Friday, November 19, 2010

Summit League Power Rankings: Biggest Opening Week Wins

The first week of the young college basketball season is now behind us. We're just starting to learn more about players, teams, and conferences as games end and new ones begin. In The Summit League, there were some early ups and downs, but it was mostly a solid week for the conference. This is our first stab at a weekly column that will shed some light on the ten basketball programs in the league from the prior week. The way it will be formatted is in a sort of power rankings style; however, because it's impossible for us to evaluate every team during every game, this won't be your general "best" to "worst" team scale. This week, we rank the teams based on biggest wins during the week that was.

#1. South Dakota State (Highlighted Win: at Iowa)
It was just two years ago when South Dakota State lost all but one of its 16 road games. The lone win that year: at Iowa State. This year the Jackrabbits are 2-0 in road games. The big win: at Iowa. Against the Cyclones in 2008-09, it was then sophomore Clint Sargent leading the way, and while the now senior definitely contributed to his team's win against the Hawkeyes, it was another sophomore who came up big for the Jacks this time around. Nate Wolters had a decent freshman year last season, but his performance against Iowa put him on the map. He ended the game with 25 points which accumulated all over the floor, including 6-7 from the stripe and a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc. He also dropped 9 dimes, including a sick dish toward the end of the game which simply put to shame the Hawkeye defense.

Iowa isn't predicted to do very well this season, but we shouldn't let that diminish the value of this win for SDSU. They beat a Big Ten team and did it live on the conference's network. Anytime a Summit League team beats a Big Ten team, it's a big deal. And thus far, it's the biggest win for the league this season. Coach Nagy and his Jacks won't play another road game until December 18, but it's clear that they have gotten over their road woes of the past.

Cool Links: The Mid Majority weighs in on SDSU's Red Line Upset.

#2. Oakland (Highlighted Win: at Ohio)
The defending Summit League champions went into the house of the defending MAC champs and put a thumping on them. Keith Benson was largely a non-factor due to foul trouble, yet the Golden Grizzlies guards and reserves stepped up to secure the solid road win. The Bobcats are a young team this year, but they returned a lot of the players from their run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, so this is a good win for Oakland and the conference. Oakland has another tough road game stretch that features games at Purdue and Wright State, so the team will have to cherish this win and hopefully build on it against some more challenging competition in the coming days.

Cool Links: Eric Angevine of Storming The Floor/ESPN took in the West Virgina-Oakland game live, and he has pictures! Kyle Whelliston of The Mid Majority was at Oakland's game against Ohio and also has pictures and thoughts from the night.

#3. North Dakota State (Highlighted Win: UC-Santa Barbara, neutral court)
North Dakota State went to the BTI Invitational in Oregon over the weekend and left with a 2-1 record, which included wins over defending Big West champions UC-Santa Barbara and a future WAC team in Denver. The Bison also took Oregon, the host of the event, to overtime on Friday night. It was a successful weekend for the Bison by all measures. The UCSB win was perhaps their best of the bunch because it came a night after the difficult OT loss to the Ducks against a junior-laden team that was in the NCAA Tournament just last season. Saul Phillips' squad received contributions from many players, including Eric Carlson who has picked up where he left off last season averaging about 14 points and 7 boards through three games. Another player to keep an eye on as the non-conference season rolls on is freshman Marshall Bjorklund who had a big-time double-double against Oregon in his Bison debut. I suspect we'll find out more about this young team in the coming weeks, especially once their incredible 51.3% three-point shooting comes back down to earth a little bit.

Cool Links: Addicted To Quack was happy Oregon won, but gave North Dakota State its proper props.

#4. IPFW (Highlighted Win: at Southern Illinois Edwardsville)
IPFW took Xavier to overtime the other night but sadly came up short. That was probably a much closer game than most would have thought, yet the Dons are showing some poise this year no doubt due to the senior backcourt tandem of Zach Plackemeier and Ben Botts. The team did come together to pick up a 15-point win at SIUE, which is one of those games that a good team will win. That's perhaps what has been most exciting about this first week of Summit League play, the fact that the top seven teams or so all won games they should be winning. Roughly 39% of the team's made field goals have been three-pointers thus far, which means if these guys are knocking down the trey, then they can clearly stay in games against some of the big boys (watch out Cincinnati). However, to break into the top four of the league, they'll need bigger performances from Trey McCorkle who has just 5 rebounds through two games. McCorkle is a guy a lot of folks expected to become a big factor for IPFW this season. With a 6'10" frame, the big fella needs to do some more work on the boards.

