2013-14 Summit League Preview: North Dakota State looks to make a run to the tournament

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Taylor Braun (left) and Chris Udofia (AP photos)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click hereTo see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The seemingly always underrated Summit League saw four teams play in the postseason in ’12-13, along with conference tournament champion South Dakota State producing a NBA Draft second round pick in senior guard Nate Wolters.

The Jackrabbits (NCAA), their conference tournament finals opponent North Dakota State (CBI), Western Illinois (CBI)  and Oakland (CIT) all saw postseason play and while the Grizzlies have departed for the Horizon League — and Wolters for the Milwaukee Bucks — they are replaced by defending WAC regular-season champion and new Summit League title threat Denver.

The Pioneers (22-10, 16-2) won an NIT game last season over Ohio and return a former all-WAC performer in senior 6-foot-6 forward Chris Udofia. The stat-sheet stuffing forward is an instant Player of the Year threat in the league but Udofia and the Pioneers will have to unseat conference preseason favorite North Dakota State and Taylor Braun.

The 6-foot-7 senior Braun leads the Bison (24-10, 12-4)  as a versatile forward with range and he heads an experienced group that includes six seniors and five returning starters.

North Dakota State and Denver are the top two threats but South Dakota State looms at third place as a real contender as well. The Jackrabbits are coming off of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and return three experienced starters leading with senior forward Jordan Dykstra.

Western Illinois, IPFW and Nebraska Omaha come in as the next three teams that could each surprise if inexperienced pieces play well and South Dakota and IUPUI round out the eight-team conference that also loses UMKC to the WAC.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Denver (WAC)
Out: Oakland (Horizon), UMKC (WAC)

PRESEASON SUMMIT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Taylor Braun, North Dakota State

The efficient, do-it-all, 6-foot-7 forward returns for his senior season and fills up the stat sheet in nearly every category while shooting the ball at a high level. A model of consistency, Braun put up nearly identical statistics during his sophomore and junior seasons while averaging 30 minutes a game.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Chris Udofia, Denver: All-WAC performer is a stat-sheet stuffer coming off of offseason hip surgery.
  • Jordan Dykstra, South Dakota State: Experienced senior forward takes over for the Jackrabbits following departure of Nate Wolters.
  • Marshall Bjorklund, North Dakota State: Senior All-Summit forward was second in nation in field goal percentage last season, shooting an astounding 67 percent.
  • Justin Simmons, Nebraska Omaha: League’s returning leading scorer (16.7 ppg) can fill it up from the outside (40 percent from three).

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW@summithoops

PREDICTED FINISH

1. North Dakota State
2. Denver
3. South Dakota State
4. Western Illinois
5. IPFW
6. Nebraska Omaha
7. South Dakota
8. IUPUI

College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25

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1. Virginia (42 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
t-6. Texas Tech
t-6. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary’s
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

VIDEO: Wichita State celebrates in locker room after win over Cincinnati

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Wichita State went into Cincinnati — well, Northern Kentucky — on Sunday evening and landed their biggest win of the season.

They were fired up about it, as you might imagine.

And their locker room celebrating after the win was, as the kids say, litty:

Here’s the funny part to me: This game wasn’t played at Cincinnati. It wasn’t played at Wichita State. It was played at Northern Kentucky, where the Bearcats are playing their home games while they wait for the renovations on their arena to be completed.

Which means that some poor NKU employee that had nothing to do with either of these two programs had to spend the time cleaning up this mess.

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions: Villanova-Xavier, the Big 12 is drunk, the best in the Big Ten is … ?

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Rob Dauster was joined by Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic on today’s show to overreact to everything that happened this weekend, from Villanova pasting Xavier to the insanity that is the Big 12 to what happened in the Big Ten in the last ten days. We also spend a good 30 minutes talking about bubble teams, tournament resumes and some misconceptions with both. The rundown.

OPEN: Bubble Banter. We talk about weird bubble teams and whether or not we like the new Quadrant system.

