Summit ShootAround: League takes aim at Oral Roberts

Updated: August 21, 2008

Paul Battaglia/AP Photo

NDSU's Brett Winkelman redshirted a year so he could be postseason eligible as a senior.

Will NDSU's patience pay off?

Very few teams get to end their seasons on a winning note. Kansas certainly did, winning 13 consecutive games to close the season with a national title. Ohio State, the NIT champion, goes into 2008-09 on a five-game winning streak.

Then there's North Dakota State. The Bison, in their first year as Summit League members, ended 2007-08 on a three-game tear, thrashing eventual league champion Oral Roberts by a 68-55 count on March 1. But there were no commemorative T-shirts or confetti -- the season just plain ended.

"It was kind of weird seeing the others get to keep playing," said NDSU coach Saul Phillips, whose team was in its final season transitioning from Division II to Division I and its first as a Summit League member. "But we treated that like it was our championship game."

Had the Bison been eligible for the postseason, they would have worn their light-colored jerseys into the tourney as a No. 4 seed, by virtue of their 10-8 league record. But now that NDSU's Division I transition is complete, the Bison enter 2008-09 with no postseason restrictions whatsoever.

And with a core of senior starters, North Dakota State could emerge as a real March threat.

There's Ben Woodside, the 5-11 point guard who led the team with 20.7 ppg a season ago. Brett Winkelman is an undersized banger, leading the team with 8.3 rpg (and eight double-doubles) despite his 6-foot-6 height. And Wisconsin product Mike Nelson, not to be confused with the former "Mystery Science Theater 3000" host, is the team's 3-point threat.

There was one Division I offer among those three guys. So they all came into this with the feeling they had something to prove. Nobody wanted them.

--NDSU coach Saul Phillips

This 2008-09 season has been five years in the making. That core trio joined the program in the summer of 2004 but all three were given a redshirt so that they'd have four years of eligibility at the Division I level.

"Redshirting an entire class took a lot of patience from our fans," said Phillips, who was promoted when Tim Miles left to rebuild Colorado State last summer. "And to everybody's credit, nobody looked at it like a throwaway year. Surviving that season, ending up with a bunch of men on the following year's team instead of a mix and match, really helped us through that transition. That's the single biggest thing that we did that maybe wasn't done in some other places."

Indeed, there are plenty of transition horror stories, from New Jersey Tech's record-setting 0-29 trudge last season to the struggles of a team within NDSU's own conference, border neighbor South Dakota State. In SDSU's first Summit season, the Jackrabbits finished 3-15 against the league.

In contrast, NDSU has not had a losing record in its three seasons since making the jump into the NCAA's top flight. And some of the program's 52 wins as a Division I member have been of the unexpected, shocking variety. On Jan. 21, 2006, 19 games into its first full Div. I schedule, NDSU toppled Wisconsin 62-55 in Madison. Woodside, then a freshman, tallied 24 points. Less than a year later, the Bison stuck again, slipping by Marquette 64-60 at the Blue & Gold Classic. Winkelman was fearless in the paint against Big East beef, grabbing 10 rebounds.

"There was one Division I offer among those three guys," explained Phillips. "So they all came into this with the feeling they had something to prove. Nobody wanted them."

Now, nobody wants to play them, especially now that they've shown they're not afraid of anybody.

"We played a Big Ten-caliber schedule every year, that's the way they looked at it," said Phillips. "When we went down to Florida for my first game as a head coach last year, I was more nervous than they were. They were like, 'Hey, we're playing the national champions, this is pretty neat.' And then when we lost by just 10 points, it was, 'OK, who's next?'"

Five Things To Watch in '08-09

Dance tickets
With the Division I maturation process of the Summit's two Dakota-based schools complete, all 10 teams are now eligible for league and national tournaments in March 2009. But the conference has a long way to go in terms of sharing the postseason wealth.

Including North Dakota State, South Dakota State and fellow 2007 entrant IPFW, six of the Summit schools have never made it to the NCAA tournament. Despite their long-standing league affiliations, Centenary, Western Illinois and Missouri-Kansas City have yet to reach the Big Dance. Southern Utah, IUPUI and Oakland have each gone just once, and three-time defending champion Oral Roberts is the only current member to have reached the Big Bracket multiple times.

