The 2015-16 season was arguably the best in Summit League history. It provided a competitive conference season, and resulted in three teams making postseason tournaments. If you missed Part One of our recap, that can be found here.
In the second part of our three part breakdown, we'll take a look at three of the teams that gave the conference more depth than it has ever had.
Jason Gardner's second season at the helm of IUPUI showed a lot of promise for a program that has been searching to regain the success of the Ron Hunter years. The Jaguars finished 13-19 overall, but a 9-7 record in conference was good enough to be 4th in the standings.
The nine conference wins were the highest total since the 2010-11 season, with two of those wins coming against conference co-champion and in-state rival, IPFW. The Jaguars utilized the transfer market to their advantage, and had four of their top five scorers come from other schools.
IUPUI is poised to continue making strides next year, and again are bringing in talented transfers. Ron Patterson will be eligible next year after sitting out last season when he came back to his hometown from Syracuse. The former Indiana University commit paired with leading scorer Darell Combs should make for a potent backcourt.
Kellon Thomas also returned home as a graduate transfer from Kent State, and will be another valuable piece to the Jaguars' backcourt. Overall, the Jaguars will bring back 80 percent of their offense, and will likely increase their scoring totals next year. They should continue to improve, and should be a threat to vault themselves into contention.
North Dakota State Bison
For the first time in three years, North Dakota State found themselves watching the NCAA Tournament instead of playing in it. The Bison struggled in conference play, finishing in fifth place with a record of 8-8. They rallied during the conference tournament, but fell to South Dakota State in the conference title game.
NDSU played at a slower pace, which resulted in the best defense in the conference to the tune of only allowing 65.2 points per game in conference play. Unfortunately, that requires a higher level of offensive efficiency, which the Bison struggled to provide by only scoring 66.7 points per game, which was second to last in the conference. That small margin of error played a big part in their fifth place finish in the standings.
Luckily, Head Coach David Richman will have a more experienced team next season. The Bison only lose two seniors to graduation, and will have a nice blend of upperclassmen that have been around for a few years and underclassmen that learned through playing time. Returning their two leading scorers, A.J. Jacobson and Paul Miller, will hopefully give the Bison's offense a little more punch. In order to get back to the Big Dance, North Dakota State will have to be able to score with the conference's top tier offenses.
The Denver Pioneers were plagued by some of the same issues as North Dakota State. They had a great defense, but extremely subpar offense. By playing at the second slowest pace in the country, Denver had a stout defense that allowed only 65.3 points per game (32nd of 351), but actually scored less than that on the offensive side of the ball at only 65.2 points per game (325th of 351). The result of the nearly even point differential was a near even record of 16-15. The Pioneers managed to go 7-9 in conference play, which is the same amount of wins that Denver has averaged in conference play since joining the Summit League in 2013.
The Pioneers will need their younger players to develop going into next season if they hope to finally get over the hump. Joe Rosga was a cornerstone of their offense last year, and the All-Newcomer Team recipient will likely be the go-to guy to spark the offense. Joe Scott's system relies on efficiency, and being more efficient on the offensive end will be pertinent to their success if their defense remains stingy next season. If not, the Pioneers might be looking at another season in the middle of the pack.