Archive for the ‘Summit League’ Category

The Oakland University Board of Trustees unanimously voted to accept the school’s invitation into the Horizon League Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re excited about this possibility,”  Oakland University President Dr. Gary Russi said. “We’re excited to join a group of institutions that will not only provide great competition for us, but to provide a core value, and that’s academics.”

The move, effective July 1, 2013, means the school’s athletics will participate in the league in time for the 2013-2014 academic year.

“[The decision to join for the immediate academic year] was a question that certainly came up,” Oakland University Director of Athletics Tracy Huth said. “It was well into April before we were able to find out, and it was beginning to get to the point where we were asking whether it was still feasible for us to be able to participate in ’13-14.”

“I think our coaches and student-athletes feel pretty strong that this is a good move for us, and they were willing to wait as long as we could. We were starting to get to the point that we’d have to make a decision, but fortunately it worked out for us.”

Men’s and women’s basketball coaches Greg Kampe and Beckie Francis, respectively, were not made available to comment, but will be at Wednesday’s press conference at the Detroit Athletic Club at 11 a.m. ET. The conference will be streamed live at HorizonLeague.com.

Oakland University President Dr. Gary Russi speaking to the media at the school’s press conference confirming the move to the Horizon League.

The news is sure to invigorate the school’s students, alumni and general fan base. Much of that has been due to  the desire to officially renew a natural geographic rivalry with University of Detroit Mercy, particularly in men’s basketball.

“I think with Oakland joining we look forward to some epic battles across the 14 sports we have in common along with a little more media coverage,” UDM interim athletic director Jason Horn told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

At the meeting and the following press conference, Huth confirmed a Summit League exit fee of $250,000, and the school will also pay an entrance fee to the Horizon League of $882,000, both of which will come from external sources.

Despite those fees, without mentioning expected increased revenues by the move, cost reduction over the long haul also played a significant factor in the decision. The ability to cut down on flight travel as opposed to the Summit League will be severed dramatically due to the geographic blueprint of the Horizon.

“I’m going to guess overall on average, 75 percent of our operational budget has been spent on travel,” Huth said. “It’s probably going to drop between 20 to 25 percent, maybe.”

Despite the success that many of Oakland’s participating teams have had throughout its membership in the Summit, the impact of lengthier travel went beyond just cost. Faculty athletic representative Robby Stewart, who spoke at the meeting and conducts exit interviews with all senior athletes, emphasized at the meeting how much a decrease in travel within the new conference would benefit student-athletes.

“We have been wrestling with excused absence issues, and the problems of flying to some of these cities…playing a game and not being able to fly back after the game was over because they don’t have a flight back to the Detroit area,” Stewart said. “We estimate that the amount of time on the road missed from the classroom is going to be close to cut in half by making this transition, and that could have a major impact on academic success.”

Huth confirmed that the school had interest in making the move initially after Butler departed the Horizon, but no formal communication was made until within the past month about the process.

“We were pushing at one time around the time that Valpo got into the Horizon League, we thought it made sense for us back then, too,” Huth said. “I think primarily we’ve always felt that given our location and being here with Detroit what we could offer…our profile was very good.”

The factor of Oakland being a natural travel partner with UDM was noted as a positive factor during the board meeting, also.

With speculation present that the Horizon League desired to add a school with baseball in order to maintain a certain number of schools with the sport, Huth addressed that in terms of how it may have weighed in adding Oakland.

“I think it’s important…I don’t think it’s the [sole] thing,” Huth said. “I think it’s a  situation that it’s a core sport, and then all the sudden you’ve got to meet all these NCAA requirements…I think it’s certainly a piece of it.”

Huth speculated that it’s “starting to get a little late” in terms of the league adding a potential tenth member for the upcoming academic year, but added that it’s “not an issue” for the league to function with nine members for now.

When asked whether any departures or movement of the Summit League was an issue, Huth seemed to dismiss the notion, saying that Oakland was “comfortable” with the stability of the league, and reiterated that the benefits of the Horizon were too great to ignore.

Notes:

  • When asked about men’s basketball scheduling: “We think playing in the Horizon League will be better when we’re dealing with [exposure to] recruits, so we think we can probably cut down a little bit on those [high-major] games. We’ll still certainly do some. You know Coach Kampe, he’s a competitive guy. He wants to play against the best, and beat the best.”
  • How about the ’13-14 men’s basketball non-conference schedule that includes early trips to Cal, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and UCLA? Huth said those commitments will remain.
  • Although the O’Rena does not meet Horizon League standards in terms of minimum capacity,
  • Huth on Oakland’s student population: “Now in the Horizon League, you’ve got the opportunity (in the conference tournament) where you’re either hosting, or you’re going to Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago…you’re going somewhere that’s within proximity.” He referenced the idea that students or parents of athletes should find more ease in the ability to travel and watch teams on the road.