The owners of all eight of the conference's NCAA wins have moved on. In addition to victories by Northern Iowa and Wisconsin-Green Bay (now in the Missouri Valley and Horizon, respectively), this league has been the springboard for some of the most memorable Cinderella runs in mid-major history. Cleveland State streaked to the Sweet 16 in 1986 out of what was then the Mid-Continent, and Valparaiso's Bryce Drew hit "The Shot" to sink Ole Miss in the 1998 first round. Both are Horizon members now.

Feeling the draft
He was something less than a household name, but IUPUI guard George Hill left school for the NBA draft following his junior season. In 2007-08, the Jaguars' 6-foot-2 guard was the league's No. 1 scorer at 21.5 ppg, also leading his team in minutes played, rebounds, assists, steals and 3-point field goal percentage. Everybody in the Summit League pretty much knew who he was, even if he was a relative unknown elsewhere.

Hill's gambit paid off after a series of impressive workouts for NBA teams. He was selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the 26th overall pick, the first IUPUI player ever drafted and just the second first-rounder from this conference (Valparaiso's Bryce Drew was picked 16th overall in 1998). Even though Hill's old college coach will face the 2008-09 season without him, nobody's happier about Hill's ascent to the Association.

"I felt the same way I do whenever I help one of my seniors get a job," said IUPUI head coach Ron Hunter. "But this was definitely more special because it was our first draft pick and because he's such a special kid. I've known George since he was coming to our basketball camps in the sixth grade, and I know where he's come from. It means more to me than it might to a normal coach."

Grizzly newcomers
Oakland's last NCAA trip was something of a fluke. In 2005, as a conference No. 7 seed with just nine regular-season wins, the Golden Grizzlies won three games in four days, capping the run with a last-second win over Oral Roberts in the title game. From there, Oakland beat Alabama A&M in the opening-round contest before being throttled by North Carolina in the first round.

Since then, Oakland has been on a slow rise. Greg Kampe's squad has earned semifinal berths in two straight seasons and was a win away from an NCAA return in 2007. And the 2008-09 Golden Grizzlies may be the best edition yet. Not only does the team return all its starters, two highly regarded Great Lake State recruits will be added to the mix. Michigan natives Drew Maynard, a 6-6 shooting guard, and 6-9 power forward Jay Thames were both considered top-40 prospects at their positions by Scouts Inc.

But the league's most intriguing newcomer is Ilija Milutinovic. The Serbian 7-footer turned down a six-figure pro contract in his home country to learn and play at the Rochester Hills, Mich., campus, and Kampe says he's the best big man he's had in his 24 years at Oakland.

"He had signed with Oregon State, but his English wasn't good enough to get a good ACT score," Kampe explained. "He was going to play professionally over in Europe, but his handlers think he has a chance to play professionally here in the United States. So we got involved with him, and he finally made the test score and decided to sign with us. Hopefully, that's going to be more than just a one-year deal, and he'll stay here for four years and get his degree."

From way downtown
The Mid-Con changed its name last summer to the Summit League, but perhaps it should have also considered the "Three League."

Last season, the conference featured the second-best 3-point shooting team in the nation, the IUPUI Jaguars (42.3 percent). If North Dakota State's team stats had counted with the NCAA in its last Division I provisional season, the Bison would have finished seventh overall at 40.7 percent. The league had 17 players who hit at least 40 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, led by NDSU's Mike Nelson, who nailed 59 of his 128 tries (46.1 percent).

So perhaps no conference will be as much affected by the new rule that moves the 3-point line from its previous distance of 19 feet, 9 inches out to 20 feet, 9 inches.

"Our league has figured out that to compete against teams outside the conference, we have to do it with shooting," said Kampe, who counts Erik Kangas (14.6 ppg, 41 percent from 3) among his players. "Because we have guys who can make shots, 1 foot is not going to make a difference. Where I think you'll see the line move make a difference is the teams that shoot it average. Most of the ones that Kangas takes are a foot back anyway."

