When you think about the best mid-major conferences, the usual suspects will come to mind. The Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and West Coast Conference are generally going to be the first names that come up, and rightfully so. All of these conferences are traditionally good, and have lived up to that billing this year.
The Summit League, however, is leading the second tier of conferences. According to Kenpom, the Summit League comes in at No. 12 among conference rankings. They also come in at No. 12 in the RPI. It’s not quite in the upper echelon, but it’s still a very good league.
So far this year, the league has amassed wins over teams from the Big Ten and SEC, and has a record above .500 (61-55) as a whole. It has two teams in the top-100 of Kenpom, and two more hovering around the top-150. Simply put, this a solid mid-major conference.
With league play tipping off on Saturday, let’s reevaluate where each team stacks up compared to our preseason power rankings.
1. South Dakota (12-4, Preseason: 2)
The defending regular season champs appear to be poised to retain their title. The Coyotes have been the most consistent and impressive team so far. Two of their four losses came by five or fewer points to TCU and UCLA. The other two were at Duke (understandable), and Northern Colorado. The Coyotes are taking care of business, and have a Player of the Year candidate in Matt Mooney. They’re ranked No. 86 in Kenpom for good reason.
Upcoming: 12/30 vs Denver, 1/3 vs Western Illinois, 1/6 vs North Dakota State
2. South Dakota State (11-5, Preseason: 1)
Unsurprisingly, the Jackrabbits boast the league’s best offense. Mike Daum has been doing Mike Daum things of late, and the team is connecting on 40% of its threes. Freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. has shown that he’s already capable of being a great scorer with outings of 23, 22 and 31 points against Iowa, Ole Miss and Colorado, respectively. The Jackrabbits have the highest ceiling of any team in the league, it’s just a matter of if they can bring it consistently in league play.
Upcoming: 12/30 vs Presentation, 1/3 at North Dakota State, 1/6 at Omaha
3. Fort Wayne (10-6, Preseason: 5)
The Mastodons are back again as one of the most dangerous teams in the league. They shoot a ton of threes, and are capable of taking down anyone if those shots are falling. Just ask Indiana. Bryson Scott is been the league’s best scorer in non-conference play, and John Konchar is still one of the best players around that few people talk about. For Fort Wayne, it comes down to the defensive end. If they can be passable defensively, they’ll have the chance to be in the thick of the title race.
Upcoming: 12/30 Concordia Michigan, 1/4 at Oral Roberts, 1/6 at Denver
4. North Dakota State (7-6, Preseason: 4)
The Bison are probably a little bit better than their record shows. Only four of their non-conference games came at home, and five of their games came against Kenpom top-75 teams. They’re playing their typically slow game, and are defending as well as any team in the league. Conventional wisdom says that the Bison are a safe bet to finish in the top half of the league. Paul Miller might need a little bit more help on offense if NDSU wants to be at the top, though.
Upcoming: 12/30 vs Jamestown, 1/3 vs South Dakota State, 1/6 at South Dakota
5. Denver (6-8, Preseason: 3)
Denver would probably be a few spots higher if they could take care of the ball. They rank 346th in turnover percentage, and don’t force any turnovers on defense. That’s not a recipe for success. However, when they aren’t turning the ball over, they have good shooters and get to the foul line at a solid clip. The potential is there for Rodney Billups and Co. to be a contender in the league, but it’s hard to feel confident that they’ll get there given their play so far this year.
Upcoming: 12/30 at South Dakota, 1/6 vs Fort Wayne
6. Oral Roberts (4-11, Preseason: 7)
Oral Roberts played as tough of a schedule as anyone, but came away with wins against Missouri State and Florida Gulf Coast to show for it. The frontcourt trio of Emmanuel Nzekwesi, Albert Owens and Javan White gives Paul Mills the freedom to experiment with some zone looks that he brought over from Baylor. Few teams, if any, can match the sheer size that Oral Roberts can bring down low. The Golden Eagles are young and obviously will have the growing pains of a first-year head coach, but the groundwork is there to turn the program around.
Upcoming: 12/30 vs Omaha, 1/4 vs Fort Wayne, 1/6 vs Western Illinois
7. Western Illinois (7-4, Preseason: 8)
Western Illinois is only one win shy of matching last year’s win total. Kobe Webster has been a revelation for the Leathernecks, and the freshman point guard has given Billy Wright a floor general that can facilitate as well as score. Dalan Ancrum has nearly doubled his scoring output from last year, and Brandon Gilbeck is still one of the best shot blockers in the country. However, a weak schedule and some poor offensive metrics should leave one weary to project Western Illinois to get out of the league’s basement.
8. Omaha (4-11, Preseason: 6)
Omaha was hit the hardest by the attrition bug this offseason. Gone are the pieces that had the Mavericks within one shot of the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid. Omaha hasn’t been able to force their opponents into turnovers, and have struggled to get to the free throw line. Both of those things have been staples of Derrin Hansen’s teams. Zach Jackson has been one of the lone bright spots for the Mavericks, but there just isn’t much talent in the shed this year.
Upcoming: 12/30 at Oral Roberts, 1/2 vs Doane, 1/6 at South Dakota State