(Compare to our preseason preview here)
Notable Storylines from the season:
1. Summ-insanity – This league had to be one of the toughest to predict in the entire country – and it wasn’t just me. The media/coaches’ preseason poll picked Fort Wayne to win the league, SD State to finish second, Oral Roberts sixth, South Dakota to finish seventh, Denver eighth. Newcomers, both on the court and on the sidelines, were a big reason for these discrepancies – longtime coach Scott Nagy left SD State for Wright State, Denver brought in a new coach who completely changed their style (Rodney Billups), and four of South Dakota’s best five players (arguably) were transfers eligible for the first time. The topsy-turvy standings should make for an insane tournament that nearly any of the eight teams can win.
2. The Daumination Continues, but the Jackrabbits Zone Out – I gushed and gushed about South Dakota State’s Mike Daum in my preseason preview, but no matter what I said, it still wasn’t enough. He was an absolute offensive monstrosity as a sophomore, putting up the nation’s 20th-best true shooting percentage while using the 16th-highest share of possessions. He had games of 51 points, 42 (both against Fort Wayne), 39, and 38 this season, and made an astounding 88% of his 241 FT attempts. Put it this way: his team finished 8-8 in conference play and he still may win Player of the Year unanimously.
But how did they finish 8-8, you ask? Great question – it’s because their new coach, TJ Otzelberger, installed one of the most moronic zone schemes I’ve ever seen! Playing in a league where five of the other eight schools are in the nation’s top 35 in 3-point percentage (and four were in the top 44 last year), Otzelberger chose to play a soft zone that gives up the highest share of threes in the country (47% of all shots). That’s like repeatedly choosing to get into a long-range shootout with Mark Wahlberg’s character from Shooter. No wonder they got lit up defensively, finishing a horrendous 314th in adjusted efficiency! I’m getting so angry talking about this, don’t you ruin Mike Daum for us!!!
3. Western Illinois “Dancing” – The Leathernecks had a two-year hiatus from the Summit tournament (only the top 8 make it – sorry Oral Roberts), but they snuck in this year by one game. Coach Billy Wright instituted a “bombs-away” three-point attack, and with the gunners this roster has, it makes a lot of sense. They rank 9th in the entire country in share of points scored via the three-point line, but their lack of easy points via FTs and offensive rebounds still makes their O a weakness.
The Summit Tournament is one of the best because it’s the purest – only 8 teams, (mostly) neutral site in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, no re-seeding or byes.
Best Team(s) and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed(s): Got a coin? Flip it 7 times. There, you’ve simulated the Summit Tournament!
Okay, okay, it’s not THAT unpredictable. By virtue of having the easiest opening game (and I guess winning the regular season title outright), South Dakota is probably the favorite. With senior big man Tyler Flack in the lineup, the Coyotes went 8-1 against Summit competition (including six straight to end the year), and he’s ready to roll for the postseason. They have a multitude of dynamic drivers and excel at getting to the free throw line, so defending them without fouling is key. They beat everyone in the league at least once, but their worst matchup is probably cross-state rival South Dakota State, as the Coyotes don’t have the shooting to take advantage of that porous zone D.
Dark Horse(s): Pick any team seeded two through six, honestly. Fort Wayne was the preseason favorite and still may have the most talented team (plus they're the second-rated team in KenPom, despite an 8-8 finish). Unfortunately, the concept of "defense" is as foreign to them as "quantum physics" is to me. You've already heard me rant about the Jackrabbits' defense, as well - but DAUM. Denver has come on strong under new coach Rodney Billups, and although they don't shoot the three as often, they're still deadly from deep. Omaha plays a frenetic transition game with a maestro/ballhawk in Tra-Deon Hollins. They also have elite gunners this year, which makes the offense far more potent. And finally, North Dakota State is always a threat with an experienced, tough squad (Dave Richman and the boys won the league in 2015).
(1) South Dakota defeats (8) Western Illinois
(4) South Dakota St. defeats (5) Denver
(3) Omaha defeats (6) Fort Wayne
(2) North Dakota St. defeats (7) IUPUI
(4) South Dakota St. defeats (1) South Dakota
(2) North Dakota St. defeats (3) Omaha
(4) South Dakota St. defeats (2) North Dakota St.
Alright, FINE, I picked from the heart a lot here. I just want the Dauminator back in the tournament!