I’ve noticed a lot of Oakland fans still skeptical about the news that the Golden Grizzlies will be jumping to the Horizon League in the immediate future. PantherU.com’s Jimmy Lemke, who has confirmed the news again and also broke other re-alignment news regarding the conference, joined me for a podcast today to relieve fans of their curiosity.

We also discussed the strengths of some of the other Horizon League sports as it pertains to Oakland, whether the jump will happen for the 2013-2014 academic year or not, and what other schools might the league be looking to add (an addition of Oakland puts the league at nine).

More to follow as it’s announced.

The major moves in college conference re-alignment – save for B1G divisions – seem to be settling, but one which has been foreseen for some time looks to finally be coming to fruition.

PantherU.com‘s Jimmy Lemke is reporting that multiple sources have confirmed that Oakland University will indeed be leaving the Summit League for the Horizon League, and a move is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

My thoughts on what it means for the various parties involved:

Oakland: Alumni and fans of the Golden Grizzlies will almost unanimously consider this a win-win situation. The Summit League has proved to be, in theory, a feeder system, and teams that migrate (save for Oral Roberts) have ended up for a majority in the Horizon when they’ve left, dating back to the Summit’s days when known as the Mid-Continent Conference. Now Oakland will realize a similar fate, set to gain as much as any of the others who paved the way. As far as the other prevalent OU sports? Swimming and diving should maintain its dominance. Men’s and women’s soccer also figure to be just as competitive (Oakland had the highest RPI of any Summit team on both sides last season).

Travis Bader will likely transition Oakland in its last year of Summit League competition, with the potential to break NCAA records in the process.

As far as basketball, though the Summit has been strong on the top half, conference RPI has been considerably stronger on the women’s side for the Horizon League in comparison. Women’s head coach Beckie Francis returns a very talented squad next year, though, led by Bethany Watterworth returning from injury to join a young, balanced squad. They figure to compete at the top of the conference, and that young group will be present to make the transition. On the men’s side, the larger talking point will be the much-anticipated rivalry with the Detroit Titans. Along with that comes a boost in recruiting (Chicago will be a new potential area to pursue) and some more battles for recruits with UD.

Horizon: It’s been no secret that the conference has been flirting with the idea of adding Oakland for some time now. No one will confuse the Golden Grizzlies with the unparalleled success that Butler had in the league, but adding another perennial contender is what the Horizon needed from a ninth team. Oakland’s location makes complete sense, and the O’Rena is a fine place to play despite having a smaller capacity than most Horizon arenas. Might the conference expand to as many as 12 members? Where would they find others? Well...

Summit: The obvious loser in this scenario. Coupled with North and South Dakota State, Oakland has been a staple of the forerunners within the league. Travel distance aside, the Summit might have looked the better conference for the long run had Oral Roberts not left the stable for closer pastures, if not greener in the Southland Conference. Adding Denver, which figures to be a strong program next year, was a good move but didn’t tighten the footprint of the league. Will the bleeding stop at Oakland, though? If the Horizon is still looking for other strong programs to add, my first recommendations would be the aforementioned NDSU and SDSU. For a conference that has been taking steps in the right direction in spite of the departed, that would be a death knoll for respectability, if nothing else.

More on all this in the coming days, or weeks.

 

This weekend was in no short supply as fights were concerned. Boxing action was great, and it was all day: Amir Khan was mostly defenseless, if not again thrilling in a close victory, and on the undercard, America’s most promising heavyweight in Deontay Wilder scored another victory and seems close to facing a top 10 opponent, perhaps next. Sergio Martinez and Martin Murray’s tilt in Argentina (at a soccer stadium, in the rain) was not without theatrics, and the other major bouts of the weekend, including Garcia-Judah and a fantastic fight between ESPN’s fourth-ranked heavyweight Cristobal Arreola and Bermane Stiverne, did nothing to disappoint.

Just as much, if not more talk, though, will rest on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and his quick, but costly defense of the title Saturday night against Chael P. Sonnen. Jones got Sonnen to the ground at the end of the first round and started quickly turning the former middleweight challenger’s face into putty, and not long after an official stoppage put an end to the carnage. But it could have been a disastrous ending, as Jones suffered a broken left toe, and if the fight had reached the conclusion of Round 1, there’s a good chance it’d of been waived off and Sonnen would have been unfittingly deemed the victor.

