustana transfer A.J. Plitzuweit. They could have some competitive practices.

The Coyotes are returning 85% (2nd most) of their conference scoring from last season, 75% (2nd most) of their conference rebounding, and 82% (5th most) of their 3 point field goals made in conference play.  None of that is including Tyler Hagedorn.

If you recall, I said there might not be anyone in the league with 40 better minutes at point guard than Omaha with KJ Robinson and Ayo Akinwole, well, South Dakota will have 40 great minutes at point guard with seniors Triston Simpson and Cody Kelley. Simpson also did not play in the Coyotes’s exhibition game, so maybe the injuries are already starting to mount up. They will also have freshman Kruz Perrot-Hunt at point guard, who played for the same New Zealand basketball organization as Nebraska’s Tai Webster.

I don’t know how to pronounce Perrot-Hunt, but I hope it sounds Parrot Hunt.

Lee said with such an experienced roster, it takes a load off the shoulders of the coaches, and if his staff can’t see success, then that means he’s not that good of a coach. If he can’t finish in the top 3 with this team, it probably will be all of his fault and someone will point and laugh. Except for a Coyote fan, they’ll probably throw fruit at him.


Oral Roberts

Projected Conference Wins: 11 to 14

Projected Regular Season Finish: 1st to 3rd

Key returning players: RJ Fuqua (So), Sam Kearns (Sr), Emmanuel Nzekwesi (Sr), Kevin Obanor (So), DeShang Weaver (So),

The Golden Eagles were another team to face injury problems last year. One of the best players in the league, Emmanuel Nzekwesi missed 6 conference games last year, but thankfully he was healthy enough to play against Omaha both times… Head Coach Paul Mills stated that Nzekwesi is as healthy as he has ever been, and had one of the best summers he’s ever seen anyone have in all of years of coaching, so Nzekwesi has the potential to be the best player in the league.

You’ll hear the likes of Omaha, South Dakota State, and Fort Wayne talk about trying to replace what they lost from last season, but Oral Roberts doesn’t need to bring it up. The Golden Eagles are bringing back their top 4 scorers from last season to go along with Nzekwesi.

In addition to bringing back their main core, the Golden Eagles are adding experience for immediate impacts to the roster. They are adding two graduate transfers, Deondre Burns from Arkansas-Little Rock and Ty Lazenby from Oklahoma (don’t get super duper excited, he hardly played at Oklahoma, but still).

The team is also bringing back point guard R.J. Fuqua who redshirted his sophomore season, after averaging 8 points and 3 assists as a freshman. Fuqua once had 17 points and 8 assists in a 19 point win over Omaha, so that’s cool. The Golden Eagles committed the most turnovers in the Summit League last season, which led to them committing the most fouls in the conference. If Fuqua’s return can help with the turnovers, that could help Oral Roberts win more games this season. That sounds like that’s how basketball statistics work.

Mills has said that taking care of the basketball has been a major emphasis for the team. His staff has also required the team to carry basketballs with them everywhere on campus. You know, like in the middle school when you had to dress up 2-liter bottle and pretend you had a baby. He compared it to “Remember the Titans” when they made the players carry footballs around school, but I like my comparison better.

Oral Roberts has the biggest roster in the Summit League, which creates mismatches all over the place, but those mismatches aren’t incredibly beneficial if they’re turning over the ball and giving up so many fast break opportunities to the quicker teams in the conference.

Unlike other top teams like South Dakota and North Dakota State, Oral Roberts doesn’t have an instate conference rival to fluster them in some game. It doesn’t really seem like Oral Roberts really has a rivalry with anyone in the Summit League, being so far away from everyone.


North Dakota State

Projected Conference Wins: 9 to 13

Projected Regular Season Finish: 1st to 4th

Key returning players: Sam Griesel (So), Cameron Hunter (Jr), Rocky Krueser (Jr),  Jared Samuelson (Sr), Vinnie Shahid (Sr), Tyson Ward (Sr),

It makes perfect sense for everyone to pick the Bison as the preseason favorite. They won the conference tournament last season, and they return everything to their roster except for Deng Geu.

Please remember this is all based on the regular season might shake out, and the Bison are going to be a threat to anyone on any given day. Their style of play, however, can lead to games being played close, and they can still sometimes do things like lose to Denver like they did last season.

They won the conference tournament, but the Bison are a still a team that finished tied for 3rd last season. They’re returning 85% of their scoring from last season, but they don’t have anything to impact or change that 3rd place finish, like South Dakota has Hagedorn coming back, and Oral Roberts had 3 guys with experience coming in. The Bison are simply just still good.

Cameron Hunter did see a dip in production his sophomore season as compared to his freshman season, mostly due to a wrist injury, so if he can be healthy that can be a jump for the team.

Offensively, statistically the Bison weren’t anything spectacular last season, ranking in the bottom half of the league in most categories, yet defensively they were in the top half. This isn’t a knock at them being bad, it’s just more of a testament that they play games close and it sometimes can keep a team in the game and they can lose a head scratcher from time to time. The biggest thing on the side of the Bison is their team chemistry and experience, and that will go a long way, which is why they should finish in the top 3 in the conference.

A big obstacle of the Bison will be their schedule. Yes, everyone plays each other twice, but the Bison have a hard time with travel.

The Bison are playing at Oral Roberts, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, Omaha, and South Dakota all on weeknights; and each time they play their in-state rival North Dakota will be after tough contests with South Dakota. Last season, the Bison were 1-4 on conference road games played on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and they were 3-0 on conference Saturday away games.

