Summit trying to live up to name
AP Photo/David CrenshawOral Roberts has been dancing the last two years but wasn't able able to make some NCAA Tourney noise.
Maybe the name change is coming at the perfect time. After all, the face of the collection of schools now known as The Summit League has departed.
Because while three NCAA Tournaments have passed since the Valparaiso Crusaders were the automatic qualifier out of the Mid-Continent Conference, Valpo was still very much the team that many associated with the league.
That's because the reality is that many low- and mid-major leagues don't register on fans' radars until somebody pulls an NCAA Tournament upset. In this case, the name association goes something like this: Valpo equals Bryce Drew equals 1998 upset of Mississippi equals Mid-Con.
Not even Summit commissioner Tom Douple will argue with that.
Now, however, Valparaiso has left for the Horizon League, a conference that is much more compact geographically and one that has received multiple NCAA Tournament berths.
"We're all disappointed," Douple said. "You hate to lose a school that's brought a lot of recognition. But we wish the folks at Valparaiso the best."
To put the importance of the Crusaders into perspective, Valparaiso won two NCAA Tournament games in 1998. The other members of the Mid-Con have combined to win three tourney games combined in their history (and one of those was Oakland's opening-round game win in 2005). The last true tournament victories came when Oral Roberts won two games in 1974.
In many ways, the conference is trying to live up to its brand-new name.
"We had a committee with folks from each school and there were about 150 names submitted," Douple said. "We're trying to move to the top. It's what we're trying to do academically and athletically. When you do that, you reach the summit."
And while Mid-Con/Summit schools have had success in other sports, Douple acknowledges that basketball is key to the league's success. It is, after all, a sport in which hundreds of games are televised each season and one in which a single victory in March can do so much. There's the money it will bring into the league, but there's also the exposure that simply can't be bought.
"We need to get better in the premier sports," Douple said. "If you get a win in the [NCAA] tournament, it changes your whole reputation.
"But there are a lot of people that are 15 or below in conference RPI that are trying to get that win."
The changes in the Summit League are also deeper than simply a new name and the departure of Valparaiso. The league also added three new schools: Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
All three are relative newcomers to Division I and the two Dakota schools have to wait one more year before being eligible for the NCAA Tournament (so neither will play in the Summit tournament this season).
"People who just think that we brought in some D-II schools, they haven't been on the campuses of those institutions," Douple said. "They offer doctoral programs, they have impressive facilities, there's a lot of interest in those programs. They're certainly not D-II schools."
As a result, the Summit League hopes that things will, for lack of a better term, be going up.
"With our new members and our new name, we seem to have a fresh start," Douple said.
Don't be surprised if
North Dakota State becomes an instant factor in the Summit League race. While the Bison aren't eligible for the postseason tournament, NDSU has a lot of very good pieces.
Saul Phillips, who was promoted to head coach when Tim Miles left for Colorado State, takes over a team that has four starters back. Last season, NDSU won 20 games, including a victory at Marquette. The Bison nearly defeated Kansas State before falling in the final minute.
Much of the reason why the Bison have a chance to compete immediately a strong junior class. Point guard Ben Woodside -- a Minnesota native who the Gophers nearly gave a scholarship -- averaged 16.4 ppg and 5.1 apg. Brett Winkelman (16.1 ppg) and Mike Nelson (15.7 ppg) also return.
A schedule upgrade
Reaching the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons certainly has allowed Oral Roberts to upgrade its schedule. In addition to playing in the BracketBusters, the Golden Eagles will play in the NIT Season Tip-Off. In that event, Oral Roberts will play at Texas A&M. Scott Sutton's team also will play at Arkansas, at Texas and it has a neutral-site game with Oklahoma State.
Committed to the Dakotas
It became very clear very quickly that the Dakotas are going to be important to the Dakotas. Before either South Dakota State or North Dakota State played its first game in any sport in Summit, the league announced that it was moving its 2009 and 2010 conference tournaments to the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Arena.
The Gents, simply put, are going to be young. And they're going to be small. After losing 13 of its final 17 games last season, Centenary has 10 freshmen or sophomores on its 14-player roster. The good news for the Gents is that junior guard Tyrone Hamilton returns. Hamilton was a second-team All-Mid-Con selection a season ago after averaging 15.8 points per game. He'll have to carry a significant load as no other returning Centenary player averaged in double figures. There's no question the most interesting game on the schedule is when the Gents play host Texas Tech and Bob Knight in Bossier City, La., just across the river from Shreveport.
At a lot of places, a 12-17 season isn't exactly lauded. It's more likely to create heat for a coach than get him a contract extension. But most places didn't start from almost scratch the way Dane Fife did at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. It was just more than five years ago when Fife was a starting guard on the Indiana team that lost to Maryland in the 2002 national championship game. Now he has a contract at IPFW through the 2012-13 season. Last season, Fife led the Mastadons to their first Division I season in which the victory total reached double figures. In its first season in a conference, IPFW returns four regulars. Senior forward Jaraun Burrows reached double figures in 10 of IPFW's final 14 games. Kent State transfer Demetrius Johnson is eligible, while Chris Perkins and Jakari Johnson were also in Fife's rotation last season.
