Taylor Braun (AP photo)

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

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.