Posts Tagged ‘Summit League’

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.”
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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.

Though it had been whispered about behind closed doors as of late, the possibility of Oakland relocating its athletics from the Summit League to the Horizon League has gone from a murmur to full-fledged water cooler speculation among college basketball fans and scribes.

If Vegas could have taken odds on an eventual replacement after Butler made their jump to the Atlantic 10 official, Oakland would’ve undoubtedly been the favorite out of the gate. No one had to mention the Golden Grizzlies by name in the Horizon League press conference, but the questions were markedly pointed towards them.

What now? Silence, more or less. Oakland’s athletics director Tracy Huth has reasonably had little to comment on, and the school hasn’t been contacted by anyone from the Horizon according to Huth. As for a timetable?

“If you had a continuum line, and one end of the point and was tomorrow, and the other end was years from now, it’d be somewhere between there,” Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone said.

Back to the water cooler, so it seems. But there’s plenty of good reason why those in the know tagged Oakland as the presumptive favorite to fill Butler’s absence. Even so, the choice of Oakland has had detracting reasons.

Of the two  more popular ones, the first is the distance, in terms of University of Detroit-Mercy being able to “block” Oakland.  While a two-thirds vote would clear any new school to be admitted by vote, a veto from the board by way of Detroit, as is now on public record of happening once previously, is possible. But a veto could be overturned by an otherwise unanimous vote, and by-laws can, of course, always be altered. That ability to “block” Oakland exists because they’re located within 25 miles of Detroit, but even that could be somewhat of a technicality based on the comments of Oakland men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe.

“If you go as the crow flies, we are less than 25 miles (away),” Kampe said. “If you go through the roads, then we’re 27 miles.”

Po-tay-to, po-ta-to, no? Speaking of by-laws, how about the necessity for a 5,000+ capacity basketball arena?

“It’s specific..we’ve also waived it,” LeCrone said. “I’m trying to find out things that not only work for our league, but work for individual schools as well…It’s more of a feel of what’s an appropriate facility.”

If the question is why Oakland is the best option, then the answer seems fairly obvious. Men’s basketball is to the Horizon League what football is to BCS Conferences, and Oakland appears to be the premiere choice of those men’s hoops programs that can be plucked. Kampe also noted that based on Oakland’s attendance and RPI, they rank in the upper-third when compared to Horizon League schools in the sport. Even in direct comparison, they’ve won roughly twice as many games as they’ve lost in games against Horizon League competition over the last decade or so, also.

The other sports, particularly the “Olympic” ones, bode well for Oakland, also. Soccer, along with swimming and diving have been overly successful. The baseball team, picked to do little in the Summit League prior to the season, is in the thick of the conference race.  Another check-mark or two, arguably.

But much of the concern here is whether the Horizon League is interested in Oakland. So, what about the other side? Is Oakland interested, and better yet, is it a good move?

The resounding answer, seemingly, is yes, and then yes more times than Reggie Hamilton scored 30 points the past season.

Though the aforementioned sports are also certainly of importance, Oakland’s predominant sport is men’s basketball, one which the school has enjoyed unparalleled success in over the last decade within the Summit League. Even with the exodus of Oral Roberts following the 2011-2012 season to the Southland Conference, Oakland has secured the conference’s sole bid to the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years. They’ve accomplished feats that even Valparaiso, a former Summit League (then Mid-Continent Conference) member and arguably the most dominant program the Summit has had in men’s hoops never gathered.

With Oral Roberts gone, they may not dominate, but they’ll be at or near the top a great deal, one would assume. The challengers would likely be North and South Dakota State, and sometimes IUPUI or Western Illinois. Still, despite those programs being good ones, and some very good, the Summit and Horizon League are not (perceived) equals.

“I think the Horizon League profile is a little higher [even though Butler is leaving],” Kampe said. “If you look at the history of their league’s RPI versus our RPI, even though the Summit League had a great year this year and closed the gap, still, there is a gap there.”

Back to the whole Oakland-Detroit hub-hub. Again, it’s known common knowledge that Detroit once blocked an Oakland invitation by the Horizon League. Nevermind that there’s a new athletic director at Detroit. Frankly, this is about what’s good for the Horizon League, not just one school. But half the reason the buzz over this is so prominent is the potential of a rivalry between two nearby schools. Aside from Michigan and Michigan State, the state’s other schools have had their moments, but none have banged the door down. Oakland-Detroit could become the clear number college hoops rivalry in the state, which will bring notoriety, and better yet for both, plenty of people in the stands. And it’s not just good for those two schools in terms of distance, either.

“Let’s talk about saving money: If you come play Detroit and Oakland on the same weekend, you’d stay in the same hotel,” Kampe said. “You don’t have to get a late [hotel] checkout for a game, or leave early.”

Speaking of distance, it’s great for Oakland. The average distance of Summit League schools is greater than double those of the Horizon League. That’s saving in cost, and missed class time for student-athletes, too. Also, as Kampe noted, Oakland fans would have infinitely greater ease in traveling to road games.

Then there’s the talent level. The benefits of recruiting, where Oakland’s staff has already found and developed gems like Hamilton and Keith Benson, are certainly to be had in a league of greater prestige.

“I think here’s a higher profile for a recruit when you say the Horizon League because of what Butler’s done,” Kampe said. “Obviously, it’s going to improve where we can go and what houses we can get in.”

Some of those houses might be in Chicago, one of the country’s better hotbeds of roundball talent.

“I think that when you’re playing in Chicago, you have a better chance of getting into Chicago,” Kampe said. “[A move to the Horizon could mean] it’s really going to enhance, because we’re going to be able to tell a kid you’re going to come home and play a couple games  every year.”

I asked Kampe after a lengthy discussion of the above benefits for both the Horizon League and Oakland, what could be the pitfalls for his program jumping ship. He paused, then answered.

“Well, I think we’ve been fairly dominant over the last so-many years, and that’s not going to happen,” Kampe said. “I think the teams at the top of the Summit League could compete favorable at the top of the Horizon…but I guess the best way to look at it is history.”

“How did Valpo do? Valpo was a dominant team in the Summit League…they’ve yet to make the NCAA Tournament.”

Uh, that’s it? If you made a list and tallied the +/- differential, the positives are tipping, heck, breaking the scales, right? Look, in a perfect world, Oakland sharpens its chops another five years and goes to the Big Dance two or three more times, fattening its resume and talent a bit more.

That’s not how things work though, especially in today’s collegiate sports where, love it it or hate it, conference loyalty is held somewhere in the same regard as boyfriends and girlfriends in junior high. Not often do conferences like the Horizon League get down on bended knee to be part of something special. All things considered, if they pop the question to Oakland, it appears they should, and would, say yes.