After finishing fourth in the Mid-Con, Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis coach Ron Hunter has several good pieces to build around. Three of the top four scores return. Austin Montgomery, a junior-college transfer, averaged 13.7 ppg and was the Mid-Con newcomer of the year. Guard Gary Patterson (11.4 ppg) joined Montgomery on the conference's newcomer team. In addition, George Hill was granted a medical redshirt after breaking his foot. He averaged 14.6 points per game in five games of action. Forwards Billy Pettiford and Jon Avery each played significant minutes as freshmen.
North Dakota State
When now-Colorado State coach Tim Miles learned that North Dakota State was moving to Division I, he all but made red an official school color. Over the past four years, almost every player who has entered the program has sat out their first season as a redshirt. Some of that was done so that this current class of juniors would have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament as seniors (the first year the Bison are eligible after moving up from Division II). But some of it was to build the foundation for a program. One guy to watch this season is 6-7 forward Michael Tveidt. The South Dakota native redshirted last season and the NDSU coaches raved about him.
The Golden Grizzlies have nearly as much talent back as any team in the conference after reaching the championship game of last season's Mid-Con tournament. While Vova Severovas is gone, Oakland's next four returning scorers are all back. Erik Kangas (12.9 ppg) was a second-team All-Mid-Con selection while Shawn Hopes (12.3 ppg) was a third-team pick. Derick Nelson (10.1 ppg) came off the bench despite playing starters' minutes. Johnathon Jones (9.4 ppg) was on the all-newcomers team. … Oakland coach Greg Kampe showed why he is considered to be one of the better coaches in this conference. After going only 9-18 in 2005-06, Kampe, who is easily the most experienced coach in the Summit, led a fairly young Golden Grizzlies team to second place in the regular-season standings and the conference championship game.
Officially the Oral Roberts duo of Caleb Green and Ken Tutt have only played college basketball for four years. It just seemed like they were at Oral Roberts for a dozen years. Now, however, Oral Roberts is going to have to figure out how to score points without the duo. A year ago, Green -- the three-time Mid-Con Player of the Year -- and Tutt combined to average 36.7 points per game. They were a huge reason why the Golden Eagles advanced to consecutive NCAA Tournaments. While Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton has three starters back, none of them averaged in double figures. If there is a bit of good news it is that the Golden Eagles might have more balance than in the past as forward Marchello Vealy, wing Moses Ehambe and Adam Liberty all averaged between 6.8 ppg and 7.7 ppg.
South Dakota State
While the Jackrabbits made the move to Division I at the same time as North Dakota State, South Dakota State has not had nearly as successful of a transition. The Jacks have struggled with off-the-court issues, player retention and winning. Over the past two seasons, SDSU is only 15-44. Last season, Scott Nagy's team won only two of its final 16 games. This season, however, Nagy might have a little something to build off. Kai Williams arrived in Brookings a year ago from that basketball hotbed of Regina, Saskatchewan. By the time his freshman season was over, Williams led SDSU with 12.1 points per game. Guard Garrett Callahan (8.3 ppg) and forward Michael Loney (7.2 ppg) also return.
When it comes to the Division I basketball programs in the state of Utah, Southern Utah doesn't have a lot of caché. Some of that is because Cedar City is located about 250 miles from Salt Lake City. But some of that is because other programs in the state simply have had more success. Now, however, the Thunderbirds might be taken a little more seriously after the hiring of Roger Reid. While Reid was most recently the coach at two-year Snow College, he is best known as the former coach at Brigham Young. Reid coached BYU from 1989-1996 and had success. He won 20 or more games on six occasions and led the Cougars to five NCAA Tournament appearances. Reid inherits a team that has five players in the regular rotation returning.
The Kangaroos should be an interesting team to watch under new coach Matt Brown, who replaced Rich Zvosec. Brown was an assistant coach for new Michigan coach John Beilein at both West Virginia and Richmond. Beilein was very good at getting a lot out of what talent he had, at spreading the floor offensively and creating problems with his zone defense. If Brown brings Beilein's system with him to Kansas City, one Kangaroo who has the potential to make a significant jump as a senior is guard Tim Blackwell. Blackwell is a very good outside shooter and he, along with Brent Stephens, are going to have to play a larger role if UMKC is going to have success. The Kangaroos don't return a player who averaged in double figures.
Senior guard David Jackson returns for Western Illinois, but the rest of the Leathernecks roster is going to look different. Very different actually. Western Illinois coach Derek Thomas signed eight new players for this season and that's probably not a bad thing. Western Illinois went 7-23 a year ago, 3-11 in Mid-Con play and finished No. 327 in the Ratings Percentage Index.
Now that perennial power Valparaiso has left for the Horizon League and Oral Roberts has lost its two best players, the Summit title is up for grabs. Who's going to take advantage?
-- Joe Lunardi
For all the 2007 ShootArounds, click here.
Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.