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For the first time all season, Kentucky lived up to their potential. Can it last?

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ST. LOUIS — Kentucky has been under a national microscope for John Calipari’s entire five-year tenure as head coach of the Wildcats, but this season’s team might have been the most critiqued group of them all.

With seven McDonald’s All-Americans — six of them freshmen — many college basketball analysts considered the 2013-14 version of Kentucky to be the greatest collection of talent the college game had ever seen. The Wildcats had pros backing up pros and the preseason No. 1 team in the country carried so much hype that some people insanely wondered if they could go 40-0.

Growing pains and a number of tough matchups gave Kentucky a 24-10 regular season record, though, as it quickly became apparent that so many ball-dominant players with dominant personalities was having a tough time gelling and playing together.

RELATED: The most anticipated game of the year lived up to the hype

There were the eye rolls and bad body language and the camera shots of Calipari yelling at players that were staring into the distance. Many wondered if this team would ever live up to its vast potential.

None of that matters for now, however, as the Wildcats knocked off undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 to face Louisville. Kentucky played its best game of the season and there’s a sense of relief among some of the players as they head into next weekend’s Midwest Regional matchup with the rival and defending champion Cardinals.

“It feels like five million pounds off your shoulders when the buzzer went off,” sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “It was just a good feeling. Everyone was yelling and super hype and it was just a good win.”

Freshmen have been the talk of college basketball this season, but as elite freshman like Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins had disappointing early-tournament exits, Kentucky saw its own hyped freshmen take turns carrying the game against Wichita State.

Twin brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison took turns hitting shots early in the game and forward Julius Randle played his most complete all-around game of the season, as he finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Down the stretch, wing James Young hit two critical shots and grabbed a big defensive rebound in traffic. Dakari Johnson made a key offensive rebound off of a missed free throw that kept an important second-half possession alive that Calipari cited as, “the most important play of the game.”

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

When Kentucky needed plays, its freshmen took turns making them and after the win over Wichita State they shared a lot of laughs during the postgame press conference. The eye rolls and dropping heads seemed like a thing of the past.

“I know I have great teammates and they have my back out there,” Randle said. “(Our) coaches always say, ‘don’t worry about winning or losing, just go out there and play.'”

Kentucky finally played up to their tremendous capabilities on Sunday and they have the look of a team that could contend for the title. The abundance of talent was always present for the Wildcats, but they’ve come together and gotten through a lot of adversity and they’re finally defending and sharing the ball as a team.

“Early in the season, when we’d get down, we’d get down on ourselves and hang our heads. I don’t think anyone sees that anymore,” senior guard Jarrod Polson said. “We’re just focused. Whether the game is going good or going bad we just stay together and that’s the biggest thing.”

Polson has an interesting perspective. As the elder statesman on Kentucky this year, he’s played with plenty of talented teams that have come through Lexington with high expectations to perform in March. The senior sees this team as coming together at the right time.

“Pretty much every team besides last year, we’ve really come together and it’s been at different times (of the season),” Polson said. “This year, it might have been the latest we’ve ever come together but I think that we really have, especially on the defensive end. We really have each other’s backs and we’re just fighting together and it’s great to see.”

Kentucky might have been criticized by any basketball fan with a pulse at some point during the season, but Calipari has remained patient with this group and it might finally be paying off.

“This team and what people said about this team, all we have done all year is continue to get better,” Calipari said. “We hit some shots, we missed some. Like every team, you hit a hole (where) you don’t play well. But they believed in themselves.”

Kentucky might have aspirations for bigger and better things than a Round of 32 victory over the Shockers, but now its young team can at least sleep a little bit better tonight as they prepare for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

Earlier this season, Kentucky was seeing red, but now the only red they’ll see this week is the Friday night clash against Louisville in Indianapolis. Kentucky has the potential to still win a title as long as they continue to play together and on Sunday they showed they’re a major threat in the Midwest Regional next weekend.

Maui Invitational’s 2018 field announced

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The 2018 field of the Maui Invitational was announced Wednesday, and it features some of the top programs in the sport.

Arizona, Duke, Iowa State, Gonzaga, Illinois, Auburn, Xavier and San Diego State will make up the eight-team field for the tournament that will be played Nov. 19-21, 2018, at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Our fields always showcase the best in college basketball,” tournament chairman Dave Odom said in a release, “and 2018 will be as strong as we’ve ever had.”