A big key to winning those weeknight away games will be more consistent play from senior point guard Vinnie Shahid. Shahid struggled to adapt to the Summit League as a junior college transfer, but eventually found his stride. In a 5 game winning streak from January 26th to Valentine’s Day, Shahid scored 21.6 points per game, shot 50% on threes, and dished out 4.2 assists per game. After the streak, the Bison lost 3 of their last 4 with Shahid scoring 12.5 points per game, which includes a 19 point performance in a 1 point loss against South Dakota State.

I looked that up, because once I felt like most teams were bad on the road during weeknight games, and it wasn’t really everyone. The Bison have historically been bad playing on the road on weeknights. Other teams, not as bad.

Regardless of what happens, the Bison will be ready come March. Their style of play wears teams down, and the Bison will be able to play 12 men deep with their roster. They essentially have the best scenario for playing 3 games in 3 or 4 days.


My trivial Preseason Summit League rankings

1st  South Dakota

2nd  Oral Roberts

3rd  North Dakota State

4th  Omaha

5th  North Dakota

6th  Western Illinois

7th  Fort Wayne

8th  South Dakota State

9th  Denver

A super biased Summit League preseason ranking preview: 4th place

Omaha

Projected Conference Wins: 7 to 12

Projected Regular Season Finish: 2nd to 5th


Derrin Hansen made a point that college coaches don’t get the pleasure of coaching Tim Duncan for 16 straight years, and they have to replace guys every single season, so it’s something they’re used to. It’s really good to hear Hansen being optimistic, because losing Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson is a lot of ground to make up.

winston

In a Summit League season featuring two of the best players the conference has ever seen, Mike Daum and John Konchar, the Mavericks were able to put two players on the All Conference 1st Team. Hahn and Jackson were probably two of the best players the school has ever had. If you put together a team of Omaha’s all time best players, Hahn and Jackson would definitely be on the roster and possibly both be starters.

As good as Hahn and Jackson were, the Mavericks won 7 games by 7 points or less (I’m using the number 7 because that’s what Todd Lee used). They also lost twice to Oral Roberts by 3 and 4 points, and Mitch Hahn put on one of the best shooting performances ever by a Maverick in Tulsa. They won those close games because of clutch performances from their two leaders. Having two go to guys in those moments was the biggest thing for the Mavericks last season.

The Mavericks can attempt to make up that production from those two guys, but I don’t know how you make up their leadership and clutch shooting. Hopefully seniors, JT Gibson and KJ Robinson can make up for that loss, but those are the biggest shoes Hansen has had to fill. I can’t sit here and list off big time clutch performances by Gibson and Robinson, like I could with Hahn or Jackson, but they will have to step up in big moments this season.

After the Mavericks came back in Baxter Arena and beat South Dakota State, Hahn said the in the locker room at half time, no one was down on the team, even if they were down by 13. He made a note that Robinson, along with Hahn and Jackson, stayed positive and asked the other players what they had to do to come back and win. This is just an example of how I think Robinson is a leader for this team, even if he doesn’t get the mentions like his teammates often have.

I can vaguely remember Robinson having a steady history of hitting corner threes with the Mavericks trying to make come backs in the game, and driving to the lane for the baskets in the final minutes of games, but never a big time shot to seal up a win. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m talking smack about Robinson, because I really do think he’s a leader that can be ready for those moments.

Aside from Hahn and Jackson, the Mavericks took some other losses no one has really brought up. Logan Strom left the school in August, apparently to pursue football, and at 6’8″ and 240 pounds, Strom was expected to at least be a big man in the rotation for the Mavericks, if not be a starter. 6’9″ senior Brett Barney also left the program, who also had potential to be in the starting lineup, or at least add experience and shooting off the bench. 6’11” sophomore Evan Tricker also left the team, he didn’t play much for the Mavericks in his freshman season, but that is 3 post players gone from the roster, and now the Mavericks are left with a lack of size in the post.

You might be asking yourself: Why does this homer have the Mavericks ranked so high if all he is doing is talking about their roster issues?

For one, I did do a lot of my projections thinking Barney and Strom would be on the roster, so there is that.

Aside from that…

While all of these teams are looking to replace their players, and establish their cultures with so many fresh faces, the Mavericks actually have the most veteran coaching staff in the league. Hansen has been the head coach of Omaha for 15 years now, and Tyler Erwin has been with the Mavericks for 11 years, Pat Eberhart for 9 years, and Tyler Bullock is entering his 4th season as an assistant coach. The next closest in tenure as head coaches in the Summit League are Dave Richman, Jon Coffman, and Billy Wright with 6 years each with their programs.

Other than the top three schools in the conference, the Mavericks arguably have the best Big 3 in the conference with Matt Pile, JT Gibson, and KJ Robinson. In my opinion, Robinson is probably the most underrated point guard in the league.

In the past, the Mavericks biggest problems were always turnovers and defense. Robinson helped lead the Mavericks offense to the fewest turnovers in the Summit League last season, and he’s great at finding guys in their spots in clutch moments. He led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio last season, and Ayo Akinwole was 4th in the conference. The Mavericks have two of the top three guys in assist-to-turnover ratio returning from last season, North Dakota State’s Jared Samuelson is the other guy. The Mavericks will have 40 minutes of Robinson and Akinwole at point guard, that might be the best 40 minutes of point guard play in the league.

