Posts Tagged ‘NCAAB’

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.

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.”

Punched In: Can’t Look Away

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Arts, NCAAB
Tags: ,

Legacies: They can be about sweet triumphs, or forgettable fades into the sunset. Ebbs and flows, endings of vast unpredictability. This weekend seemed to leave a sweeping variety of all sorts of images and the impact on various legacies.

Sometimes, though, moments of initial or significant, repetitious poise in critical instances are fleeting when the final images are so vivid. And so, farewell Elijah Johnson.

I could have reminded all the Michigan fans who doubled as my good friends watching Friday night’s Sweet Sixteen tilt about how Johnson played well in three victories over Ohio State in the last two seasons. Or, if anyone had forgot, how he went NBA Jam at Iowa State this season in a victory that likely shouldn’t have been, but was with Johnson (and the referees).

When you’re a displaced, passionate fan, you’re often left singing more praises than criticisms of your team or program. Somehow, though, those extremes have been accentuated in some sort of Michigan-centric fashion since I’ve planted my feet in this soil. A heartbreaking first-round upset to Bradley at the Palace in 2006. The snuffing out of Steph Curry and Davidson’s run in 2008 at Ford Field en route to a National Championship.

Now, after Johnson’s final game as a Jayhawk in Friday night’s loss to Michigan, he’ll exit stage right remembered as a failure and a hack in these parts for the way he went out. I’m not so sure he’ll be remembered so favorably elsewhere, or in my own mind. I’m at least grateful that Kansas will get a chance to erase the stench that was left, unlike Johnson. Its legacy deserves better.

As for the immediate future, intrigue awaits for both programs in a similar fashion. Both are set to likely lose underclassmen as NBA Draft lottery picks, and even more as potential first-round picks in the case of Michigan. The pair are also bringing in very good recruiting classes and will be depending on some fresh blood to keep it rolling in 2013-2014. A familiar fate for the Jayhawks, and a new test for Michigan. I suspect either way they’ll be playing on the biggest Monday of the season.

Still relatively unknown, “GGG” is about to become a household name to even the casual boxing fans.

Hopefully the lasting legacy of this Michigan season is one that, like for Kansas in 2008, leaves everything else irrelevant in the wake of a title, this time one that will leave flags flying forever.

 

  • So many other lasting images from this weekend’s tourney games. Florida, who wiped away SEC opponents more handily than they did the memorable run of Florida Gulf Coast, got flushed as well quite handily in what ends somewhat of a less-than-memorable campaign. Wichita State’s victory, the first MVC team to reach this stage since the days of Larry Bird. And the sickening Kevin Ware injury. This season may not produce the richest crops in an NBA sense, but the storylines have still been there.
  • Saturday was so ripe with tourney action, it was easy to forget that its boxing action should have reminded the younger generation why it was a sport that put our fathers and their fathers on the edge of their seats. On pay-per-view, it was easy to miss another epic knockout from middleweight Gennady Golovkin, who put down Nobuhiro Ishida with impressive ease. If you’ve followed anything from me or our boxing talk on the radio, you know about “GGG” by now. But even the casual boxing fans are going to know the name soon. His style is like a fireworks finale, and now that he’s passed the test against legitimate competition, I’m betting a date with one of the top names in the division like Sergio Martinez could be on tap before the end of the calender year. As for Saturday night’s Rios-Alvarado II, if you haven’t already subscribed or re-newed HBO for “Game of Thrones”, here’s another reason. It gave March’s Bradley-Provodnikov bout some company in the Fight of the Year candidacy.
  • Speaking of, I won’t get around to watching the Season Three premiere of GoT until tomorrow, but its return couldn’t have come at a better or worse time, depending how you look at it. It couldn’t have lost the 9 p.m. ET slot, though, after what we got from the competing season finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” The half-season has produced some great television, like the penultimate episode and “Clear,” and some very underwhelming ones which dwelt on a poorly-developed character in Andrea (and in some respects, the Governor) and seemed too static at times. Without subjecting myself to any spoilers, it became even clearer after talking to those who’ve read the graphic novels that the way the corresponding action has played out in the television series over the past episodes has been even more confounding. As I’ve told some friends, to expect the same level of consistency from TWD as we’ve seen from shows like GoT or “Mad Men,” which returns next Sunday, is to set yourself up for perpetual disappointment it seems.

