The past few seasons, South Dakota State has been the team to beat in the Summit League. For a while in 2016, it looked like Fort Wayne, which tied the Jackrabbits atop the standings, could unseat them, but the Mastodons fell short in the conference tournament.
We expect that to change this year.
Our preseason rankings put Fort Wayne alone at the top and drop the Jackrabbits a couple of notches as they enter a new era for their program. That said, it’d be foolish to completely count out the team that’s won three of the past four regular season titles.
2016-17 Summit League Preseason Power Rankings:
1. Fort Wayne
The Artists Formerly Known as IPFW return last year’s second leading scorer in John Konchar, and Mo Evans will be back after serving a suspension for most of last year’s conference slate.
Fort Wayne will also continue to hold the title of coolest college mascot. Seriously. Look at this guy.
2. North Dakota State
The Bison did not have a stellar conference season last year but turned it on at the end, making a run to the title game of the league tournament.
Experience will be on NDSU’s side as it returns four of its five leading scorers, including Paul Miller, who averaged 15.3 points per game. Miller, A.J. Jacobson, Khy Kabellis, and Dexter Werner, accounted for 60 percent of the team’s total points last year.
3. South Dakota State
South Dakota State has enjoyed the view from the top over the last two seasons and will lean on first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger to lead them back.
Mike Daum averaged over 15 points per game last season as a freshman, but with several key departures, his supporting cast is still in question.
The Jaguars finished 13-19 last year, but return a strong core from a team that still managed to finish above .500 in conference play.
Senior Darell Combs is one of those returners. The sharpshooter averaged over 16 points per game as a junior and made 42 percent of his three-point attempts.
The Jaguars also add Syracuse transfer Ron Patterson, who sat out last season.
The good news for the Mavericks is that last season they led the Summit League in scoring with 85.3 points per game. The bad news is that they allowed 81.8.
The potentially worse news is that last year’s leading scorers — Devin Patterson and Jake White — both graduated.
If Omaha wants to finish in the top half of the conference this season, it will need contributions from Tre’Shawn Thurman and Tra-Deon Hollins, who were last season’s third- and fourth-leading scorers.
Transitioning into a new coaching regime is never easy, and that’s what the Pioneers will be doing under first-year coach Rodney Billups.
To add to the difficulty, two of Denver’s three leading scorers from last season graduated.
Sophomore Joe Rosga, who led all Pioneers in scoring last season, will be back, and freshman Ade Murkey, who averaged nearly 30 points per game his senior year in high school, joins the team.
Rosga, Murkey, and Billups might all be part of the beginning of a brighter era of Pioneer basketball, but expect some growing pains this season.
7. South Dakota
There are a lot of unknowns with this season’s South Dakota squad, with just one senior in Tyler Flack.
But what makes this team particularly tough to peg is that Trey Dickerson (Iowa), Carlton Hurst (Colorado State), and Matt Mooney (Air Force) all sat out last year as transfers and will all be looking for roles this year.
8. Western Illinois
Garret Covington returns for his senior year after scoring nearly 18 points per game last season.
Covington and fellow senior Jabari Sandifer will make up a core that the Leathernecks could build around to hopefully improve on last season’s disappointing 3-13 conference record.
9. Oral Roberts
An enormous portion of last season’s offense for the Golden Eagles came from junior Obi Emegano, who averaged 26.3. Unfortunately for Oral Roberts, Emegano left early to pursue a professional career.
Head coach Scott Sutton, who is entering his 18th season, will not return any players who averaged double figures.
One guy to keep an eye on, however, is freshman Dezmond McDaniel. McDaniel scored over 1,500 points as a high school player and could serve as the foundation for future Golden Eagles success.