The 2018 edition of the tournament will also be the first that has eight Division I teams as host Chaminade will compete in the open round during even years going forward and in odd years beginning in 2019 in the championship round.

This year’s Maui Invitational features UConn, Georgetown, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin. It tips off Nov. 21, and goes through Nov. 23.

College Basketball’s Best Off-Guards

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 20:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 20, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The off-guard spot is the weakest position in college basketball this season. For comparison’s sake, the No. 20 lead guard in the list we released yesterday was Davidson’s Jack Gibbs, who ranked 62nd in our top 100 players list.

For off-guards, only 16 were ranked in our top 100, meaning the final four in this list didn’t crack that list. Why is this the case? Is it because the best scoring guards in basketball are trying to mold themselves after the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose as opposed to, say, Kobe? Is it because the emphasis on court-spacing has turned the off-guard spot into a spot-up shooter’s role? Or is this just a random year where the two-guards just aren’t all that good?

As interesting as that discussion would be, it’s a different conversation for a different day.

Before we dive into the top 20 off-guards in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20: Tyler Dorsey #5 of the Oregon Ducks shoots a jump shot against the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Tyler Dorsey (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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1. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen is our pick as the Preseason National Player of the Year, so why wouldn’t he be ranked as the best player in what will likely end up being the weakest position in the sport this season? I’ve mentioned this over and over again, but it’s impressive enough that it deserves repeating: As a sophomore, Allen became the first high major player to ever average 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while notching a 61.6 true shooting percentage.

To get an idea of how dominant those numbers are, think about it like this: Damian Lillard, a No. 6 pick in the NBA Draft and currently a top ten point guard in the NBA, is one of the six players since 1993 to put up those numbers, and Lillard did it while playing at Weber State. Allen did it in the ACC.

2. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk will be one of the most entertaining players in the country this season. He’s a human-hightlight reel athletically that can go off for 30 points on any given night. The key for him is consistency and efficiency. Can he avoid the 2-for-18 games he was prone to in high school? And will playing on a team that is stocked with talent force him to improve on his shot selection? He’s a pretty good shooter when he takes good shots.

3. Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster is going to be one of the most interesting players to watch this season. As a freshman at Kansas State in 2013-14, Foster averaged 15.5 points for an NCAA tournament team. He looked like he was destined to be a star in the Big 12, but then a falling out with the program led to a transfer which led to last year’s redshirt season. Now eligible at Creighton, will he return to the form he his first year in college?

4. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey has all the skills needed to be able to thrive in the Swing Offense that Dana Altman runs. He’s a talented scorer and an above-average shooter that excels with the ball in his hands. Joseph Young averaged 20 points as a senior with the Ducks, and it would not be surprising to see Dorsey put up similar numbers as long as Dillon Brooks is out with his foot injury.

5. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Based on what Mitchell did last season, this may seem like a bit of a stretch. He averaged just 7.4 points. But considering that Louisville graduated their starting backcourt, and factoring in just how good Mitchell was in flashes down the stretch of the season, it’s a decent bet that he will develop into an all-ACC player this year. He’s precisely the kind of guard that thrives in Rick Pitino’s system.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

6. Allonzo Trier, Arizona: Trier is the leading returning scorer for Arizona and spent last season as the one guy on the roster that was able to create a shot for himself. That won’t be the case this year, not with Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons in the mix, but he’ll likely still be the best perimeter weapon on an Arizona team that’s good enough to compete for a Pac-12 title.

7. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: The key with Matthews is going to be his health. He’s coming off of a torn ACL that torpedoed the 2015-16 season after just 10 minutes. When he’s healthy, he’s arguably the best player in the Atlantic 10.

8. James Blackmon, Indiana: Another guy coming off of a knee injury, Blackmon was one of the nation’s best freshman shooters, averaging 15.7 points in his first season in Bloomington. Last year, Indiana made their run to a Big Ten title after he hurt his knee and missed the season. Where will he fit in with this year’s Hoosier group?

9. Mikal Bridges, Villanova: Bridges is an intriguing prospect because of his length, his athleticism and his versatility defensively. That’s precisely the kind of role that he can excel in with the Wildcats. The big question is offensively. What kind of improvement will he make this season?

10. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State: Part of the reason that Malik Newman, a top ten recruit in the Class of 2015, decided to transfer out of Mississippi State was that people realized that Quinndary Weatherspoon was actually the better freshman guard on the roster.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 19: Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils greets fans after defeating the Yale Bulldogs 71-64 during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 19, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Duke’s Luke Kennard (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

11. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard gets overlooked because Duke has so much talent on their roster this season, but if he was on any other team in the ACC we’d be talking about him as a guy that could average 15 points and that has the potential to be an all-league player.

