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The pair of sharpshooting sophomores that may decide the Summit

Noah Freidel and Max Abmas both will hope to shoot their respective teams into Summit League supremacy.

NCAA Basketball: South Dakota State at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

South Dakota State guard Noah Freidel is from Tea, South Dakota. As far as municipal monikers go, it’s one of the more interesting ones you’re bound to run across and, as you might suspect, it has a good story behind it.

Per its city website, the small town just outside Sioux Falls was in fact named after what you think: the second-most widely consumed drink in the world. At the turn of the previous century, the community — then called Byron — needed to find a new name since its existing one was deemed to be too common by the U.S. Postal Service. The then-Byron townspeople gathered in Hereens and Peter’s General Store and struggled to come up with a 10th, and final, option for a new town name. When they broke for tea, someone suggested that tea itself be the name.

It stuck, and over 100 years later Freidel has it plopped alongside his own name as a “hmm” -inducing moment on media guides. And that’s fitting, because the freshman guard showed he could get as hot as his hometown’s namesake last season.

That was the case in SDSU’s league tournament opener against Fort Wayne, where he hit seven three pointers and scored 35 points — a Summit League Tournament record for a freshman — as he tried to keep the top-seeded-but-shorthanded Jackrabbits alive in what would ultimately be a three-point loss.

Freidel wasn’t the only quick strike freshman scorching the nets in Sioux Falls that weekend. The day prior, Oral Roberts’ freshman guard Max Abmas scored 20 points, including six three pointers, to lead the Golden Eagles to a 17-point win over Omaha, the program’s first league tournament win in four seasons.

The two scoring bursts may have been an appetizer to the players that’ll hold the keys to winning the Summit in its truncated 2020-21 season. While now-sophomores Freidel and Abmas may not hold top billing on their respective teams, their continued development could be the deciding factor in a race between the league’s presumed top two.

As is becoming an annual rite of Fall, the Summit again figures to go through Brookings. The reigning regular season champion Jackrabbits were picked as an overwhelming favorite in the league’s preseason poll. And for good reason. First-year coach Eric Henderson was able to produce the conference’s best player virtually out of thin air, as Doug Wilson burst onto the scene as a punishing low post force on both ends of the court.

The Kirkwood Community College transfer and two-time NCJAA All-American averaged 18.7 points per game while posting the ninth-best effective field goal rate (63.1%) in the country. That immediate impact was essential for a program that was dealing with not only the loss of its coach (T.J. Otzelberger), but also program icon Mike Daum and program-icon-to-be David Jenkins Jr. Though Henderson, who served as an assistant under Otzelberger, had more than just Wilson as an instant contributor.

Freidel jumped right in as well as a freshman, assuming some of the perimeter shots that Jenkins had owned the previous two seasons. His outside shooting (40.6% on 160 3PA) kept the Jackrabbits among the best three-point shooting teams in the country, opened space for Wilson’s brutally-efficient low post game and allowed SDSU to post a top-50 offense for the third consecutive offense for the third straight season. All without the services of two of the greatest scorers in Summit League history.

Not surprisingly, SDSU grabbed the top spot in the preseason poll with those two and breakout center Matt Dentlinger — all preseason first team selections — back. But creeping up behind them is a dormant league power seemingly poised to mount its first real title challenge in years.

Oral Roberts spent a large part of the Scott Sutton era running roughshod over the Summit in regular season play. The Golden Eagles won at least 13 league games in each of its first seven seasons after joining the conference in 2007, even though it led to only one NCAA Tournament appearance (in 2008). A dip that began in 2016 has seen some signs of reversing itself under fourth-year coach Paul Mills, as ORU posted its first winning league record (9-7) in four seasons a year ago.

Preseason first team power forward Kevin Obanor is at the heart of the Golden Eagles’ attempt to keep that momentum moving forward. The redshirt junior finished the season on fire, averaging a double double (20.0 PPG, 10.5 RPG) in ORU’s two league tournament games, and will be looked at to help navigate the loss of key seniors Deondre Burns and Emmanuel Nzekwesi.

Obanor also led the Golden Eagles to a blowout win over Western Illinois in late February where he fueled a 13-0 spurt to put the game out of reach early with back-to-back three’s. He’d finish with 24 points (3-3 3FG) and eight rebounds in that win, demonstrating the versatile, big-time potential that Mills will be counting on to headline the Golden Eagles.

But like the team they’re chasing, ORU has a sharp-shooting sophomore with a high ceiling.

NCAA Basketball: Oral Roberts at Iowa
Max Abmas had a banner freshman season.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Abmas had his coach’s faith from the jump. The Dallas area prep recruit burst into Mills’ starting lineup last season, playing 30 minutes and scoring 14 points in a close lose to Oklahoma State to open the season. That wouldn’t end up being an aberration, as Abmas would post eight double figure scoring games before dropping 22 points on Missouri State just before Christmas to lead ORU to a solid non-conference win.

The freshman talked about his immediate impact with the Tulsa World after that win.

“It’s felt good the last couple of games,” Abmas said. “(I’m) definitely hitting some shots, but early in the season I wasn’t shooting as well. I just continued to get in the gym, get extra shots up, and my teammates, they just kept on encouraging me. They look for me to shoot the ball, so I definitely want to keep doing that, and as it turns out, I started knocking down shots the last couple of games.”

Abmas would not stop shooting. No Summit League player hoisted more three’s than last season (238), and he made that high volume pay off, hitting 36.6 percent of those attempts. That added a perimeter punch (14.4 PPG) to a team that would post the conference’s second most efficient offense, the type of production Mills will hope to build on with another year of development from Abmas and Obanor.

ORU will hope that’s enough to challenge the front-running Jackrabbits and their own sophomore marksman from Tea, South Dakota.