Summit League Preview
In its first year under a new name, the Summit League – formerly the Mid-Continent Conference – was one of the most underrated conferences in the country. It featured a tight two-team race at the top of the league, with Oral Roberts edging out preseason favorite IUPUI by one game. ORU started 13-0 but faltered somewhat down the stretch, while IUPUI won 10 of its 11 league games to make it close. Two other teams finished above .500, with two more going 9-9. The two regular-season titans met in the conference tournament title game, with Oral Roberts prevailing once again and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Crusaders fell to Pittsburgh in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. This year, North Dakota State – which has averaged more than 17 wins per season the past three years – is finally eligible for the postseason, which should add another contender to the mix.
Favorites: Oakland is coming off of a fairly successful season which saw the Golden Grizzlies finish in third, going 17-14 overall. They return five starters from that group. Chief among them is all-conference forward Derick Nelson, a double-double threat every night out who can carry the team. Furthermore, the all-conference backcourt duo of Johnathan Jones and Erik Kangas might be the best in the league. 6-11 Keith Benson and 6-10 Dan Waterstadt also return up front. North Dakota State has been a contender near the top of the standings for a couple of seasons, but they are finally eligible for the postseason. Luckily, the Bison return five starters, including the best inside-outside duo in the league in guard Ben Woodside and forward Brett Winkelman. Both players are supremely productive and difficult to defend. Don’t forget scoring wing Mike Nelson, either. Lucas Moorman and Josh Vaughan will likely round out the lineup. Oral Roberts will take a step back after losing four starters from its 24-win, NCAA Tournament campaign. Still, the Crusaders return an excellent inside-outside duo in sixth man extraordinaire Robert Jarvis and forward Marcus Lewis. Andre Hardy and Kelvin Sango are two more solid returnees, while Ball State transfer Kevin Ford and JC transfer Reggie Guyton have a chance to make an impact.
Contenders: IUPUI suffered the biggest loss in the league when George Hill decided to forego his final season to enter the NBA Draft, where he was drafted in the first-round. Still, the Jaguars return a solid duo in guard Gary Patterson and forward Jon Avery, two all-conference candidates. Billy Pettiford also returns, while newcomers Robert Glenn and Alex Young could start. IPFW has steadily improved under the guidance of former Indiana guard Dane Fife, and this year should be no different. Two double-figure scorers return in forward David Carson and guard Ben Botts, while guards Jakari Johnson and Zach Plackemeier are solid. Kansas State transfer Deilvez Yearby and Central Michigan Aaron Richie could start immediately.
Sleepers: UMKC will go as far as its talented backcourt can take it. The Kangaroos return all-conference guard Dane Brumagin, one of the better all-around players in the conference, and Reggie Hamilton, a versatile guard. Forward James Humphrey returns in the frontcourt, but newcomer Latreze Mushatt could make an impact. Southern Utah finished tied for fifth last season, going .500 in league play despite going just 11-19 overall. David Marek and Davis Baker lead the way in the backcourt, with Rick Roberts also chipping in. Tyler Quinney came on strong down the stretch at forward.
Rounding out the Pack: Centenary does have some solid pieces which could enable it to make moves upwards in the standings. Nick Stallings is an all-conference performer at guard, while forward Lance Hill can score and rebound. Chase Adams is a very good player at both ends of the floor, and Anthony Gatlin and Jerald Bonham also return. South Dakota State has a chance to improve on its three-year average of fewer than eight wins per season. Kai Williams should be an all-conference candidate at forward; he is very productive. Garrett Callahan is a double-figure scorer at guard, while Clint Sargent can shoot the ball. Mackenzie Casey will run the point for the Jackrabbits. Western Illinois will depend very heavily on newcomers after losing three starters from last season. For the returnees, David Dubois and David Nurse lead the way. Outside of him, Josh Rivers is the only other key player coming back. Guard Tommie Tyler and forward Julian Jones are the best of the newcomers.
Prediction: Despite Oral Roberts being the defending champion and bringing back Robert Jarvis, this looks like a two-team race for the title. Oakland has the best trio in the conference in Derick Nelson, Erik Kangas and Johnathan Jones, while North Dakota State has two of the best in the league in Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman. Nelson and Woodside’s battle for Player of the Year should be as close as the race for the championship and berth to the NCAA Tournament. The difference come March will be Oakland’s depth and overall talent level. They have everything necessary to win the conference – size, shooting, guards, go-to-guys – and it will come together for the Golden Grizzlies to head to the Big Dance.
Player of the Year: Ben Woodside, G, North Dakota State
G- Ben Woodside, North Dakota State
G- Robert Jarvis, Oral Roberts
G- Dane Brumagin, UMKC
F- Derrick Nelson, Oakland
F- Brett Winkelman, North Dakota State
G- Gary Patterson, IUPUI
G- Nick Stallings, Centenary
G- Erik Kangas, Oakland
G- Johnathan Jones, Oakland
F- Kai Williams, South Dakota State