12. Peter Jok, Iowa: Jok averaged 16.1 points on a good Iowa team last season. Playing on a rebuilding Iowa team this year, don’t be surprised to see him lead the Big Ten in scoring.

13. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney is one of the better ball-handlers on this list. He had some impressive moments as a freshman, but with Ben Simmons off to the NBA, Blakeney will be asked to carry a heavier load offensively this year. Will he be able to handle it?

14. Elijah Brown, New Mexico:

15. Nick Emery, BYU: Emery’s reputation went national last season when he was caught on camera throwing a punch at Brandon Taylor of in-state rival Utah. Don’t let that mask his ability. It wasn’t a fluke that Emery, the younger brother of former Cougar Jackson Emery, averaged 16.2 points as a freshman.

RANKINGS: Top Frontcourts | Top Backcourts

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 07: Nick Emery #4 of the Brigham Young Cougars brings the ball up the court against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during a semifinal game of the West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 7, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gonzaga won 88-84. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
BYU’s Nick Emery (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

16. Marcus Evans, Rice: Evans was a monster for the Owls as a freshman, averaging 21.4 points for a team that finished in the middle of the pack of a mediocre Conference USA. But Evans is better than simply being a high-volume scorer in a bad league.

17. Jabari Bird, Cal: Bird’s minutes will open up with Jordan Mathews off to Gonzaga for his senior year. Bird has always had potential for the Bears but he has yet to live up to that potential on the floor.

18. Eron Harris, Michigan State: Someone is going to have to score point for Michigan State this season, and Harris is a fifth-year senior that once averaged 17.8 points for West Virginia. Can he do what Bryn Forbes did last season?

19. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin has had an up-and-down career with the Wolverines, but assuming that he and Derrick Walton both find a way to remain healthy all year long, he should have a big senior season.

20. Kevaughn Allen, Florida: Allen looked awesome at times as a freshman. He also went through stretches were he looked like, well, a freshmen. He’s a big-time athlete and an explosive scorer that should thrive in Mike White’s uptempo system.


  • Charles Cooke, Dayton
  • George King, Colorado
  • Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga
  • Rodney Purvis, UConn
  • Jerome Robinson, Boston College
  • Matt Thomas, Iowa State

Duke announces Jayson Tatum’s foot injury as a sprain

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
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Duke announced on Wednesday afternoon that the injury that Jayson Tatum suffered during Duke’s Pro Day was just a sprain of his left foot.

“This is the best possible news,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It is a manageable injury that will not impact Jayson long-term. We look forward to having him back very soon.”

There was a concern that the injury was more serious. Tatum went down on a routine landing during the practice and could not put any pressure on his left foot as he left the floor.

He is only expected to miss two weeks. Duke’s first game is Nov. 11th against Marist. Tatum should be back for a Nov. 15th date with Kansas in the Champions Classic.

Tatum is a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Duke is already looking at a season where another potential top five pick, Harry Giles III, is limited due to continued issues with his surgically-repaired knees.

College Basketball’s Best Point Guards

AMES, IA - JANUARY 18: Monte Morris #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates after scoring a three point basket in the second half of play against the Oklahoma Sooners at Hilton Coliseum on January 18, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 82-77 over the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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This season of college basketball should be a fun one because of an infusion of really talented lead guards who are entering the game along with a lot of returning talent.

Five of the top ten lead guards in college basketball this season are either freshmen or sat out last season due to transfer and this list has eight McDonald’s All-Americans across multiple classes. When college basketball has good lead guards, it’s typically more fun to watch and this is a promising group of players to keep an eye on this season.

Some of these players fit more of the mold of traditional point guard while others are more of the scoring type who can get to the basket and make plays for others. It’s also the deepest position in the country. Jack Gibbs, No. 20 on this list, is No. 62 in our top 100. 

Before we dive into the top 20 lead-guards in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

Markelle Fultz, via UW Athletics
Markelle Fultz, via UW Athletics

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1. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Potentially the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the 6-foot-4 guard is going to need to do a lot to make the Huskies a NCAA tournament team. But with deep range on his jumper, tremendous handles and great vision, Fultz is one of the most dynamic playmakers to enter the college game the last few years.

