Much like the other two one bid leagues I've covered so far in this series of season previews, the America East and Patriot League, the Summit League is likely to feature a new champion in 2009-10 thanks to significant losses for the defending champion. Last March, North Dakota State, a team led by a core group of fifth-year seniors who led their team an NCAA berth in their first year of eligibility, caused an outbreak of Bison Fever in the upper Midwest. Now that Summit League MVP Ben Woodside (23.2 ppg, 6.2 apg), first-teamer Brett Winkelman (18.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Mike Nelson (11.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Lucas Moorman (4.5 ppg, 4 rpg) have graduated, Saul Phillips has some holes to plug to make his team a contender again.
In offseason news, the conference's membership, which has settled into a level of stability that's rare for it's history, was the dominant topic. The Summit League will indeed experience some change in the coming seasons. South Dakota will leave the fledgling Great West and join the conference in 2011-12. The Coyotes won't be eligible for the league championship until the next season, however, as that's when their transition into Division I ends. North Dakota had hoped to join the other three Dakota state schools and join the league's as its 12th member, but as I explained in this post, the conference won't look at them until they resolve the controversy surrounding their Fighting Sioux nickname, a topic that won't be resolved until the end of this month.
North Dakota's chances at received a further boost later in the offseason, as there will be an additional opening. Centenary, long the league's hoops doormat and a fringe member geographically, decided to in July to de-emphasize athletics and drop to Division III, effective with the 2011-12 academic year. They'll continue to compete in the conference before they leave D-I.
No matter the membership, the Summit typically a competitive league, and with such a void at the top, it should be a epic tussle for the championship this season. More on each team after the jump.
Here are my picks for the 2009-10 Summit League season, presented in reverse order.
Centenary (last NCAA: None) The Gents begin the first of two lame duck years in the conference with little to play for. They're already banned from the postseason for APR shortcomings. Then, Summit League Defensive Player of the Year decided that he'd had enough and transferred to Pittsburgh. With only one returning starter, 6-8 F Jerrald Bonham (2.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg) and nowhere to really go, second year head coach Greg Gary has one of the most unenviable jobs in college sports.
Western Illinois (last NCAA: None) The Leathernecks went 9-20 a year ago, while not even averaging 60 points a game. Add in the fact that WIU's two leading scorers from last season, David DuBois and Josh Rivers, graduated, and it could be an ugly year in Macomb. Guards David Nurse (8.4 ppg) and Ceola Clark (7.7 ppg) will have to lead the way offensively, while the frontcourt is rather thin. The one reason to pay attention to the Leathernecks this season is that Emeka Okafor, Jr. may feature more in that frontcourt. No, he's not the former UConn star's son, but he is a cousin.
UMKC (last NCAA: None) The Kangaroos lost two very productive starters, swingman Dane Brumagin (15.3 ppg) and guard Reggie Hamilton (12 ppg), but the three returning starters, G Bakari Lewis (10.8 ppg), F Spencer Johnson (10.7 ppg), and F Latreze Mushatt (9.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) are a serviceable group. Coach Matt Brown's group of newcomers could provide a real boost, however. They include Jay Couisnard, a 6-6 F who will be eligible after transferring from Evansville; Max Rockmann, a 6-6 German forward; and 6-7 F/C Kirk Korver, youngest brother of former Creighton star and NBAer, Kyle.
IPFW (last NCAA: None) Dane Fife is only 30, but is entering his fifth season in charge of the Mastodons. His team could be poised for a breakout year, as IPFW returns four starters and the defending Summit League Sixth Man of the Year, Deilvez Yearby (9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg). If guard Ben Botts (11.3 ppg) can score and Yearby and the 6-10 Trey McCorkle can take care of things inside, the Mastodons could do well during conference play. A non-conference slate featuring Gonzaga, Michigan State, Washington State, and Wisconsin will provide plenty of tests beforehand.
North Dakota State (last NCAA: 2009) Earlier, I talked about everything the Bison lost after last year's championship. 6-7 F Michael Tveidt (9.8 ppg, 44.9% on 3-pointers) is the lone returning starter. Last year's bench players, led by F Dejuan Flowers (3.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and G Josh Vaughan (2.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg), will have to step it up for there to be any chance at a repeat. If you're looking for someone who could replace Ben Woodside, pay attention to freshman G Mike Felt, who was second-team all-Minnesota last year, averaging 30.3 points per game.