I endorse the views of Josh Gross on the fight in terms of competition for Jones. Ultimately, Daniel Cormier makes a lot of sense if he chooses to abandon his quest for the heavyweight strap. As the best prospect in the offing that I can see, giving Alexander Gustafsson one more top-tier test would be best in the interest of marketing and competition. What or when’s next for Jones? Dana White has publicly stated that FOX Sports 1, the network’s new flagship channel to rival ESPN, will feature a PPV-caliber bout and a stacked card. With the broken toe, it might be just a bit too short of turnaround time, but September or October isn’t out of the question.

As for the rest of the card? Meh, mostly. The most notable results were Michael Bisping staying very active in a nice victory over a largely lethargic Alan Belcher. Roy Nelson did score a quick, thrilling victory over Cheick Kongo, and puts himself in the thick of the heavyweight title picture yet again. Sara McMann, a former Olympic medalist in freestyle wrestling, also put herself on the radar of Ronda Rousey with a dominating victory in her UFC debut. Overall, UFC 159 gets a B-/B

Some other thoughts on the weekend:

  • Not good news for the NBA. First Kobe Bryant, a blessing for ratings annually, gets removed from the picture. Then the perception of a real challenger to Miami’s crown takes an irreparable blow as Russell Westbrook gets ruled out of the entire NBA Playoffs. Though I’ve never been one to right off the regular season (particularly the past few seasons), April and beyond has always been prime time for the NBA. I’m not buying the Spurs’ chances to de-throne Miami, so the best hope rests on the Knicks to shoot out of their bloody minds for handful of games. Either way, it’s not quite the ideal situation.
  • It looks like the intrigue of the Premier League and the fight for Champions League spots next season could boil down to Relegation Sunday (May 19). After Tottenham was fortunate (read: Gareth Bale got this goal, and the Spurs’ other was a Wigan own goal) to get a tie, eyes were mostly on Arsenal-Manchester United at the Emirates on Sunday. While not as wildly entertaining as others when the two fought for a share of Premier League title spoils, it was quite spacious. Theo Walcott struck early, and Bacari Sagna gifted a penalty to Manchester United at the end of the first 45′ when he took down Robin Van Judas  Persie, who converted the penalty kick and gave the game its eventual final tally of 1-1. Eyes will turn next to Manchester United and third place Chelsea, who do battle at Old Trafford next weekend.
  • Good grades coming in for the Lions’ drafting over the weekend. Save for the thoughts on the punter choice (some may have taken greater issue with the individual punter taken, not necessarily drafting one), the majority of the team’s needs were addressed in a draft that saw lots of value being had for a number of teams. The usual teams (Niners, Packers, Ravens) notorious for drafting well seemed to do more of the same, too. Though I felt they did a middle-of-pack job, this might have been the first time in a number of years I felt better about the Lions’ drafting than my Chiefs.

In honor of the return of several of television’s best shows, you’re probably enjoying the new seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men,” and the final ones of “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” this summer. For those fishing for some other favorites, here’s my Starting Five other best TV shows you might not be watching.

  1. Orphan Black – BBC America’s new drama has one of the best pilot episodes of the past few years I can remember.
  2. Archer – Just finished its fifth season on FX, and now has to be considered one of the top five animated shows ever. Often equally funny and offensive.
  3. The Americans – Another new series that’s growing the FX original brand even in its infancy.
  4. House of Cards – The Netflix original made for binge-style watching is worth the time, however you choose to indulge.
  5. Top of the Lake – Don’t watch the Sundance Channel? Me either, until now. For added incentive, it stars Elizabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olsen on “Mad Men.”

Has anyone been so loved since Forrest Gump?

Aside from a lazy comparison by ESPN’s Seth Greenberg to being a “poor man’s Jimmer Fredette,” Nate Wolters had Matt Nortlander applying the lipstick and the love of nearly every other name on the national college basketball scene within the Twitterverse Tuesday night.

It’s easy to forget that in the lore of last season, where Scott Nagy’s team went and upset Washington and then ran the table in Sioux Falls, Wolters was still on the fringes of the national consciousness, only getting scattered respect heading into their eventual loss to Baylor in the field of 64. The narrative of this year’s college basketball season is now a well-known one: Every top contender has a dark passenger Dexter-style. For Louisville, it’s been an Russ Smith and his monopoly on Louisville’s offense. In Lawrence, point guard has been a love-hate relationship, though more love lately. Gonzaga swept St. Mary’s within its conference, but hasn’t dominated top competition like a top team in year’s past. It’s easy to see why, with the right matchup, they may be much trendier as an upset pick next Sunday and beyond.

