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2016-17 Summit League Post-Mortem

July 17, 2017 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments

The Summit League in 2016-17 did not match what was in many ways a banner season the year before. There would be little arguing as much.

Coming off a superb year when the league finished 12th in conference RPI-after rising as high as No. 8 at one point-and put forth a champion that earned a 12 seed and would’ve had a case for at-large inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, the Summit was unable to match such lofty heights. The league dropped to 19th in the conference RPI, with a 12-game drop in its win percentage against Division I schools, and it also saw its tournament champion receive a 16 seed in the NCAA tourney.

Don’t be misled, though. The Summit is still a plenty solid conference, arguably the most improved in the country this decade (from 26th in conference RPI in 2010). And it still had plenty to recommend it this year.

Rarely does the Summit League have a South Dakota State program in a relatively down year-SDSU hovered around or below .500 all year-but rarely does the league have a player like Mike Daum, either. Just a sophomore, Daum finished third in the country in scoring, and he carried the Jackrabbits in the postseason, to their second straight Summit tourney title and trip to the NCAAs.

The league also had one of the great turnaround stories in the country in South Dakota, which went from almost-worst (eighth) to first in winning its first Division I regular season conference title. The Coyotes had mostly treaded water since joining the Summit, never finishing higher than fifth, but won 22 games-most since USD was in its D-I transition-and earned their first-ever NIT bid.

The Summit also was again strong at the bottom, better than power ratings may have suggested. Its three biggest non-conference wins came from its third-, fourth- and ninth-best teams, including one of the most memorable upsets of the season with IPFW memorably knocking off Indiana. Nebraska-Omaha also won at a Big Ten school (Iowa), while Oral Roberts-which finished last in the Summit-easily handled Richmond at home and nearly toppled Mississippi, Michigan State and Creighton. That’s 8-22 ORU. For real, go check it out.

In fact, balance has become a trademark of the league in recent years, sometimes to a fault. Positions 3-7 in the standings were separated by a total of two games-between 9-7 and 7-9. Six different schools have also won at least a share of a regular season title since 2011-12, with only Denver, IUPUI and Nebraska-Omaha not having eaten a share. (Ironically, North Dakota State or South Dakota State have won the tourney every one of those years.)

Finally, the Summit continues to preside over what has become one of the model conference tournaments in the country, with record-breaking crowds again trekking to Sioux Falls, S.D., for this year’s event. The league’s admittance of South Dakota, South Dakota State, Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota State-former NCAA Division II members from the old North Central Conference-has been genius on every level.

If anything, the Summit’s conference rank this year appears awful close to the league’s floor right now. The Summit has become a very solid, mid-level Division I conference, a true “mid-major”, if you will. It shows no signs of slipping anytime soon.

Final Standings:

Summit Overall
South Dakota 12-4 22-12
North Dakota State 11-5 18-11
Nebraska-Omaha 9-7 18-14
Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne 8-8 20-13
Denver 8-8 16-14
South Dakota State 8-8 18-17
Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis 7-9 14-18
Western Illinois 5-11 8-20
Oral Roberts 4-12 8-22

Conference Tournament
The Summit League held its postseason tourney in Sioux Falls for the ninth straight year and at the Denny Sanford Premier Center for the third straight season. The event again broke attendance records, with a high of 11,235 on hand for the semifinals and a total of 39,912 over the four days also setting a new mark.

The quarterfinals started with a near-shocker first followed by the real thing soon after. Top seed South Dakota could not shake No. 8 Western Illinois in regulation, leading much of the way but falling behind by two late and then seeing the game sent to OT when the Leathernecks’ C.J. Duff hit a tying three-pointer with 12 seconds left. The Coyotes never trailed in overtime, though, outscoring Western 10-1 in the extra session for a 78-69 win. Second-seeded North Dakota State wasn’t so fortunate against No. 7 IUPUI. The Jaguars pushed the Bison from the start, taking a four-point halftime lead, and NDSU shot just 25% in the second half as IUPUI posted a surprisingly easy 76-57 victory.

The final two quarterfinals the next day saw No. 4 South Dakota State and No. 3 Nebraska-Omaha also move on. The Jackrabbits got 33 points from Mike Daum in an 83-73 win over 5 seed Denver, while UNO fought back from an 11-point second half deficit to knock out sixth-seeded IPFW 84-80.

Both SDSU and UNO also won the next day on Monday in the semifinals. The Jackrabbits fell behind South Dakota 22-6 in the first 10 minutes and still were down by double figures well into the second half. South Dakota State continued to battle, though, posting up Reed Tellinghuisen-not Daum-time and again and getting 16 points from the junior. Senior Michael Orris as hit multiple huge shots, including the go-ahead jumper with two seconds left in a 74-71 victory. Omaha, meanwhile, hammered IUPUI 90-62, holding the Jaguars to 31.7% shooting to move to its first Summit final.

