By Kevin Sweeney
While the Summit League typically doesn’t receive a lot of attention thanks to its geographic location, it has developed into one of the top one-bid leagues in college basketball. Its conference RPI ranked ahead of perennial powerhouse leagues like the Mountain West, Missouri Valley, and the WCC, per realtimeRPI.com. The talent in this conference continues to improve year after year, with multiple teams knocking off Power 5 opponents last season while numerous others fell just short of pulling a huge upset. The Summit League should be wide-open and one of the most intriguing conferences to follow this season.
- South Dakota State
- Fort Wayne
- North Dakota State
- Western Illinois
- Oral Roberts
- South Dakota
Champions: South Dakota State- The loss of a pair of outstanding guards in George Marshall and Deondre Parks will certainly hurt, but the Jackrabbits should still be one of the top teams in the Summit League. They bring back forward Mike Daum, who put up monster numbers last season despite averaging only 20.8 minutes per game. Daum should thrive in new Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger’s uptempo system that allowed forwards like Georges Niang to thrive at Iowa State. Graduate transfer point guard Michael Orris, who has spent time at Kansas State and Northern Illinois, will be looked to to handle point guard duties, a position where the Jackrabbits are thin. They will likely have the best frontcourt in the league, so good guard play would catapult them into pole position for the Summit League title.
Dark Horse: IUPUI- With most preseason predictions considering the Summit League to be a 3-horse race, IUPUI has flown under the radar. However, the Jaguars have plenty of talent in their own right. Leading the way will be Darell Combs, the outstanding guard who averaged nearly 17 points per game last season. They also have Matt O’Leary, a forward with excellent passing skills and nice touch from beyond the arc. That duo will be as potent as any in the conference, and should keep the Jaguars in a lot of games. A pair of transfer guards will likely be the difference between IUPUI being average and great this season. Former Syracuse guard Ron Patterson should provide some athleticism on the wing, while graduate transfer Kellon Thomas, who enters after spending his first 3 seasons of eligibility at Kent State, is an excellent scorer and distributor. If Thomas and Patterson put up big numbers, the Jags should surprise some people in the Summit League.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Mike Daum-South Dakota State
- G: Paul Miller-North Dakota State
- G: Darell Combs-IUPUI
- G: Mo Evans-Fort Wayne
- G: Tra-Deon Hollins- Omaha
Player of the Year: Mo Evans- Evans was a big reason for Fort Wayne’s outstanding start to the 2015-16 season. In fact, the Mastodons were 15-3 in games that Evans played in last season. However, Evans didn’t play after January 9th due to academic issues, a devastating blow for Fort Wayne. Now, he’s back, and with star guard Max Landis having graduated, Evans will be looked to for even more production in the 2016-17 season. He averaged nearly 17 points per game, while ranking second in the conference in assists per game with 5.1. He should be one of the top players in the conference, and a big reason why the Mastodons will be one of the top teams in the Summit League.
Newcomer of the Year: Kellon Thomas (IUPUI)- An excellent scorer at the point guard position, Thomas should be a huge addition for the Jaguars. He led Kent State as a junior in assists and 3’s made, while ranking 2nd in scoring. Thomas will likely take over a lot of the ball-handling duties from star guard Darell Combs, an excellent scorer who struggled with turnovers last season. A big season for Thomas could lead the Jaguars into contention for the Summit League title.