Although, the Mavericks will lack depth in the post, to go with one of the best back courts in the league, Omaha will have Matt Pile down in the paint. I could go on all day how special I think Pile is, there is not enough to be said about him. He is a hand full for Summit League teams. Mike Daum was one of the best offensive big men the Summit League has ever had, and Daum was intimidated by Pile in Omaha last season. He couldn’t go down low in Baxter Arena, you could see it boggle his mind.

With the lack of depth in the post, Pile will be the biggest key for the Mavericks to have a successful season. Pile will take up a lot of attention from other teams this season, and will often get double teamed, and maybe even triple teamed this season. He said he’s been working on passing out of double teams and moving without the ball. Shooters like Gibson, Robinson, and Zach Thornhill are going to find themselves some wide open looks this season.

Pile will have to stay out of foul trouble, which is something he has been good in his first two seasons. If there is a game, where he does find himself in foul trouble, the Mavericks could find themselves struggling to rebound and to get easy baskets inside.

As far as everything they return, the Mavericks are right in the middle of the conference. They’re returning 56% (6th) of their conference scoring, 52% (5th) of their rebounding, and have 7325 (5th) division one minutes, 366* (6th) division one games played, and 148 (6th) division one starts.

*Random stat: JT Gibson has played 100 career games, and that is the most in the Summit League

Hansen did make a point that the Mavericks are slightly older than they appear as Wanjang Tut and Zach Thornhill are listed as sophomores, but they are actually junior academically.

That is straight up optimism on Hansen’s part. However, we slaw glimpses of what Tut and Thornhill can be last season. Tut was playing behind Mitch Hahn, Matt Pile, and Brett Barney and he was able to pull of 4 double digit scoring performances, including 18 points and 6 rebounds in the Summit League tournament against North Dakota when Pile was forced to the bench with foul trouble.  Tut was really the hero and stepped up for the Mavericks when they needed him most.

Thornhill was sidelined by injuries, but you could see his athleticism and potential when he was on the court last season. He played with a lot of confidence and maturity and appeared to have a high basketball IQ. If you would’ve told me he was a senior, I would have believed you.  Thornhill is a potential starter, and could make up some of Zach Jackson’s production, and Mav fans should feel comfortable with him as a 4th or 5th option.

I like this Maverick team. They do have a talented Big 3, and a lot of potential in their role players, but they may lack some depth in comparison to other teams around the league. Health will be extremely important to this team, they may not be able to survive injuries and foul trouble as well as other teams in the conference.

If the Mavericks are to break away and finish better than 4th in the conference, they’re going to have to be in the top 2 in the league through the beginning of February. The Mavericks will play their last 5 of 7 games on the road, leading into the Summit League tournament.


4th Omaha

5th North Dakota

6th Western Illinois

7th Fort Wayne

8th South Dakota State

9th Denver

A biased Summit League preseason ranking preview: 5th place

North Dakota

Projected Conference Wins: 4 to 10

Projected Regular Season Finish: 4th to 7th

Key returning players: Billy Brown (Sr), Aenen Moody (So), Filip Rebraca (So), Marlon Stewart (Sr), Kienan Walter (Sr)


If so much of this stuff is based on what these teams have coming back versus what they have coming in and how they performed last season, why did the Fighting Hawks land themselves at 8th in the preseason rankings?

To be fair, I have a pretty big range for North Dakota between 4 and 10 wins, maybe because part of me felt so threatened by them in the first round of the Summit League tournament, and the guys who left the program weren’t even really factors in that game.

I actually don’t feel so good about this ranking.

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The biggest question for North Dakota is probably the fact that their coaching staff is brand new. Paul Sather takes over a team who finished 7th in the conference last season. He came from division 2 Northern State, where he was the NSIC Coach of the Year for the last 2 seasons, and was 85-19 over the last 2 seasons. If North Dakota were to finish 4th in the conference this season, I think Sather as Summit League Coach of the Year would be a safe bet.

Sather did mention how impressed he was by the team’s chemistry, something that the previous coaching staff was apparently trying to build. Sather also mentioned that his style of play won’t be much different from what North Dakota played last season, so there won’t be a huge adjustment on the court for players.

There was an awkward moment at the Summit League Media Day when he was asked if there was anyone on the roster he was impressed by when first meeting the team, and it took him a few seconds to come up with his answer: not really…

Sather did eventually mention he was impressed by redshirt freshman De’Sean Allen-Eikens, and thought he was a future star in the conference.  Allen-Eikens is a 6’6″ 212lb guard, who had over 20 division one scholarship offers before committing to North Dakota.

Man, I really don’t know how I got so high on this team. Oh well, none of this matters anyway.

So what’s good?

There isn’t a ton of experience on the roster, but they are returning 69% (4th in the Summit League) of their scoring and 68% (4th) of their rebounding. Also, the team made 139 threes in the conference last season, and they’re returning 130 of those threes.  The Fighting Hawks do have the 4th highest amount of division one games played on their roster, but the 7th most division one starts on their roster.

Senior guard Marlon Stewart will be leading this team on the offensive end. He did have more assists last season in the Summit League, out of all returning players.  Stewart was also playing through injuries last season, and is the healthiest he has ever been, according to Sather.

Sather noted that the offense will be based on three point shots, and all I can remember right now is guard Aenen Moody hitting clutch threes on Omaha in Sioux Falls, and I get scared. Seriously, every time I thought the Mavericks had control of the game, Moody hit a damn three to upset me. Moody had the 3rd most threes made in the Summit League last season as a freshman. Billy Brown had the 5th highest three point field goal percentage in the conference last season.