36:08: Villanova’s win over Xavier and the Big East title race.

45:15: The Big 12 makes no sense and I love it.

58:30: Michigan State deserves the Big Ten title.

Team Of The Week: Houston Cougars

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The Cougars have now won five straight games, but it was the two games they won this week that set the tone for what the rest of their season can be.

On Thursday night, Cincinnati came to down and Houston dropped them, 67-62, despite digging a double-digit hole in the first half. They followed that up by going into North Philadelphia and poleaxing Temple. They were up 34-11 midway through the first half. They won by 21 points. It was never a question.

And as a result, Houston’s bid to the NCAA tournament is no longer a question so long as they avoid losing to Memphis, East Carolina and UConn. And if they truly are an NCAA tournament team, they’ll get that done.

But perhaps the best piece of news is that the Cougars did all this while Rob Gray did not play well. He’s one of the best players in that conference, and the fact that they were able to right Devin Davis and Corey Davis to wins in two of their most important and toughest games of the league slate is significant.

What happens when Rob Gray gets right?

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • WICHITA STATE: Not only did Wichita State land a come-from-behind win over Temple on Thursday night, one where they trailed by 14 points at halftime, but they followed that up by going to Cincinnati and knocking off the then-No. 5 Bearcats.
  • MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten due in large part to the fact that they were able to erase a 27-point first half deficit at Northwestern.
  • BAYLOR: The Bears look like they are now heading for the NCAA tournament after landing wins at Texas and at home over Texas Tech on Saturday. Now that Scott Drew’s team is healthy, they look like they belong in the top 25.
  • ST. BONAVENTURE: The Bonnies might have solidified their bid for the NCAA tournament. As long as they don’t do anything dumb the rest of the season, beating Rhode Island at home on Friday night should be enough for them to get in.
  • DUKE: The Blue Devils have now won three straight games after losing Marvin Bagley III to a minor knee sprain, mainly because their defense is now playing at a level that we haven’t seen yet this season. Are the Blue Devils better without Marvin Bagley??? (Hint: No.)

Player Of The Week: Terry Maston, Baylor

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Terry Maston is back from injury and playing the best basketball of his career.

The 6-foot-8 senior was utterly dominant in two critical, close wins this week. It started with 26 points and six boards in a double-overtime win at Texas on Monday night that was something of a play-out game for NCAA tournament purposes.

Then on Saturday, that win was overshadowed. Maston had 24 points and five boards in regular as the Bears knocked off No. 7 Texas Tech for their fifth straight win, and suddenly it looks like Scott Drew’s club will be in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday.

All told, in what will arguably be the most important week of the season for Baylor, Maston scored 50 points, or a total of 38 percent of Baylor’s total scoring output in those two games.

Not bad for a guy that came off the bench in both of those wins.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke: In three games without Marvin Bagley III, Duke is now 3-0 thanks to Grayson Allen averaging 22.3 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 42 percent from three. Last week, Duke beating Virginia Tech by 22 points and won at Clemson.
  • CALEB and CODY MARTIN, Nevada: The Wolf Pack picked up two road wins this week, including a win at Boise State that gave them the inside track at the Mountain West regular season title. The twins combined to average 42.5 points, 12.5 boards and 4.0 assists in those two wins.
  • AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA: The Bruins stayed on track to earn a berth into the NCAA tournament with wins over Oregon and Oregon State. Holiday was the star both nights, going for 17 and 10 assists against OSU and following that up with 29 points, six assists and five boards in an overtime win over Oregon.
  • MATT MOBLEY, St. Bonaventure: Mobley averaged 28 points and nine boards as the Bonnies beat La Salle and No. 16 Rhode Island to put themselves in a spot where they can realistically feel good about their chances of getting into the NCAA tournament.
  • DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona: Ayton had one of his best games of the season on Thursday night, going for 25 points, 16 boards, four assists and three blocks as the Wildcats picked off Arizona State on the road.