2. Monte Morris, Iowa State: The top returning point guard in college basketball gets a final season to see if he can do more in the scoring column. As a junior, the 6-foot-3 Morris put up 13.8 points and 6.9 assists per game but the Cyclones lost Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay. Morris will have to put up more points this season.

3. Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: Expectations are huge for the five-star Smith, who stayed close to home to play at N.C. State. The 6-foot-3 Smith is an electric athlete who is also reliable and efficient running pick-and-rolls. Smith is coming off a torn ACL suffered in August 2015, but he opted to come on campus and enrolled as a student for the second semester last year.

4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Fultz isn’t the only elite, five-star floor general to enter the Pac-12 as Ball is going to be expected to make the Bruins a winner. With exceptional floor vision and passing ability and deep range on his jumper, Ball is the type of player you immediately give the ball to and let him make plays.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: After sitting out a transfer season coming over from Washington, Williams-Goss could be an All-American as he’s expected to run the show for the Zags. A second-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2015, Williams-Goss put up 15.6 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

Kansas guard Frank Mason III, center, drives to the basket between Austin Peay defenders Khalil Davis, left, and Kenny Jones, right, during the first half of a first-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 17, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Kansas guard Frank Mason III (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

6. Frank Mason, Kansas: One of the best two-way guards in the country, the 5-foot-11 senior put up 12.9 points, 4.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game as a junior. Joined by Devonte Graham and Josh Jackson, that group might be the toughest perimeter defensive unit in the country.

7. Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble will have a lot of expectations on him this season with his four other starters moving on to the pros. The 6-foot-3 Trimble is a former All-American who can score from all over the floor and make plays for others. He could be in for a huge bounceback season and it would be stupid to count him out.

8. Edmond Sumner, Xavier: Sumner was a revelation as a redshirt freshman last season, at times looking dominant while averaging 11.0 points, 3.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-6 guard has the size to be a major problem when he attacks the rack, but he has to improve his 30 percent three-point shooting.

9. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Potentially the best athlete on this list, Fox is an intense two-way guard who is an absolute blur with the ball. Fox is a potentially elite defender from the get-go and he’ll be lethal in transition with other athletes around him. A shaky perimeter jumper could be key to his freshman season. Fox is likely one-and-done.

10. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: The junior backcourt running mate of Mason is an even better defender since he’s 6-foot-2. Graham also put up solid numbers at 11.3 points, 3.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game as he shot 44 percent from three-point range. Graham developed a big-game reputation after playing tough against Buddy Hield.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

Virginia's London Perrantes (32) shoots against Iowa State's Monte Morris (11) during the first half of a college basketball game in the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 25, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Virginia’s London Perrantes (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

11. London Perrantes, Virginia: One of the nation’s best clutch shooters, this will be a big year for the senior to step up his scoring with the loss of Malcolm Brogdon. The 6-foot-2 Perrantes averaged 11.0 points and 4.4 assists per game last year while shooting 48 percent from three-point range.

12. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: With the loss of Marcus Paige, this is Berry’s team now and he was very good last season for the Tar Heels. Berry will have to continue hitting perimeter jumpers for a team that has been shaky the last few years and he put up 12.8 points, 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

13. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans was having a killer freshman season before missing half the conference season with a shoulder injury. He still won Big 12 Freshman of the Year. The final six games full games Evans played he averaged 19.5 points, 6.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game. The former McDonald’s All-American could have a big year.

14. Mo Watson, Creighton: Should be a fascinating senior year for the 5-foot-10 Watson as he gets Kansas State transfer and guard Marcus Foster in the backcourt with him. Foster should take a lot of attention off Watson and he was already great last season, averaging 14.1 points and 6.5 assists per game.

15. Jordan McLaughlin, USC: With Julian Jacobs leaving USC, this will be McLaughlin’s team now as the 6-foot-1 junior will be ready to lead. Last season, McLaughlin averaged 13.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while shooting efficiently from all over the floor. We’ll likely see McLaughlin put up bigger numbers as a primary ball handler.

RANKINGS: Top Frontcourts | Top Backcourts

16. Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma: Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler are gone, meaning that this is Woodard’s team now. The senior averaged 13.0 points, 3.4 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from three-point range last season and he’ll need to score much more for an inexperienced team.

17. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: The senior has been to two Final Fours and a Sweet 16, so he’s about as experienced as it gets across college basketball. The 6-foot-4 Koenig can put up points and he’ll need to be a distributor on a Wisconsin team that returns all five starters.