Daum was relatively quiet in the semifinals with 18 points. That was not the case in the title game, as he scored 37 points and added 12 rebounds in a virtuoso performance. Included were seven straight points late as South Dakota State took the lead for good and held off Omaha 79-77 for its second straight tourney title and its fourth in the last six years. Daum was named the tourney’s MVP for the second straight year.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year:
 Mike Daum, F, So., South Dakota State
Defensive Player of the Year: Tra-Deon Hollins, G, Sr., Nebraska-Omaha
Freshman of the Year: Emmanuel Nzekwesi, F, Oral Roberts
Sixth Man of the Year: Dexter Werner, F, Sr., North Dakota State
Transfer of the Year: Matt Mooney, G, So., South Dakota
Coach of the Year: Craig Smith, South Dakota

All-Conference Team
Mike Daum, F, So., South Dakota State
Tyler Flack, F, Sr., South Dakota
Tra-Deon Hollins, G, Sr., Nebraska-Omaha
John Konchar, G, So., IPFW
Paul Miller, G, Jr., North Dakota State
Matt Mooney, G, So., South Dakota

Season Highlights

  • Three Summit League teams qualified for the postseason, with South Dakota State (NCAA) and South Dakota (NIT) falling in the first round of their tourneys but IPFW defeating Ball State before being knocked out in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
  • Daum finished third in the nation in scoring, averaging 25.1 points per game. Hollins also ranked second nationally in steals (3.4 spg), while Western Illinois center Brandon Gilbeck was fourth in the country in blocked shots (3.0 bpg).
  • IPFW was one of the top offensive teams in the country, ranking fourth in Division I in scoring (86.9 ppg) and three-pointers per game (10.7), seventh in field goal percentage (49.9%) and eighth in assists (17.5 apg).
  • The Summit also produced two CoSIDA Academic All-America award winners for the second straight year, with North Dakota State’s A.J. Jacobson named to the first team and IUPUI’s Matt O’Leary a third team honoree.

What we expected, and it happened: Not sure anyone saw just how good he would get so soon, but Mike Daum had the look of a star in the making after his freshman year, and he delivered. Big time.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: North Dakota State appeared to us to be a clear frontrunner coming into the season. While certainly not a washout of a year by any means, the Bison fought for the title before finishing second to South Dakota, and then were stunningly taken out in the first round of the conference tournament. Also, IUPUI was our darkhorse pick as a contender, but the Jaguars backslid slightly in the Summit and treaded water overall.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: From eighth place to first, South Dakota was one of the biggest surprises in the country.

Team on the rise: South Dakota. Even if they don’t repeat their title, the Coyotes no longer can be penciled into the second division. Despite the departures of Tyler Flack and Trey Dickerson, the Coyotes return plenty of experience to remain a contender. Guard Matt Mooney in particular could put up Mike Daum-like scoring numbers next year.

Team on the decline: Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles left the Summit after the 2011-12 season on top with a regular season title, and they were expected to be a regular contender when they rejoined three years later. A third-place showing in ORU’s first year back, though, has been followed by a slide with finishes of seventh and ninth.

2017-18 Summit League Outlook
Despite losing nine of the 15 players on its all-league teams, the Summit will have no shortage of individual talent again next year. For one, there’s Daum, but Mooney and NDSU’s Paul Miller also will be candidates for top honors, and John Konchar of IPFW is a two-time first team all-Summit selection.

The race for the title is wide open. South Dakota State is as good a place to start as any with the All-American candidate Daum and Reed Tellinghuisen leading the way and a full year now under the belt of coach T.J. Otzelberger. North Dakota State will again have an excellent backcourt with Miller and A.J. Jacobson, though the Bison lost interior heart Dexter Werner. South Dakota won’t go away, IPFW (soon to be renamed Purdue-Fort Wayne, though who knows if the school will continue with its confusing ‘Fort Wayne’ label for its athletic teams) also will have plenty still available to bomb away with Konchar, Kason Harrell and Bryson Scott, and keep an eye on Denver. The Pioneers were competitive in their first year under Rodney Billups, with 6-foot-10 Daniel Amigo significantly improved and Joe Rosga a knockdown shooter and scorer. Almost everyone is back for an efficient offensive team that was in the hunt until fading late.

Nebraska-Omaha loses its top three scorers, and Western Illinois will miss the underappreciated Garrett Covington. Oral Roberts, meanwhile, will boast a talented frontcourt with Albert Owens and Emmanuel Nzekwesi, and those two could spark the Golden Eagles under new coach Paul Mills. Meanwhile, IUPUI says goodbye to the Summit League; the school announced on June 28 that it had accepted an invitation to the Horizon League. That means the Summit will be down to eight teams, but only for a year as North Dakota-an NCAA Tournament participant this year-moves over from the Big Sky, adding to the Dakota base and giving the league another solid all-around athletic program.

Twitter: @HoopvilleAdam
Email: hoopvilleadam@yahoo.com


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