In addition to Stewart, Moody, and Brown, the Fighting Hawks will round out their starting lineup with 6’9″ senior forward Kienan Walter and 6’9″ sophomore forward Filip Rebraca, who combined for 11 rebounds per game in the Summit League last season.

If you watched the Summit League media day, I highly doubt you did, every coach mentioned how important the three is in the conference. It might surprise you, but North Dakota was best at defending the three point line in the conference. However, they had the worst overall defensive field goal percentage in the league.  So that’s weird.

If they can actually improve their defense, they could potentially be a threat to anyone.

Actually, I after typing all of this out, I no longer feel good about North Dakota at 5th. Mentally, you should drop them down to 7th. That Summit League tournament game just warped my mind a bit.


My trivial preseason Summit League rankings

5th North Dakota

6th Western Illinois

7th Fort Wayne

8th South Dakota State

9th Denver

A not very confident Summit League preseason ranking preview: 6th place

Western Illinois

Projected Conference Wins: 5 to 8

Projected Regular Season Finish: 5th to 7th

Key returning players: CJ Duff (Sr), Ben Pyle (So), Kobe Webster (Jr)


“I kind of like this Western Illinois team” is something I have never said or heard another human being say, but I kind of like this Western Illinois team.

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Now, Western Illinois hasn’t finished better than 7th in the Summit League since 2013-2014. They finished 2nd in the league in 2012-2013.

The Leathernecks graduated Gilbeck, Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, but does that even really matter? They’re going to lose some rim protection without Gilbeck, but their offense should flow much better without Gilbeck.

Gilbeck slowed down the offense, and he had the 3rd most turnovers in the league.  He had the most for any forward/centers in the conference. How effective of an offense can you run if every time you throw the ball in down low you main post presence gives the ball to the other team?

The Leathernecks also lost Isaac Johnson, who transferred to Nicholls State. Johnson was the 3rd leading scorer for the Leathernecks last season, and their 2nd leading rebounder, behind Gilbeck.

Anyway, now that I’ve said a few hurtful things, I’ll try to explain why they’re 6th.

For starters, their schedule is somewhat easy. They’re one of three conference schools to never have three consecutive away games in the conference. They at one point have a entire week of rest in between home games against Oral Roberts and Omaha. Oral Roberts has lost 3 years in a row in Macomb, by the way. At another point they have a week of rest in between playing at Fort Wayne and then playing at South Dakota.  Even after that South Dakota game, they go home to face Omaha who will be coming off an away game at Fort Wayne and one less day of rest.  After playing Omaha, they get another week of rest to play at home against North Dakota, but North Dakota will also have a week of rest for that game.  So that’s neat. The toughest part of their schedule is when they’ll have to travel to Tulsa for a Thursday night game against Oral Roberts, and then fly to Denver for an away game on a Saturday…and that’s the last week of the regular season.

Summit League teams like to go on the road and play multiple big conference schools in the non-conference season. They say it tests them and they want to play the best competition to be the best, but they really just want money.

The Leathernecks will start the season at Indiana, but they won’t play another larger conference school the rest of the way. After Indiana, they’ll play 4 consecutive home games. Their non-conference schedule won’t test them like other conference teams’ schedules but they should be able to pick up confidence as the season goes, and hopefully not get beat up and be healthy when the conference season starts.

Even with the losses of Johnson and Gilbeck, the Leathernecks return 67% of their scoring from last season, which is the 5th most in the conference.

Losing their two leading rebounders, the Leathernecks appear to lack some size, but they do bring in some post players with a collection of interesting resumes. They don’t need an all conference center, but they do need post players to rebound and not turn the ball over on offense.  Billy Wright added 6’10” junior college transfer Kyle Addington, who played on the same NJCAA Championship team as South Dakota State’s Douglas Wilson.

We’re not really going to go too far into depth about what Western Illinois is returning, because, well, even if they’re returning a lot, they were still plain bad last year.

However, they were a young team last season, and they will be returning a Big 3 of their own in Kobe Webster, CJ Duff, and Ben Pyle. Webster and Duff make up for one of the better and most experienced starting back courts in league, and Pyle apparently added a good amount of muscle, according to Wright. This team is probably the deepest team we’ve seen the Leathernecks have under Wright, but that really isn’t saying a lot. The Leathernecks are 2 players deep at every position, which hasn’t really happened under Wright.

Even though its been bad experience for the Leathernecks, there are over 8000 division one minutes on the roster, which is the 4th most in the conference. This will be the third straight year for the Leathernecks having Duff and Webster as their starting back court. That is the most games started together by any Summit League back court at 118 games. The next closest is Omaha’s back court of JT Gibson and KJ Robinson starting 99 games together in the last 2 seasons.

At 6’7″, Pyle can play like a shooting guard playing at the 4. He stretches the floor, and honestly, looking back at it I literally cannot remember when Western Illinois had a weapon like that.

Pyle definitely showed potential last season as a true freshman and certainly is an x-factor for the Leathernecks. In conference wins last season, including the conference tournament, Pyle averaged 12.6 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, he shot 45% from the field and 37% on threes. In conference losses, he scored 6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, shot 33% from the field, and 29% on threes.  In a 29 point win over Fort Wayne, Pyle was just short of a triple-double when he scored 9 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and had 9 assists. If Pyle has put on more muscle like Wright stated (the Western Illinois website lists him as the same weight as last season) and he can be a more consistent player, the Leathernecks should be able to improve on their 4-12 season.

Their conference tournament win over South Dakota State appears to giving the team a lot of confidence. They just look together as opposed to past seasons, they look like they actually give a shit in the team’s social media posts.