Lose the shoes
IUPUI's Hunter brought a lot of attention to the Summit League when he walked the sidelines without shoes for a game against Oakland on Jan. 24. The gesture was to raise awareness for Samaritan's Feet, a charitable organization that aims to collect 10 million pairs of shoes for children worldwide. Hunter helped raise 150,000 pairs of shoes that day, and this summer he and several IUPUI players brought shoes to earthquake-ravaged Peru.

Hunter and Samaritan's Feet are spending the summer lobbying the NCAA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches to help organize an even larger event. They hope to have college coaches from all three NCAA divisions go shoeless this season, targeting the weekend before the Martin Luther King holiday.

"On that Saturday, Jan. 24, we're asking every coach in America to go without shoes," said Hunter. "Our goal will be to raise a million shoes to give to children. With the help of the NABC and NCAA, I think we're going to get this done."



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2008-09 Team Capsules

By Kyle Whelliston
Summit League
The Gentlemen started strong in 2007-08 with a 6-3 record, highlighted by a surprise win over Texas Tech (the game in which Bobby Knight walked out at halftime). But they went 4-18 afterward, and the school let Rob Flaska go after three underachieving seasons. Centenary has never finished better than second to last during its five years in the league, and it would not have made the eight-team conference tournament had NDSU been eligible. New sideline pacer Greg Gary, previously an assistant at Duquesne, inherits some functioning pieces: Three returning seniors averaged double figures last season.

After six years as a Division I independent, the Mastodons proved they could hang in their new conference. Led by 29-year-old head coach Dane Fife, IPFW finished with a 9-9 Summit League record and averaged 80 points at home. Keep an eye on Ben Botts, who averaged 10 ppg and shot 45.3 percent from 3 during his rookie season. The 6-1 sophomore guard shot 4-for-5 from beyond the arc in his college debut at Wisconsin last November.

Despite the early loss of floor leader George Hill (the 26th overall pick in the NBA draft) and second-leading scorer Austin Montgomery (13.7 ppg), head coach Ron Hunter calls his 2008-09 team the best he's had from top to bottom. Gary Patterson, a 5-10 senior who averaged 12.9 ppg last season, will lead the Jaguars into 2008-09. Intriguing newcomer Larry Stone, a 5-9 point guard from T.C. Howe High in Indianapolis, could pick up some of the 4.3 assists per game that Hill left behind.

NDSUNorth Dakota State
The spotlight will be on NDSU's well-traveled senior class, but the next wave of talent is coming up right behind to ensure continued success. Sophomore forward Michael Tveidt nearly double-doubled in his college debut against two-time defending champion Florida (12 points, 8 rebounds) and played a key backup role down the stretch. Junior Josh Vaughan cracked the starting lineup during conference play, drawing raves for his defense and 38.6 percent 3-point shooting.

Coach Greg Kampe's league-best recruiting class will need to mesh with a core of established veterans. The gold and black return practically intact, led by Derick Nelson, who was Oakland's top producer last season with 17.3 ppg and 7.4 rpg. The 6-5 senior-to-be went off for 22 and 9 in the team's shocking win over Oregon last December. Junior Johnathon Jones (14.9 ppg) and senior Erik Kangas (14.6 ppg) will hold down backcourt duties. The Golden Grizzlies are loaded.

ORUOral Roberts
Already adjusting to the loss of three senior starters, head coach Scott Sutton kicked three players off the team in July for unspecified rules violations. One of the banished parties was senior Marchello Vealy, who became an instant celebrity on Nov. 15, 2006, after his 22 points helped the Golden Eagles sink Kansas on the road. Vealy didn't reach 20 again for the remainder of his ORU career. The remaining G'Eagles, led by all-guts 5-11 shooting guard Robert Jarvis (16.1 ppg), will try to maintain the best defense in the Summit (only 60.2 points allowed per contest in 2007-08) and return to the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight year.

The No. 7-seeded Kangaroos nearly made up for a 6-12 regular season in the conference quarterfinals, pushing IUPUI to within four points of its playoff life. Second-year head coach Matt Brown will use that near miss as inspiration for a group that includes senior sharpshooter Dane Brumagin (team-leading 17.1 ppg), as well as one of the most exciting newcomers in the league last season. Sophomore-to-be Reggie Hamilton, a 6-0 point guard, came out of Chicago's legendary Thornwood prep program and grabbed the reins of the Roos' offense, averaging 11.7 points and 3.3 assists per game.

