Thursday, October 7, 2010

Five Interesting Off-Season Developments For Summit League Basketball

We break from our posts on individual coaches and players for a look back at five interesting off-season developments pertaining to basketball in The Summit League. While each program had its own interesting news stories this summer, we found the following five to be among the most interesting. Some of the items discussed may have a big impact on the 2010-11 season while others might tackle a more long-term issue. This list is far from exhaustive, but hopefully it's compelling enough to get fans excited about some of the Summit's developing storylines.

#1. The Depletion of the Gentlemen
Folks familiar with The Summit League probably saw this one coming from a mile away. Entering its last year in Division I play before moving to Division III, the Centenary program experienced high rates of personnel turnover this off-season. From last year, only five scholarship players return, and the coaching staff has been completely depleted. The team's head coach, Greg Gary, left the program for an assistant gig at Duquesne. His replacement is 31-year-old Adam Walsh. At the time of this post, Walsh has just one paid assistant coach, another man entering his first year with Centenary (the team also has listed a "Volunteer Assistant" on its coaching staff). Needless to say, the Gentlemen are looking more like a gentleman these days. As a result of the depletion of its personnel, Centenary will likely struggle through much of 2010-11. We feel for the Gents but also hope that their oncoming plight serves as a reminder to Summit League fans to appreciate what you have with your given program. It could always be worse.

#2. The NBA Comes Knocking On Keith Benson's Door
As an Oakland blog, we've spent a bit of time this off-season talking about Keith Benson's NBA prospects. For a while, it looked like he was a sure early entrant into this year's draft, but a lingering thumb injury prevented him from participating in information-gathering workouts. As a result, Benson decided to stick with OU for one more season. While the Oakland program was happy to have the Summit League Player of the Year back, there is no doubt this news came much to the chagrin of opposing conference coaches. Benson will look to dominate again in 2010-11, not only to lead his team to a championship but also to raise the eyebrows of the NBA scouts that are sure to follow him. This off-season there has been more ink and pixels dedicated to Benson than perhaps any other Summit League player in history. He's been listed on every pre-season "top players" list out there, profiled by a number of national publications, and highlighted as a top senior and top center by all of the major NBA Draft prediction websites. Though Benson may have to wait another year to realize his dream, there is no doubt that his presence here has brought the conference a lot of attention this off-season.

#3. Interest in North Dakota Heats Up
While The Summit League's interest in the University of North Dakota has been assumed for a while now, the conference has just recently stepped up its pursuit of the school. Conference officials will conduct a site visit with UND in the coming weeks, which serves as an indication that the program is close to receiving an invitation to join the league. It makes perfect sense: NDSU and SDSU have been members for a few years now, and next season the University of South Dakota will take the spot of Centenary to give the conference its tenth member. Solely adding UND probably wouldn't make much sense since it would leave The Summit League with 11 members, but with news that the Big Sky could experience some changes in the coming months, some are predicting that Southern Utah could finally receive an invite to the Big Sky, a conference that makes much more sense geographically for the Thunderbirds. This is a story in its early stages of development but definitely one worth following as the season gets underway.

#4. Summit League Football?
Just like in the BCS leagues, many of the conference realignment scenarios that could play out in these smaller leagues is very dependent on football. Not surprisingly, the situation involving North Dakota also has a football component to it. At present, the President's Council for The Summit League has initiated a football feasibility study for the conference, which could involve any of the schools in the league that field a football team but play in other conferences. This won't have a huge affect on the coming basketball season, but because decisions could involve the addition or subtraction of certain schools, we thought it was worth mentioning here. If football is your thing, I highly recommend reading this detailed article from It does a great job of breaking down the various aspects of how football could affect The Summit League.

#5. The Bison Basketball Statement
Just over a week ago, North Dakota State University announced its plans for a complete renovation of its basketball facility. The Bison Sports Arena, where the team currently plays, will be reborn as the Sanford Health Athletic Center, or as fans are already calling it, the SHAC. Despite the catchy acronym, this place will be far from a shack. Early renderings paint it as a premiere athletics facility, with the basketball area as its shining centerpiece. The arena will hold approximately 5,700 fans and will feature brand new strength and conditioning centers, locker rooms, and practice basketball courts. There's no doubt that this development will give NDSU a distinct recruiting edge despite its northernly location while bringing it to the highest level of facilities in The Summit League. While this story may not have resonated much with fans outside of the Dakotas, Summit League enthusiasts should take note of it. The Bison mean business.

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