#5. UMKC (Highlighted Win: at Central Arkansas)
UMKC has one of the most cupcake-filled non-conference schedules I have ever seen, so it's no wonder that they're already 2-0 on the season. Even though the opponents might not stack up with some of those their conference brethren are facing, the Roos have taken care of business thus far. Central Arkansas won't change the world this year, but it's great to see that UMKC was able to go into their arena and pick up a road win against the Corliss Williamson-coached Bears. Coach Matt Brown has a fairly short bench right now (where is KORVER?) which is fine for now with his two senior forwards averaging a boatload of points. But as the games continue, we'll see what happens with this team on nights when Jay Cousinard and Spencer Johnson are going up against stronger opponents.

#6. Western Illinois (Highlighted Win: at Savannah State)
Western Illinois kept the pace slow in pulling the win over Savannah State of the MEAC. Once again, this isn't a earth-shattering win for the conference, but it is good to see these Summit League teams beating squads from conferences that are accustomed to being seeded 16th come Selection Sunday. Matt Lander seems to be filling the scoring void left by David Nurse, which is probably something Coach Jim Molinari welcomes to lessen the load on Ceola Clark. Aside from those two guys, though, WIU is getting very little from the rest of its roster. If they can make teams go at their (incredibly slow) pace, then this shouldn't pose many problems; in fact, Western Illinois held Missouri to just 66 points despite the Tigers' advantage in athleticism and interior size. Credit the Leathernecks though for keeping the game close. With about ten seconds left, they were only down three to Missouri but Ceola Clark stepped out of bounds while trying to tip-toe the sideline to get the ball downcourt. The Tigers avoided the upset, but Western Illinois showed some fight.

#7. Southern Utah (Highlighted Win: at Cal State Bakersfield)
Well after losing its home opener to an NAIA team, Southern Utah went on the road and took care of Cal State Bakersfield, an independent. We're glad to see the Thunderbirds get on the board early in this season and hope they can fix whatever is ailing them against inferior competition (they also lost an exhibition home game to a different NAIA school).

- IUPUI (no DI wins)
The Jagurs will have a chance to get their first Division I win this weekend with three games to be played in nearby Oxford, Ohio. IUPUI was plastered by a Gonzaga team that was upset at home by the same San Diego State team which the Jags will play in one of those three games this weekend. However, Alex Young and Co. will also go up against Green Bay and Miami (OH), two games they should compete well in. We hope the fellas shoot as great as they did in their non-DI win the other night (49% FG, 29% 3PT) and not how they did against the Zags (35% FG, 17% 3PT)

Cool Links: Michael Hadley of Student On Sports is sad and then happy about his Jags.

- Oral Roberts (no wins)
The Golden Eagles have yet to get on the board this season, though they have played considerably tougher competition than some of their conference counterparts. They probably miss the presence of Michael Craion inside and need some more consistency on the defensive end. Oral Roberts was featured on ESPN as a part of the network's 24-hour hoops marathon, so they were the subject of more scrutiny than normal. ESPN's Doug Gottlieb offered his take:
Tulsa crushed Oral Roberts in the second half of the Mayor’s Cup. Jordan Clarkson bounced back from a six-turnover game in TU’s loss to Appalachian State and played terrific, especially in the second half. ORU shot the ball way too quickly and struggled to defend outside and Steven Idlet inside. The Golden Hurricane outscored the Golden Eagles 54-32 in the second half. It looked like ORU was gassed, while Tulsa -- coached by marathoner Doug Wojcik -- looked fresh as a daisy.
Cool Links: Storming The Floor investigates Kyron Stokes' Belizean roots.

- Centenary (no wins)
Centenary kept things reasonable against Tennessee-Martin after getting absolutely killed in its season opener at Memphis. There won't be much hope in Shreveport this season, especially after the Gents lost their home opener to DII Arkansas-Monticello on Wednesday. For what it's worth, the Gents do have some pretty cool road jerseys!

Red Line Upset Watch:
During our league preview series, we had a post laying out all of the games where Summit League teams would play against teams from above the Red Line. Here we keep track of how they have fared thus far:

Summit League: 1/5 (20%)
National: 18/167 (10.8%) [per The Mid-Majority]

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