Eric Carlson, Junior Forward (NDSU)
The 6-foot-6 Eric Carlson was the inspiration for this post after exploding for 32 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday night in a double overtime win for NDSU. It was the junior's first huge game in a season where he was expected to have had many. After averaging about 15 points and 7 rebounds as a sophomore, Carlson this year is posting just 11.3 points and 5 rebounds per contest. Heading into the year, this was a player who had apparently done a lot of work in the offseason in order to catapult himself into the upper-echelon of conference forwards, yet his body of work, at least when looking at production, hasn't put him in such a group yet. However, if he builds on the momentum of this past week where he was a monster on the offensive glass and a regular at the charity stripe, then NDSU will have a strong finish to the season. If Carlson is in beastmode in Sioux Falls, well let's just say that the frontline of him, Michael Tveidt, and Marshall Bjorklund is not one to take lightly.
Ledrick Eackles, Sophomore Guard (OU)
Ledrick Eackles was quiet during the stretch run in his freshman season, but he exploded in Oakland's NCAA Tournament game against Pittsburgh. When it seemed like the Golden Grizzlies had no chance of keeping the game within reason, Eackles played his heart out. He used his seemingly limitless speed and athleticism on many aggressive drives to the basket, finishing with a very meaningful 17 points. This year, the sophomore has struggled with his shooting, both inside and outside of the arc, and missed most of the past month with an ankle injury. However, Oakland fans know well what Eackles is capable of doing on the basketball court when he's healthy. His best game this season was in a win over Ohio where he was active on the boards and got to the free throw line for nine attempts. If he is playing within himself, he can be just as deadly a lane penetrator as Reggie Hamilton or Larry Wright. Not bad for a guy who might be the seventh or eighth option on the team.
Trey McCorkle, Junior Forward/Center (IPFW)
IPFW is 5-1 in league games when Trey McCorkle scores at least 10 points. While feeding the big man in the middle isn't necessarily this team's modus operandi, it's proven to help the Mastodons win games this season. McCorkle has been hampered by an injury at times which has limited his effectiveness, but his team definitely benefits when he's an option in the paint. The 6-foot-10 forward is really the only inside threat for this team, something it needs in order to compete against the bigger teams in the league, notably Oakland. McCorkle is coming off an impressive showing against ORU where he scored 15 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in just 23 minutes (he fouled out). He's also currently 25-of-28 from the free throw line in league games. For IPFW to hold on to a second-place finish, it will need McCorkle to be as manly in the paint as the neck beard that graces his face.
Dale Moss, Senior Guard (SDSU)
Dale Moss has started every game for the Jackrabbits this season, and despite playing major minutes, his contributions rarely show up in the box score. He's capable of stuffing the stat sheet - a testament to his growth as a player over the past four years in Brookings - yet more often than not his line might read like this: 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists. The 6-foot-4 guard is a role player on a Jacks team with young firepower, but his tough, smart play makes him a leader on this squad. In league play, he's shooting a whopping 67.4% on his two-point baskets and has nearly as many offensive rebounds (27) as defensive (28). And while the ball isn't in his hands a ton, he's committed only 9 turnovers through 11 league games. Most importantly to SDSU's March hopes, Moss has been boosting his production over the last few games, and his team is undefeated when he scores in double figures. As a senior, Moss is a good guy to have around for this stretch run and one that could very well change a game if he's "on" in March.
Warren Niles, Sophomore Guard (ORU)
Warren Niles is capable of putting a lot of points on the board, but more often than not, it takes a lot of shots for him to get there. In league play, he owns the lowest points per weighted shots mark of any of ORU's regular contributors, an indication that it takes him more attempts to get his points than others. When the guard is efficient, though, he's a player to be feared. He can drain threes and use his agility to get high-percentage looks around the basket. Niles is an adept rebounder, too. ORU's young frontcourt has been solid this season, and Dominique Morrison is always a beast. But if Niles is playing to his strengths while the others are playing well, then look out, Summit League opponents.
Christian Siakam, Junior Forward (IUPUI)
If IUPUI has a glaring weakness, it resides in the team's inside presence. While they've never been a particularly big team, instead relying on versatile and athletic forwards in the frontcourt, last year's version at least had a few guys who could bang around in the paint. There are a couple of young bigs on this year's team, but Christian Siakam is the only seasoned big man. Though he's still undersized up against some of the conference's bigger forwards, Siakam has a wide enough frame that he can be a banger when he's playing smart and not committing fouls. The junior is converting 65.7% of his shots in conference play and has proven to be one of the better offensive rebounders in the league. He's come on as of late and has even found himself getting to the free throw line more often. If he continues this upswing in production while limiting his fouls, he gives the Jaguars a post presence that will be much needed in Sioux Falls.
It seems appropriate to say that the teams featured above are those most likely to be in the mix in Sioux Falls, and it remains to be seen which school will fill out the last spot for the conference tournament. If the standings hold, then a player to keep an eye on for Southern Utah is Matt Massey. The lanky forward is capable of putting up 20 points or so but has struggled to find consistency this season. However, if Western Illinois is able to slide into the field of eight then a potential reason why would be because of Brandon Smith. The senior guard has seen a major uptick in his minutes over the past two weeks and has scored in double figures four of the last five games. While Smith takes a lot of shots to get his points, it looks like he has the green light as WIU searches for any semblance of offensive firepower.
The best game in Summit League action this past weekend was the double overtime thriller in Fargo between NDSU and UMKC. NDSU probably has a few more losses than expected while UMKC has a few more wins than most might have anticipated, and as a result, the two squads were fighting it out for middle-of-the-pack supremacy. UMKC had chances to win the game in regulation and at the conclusion of the first overtime but ultimately failed to execute a game-winning play. Finally, in the last overtime NDSU coach Saul Phillips drew up a great play that his players executed perfectly to seal the victory. Here's a highlight of UMKC's failed chances and Michael Tveidt's game winner: