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

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.

 

 

 

 

My trivial preseason Summit League rankings

I find preseason rankings pointless.  So here are some preseason rankings.  After the conference schedule has been released in the last two seasons, I have ran through each team’s schedules and done different predictions through different scenarios.

The first time I would go through and predict wins and losses based on different factors, such as: who is coming off a tougher game, who has a better bench, who is just a better overall team, who do I hate less, who is a better defensive team, and so on and so on.  I add up all the wins and losses and then that’s how I come to rankings.

Like last season, there doesn’t really seem to be much separation in the Summit League from 2 to 7.  There are not many automatic wins.  The 4 seed won in the conference championship last season, so anyone has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament this season.  Don’t come at me if you don’t like the rankings.

1) South Dakota State – projected conference wins: 9 to 12

As the 4 seed in the Summit League tournament in 2017, the Jackrabbits were able to ride Mike Daum all the way to the NCAA Tournament.  They have Mike Daum back, and they even return 75% of their scoring, so it’s pretty easy to envision them as the best team in the conference.

The Jackrabbits graduated their starting point guard Michael Orris, who was 4th in the Summit League in assists per game.  On paper, they have what it seems to make up for that production after signing junior college transfer Brandon Key, who averaged 7.2 assists per game as a sophomore and was 5th in NJCAA in assists.  They were also able to sign Dallas Polk-Hilliard from junior college, who averaged 19.3 points and 8.4 rebounds as a sophomore.  Polk-Hilliard once had an offer from the Mavericks.

The Jackrabbits are going to be able to play small, play big, shoot threes, defend, and they have a pretty deep bench to go along with a solid starting 5.  Summit League teams are going to have to rely on the Jackrabbits making mistakes and beating themselves in order to pick up a win against South Dakota State.

2) Denver – projected conference wins: 8 to 9

The Pioneers were supposed to have a difficult time transitioning to Rodney Billups’ offense, but they had no problem last season.  They only lost CJ Bobbitt from their rotation, who transferred to New Mexico State.  The team is also bound to not run out of steam as they are able to go 9 or 10 players deep.

If the Pioneers can get to a situation where they South Dakota State in the conference championship, can Daniel Amigo show up to play?  Amigo scored in double figures in all but three conference games last season, including the conference tournament.  All three of those games were against South Dakota State.

3) South Dakota – projected conference wins: 8 to 9

The Coyotes still have Matt Mooney, who is a top 5 player in the league.  They are still going to play great defense, and hustle, and do the things that they do to help themselves win basketball games.  They do have more question marks than you would think.

Their top post player graduated, and their starting point guard transferred to Georgetown, so there is a little ground to make up there.  Junior forwards Dan Jech and Tyler Hagedorn have yet to show consistency in their careers, and no one is even really sure what Nebraska transfer Nick Fuller can be.  Without a back up point guard, sophomore Triston Simpson is going to have to play some big minutes at the point.  Matt Mooney will likely have to play stretches at the point guard spot.

4) Fort Wayne – projected conference wins: 7 to 9

John Konchar could win 5 conference games completely on his own, so they really just need a few more guys to step up to be in the top half of the conference.  The ‘Dons are still going to come out and hit threes and play at a fast pace.

They will have a solid starting 5, but out of all the teams competing for the Summit League championship, Fort Wayne has the most questionable bench.  If they find themselves in foul trouble in big games, other teams should be able to outplay them.  Again, like in 2015-2016, the Mastodons don’t have a deep enough team to last three nights in a row in the Summit League tournament, so it’s going to be very important for them to land in the top 2 seeds.

5) North Dakota State Bison- projected conference wins: 7 to 9

The Bison are actually the youngest team in the Summit League this season.  You know what happened the last time they were the youngest team in the Summit League?  Lawrence Alexander led them to the conference championship, but the Summit League wasn’t as deep as it is now back then.  Paul Miller and AJ Jacobson are the only two seniors on the team, and Jacobson is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.

The Bison pride themselves on guys stepping up when someone goes down, and I’m sure a star will rise this season, but can Paul Miller carry the Bison like Lawrence Alexander once did?  Can this young team mentally get through the last 4 of 5 conference games on the road heading into the conference tournament?

6) Omaha – projected conference wins: 5 to 8

The Mavericks seem to have too much to make up after losing Tra-Deon Hollins, Marcus Tyus, and Tre’Shawn Thurman.  Omaha is actually the oldest team in the Summit League after adding transfers Renard Suggs and Lamar Wofford-Humphrey to the lineup, but there still appears to be a lot to figure out for the Mavericks.  They may even have a difficult time figuring out rotations against a non-conference schedule against Oklahoma, Washington, Louisville, TCU, and Kansas.

Losing 4 steals per game from Tra-Deon Hollins will be difficult in the sense that they may not be able to play as much transition offense as they did the last two seasons, which was Omaha’s comfort zone.  There will have be more half court sets and ball movement this season, which hasn’t been a huge strength of theirs in recent memory.  They do have the pieces around Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson to be competitive in the Summit League and play in half court sets, but there cannot be as many mistakes as there has been in the last season.

Figuring out how to divide up 40 minutes between Daniel Meyer, Lamar Wofford-Humphrey, and Matt Pile sounds like it could be a challenge for Derrin Hansen.  After seeing Matt Pile play against Creighton and show off his rebounding ability, and how good he is at setting screens, he may find himself beating out two seniors for minutes this season.

7) Oral Roberts – projected conference wins: 2 to 5

Paul Mills is known as being able to coach up an intense defense, and the Golden Eagles are going to need that in his first season.

Oral Roberts has the least amount of offense returning from last season, after graduating three starters and Kris Martin transferring to Colorado State.  The team has a serious three headed monster in the post with Albert Owens, Emmanuel Nzekwesi, and Javan White, but is that really a threat in a run-and-gun league?  They are capable of pulling off an upset against anyone, but consistency looks to be an issue for this team.

8) Western Illinois- projected wins: 1 to 4

I could not say with any confidence that any starter on their basketball team could start for any other Summit League team.  The Leathernecks could be classically bad.

Brandon Gilbeck averaged 3 blocks a game last season.  That’s cool, I guess.  Maybe he could have a break out season after the Leathernecks graduated their two leading scorers, and have few offensive weapons on the team.

 

8 things to know about the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

  1. Oral Roberts is returning 43% of their scoring.  That is tied for the lowest in the Summit League with Omaha.
  2. Fired head coach Scott Sutton.  Scott Sutton’s nephew Spencer Sutton is on this year’s roster.  Well, this is awkward.
  3. Will have a deep and threatening front court with Albert Owens (Summit League Honorable Mention in 2016-2017, Emmanuel Nzekwesi (Freshman of the Year), and Javan White (redshirted sophomore year in 2016-2017)  all returning to the team.
  4. Newcomer James Conley played at Hutchinson Community College, where his team won the National Championship his sophomore season.
  5. They are the easiest program to forget that plays in the Summit League.
  6. The Golden Eagles are the only Summit League team with a new head coach this season.  They hired Paul Mills, who was an assistant at Baylor for 14 years.  He had kind of a weird quote in his introduction referring to the his basketball team that I’m still trying to figure out: “…Men are going to see this good product and we are going to praise our father who is in heaven.”  Are Oral Roberts Men’s Basketball games No Girls Allowed events?
  7. Their opening game is their Homecoming, apparently.
  8. Albert Owens made the second most field goals in the Summit League last year behind South Dakota State’s Mike Daum.  That’s kind of fun, kind of boring, but whatever.  It’s safe to assume that “Kind of fun, kind of boring, but whatever” is the slogan for Tulsa, Oklahoma.