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.
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.
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
5th North Dakota
6th Western Illinois
7th Fort Wayne