Expectations are never high for the Leathernecks, and 6th place would be considered an outstanding year for Western Illinois. They have a good and experienced core, and quality role players to go around them. They’ll probably never surprise us again as they did in the 2019 Summit League Tournament, but they are capable of giving everyone in the league a fight this season.

With the high team chemistry, confidence building schedule, and playing experience, the Leathernecks might finally finish better than 7th in the conference.


My trivial Preseason Summit League rankings

6th Western Illinois

7th Fort Wayne

8th South Dakota State

9th Denver

 

A biased Summit League preseason ranking preview: 8th place (you might be shocked by this)

South Dakota State

Projected Conference Wins: 2 to 6

Projected Regular Season Finish: 6th to 9th

Key returning players: To be determined

History and tradition may be on the side of the Jackrabbits, but 2019-2020 isn’t on their side.


Disclaimer:

You’re probably shocked by this ranking, or maybe you’re not. You might be mad by this, and if you are, you should probably grow up. These are trivial rankings from a blog, written by a guy with just a little too much time on his hands.

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The Summit League is pretty even and up for grabs this season. Really, it feels like there are 3 tiers of basketball teams.

Since we’re working our way up, we’re just going to talk about the bottom tiers. The bottom tier is Denver, and that’s it, just Denver. The middle tier are teams 4th to 8th. All teams in this tier have about the same amount of talent and experience, but what may make or break their seasons will be their overall health.

Injuries to both Oral Roberts and South Dakota broke their seasons last year. Both teams finished 7-9 to finish 5th and 6th in the standings. With better health, each of them could have finished above North Dakota State. They were in the 2nd tier.

Omaha was in the 2nd tier in 2017-2018. Probably could have picked up a few more wins with a healthier Mitch Hahn and Renard Suggs.


Every team loses players from year-to-year. Everyone has something to make up. All the teams are shuffling in new faces and trying to figure out their rotations.

The Jackrabbits lost their head coach. They graduated the Summit League’s all time scoring leader, in addition to graduating two other starters. David Jenkins, who was expected to be the focal point of their offense going forward, transferred to UNLV.

First year Head Coach Eric Henderson will be dealing with entirely new look Jackrabbit team. The roster returns 18% of their scoring from last season, which is the lowest in the Summit League. The team also has just 40 division one starts on the roster, also the lowest in the Summit League, and the lowest amount of division one minutes, 500 minutes behind Denver.

This is the first time in a long time South Dakota State will be coming into the season without a star. There was a long line of Mike Daum, Cody Larson, Deondre Parks, Jake Bittle, Jordan Dykstra, or Nate Wolters…this season, they don’t have a star coming into the season. No one knows who “The Guy” is for the Jackrabbits this year.

Henderson came off as the most excited Summit League coach at the Summit League Media Day, and he did claim everyone in the locker room is confident and ready to be The Next Guy.

I’m going to do a comparison to Omaha, because, well, you know why…

The two teams are similar in experience, both have just 2 seniors and 2 juniors, both lack size, both like to play at a higher pace. That’s some pretty vague exposition, but here we go.

This is the third year Omaha’s 4 upperclassmen will be playing together. One of South Dakota State’s upperclassman, Beau Brown is a seldom used walk on, and the other three have never played game a college basketball game together.

If Omaha was in a close game with anyone in the conference, they know who is taking over the game down the stretch. In contrast, South Dakota State doesn’t have that. The Jackrabbits may have plenty of talent on their roster, but they follow the typical archetype of a team missing leadership in late game situations.

And a side note: out of the players who are coming back – The Jackrabbits were seriously afraid of Matt Pile last year. When they played in Omaha, South Dakota State was up by 8 when they put Mike Daum on the bench, and the Mavericks came back in less than 2 minutes. They couldn’t afford to play without Daum last season, because they were not confident in the players behind him.

Their roster just follows the type of pattern of teams who struggle down the stretch of games and have poor communication defense. Basketball is played on a court and not on a spreadsheet in my computer, so it’s just up to the Jackrabbits to go out and play and tell me I’m wrong.

It’s up to Henderson and his staff to get his players to play as a team, and not just letting the players try to each selfishly be “The Guy.”

The rest of the Summit League is more experienced than the Jackrabbits, and are less likely to have those issues. There are more “toss up” games for South Dakota State, certainly more than there have been in the last 4 years.

I know I spent a paragraph shit talking about their returning players, but the Jackrabbits do have talent on the roster.

Senior point guard Brandon Key decided to use a redshirt last season. As a junior, Key led the Jackrabbits in assists and was 5th in the conference in assists per game. He was also 8th in the conference in assist to turnover ratio. Key also came off the bench when the Jackrabbits played Maryland in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and he scored 16 points in 29 minutes. North Dakota State’s Vinnie Shahid is the only Summit League player to have more points and minutes in the NCAA Tournament (not counting NDSU’S “First Four” game). Key’s ability to be a floor general and experience will be an x-factor in the ceiling of how good the Jackrabbits can be this season.

Junior college transfer forward Douglas Wilson was the NJCAA Player of the Year last season and was the leader of a National Championship team. The 6’7″ forward will be an immediate impact for the team down low, but he doesn’t have much of a perimeter game and won’t help with stretching out the floor, like Jackrabbit offenses have been accustomed to in the past. Oddly, as the NJCAA Player of the Year, he didn’t make Jucorecruiting.com’s top 100 junior college prospects.