Wolters, who had scored 26.8 ppg in his last six games against North Dakota State, was right on target with 27 points in the title game against the Bison.

While it was a great day to be wearing blue and yellow – both South Dakota State’s men’s and women’s teams are dancing – no one else will be happy leaving the Falls. Oakland has built high expectations for itself with multiple NCAA births recently, so a quarterfinal exit was bound to be disappointing. Already without Terell Parks, losing Ceola Clark III meant Western Illinois finished its semifinal loss to North Dakota State without its three best players (Obi Emegano) from last year’s Summit League Championship game.

And it was NDSU that avoided a similar fate. Head coach Saul Phillips said when Taylor Braun injured his foot he believed it could be an injury of the season-ending variety. No doubt Bison fans will be will be disappointed by falling short, but this is a nucleus that has been feared ever since point guard Lawrence Alexander was confirmed to be worthy of mentioning in the upper echelon of the league’s floor leaders.  It returns in its current form for next season, where you’d have to assume Phillips’ team is to be the favorite, no?

No matter how things look with hindsight, Oakland was included in a four-team tier of potential squads that could cut the nets down in Sioux Falls Arena this season. Despite the misfortunes against Fort Wayne to conclude this year’s campaign, Oakland will be firmly entrenched in the field of favorites when March of next year comes knocking. All major contributors but small forward and glue guy Drew Valentine return. Losing great programs to higher-profile leagues has been a trend since the Mid-Continent days, but next year sees the league add Denver, a team that just clinched a share of the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship. They lose just one senior, 6-foot-5 guard Chase Hallam (10 ppg) and boast a balanced group of scorers. Nebraska-Omaha (my personal favorite for sleeper next season) and South Dakota graduate just a combined three seniors, and that’s not to speak of Western Illinois or South Dakota State.

Assuming no one jumps ship – that would be foolish to do considering teams ditch their current leagues these days faster than Taylor Swift can write songs about ex-boyfriends – what this all means is the Summit League should wield a favorable handful of teams again next season. Perhaps it never becomes the Atlantic 10, a league where not just the top layer are delectable to the nation’s pundits or the RPI, but the landscape seems rich for another great season, doesn’t it?

A few other parting thoughts:

  • I believe it was mentioned at some point on a broadcast this week, but there’s a good chance Oakland guard Travis Bader surpasses J.J. Redick next season as the all-time leading 3-point shooter in NCAA D-I. Considering OU’s style, it’s not hard to see why guys like Reggie Hamilton and Jonathan Jones have had eye-popping numbers. There was another pretty good 3-pointer assassin named Erik Kangas for the Golden Grizzlies not long ago, but another off-season should mean a stronger and more versatile Bader on offense. It’s hard to imagine anyone else outscoring him with Wolters and Gaines both gone.
  • That aside, if anyone has the potential to get buckets for another team like Bader, it could be UNO guard Justin Simmons. Still raw, but it’s hard not to be impressed by his athleticism. Simmons had 11 20-point outings this season, and I think next year he plays smarter and gets harder to stop.
  • As good as television coverage of the tournament gets, there’s always a bugaboo that plagues the exposure. It was far less egregious this year – a bungled graphic on ESPN listing the starting lineups had Taylor Braun as a freshman was one – but it would be nice to see things go smoothly. On the other hand, Midco Sports Network did a nice job otherwise. Smart questions were asked by sideline reporters, and hey, someone knew that SDSU wasn’t San Diego State, so that’s a plus. Here’s hoping were past those days, but in all seriousness, the coverage was enjoyable.
  • Time to make the yearly shout out to all the fans who supported the women’s sessions. Though I’m worried how filled the stands might be without a home team judging by the emptiness of Monday evening’s men’s tilt lacking an SDSU team (we’ll forgive the fans based on the extinction of offense), that hasn’t been the case and the record-setting attendance numbers have continued. As for the static location of Sioux Falls as the host, don’t be fooled: The home-court advantage matters. Moving the tournament around would be infinitely better in the aspect of fairness to non-Dakota schools. But it’s a great town with great hosts, which makes it awful hard to complain otherwise. I’d challenge fans to travel if at all possible, make the trek, then weigh an opinion.

Thanks to all the media, players, and coaches who made it another memorable conference season. Let the real run begin.

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.

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).