Archive for February, 2013

Maybe you’ve heard that offense in college basketball has been trending down lately.

That’s the peculiar thing about college, though: You’re often living in a bubble. The news is dictated differently, usually by word of mouth.  Stories you’d sometimes of caught wind of from your parents that bares mentioning goes unnoticed.

So forgive us Summit League folks. Bubble talk isn’t normally our game, but this time, we’re inside and must have missed the memo.

First, there’s the numbers, which state that the conference is right on par with the rest of Division-I, hovering around 68.1 points per game. Considering that two of its members in North Dakota State and Western Illinois rank in the bottom four of 347 teams in adjusted tempo (via kenpom.com), it seems the numbers could be lower.

And yet, isn’t this is an aesthetically-driven issue? In that regard, things have gone swimmingly. Thanks to national writers like CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander, Nate Wolters permeated the high-major conference talk and landed on the radar of college hoops aficionados, and that was before last Thursday’s tour de force in Fort Wayne. Also, consider that if you average the points per game of North Dakota State and Western Illinois coupled with those of South Dakota State and Oakland, you get 69.1.

Nate Wolters’ 53 points in Fort Wayne became tops of any Division-I player this season, even Travis Bader’s previous high of 47.

Which appropriately leads to a meeting at the pass of four teams. Just a week ago, it appeared as if only three teams would be making a serious expedition to glory in Sioux Falls, but an unexpected twist of a tweaked rotation and disciplined play has added another climber in Oakland.

Injuries coupled with strong runs of form have prompted opinions contrary to the standings. Factoring in the standings, the rest of the schedule and factors in play at the conference tourney, here’s a guess at the hierarchy of teams best positioned to rep the Summit in the Big Dance:

1. South Dakota State – The team that garnered all but one of the first-place votes in the preseason poll still leads the pack. Like the Bison, they sit one-half game behind Western Illinois, but several factors work in their favor. You could argue that having Wolters is the foremost advantage in a league where all the contending teams are thriving at the point. The Jackrabbits have also put the stretch of playing the other three contending teams on the road behind them, and were the only team to beat the Leathernecks in their own yard. Then there’s the crowd factor in Sioux Falls, where SDSU is always the home team regardless of jersey colors. The road goes through the boys from Brookings.

2. Oakland – One of the two tougher teams to position, but the temperature is hot. Despite being two games behind Western Illinois, all other significant obstacles seem behind Greg Kampe’s group. They split the series even with the other contenders, with all three home victories against the other significant others coming in their past five games, all triumphs.

So what makes the Grizz next best? It seems the kinks have been ironed out at the ideal time. Dante Williams has seen double-digit playing time in five of Oakland’s last six, but hadn’t that amount of run previously since Dec. 1 at Western Michigan. Clearly, though, the transfer from Providence is the x-factor. After watching two memorable floor generals sewn from differing threads in Johnathon Jones and Reggie Hamilton come through, Duke Mondy was clearly underwhelming early in the season, making critical errors with his ball-handling and displaying uneven shooting performances. With Ryan Bass moving into the starting lineup and Mondy to the bench, he’s been a revolution. OU’s last loss, an uncharacteristic blowout at home versus South Dakota, they turned the ball over 18 times. In the winning streak since, Oakland’s assist-to-turnover ratio has been 1.92, which would easily surpass D-I leader Notre Dame over the full season (1.67).

3. Western Illinois
4. North Dakota State – Both their fates seemed tied together, with a great deal resting on Thursday’s tilt between the two teams.

Assuming the Jackrabbits defeat Western Illinois at home (not unfair after winning on the road) and Oakland avoids any upsets with them, the two will finish 13-3 and 12-4, respectively. Of course, that’s no guarantee, but the gap between the best and the rest has been fairly discernible.

It just seems fate has dealt North Dakota State a cruel hand (or foot?) with the Taylor Braun injury that struck in January. Home or away, it’s unclear whether or not the Bison have the firepower to dispatch of the league’s best without NDSU’s leading scorer. They’ve failed to beat the other three contenders without him, and I think his ability on the wing is the difference between the two team’s firepower.

I see a win for Western Illinois allowing them to finish at 13-3, and a lesser head-to-head record with SDSU would leave them the No. 2 seed. Similarly, though Oakland and North Dakota State potentially finish 12-4, the Bison seem more likely to also come up short H2H with a higher-seeded team in WIU, meaning they get slotted to No. 4.

A prediction: Taylor Braun’s bill of health will truly be a looming factor headed into Sioux Falls. With him, a victory similar to the one they squeezed out in Fargo this season is possible. Meanwhile, Oakland is playing perhaps the best basketball in the conference. If the seeding plays out as prognosticated, I foresee another scoring epic battle between Wolters and Oakland’s Travis Bader in the tourney final.

If it’s how the fates align, it’s safe to assume the offense will be alive and well when everyone’s looking inside the bubble.

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ESPN’s BracketBusters have been a bit of a conundrum for Summit League teams and coaches.

On one hand, it’s undoubtedly a great spotlight for a league that receives little fanfare on the major networks until March comes around, or a dominant player (Nate Wolters) or performance (Travis Bader) permeates the national consciousness of college basketball’s mainstream. On the other, it contorts practices, schedules and times to be less than ideal for a conference that features a greater amount of travel and the wear and tear that comes about with it.

Regardless, the conference as a whole seems to have benefited once again this year, grabbing two prime time games on consecutive nights, as is mentioned below.

Known games and opponents are as follows (times listed are ET):

Bowling Green at IPFW
Cleveland State at Western Illinois
North Dakota at Nebraska-Omaha
North Dakota State @ Akron (2/22, 7 p.m. on ESPN2)
Oakland vs. Morehead State
South Dakota at Montana State (2/23, 2 p.m.)
South Dakota State at Murray State (2/23, 8 p.m. on ESPN2)
UMKC at Tennessee Tech
Wisconsin-Milwaukee at IUPUI (2/23, 3 p.m.)

A breakdown of opponents by conference: Big Sky Conference (2), Horizon League (2), MAC (2), Ohio Valley Conference (3).

In case you were wondering, a few of last year’s Summit League departees are also in  this year’s BracketBusters: Weber St travels to Oral Roberts (Southland), and Cal State-Northridge plays at Southern Utah (Big Sky).