Fellow junior college transfer Tray Buchanan did make the website’s honorable mention list. The 6’4″ guard started his college career at North Dakota before transferring to Des Moines Area Community College. Buchanan scored over 19 points per game at DMACC and made 2.5 threes per game. Henderson expects him to be a key player on the team with Wilson and returner Alex Arians.

Again, the Jackrabbits have a talented roster, and it will be up to the coaching staff to lead everyone to figure out their roles in order for the team to finish in the top half of the league.

With the Denver’s roster, I made a comparison to the movie world, and I’d like to do that with South Dakota State.

This Jackrabbit roster is just like the casting of Major League 3.  There was no Tom Berenger, no Charlie Sheen, no Wesley Snipes/Omar Epps, just role players like the All State guy, the idiot catcher, and Corbin Bernsen as a grown up came back. The movie did bring us Walter Goggins, and you don’t know that because you didn’t waste your time on that movie, and I respect that. This team is looking for their Walter Goggins.

Now, you know I’d never accuse the Summit League of picking favorites and showing favoritism toward anyone. They’d never help out one of their favorites in scheduling.

The Jackrabbits, are one of the three teams to never have three consecutive conference road games, though. They do have a pretty difficult week in January where they travel to Denver for a Wednesday night match up, and then travel all the way to Fort Wayne for a Saturday afternoon contest. They are fortunate enough to have that journey over winter break. Their other two game road trip is after week of rest, too.

They’ll also have 4 of their last 6 games leading into the conference tournament at home.

The Jackrabbits have talent, but they will have chemistry issues and growing pains in comparison to the rest of the league. Life after Daum (and Jenkins) might just be a little rough, but they’ll be fine, eventually.

I think it’s just fine to expect them to not be at the top, or even the top half of the league, this one year.

Okay, there is a possibility I might just want South Dakota State to be bad for once, but I think there is a strong case for them not having high expectations this season.


My trivial Summit League preseason rankings

8th South Dakota State

9th Denver

Some things to think about with basketball teams around the Summit League

College basketball is back in two weeks, so I’ll be coming out with some of my own Summit League preaseason rankings and obviously biased team previews over the next couple weeks.

How about we start you off with a little something to think about around the Summit League.

DENVER

The Pioneers had a disaster of a season in 2018-2019. Rodney Billups’ staff  had picked up two graduate transfers, Ronnie Harrell from Creighton and Tory Stewart-Miller from Colorado, to go along with a veteran team, and the preseason expectations were high. Some even thought the Pioneers were going to be able to compete with Mike Daum and South Dakota State for a conference championship.

Unfortunately, the team had injuries up and down the roster, and Pioneers season seemed to get worse and worse as time went on. There were only 3 players on the roster who played in every game for the Pioneers last season.

The injuries allowed for more playing time and development for freshmen David Nzekwesi and Jace Townsend, who are expected to be young leaders in 2019-2020.

As the least experienced team in the Summit League, most are expecting the Pioneers to miss the conference tournament again this season. In combination with being the youngest team in the conference, the coaching staff will also have 3 assistant coaches in their first year in their roles.

One thing helping the Pioneers is that they are one of three teams in the conference to never have 3 consecutive conference road games this season. Also, with only 6 returning players, it could be difficult to scout Denver.

NORTH DAKOTA

Did you know the Fighting Hawks had the best defensive three point field goal percentage in the Summit League last season, but the worst overall defensive field goal percentage?

Another weird stat: they were 3-0 playing at home on Saturdays, and 0-4 playing on the road on Saturdays in the Summit League.

North Dakota will be returning 68% of their scoring, and that’s the 4th most in the conference. One of their best players last season, Marlon Stewart, was slowed down with injuries last season, but is apparently the healthiest he has been in a while.

It’s hard to get a feel for North Dakota with a brand new coaching staff.

Head Coach Paul Sather appears to be quite excited about redshirt freshman De’Sean Allen-Eikens, and thinks he’s a future star in the league.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE

The Bison were picked as the preseason favorite in the Summit League, with good reason.

They won the conference tournament last season, and they only lost Deng Geu who transferred to North Texas, so they do lose some height and energy off the bench. Dave Richman has a steady track record of finding replacements, so it’s not really something to worry about.

It’s hard not to like the Bison. One thing to think about is that Cameron Hunter was playing with an injury last season. Hunter averaged 9 points a game as a freshman and saw a drop in production his sophomore year, and he’s just going to be another weapon for the Bison if he comes back at 100%.

OMAHA

Everyone in Omaha is talking about the losses of Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson, and yeah it’s a lot to lose.

Something no one in Omaha seems to be discussing is the losses of 6’9″ Brett Barney, 6’8″ Logan Strom, and 6’11” Evan Tricker. With just 4 upperclassmen on the roster, the Mavericks will be younger, but they’re also going to lack some serious size, even with Matt Pile on the roster.

We’re going to discuss Omaha more at a later time. I think that’s obvious.

One thing to consider…The Mavericks and the Creighton Bluejays never have a home game on the same day this season. With some energy and attention brought on with a successful 2018-2019 season, the Mavericks home games could start seeing some larger crowds.

Also, did you know that last season was the first season the Mavericks have had a winning road record since joining division one?

ORAL ROBERTS

The Golden Eagles started the conference season in 2019 with three straight wins, and they eventually faced injury situations with Emmanuel Nzekwesi and struggled with consistency.

Though, they are the biggest team in the conference, the Golden Eagles struggle with taking care of the basketball. They had the most turnovers in the Summit League last season, and teams were able to outrun them.

