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Summit League preseason power rankings: Can the Jacks go back-to-back?

There’s some familiar names at the top of the rankings.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Gonzaga vs South Dakota State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Summit League broke out as one of the most entertaining conferences in mid-major basketball. It featured high octane offenses, and parity throughout the league that resulted in two thirds of the teams having at least .500 records.

This year, the league will only have eight teams for the first time since the 2013-14 season due to IUPUI’s departure to the Horizon League. However, it won’t be like that for long as North Dakota will join the league next season.

Nonetheless, the Summit League returns a lot of talent that should make for another fun season. Here’s how the teams stack up heading into November.

Power Rankings

1. South Dakota State

Despite reaching the NCAA Tournament in T.J. Otzelberger’s first season, the Jackrabbits experienced plenty of up and downs. This year, don’t expect that to be the case. The biggest reason? Mike Daum is back to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. The reigning Summit League Player of the Year enters the year as one of the most talented scorers in all of college basketball.

Versatile swingman Reed Tellinghuisen returns as well to solidify the Jackrabbit frontcourt, as well as Ian Theisen giving valuable minutes down low. Chris Howell and Tevin King provide an experienced backcourt, and incoming freshman David Jenkins Jr. will give them a scoring punch off the bench. Look for the Jackrabbits to come out firing on all cylinders in Otzelberger’s sophomore campaign.

2. South Dakota

Last year’s regular season champions were one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. Going from eighth place to winning the conference is no small feat, but now it’s up to Craig Smith and company to compete on a consistent basis.

If not for Daum, Matt Mooney would be the league’s most potent offensive player. The Air Force transfer averaged 21 points per game in conference play last year, and might have to do just as much this year. The Coyotes lose two major starters in Tyler Flack (graduation) and Trey Dickerson (transfer to Georgetown). Jack-of-all trades Trey Burch-Manning will have to take on a heavier workload, and Triston Simpson will have to take over the starting point guard spot. Look for Nebraska grad transfer Nick Fuller and Tyler Hagedorn to fill the void that Flack left in the middle.

3. Denver

Rodney Billups was another coach that had a rocky first year. Luckily, the Pioneers return almost every key contributor for a team that was one of the most efficient in the conference last year.

Daniel Amigo returns as a potential double-double threat every night, and Joe Rosga is one of the best shooters in the country. Those two might be the league’s best 1-2 punch. Jake Pemberton returns as a steady distributor after averaging 4.4 assists per game last year, while Elijah Blake and Elvin Rodriguez bring a change of pace as freshmen. The experience and continuity from this roster should make the Pioneers a more consistent unit in Billups’s second year.

4. North Dakota State

Unlike many of their Summit League counterparts, the Bison play at a slow pace with stingy defense. Because of that, they’re almost always a safe bet to finish in the top half of the conference. The offense, however, has some holes to fill heading into the season.

Dave Richman loses three of his top five scorers from last year in Dexter Werner, Khy Kabellis and Carlin Dupree. However, the Bison return eight players from last year’s roster, including double-figure scorers Paul Miller and A.J. Jacobson. Tyson Ward started to come on strong at the end of the season, and will be called upon to fill the void that Kabellis and Dupree left in the backcourt. If guys like Dylan Miller and Deng Geu can replace Werner’s production, the Bison will be back in the thick of things.

5. Fort Wayne

A season with so much promise following an upset of Indiana fell well short of expectations for Fort Wayne. Six of their eight losses in Summit League play came by single digits, though. On any given night the Mastodons can light up the scoreboard for triple digits.

The two key cogs in Jon Coffman’s offense - Bryson Scott and John Konchar - return as another elite 1-2 punch. The departure of Mo Evans should put the ball in Scott’s hands more as the lead guard, and Konchar will still be as efficient as ever. The biggest question mark is who will provide a post presence without Brent Calhoun. Xzavier Taylor will be expected to take on a bigger role, or else the Mastodons could be exploited regularly by the conference’s talented big men.

6. Omaha

After coming within seconds of making the NCAA Tournament, the Mavericks will look significantly different this year. Their top three scorers - Tre’Shawn Thurman, Marcus Tyus and Tra-Deon Hollins - are gone.

Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson return as double-figures scorers, coming in at 11.7 and 10.8 points per game, respectively. However, there isn’t much punch outside of those two. Daniel Meyer and Daniel Noel will both get a chance to step into bigger roles this year. Renard Suggs, a transfer from Washington State, could be the spark that Derrin Hansen needs for his up-tempo offense.

7. Oral Roberts

A new era of Oral Roberts basketball begins this year as Paul Mills takes over for longtime head coach Scott Sutton. He faces the tall task of turning around a program that only won eight games last year.

One bright spot for the Golden Eagles is a pair of experienced frontcourt members. Albert Owens is a bruiser on the low block, and Emmanuel Nzekwesi dabbles as an athletic sidekick. The major question mark for Mills will be where the production comes from on the perimeter. Jalen Bradley graduated, and Kris Martin transferred to Colorado State. Someone has to step up at the guard spots for Oral Roberts, or they could be faced with another season in the cellar.

8. Western Illinois

Per Kenpom, Western Illinois’s offense checked in at 300th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Now, take away the two leading scorers in Garrett Covington and Mike Miklusak and things could get ugly for Billy Wright.

C.J. Duff and Delo Bruster will likely take on a brunt of the scoring load in the backcourt. Dalan Ancrum is their leading returning scorer at 8.2 points per game, a number which he will certainly need to improve. Brandon Gilbeck is still one of the league’s best shot blockers, but will need to become more of an offensive threat. For a team as offensively challenged as the Leathernecks, it could be an uphill battle to keep up with some of the firepower in the rest of the league.