SDSUSouth Dakota State
The Jackrabbits are eligible for the conference postseason as well, but their odds are somewhat longer than those of the Dakotans to the north. Scott Nagy's club has managed just 32 wins in four Division I seasons and struggled mightily to shoot 40 percent most nights. SD State will try again with a similar cast that includes Kai Williams, a rare bright spot from an 8-21 (3-13 Summit) season. The 6-6 junior averaged 14 ppg on 49.3 percent shooting and chipped in 7.8 rpg.

Southern UtahSouthern Utah
The Summit's western outpost built some serious Mountain Standard Time momentum in Roger Reid's first season. SUU finished with a 9-9 conference record, and captured the nation's attention with the story of one-handed baller Dax Crum. But Geoff Payne, the team's only double-figure scorer and leading rebounder (20.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg), opted for a transfer ticket out of town instead of a senior season in Cedar City. "We're pretty much starting from scratch," said T'Birds assistant Johnny Brown.

Western IllinoisWestern Illinois
The 2007-08 Leathernecks won 12 games, five more than they did the previous season, and earned 10 home victories for the first time since 1998-99. But that improvement was not enough. In steps Jim Molinari, who spent 11 seasons leading Bradley and more recently served as Minnesota's interim coach when Dan Monson resigned during the 2006-07 season. Now Molinari has to find some players. No. 1 scoring option David Jackson (13.7 ppg) graduated, and top marksman James Washington (10.5 ppg, 42.4 percent from 3) transferred out after one year.

If I were the Summit commish …

By Andy Katz

The Summit League has an issue because it plays league games in December. That takes a week out of the nonconference schedule. Summit League teams, like countless others, have a hard time getting nonconference games, and taking them out of the mix for a week in December doesn't help. The December schedule is already tight with final exam week and the holidays.

Playing the league tournament in South Dakota is good for the league, but the Summit has had success holding it in Tulsa too. Having a set destination for the tournament could help.

2007-08 Summit League Standings

Overall record Summit record
Oral Roberts* 24-9 16-2
IUPUI 26-7 15-3
Oakland 17-14 11-7
North Dakota State 16-13 10-8
IPFW 13-18 9-9
Southern Utah 11-19 9-9
Western Illinois 12-18 7-11
UMKC 11-21 6-12
Centenary 10-21 4-14
South Dakota State 8-21 3-15
*NCAA tournament

For all the Summit League news and notes, check out the league page.

Top Returning Scorers

Player PPG
Ben Woodside, NDSU, Sr. 20.7
Geoff Payne, Southern Utah, Sr. 20.6
Brett Winkelman, NDSU, Sr. 19.2
Derick Nelson, Oakland, Sr. 17.3
Dane Brumagin, UMKC, Sr. 17.1

Top Returning Rebounders

Player RPG
Brett Winkelman, NDSU, Sr. 8.3
Kai Williams, SDSU, Jr. 7.8
Derick Nelson, Oakland, Sr. 7.4
Geoff Payne, Southern Utah, Sr. 6.8
Billy Pettiford, IUPUI, Jr. 5.6

Top Returning Assist Leaders

Player APG
Johnathon Jones, Oakland, Sr. 6.0
Ben Woodside, North Dakota St., Sr. 5.1
Chase Adams, Centenary, Sr. 4.7
David Marek, Southern Utah, Jr. 3.7
Reggie Hamilton, UMKC, Soph. 3.3

Final Shot

• The Summit League may not be the most prestigious in college basketball, but Oral Roberts is acquitting itself nicely. Just how highly do the Golden Eagles rank since the 1984-85 season? Prestige Rankings

• Oral Roberts earned a 13-seed in last season's NCAA tournament but got blown out by Pitt in the first round. Can the Golden Eagles earn a better seed this season? Bracketology

• Missed the other conference breakdowns? Click here to check out the ShootArounds archive.