The Golden Eagles were picked 3rd in the preseason poll, but they are intimidating on paper.

In addition to returning 83% of their scoring from last season, the Golden Eagles are adding experience to their roster. Paul Mills’ staff added two graduate transfers and will also have point guard R.J. Fuqua coming back to the roster, who redshirted his sophomore season.

Paul Mills has also stated that Nzekwesi is 100% healthy, and had the best summer that he has ever seen in all of his years of coaching.

If Oral Roberts can cut down on the turnovers and Nzekwesi is healthy, the Golden Eagles can beat anyone in the league.  Maybe even any team in the state of Nebraska.

Purdue Fort Wayne

I initially wasn’t feeling impressed with the Mastodons. John Konchar was one of the best players ever to play in the Summit League, and I’d argue that he was a better overall player than Mike Daum. Making up that loss seems like it’s too much.

I don’t think they’ll be better than the likes of North Dakota State or South Dakota, but they’ll be competitive, and they will frustrate anyone in the league.

The ‘Dons will be adding Brian Patrick, a 6’5″ transfer from Kansas State, who didn’t see the floor much for the Wildcats, but he does have experience in 4 NCAA Tournament games. In addition to losing Konchar, the ‘Dons also lost guard Matt Weir to transfer, and I thought Fort Wayne would be light at the point guard sport. Jon Coffman landed junior college transfer point guard DeMieere Black, who was made the Honorable Mention List on JUCOrecruiting.com’s Top 100 recruits list. The website also listed him at 6’3″ and Fort Wayne’s website lists him at 6’0″, so maybe just no one knows what they’re talking about.  Fellow incoming junior college transfer Jalin Wimberly also made the list. Wimberly scored 15 points on 73% from the field as a freshman. Yikes!

Fort Wayne might be the most sneaky good team in the conference, but maybe the Summit League will sabotage the Mastodons’ last Summit League season?

The Mastodons have never been particularly deep, at least since I started paying attention to them after Omaha joined the Summit League, and last year the Mastodons had 9 players play in all 33 games on the season. Can they be that lucky with health again?

That may sound like a threat of some kind after mentioning the Summit League might be out to sabotage their season, but it’s not. Welp, this is awkward.

South Dakota

With 5 seniors and 2 juniors, the Coyotes will be the most experienced team in the Summit League.

The roster has 11,455 division one minutes played on the active roster. That’s over 1000 more minutes over the North Dakota State with the second most.

According to Jeff Goodman, Nebraska transfer Brady Heiman was granted a waiver to be immediately eligible to play this season for South Dakota. It is unclear if Heiman will still use his redshirt, but the 11,455 minutes does not include Heiman.

The Coyotes are another team we’re going to discuss more later.

South Dakota State

Who gave the Jackrabbits first place votes in the preseason poll? Seriously, who? Two people apparently did this.

I’d love to meet the two maniacs who went camping on the hottest day of the year, saw who could chug a bottle of Fireball the fastest, then had a candy corn eating contest, bumped each other in the head, and then rolled down a hill into a bee’s nest…then apparently came to and said: “Yeah, South Dakota State is definitely better than North Dakota State, South Dakota, and Oral Roberts.”

The Preseason Summit League Notes in the press release for the preseason rankings said something nice about all the teams in the conference except the Jackrabbits. They couldn’t even think of a positive note about this team, but two people thought they’d be the best team in the conference.

The Jackrabbits lost the Dauminator, their top 4 scorers, and their head coach.

Western Illinois

Riding the confidence of upsetting South Dakota State, and almost beating North Dakota State in the Summit League Tournament, this Leatherneck team could be the most talented and well rounded team Billy Wright has had at Western Illinois. I understand that isn’t saying much, but it’s true.

 

 

 

 

Fort Wayne’s departure leaves the Summit League in a tough spot

As expected, Fort Wayne is leaving the Summit League for the Horizon League.

Good for the ‘Dons. The move is much better for them, they’re going to be within driving distance to more than half of the schools in the conference (I’m just assuming that, I’m too bitter and I’m hiding my anger to look it up).

I’m going to miss the Fort Wayne fans banter online, they were the best at it out of the Summit League schools, but that might be because they were too far from any other conference foe to travel for actual events so they just took their rage out online.

As fun as the UNO and IPFW basketball match ups were, I literally cannot remember seeing anyone in the Ralston Arena or the Baxter Arena in a Mastodon shirt. I’ve seen every other Summit League opponent represented by fans in Omaha, but never Fort Wayne.

It was obvious Fort Wayne wanted to leave the Summit for the Horizon League, they were pretty public about it, but I personally thought it might be a while as I assumed the Horizon League would be apprehensive about going to 11 members.  But hey, maybe they’re going to add a 12th member.

Okay, yeah, good for them. Now here we are as Summit League fans thinking we’d be back to 10 schools in the conference, with the future addition of UMKC, but nope we’re going to be at 9 schools again.  Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.

Aside from that, the conference will only have 5 schools with baseball programs, which will drop the school from having an automatic bid for the NCAA baseball tournament. I’m currently blaming geography, but the Summit League will have to work quickly to find another baseball program.  They will have a grace period of 2 years to find another program before losing the automatic bid.

So who are we going to add? This is where I’m about to just list off some schools as potential suitors and why they might be a good or a stupid idea for the Summit League.


Augustana

There has been documented interest of Augustana moving up to division one and joining the Summit League, though other Summit League schools aren’t super cool with adding another Dakota to the conference.