 

Punched Out Radio returns this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Plan to talk more TV, and of course look at the open of MLB season, so tune in. Play ball!

MLS Rivalry Week. Conference tourneys. A leading Fight of the Year candidate in boxing, and a dominate performance by one of the UFC’s pound-for-pound best fighters. Without even speaking of Selection Sunday, we all know this is simply just an appetizer to the main course of what’s to come, as the best time of the year in sports is upon us in the coming weeks. But the last bite this weekend is a delectable one, ESPN’s newest “30 for 30” film, “Survive and Advance.”

Director and producer Jonathan Hock called in to talk again about his latest project. We discuss the film, the college basketball landscape, and his last ESPN film “Unguarded” about Fall River legend and former Boston Celtic player Chris Herren. “Survive and Advance” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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.

Let’s just divide the camps right away.

Those who had a good weekend: Michigan, Gonzaga, Tottenham, Ryan Kelly, the undersized (Mark Hunt), the old guard (Wanderlei Silva), vikings, restless Walking Dead fans. And Joe Flacco’s agent. Especially him.

You might still have a hangover if you care for the following: Arizona, Arsenal, Michigan State, Conference USA (sorry) and I know I mentioned Sparty, but Keith Appling.

Are we going over the cliff here with Michigan State’s pseudo-point guard? The Pershing product was the catalyst for State’s victory over Kansas in the early season, and he surely wasn’t to blame for their close loss to then-unranked Miami. This reason stretch though, it’s fair to say that he’s been somewhat out of form.

Consider over the last five games his numbers: 12-for-48 FGs (25 percent), 2-for-22 3FGs (nine percent), 19-for-28 FTs (68 percent), 13 assists, 14 turnovers (0.9 A/T ratio).

Basically, Appling needs to find his feet. And this happens, doesn’t it? Just a month ago Kansas head coach Bill Self essentially threw guard Elijah Johnson under the bus while the Jayhawks’ collective fan base threw it in reverse. Since, Johnson has had a 2-to-1 A/T ratio in his last five and combined with officials to give KU a spectacular win over Iowa State. This is a season where bad stretches are forgotten like last week’s No. 1 team in the AP poll. Let’s not forget Appling’s basketball DNA, though. It’s no secret that he’s undersized to play the off-guard but is going to give you headaches if you have aspirations of him fitting into the mold of running an elite team at the point. Denzel Washington Valentine was muted on Sunday, but you may remember he was actually quite effective playing the point in stretches when State tamed the Wolverines in East Lansing. Appling and Travis Trice both return next year, but for a player with such great IQ on the floor, it’s worth wondering if Tom Izzo should give him some run at the point more in the future.

Other thoughts on the game? Not all blame should be placed on Appling, as Derrick Nix was less than spectacular. Penn State and late game-fadeaway 3s aside, Trey Burke seems under-appreciated at times. If I could promise Burke he’d go unscathed through his senior year, I’d absolutely advise him to return and coax back anyone else with aspirations of departing. Ingrain yourself into the history of the program. I know he’s going to make money with that rookie contract, I just wonder with his size how good Burke can be at the next level.

Along with Burke, incredible set of performances by some of the best in the sport this weekend: The MC2 (McDermott, McLemore), Welcome Back Kelly, and Otto Porter Jr. Attention, Joe Dumars: You’ve emptied out the small forward position at this team of any future starters. You need one. This guy would fit pretty darn good. If things went chalk today, Detroit would pick No. 9 in the NBA Draft. Unless Porter utterly falls off the wagon for the rest of March, I can’t imagine Porter will last until then. He’s not going to be a star but I think he’s a long-term starter in the league, and a perfect compliment to that team.