18. Jalen Brunson, Villanova: The former McDonald’s All-American started 39 of 40 games for the defending champions as a freshman and he’ll get primary ball-handling responsibilities with Ryan Arcidiacono gone. Brunson put up 9.6 points and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 38 percent from three-point range.

19. Shake Milton, SMU: The Nic Moore Era is complete at SMU and it means that this 6-foot-5 sophomore could be asked to do a lot offensively. Since the Mustangs have a lot of talented players but not a lot of creators, Milton will have to build on a solid freshman season that saw him average double figures and looking like a potential all-league player.

20. Jack Gibbs, Davidson: This 6-foot-0 senior has a chance to lead the nation in scoring after putting up 23.5 points per game as a junior. Also averaging 4.9 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game, Gibbs is the engine that makes Davidson’s offense go.


  • Jalen Adams, UConn
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati
  • J.J. Frazier, Georgia
  • Aaron Holiday, UCLA
  • Makai Mason, Yale
  • Dallas Moore, North Florida
  • Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s
  • Jaquan Newton, Miami
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth
SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 20: Jack Gibbs #12 of the Davidson Wildcats dribbles the ball against Mike Gesell #10 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyArena on March 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jack Gibbs (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Summit League Preview: Three-team race at the top

North Dakota State's Dexter Werner (40) looks around South Dakota State's Mike Daum (24) on his way to the net during an NCAA college basketball game for the Summit League men's tournament championship, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Elisha Page/The Argus Leader via AP)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Summit League.

There are some changes coming in the Summit League this season. South Dakota State and Denver both have new head coaches. North Dakota State became the fourth program in the league to totally renovate their basketball facility. And, perhaps the biggest change of all, is that IPFW will now be branded as Fort Wayne.

What won’t change, however, is that the three best programs in the conference appear to once again be headed for the top of the league standings.

Fort Wayne’s chances at a special season took a major hit last January when Mo Evans was lost due to an academic issue, but the do-everything guard is back for his senior season, along with sophomore John Konchar, who led the Summit in rebounding. That will help ease the loss of Summit Player of the Year Max Landis and slides the Mastadons in as a Summit League favorite.

Mike Daum flirted with the idea of an up-transfer after coach Scott Nagy left for Wright State, but the big man decided to return to South Dakota State, giving new head coach T.J. Otzelberger one of the country’s best mid-major players and a chance at the Jackrabbits’ fourth NCAA tournament in six years. Daum averaged 15.2 points and 6.1 boards in less than 21 minutes as a freshman, numbers that will need to climb as the Jacks look to replace their back court of Deondre Parks and George Marshall.

North Dakota State failed to finish above .500 in conference play for the first time since 2012 last year, but the Bison return four starters from the team that still made the conference tournament championship game. Now in Dave Richman’s second season – his first playing on the program’s actual home floor – Paul Miller and A.J. Jacobson both return after averaging in double figures scoring last year and will help make NDSU one of the threats to claim a conference championship.

Jason Gardner gets Darell Combs back, but with so many new faces on his roster it’s difficult to project just how good IUPUI can be. Omaha brings back Tra-Deon Hollins, who led the nation in steals and sparks their uptempo offense, but losing two all-league players from a team heading into their second year of full Division I eligibility is difficult. Oral Roberts lost Obi Emegano, who averaged 23.1 points, but they do return five players that started 13 games.

Denver is looking at an adjustment period under Rodney Billups as they transition away from Joe Scott’s Princeton offense. Western Illinois has Garrett Covington … and not much else. South Dakota went 5-11 in league play last year and lost all five starters.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


As a freshman, Daum averaged 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while shooting 55.3 percent from the floor. His decision to return to Brookings after briefly considering a transfer upon Scott Nagy’s departure could end up deciding the 2017 league champion.


  • Darell Combs, IUPUI: Averaged 16.3 points last season for the Jaguars after transferring from Eastern Michigan.
  • John Konchar, Fort Wayne: Led the Summit in rebounding with 9.2 per game while also scoring 13 points per night.
  • Mo Evans, Fort Wayne: Before an academic issue sidelined him in January, Evans was averaging 16.9 points and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 42.5 percent from 3.
  • Garret Covington, Western Illinois: The 6-foot-5 guard has put up increasingly strong numbers each year of his career, but the Leathernecks have only managed 28 wins over three years


1. Fort Wayne
2. South Dakota State
3. North Dakota State
5. Omaha
6. Western Illinois
7. Oral Roberts
8. Denver
9. South Dakota