The Vikings have everything the Summit League wants. They don’t have men’s soccer, but maybe they pull an Omaha and drop football (and wrestling) for men’s soccer. The athletics program is consistently competitive in all their sports, they even won the Division 2 Men’s Basketball Championship in 2016. There would be obvious growing pains in the transition phase, and they would have to compete with two in state division one programs in recruiting, so perhaps they wouldn’t have that same consistency in the Summit League as they do in division two. They might actually steal recruits away from the Jackrabbits…okay, I’m starting to talk myself into Augustana.

Denver has apparently threatened to leave the conference if Augustana joined the Summit League, but Denver is always going to threaten to leave the conference, so who cares anymore?

Personally, I think the prospect of a school in the same city as the conference basketball tournaments and the league headquarters coming into the conference is just annoying. If Augustana is going to join the conference, move the conference tournament around a bit. Throw the conference tournament in Omaha, Kansas City, or Denver. I get how much money comes rolling into Sioux Falls, but it’s seriously not fair for any non-South Dakota school fan base to be away from a Tuesday night conference championship year after year.


Chicago State

Like UMKC, Chicago State is being punched in the mouth with travel costs in the WAC. The athletic program does have baseball, they’d create a travel partner for Western Illinois. The Cougars don’t have men’s soccer, and on top of that, Chicago State is just bad at athletics. The school recently even looked into moving down to division 2.

Here is Chicago State’s team records over the last 5 years…

Baseball: 60-205-1

Men’s basketball: 24-135

Women’s basketball: 11-136 (7 Summit League programs had more than 11 wins in 2018-2019)

Women’s soccer: 3-87-2 (6 Summit League programs had more than 3 wins in 2018-2019)

Volleyball: 29-122

Chicago State moving to the Summit League would help Chicago State, and other than just bringing baseball to 6 teams Chicago State wouldn’t help the Summit League.

A division 2 school reclassifying and joining the Summit League might have quicker success than Chicago State in the conference.


Drake

Drake would be cool for a number of reasons.  It’s a manageable driving distance from Omaha, the South Dakota schools, and Kansas City. They’d raise the competitive bar in a few different sports. The Bulldogs don’t have baseball program because baseball in the state of Iowa can be summed up with a sad face emoji. So Drake won’t be happening anytime soon.


Minnesota State- Mankato

When I was a student at UNO, students used to constantly ask what it would be like if UNO became division one. I find myself wondering if Mankato students ask the same division one questions about their own school.

The con here is that Mankato is also known as the Mavericks, and I would throw a lot of money into a pot every year trying to get Durgano and Stomper to box as half time entertainment at a basketball game.

A Minnesota school in the Summit League could hurt recruiting in the Summit League. With no mid-major program in the state, Minnesota has been a great recruiting zone for the Dakotas and Omaha.


Northern Colorado

One of few schools that could benefit the athletic program and the Summit League.

Northern Colorado would create a travel partner for Denver. The Bears baseball and swimming & diving programs currently compete as affiliate members in the WAC, they could go full Summit with these programs.

Other than Denver, the Bears would have to fly to every program in the Summit League, but they already have to do that now in the Big Sky.


SIU Edwardsville

SIUE in the past has been in talks of leaving the Ohio Valley Conference. Geographically, the Horizon would make more sense than the Summit League for the Cougars. The OVC already makes more sense, but hey whatever, the athletic program apparently talked to the WAC a while back, and that conferences makes the least amount of sense.

Edwardsville would create a travel partner for Western Illinois. They are also less than 4 hours away from Kansas City.

Additionally, SIUE isn’t Chicago State.


Saint Louis

This is the least likely scenario, but the Billikins playing in the Atlantic 10 makes no actual sense to me. The Missouri Valley, The Ohio Valley, and the Horizon League would be more likely destinations for Saint Louis, but why can’t the Summit League dream?

We’ve already got a travel partner for them with UMKC. Actually, Macomb is closer to St. Louis than Kansas City is, but who cares?

I already have to go to movie theaters in Omaha and sit through advertisements by St. Louis trying to attract Omaha high school students to their university. The least they could do is write a letter to the Omaha World Herald why you won’t join the Summit League. I’m not asking for a lot here.

I know Tom Douple and the Summit League is quiet about their conversations with potential schools joining the Summit League, but if they’re not trying to attract Saint Louis, I’d seriously like to know why. The only thing I could think of is that it would upset South Dakota State fans as their program wouldn’t be the top dog in men’s basketball.


LET’S GET NUTS

You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts.

We want to get everyone happy? We want to get everyone travel partners? Let’s get after this thing.

Tom Douple gets Northern Colorado, St. Louis, and Drake in a room. Like a nice room, a nice catered event, everyone likes free food. I’m thinking little smokies. We pitch all three, we get the Summit League up to 12 programs. We’ve got more home games for these schools and less flights for just about everyone.

Denver has a travel partner. Western Illinois has a travel partner. SIU Edwardsville has a travel partner. Oral Roberts becomes the school that’s just kind of in a weird place, but they seem fine with it. Some weasel faced writer from Ohio isn’t condescending when he hears about a Summit-Horizon League challenge.

We can move this conference basketball tournament around between Sioux Falls, Fargo, Omaha, Denver, Tulsa, St. Louis. It’s fun, we’re all happy except for Denver since there is no pleasing them. There is also some Jackrabbit fan that’s all pissy cause all they care about is themselves.

It’s an insane idea, but you got to dream, right?

Yes, I understand the percentage of this plan working is less than the winning percentage of any given Chicago State team winning percentage.