Lots of other quick hits:

  • Qatar, minority owner, United Arab Emirates, anyone: I’m all for FIFA’s Fair Play, but what a rough go it is being an Arsenal fan this year, and that’s not to speak of Sunday’s defeat in the North London Derby at WHL. This squad needs saving and an opening of the pocket book for some help this summer, as until the Manchester City-types decide to adopt to a more-reasonable spending model, the second-tier of great teams will even be left behind. Can Gareth Bale carry Tottenham to glory for another two months of Premier League action? Fair to wonder now if he’s been the best player of the season, let alone February. He’s becoming a “Price of Admission” athlete in the sport, much like Neymar and Ronaldo and such. 
  • More on Oakland at a later date, but a disappointing end to them for the regular season being swept by Fort Wayne. Not often will Travis Bader shoot so poorly from outside, but time to acknowledge the ‘Dons as a legit sleeper as Sioux Falls looms this weekend. Big ups to Western Illinois, also. I’ll probably have a Summit-only piece coming up in a few days.
  • Speaking of bad, a real mixed bag in the weekend of combat sports. Boxing? Flat-out thumbs down. Evgeny Gradovich upset IBF Featherweight champ Billy Dib, but not even 50 Cent could save it from being an atrocity. The scoring of a split decision would only be an ominous foreshadowing of scoring to come for Saturday’s UFC on Fuel set in Japan, where some cards from judges were unforgettable in the worst way, but none more mind-numbing than Diego Sanchez’s split-decision victory over Takanori Gomi. Oh, by the way, Sanchez missed weight for the fight as well, leading to it being fought at a catch of 158 lbs. Thankfully, those who stayed awake were rewarded by highlight finishes in the last two fights from Mark Hunt and the legend Wanderlei Silva. Where each of them goes next will be interesting in terms of matchmaking from the UFC brass.

    Many casual fans joked of the height discrepancy between Mark Hunt and Steven Struve prior to their bout Saturday in Japan, until Hunt proved to be a giant killer late in the fight.

  • No one’s made more NFL noise lately as of Monday afternoon than the Chiefs, who are retaining the services of WR Dwayne Bowe and P Dustin Colquitt, and at least in the short term T Brandon Albert, who was tagged in hopes of a longer deal being inked. It means that with the addition of QB Alex Smith, the team should again become, one would assume, one of the most-improved teams in the off-season. I expect in terms of wins and losses, they should join the Lions as two teams who you’d expect to make a push in the right direction again in 2013. How will re-signing Albert effect the two teams? Well, it could open the door for the Chiefs front office to consider Lions’ target CB Dee Milliner with the No. 1 pick instead of someone like LT Luke Joeckel, but I think trading down now becomes a very enticing option. I mentioned on Twitter that doing so and still weighing the prospect of drafting QB Geno Smith if the price is right has to still be in the cards.
  • Some non-sports banter: This week’s The Walking Dead episode was a real treat. The acting was spectacular, from Lennie James reprising his role as a broken man in Morgan, to the prolific on-screen chemistry between Carl and Michonne, who both figure to step forward in prominence with some emotional growth in “Clear.” Rick sorting out his own mental issues through Morgan played out well, and the melancholy and nostalgia both hearkened the episode back to the quality of the show’s first season. That Scott Gimple penned the epsiode, the series’ showrunner for the fourth season after the departure of Glenn Mazzara, seems a good of a sign as any considering the last couple episodes were lacking in sensibility and gusto.

 

As a quick plug, don’t forget to keep up with Punched Out Radio, 4 p.m. ET on WXOU. Co-host Chris Ingram and I had Oakland men’s basketball asst. coach Darren Sorenson on last week in what was some great banter. Look forward to some more great guests this week and every Friday.

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.