Southern Utah (last NCAA: 2001) Head coach Roger Reid brought in a whole bunch of recruits to support all-Summit League selection Davis Baker (17.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg). The newcomers, led by 6-10 Australian Matt Hodgson and 6-11 Canadian Dallin Bachynski, will be expected to fill the void left by the graduation of F Tyler Quinney (13.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and C John Clifford (9.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg). Matt Massey, a 6-9 Australian transfer from Nova Southeastern, will also see significant time after sitting out last season.
Oral Roberts (last NCAA: 2008) The Golden Eagles' run atop the Summit League ended at the hands of South Dakota State in the first round of last year's conference tournament. They'll have a hard time getting back, as they lost three starters, including the team's two leading scorers, Robert Jarvis and Marcus Lewis. The frontcourt should in be good shape, thanks to the return of 6-9 Kevin Ford (9.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and 6-6 Dominique Morrison (9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and the arrival of JC transfers Michael Craion and Javier Nasarre. In the backcourt, Kyron Stokes (7 ppg) will have to prove he's recovered from ankle surgery and Southeast Missouri transfer Rod Pearson has to show he's ready to take over the offense from the graduated Kelvin Sango.
IUPUI (last NCAA: 2003) The Jaguars have recorded a .500 mark or better in the Summit League for seven straight years. With four starters returning off last year's squad that got better as the year went on, they should make it eight. Robert Glenn (14.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) was the conference's Newcomer of the Year last season, and he'll be a serious contender for Player of the Year honors this season. Frontcourt-mate Alex Young (11.0 ppg) was the only other Jaguar to average in double-figures, but three-point sharpshooter Leroy Nobles (9.9 ppg, 41.7% from 3) and Jon Avery (9.1 ppg) should join the club this season. Billy Pettiford, a 6-7 senior F who averaged a bit more than 5 points and 5 boards a game, could be a factor too, if he performs more consistently.
South Dakota State (last NCAA: None) The Jackrabbits could very well replace their Northern rivals at the top of the league this season, as they can follow a similar formula. SDSU returns all five starters, and four top-10 scorers. 6-1 Garrett Callahan (15.8 ppg) and Clint Sargent (14.1 ppg) will anchor the backcourt. Callahan's brother, Griffan also features on the roster, as he averaged 5.4 points and 3 boards a game last season. Meanwhile, Anthony Cordova (12 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Kai Williams (9.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) are two players who can be counted on to do the hard work inside. The Jackrabbits also have the advantage of having the conference tournament in their backyard, as Sioux Falls is only an hour south of Brookings on I-29.
Oakland (last NCAA: 2005) Last March, the Grizzlies very nearly eradicated Bison Fever before it ever reached the Metrodome. They should be able to finish the job this season thanks to an excellent crop of returnees. 6-11 C Keith Benson, the league leader in blocks (2.4 bpg) and field goal percentage (62.2 %) and second-leading rebounder in the Summit (7.8 rpg) is back. Point guard Johnathon Jones, the country's best assist man (8.1 apg), is back too. So is Derick Nelson, who redshirted last season after a foot injury. The 6-5 PF averaged 17.3 ppg and 7.3 rpg during the 2007-08 campaign. Head coach Greg Kampe even picks up St. John's transfer Larry Wright to replace the only major loss from last year's squad, Erik Kangas (18.9 ppg), who set the Summit League's single-season record for 3-pointers.
With all of that firepower, it's no wonder that the Grizzlies are my preseason pick for the Summit League crown. You'll see them in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket on November 9. To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-Summit League team, featuring the best returning players from last season.
Preseason All-Summit League Team
Player of the Year: Keith Benson, 6-11 C, Jr. (Oakland)
Remainder of the Team
Davis Baker, 6-4 G, Sr. (Southern Utah)
Garrett Callahan, 6-1 G, Sr. (South Dakota State)
Johnathon Jones, 5-11 G, Sr. (Oakland)
Derick Nelson, 6-5 F, Sr. (Oakland)