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.
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.
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%.
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?
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.
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.
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.