Shabazz Napier

Comparing Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker is unfair but inevitable

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NEW YORK — For Shabazz Napier, there’s no sense in fighting it. The comparisons are coming whether he likes it or not. That’s simply what is going to happen when an All-American point guard carries a team on a deep run through March three years after another All-American point guard, Kemba Walker, carried the same program on a deep run through March.

Fair or not — it’s not, for the record — they are going to come flooding in as we get closer and closer to college basketball’s biggest stage, and for now, it seems as if Napier has accepted that fact even if he’s unlikely to embrace it.

“That’s for you guys to say. I don’t know. I’m just here trying to play basketball,” Napier said after his No. 7 seeded Huskies won the East Regional title with a 60-54 victory over No. 4 Michigan State on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. “Of course I’m going to be compared to him because what he did when he was here was just tremendous. It’s never going to be done again. I’m not out there trying to replace what he did.”

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Napier, who hails from Boston, is right in one respect: What Walker did may never be replicated. He led a UConn team that was stocked with freshmen and sophomores to five wins in five days en route to a Big East tournament title and followed that up with six wins in three weeks, the last of which was a 53-41 victory over Butler in the national title game. That’s 11 wins in less than four weeks in the month of March.

That’s unheard of, and it’s one of the biggest reasons that Walker ended up being the No. 7 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. It’s the single biggest reason that he will go down as arguably the most popular UConn Husky in the history of the storied program that Jim Calhoun built.

And it’s an impossible standard to try and hold Napier up to, especially when a very valid argument can be made that getting this UConn team to the Final Four is a more impressive accomplishment than Walker leading that 2011 team to a title. But at least we are comparing apples to apples here. What the duo has been able to accomplish on the court is at least similar, whereas their demeanors and skill sets differ substantially.

Walker is a freak of an athlete, one of the quickest and most athletic point guards in the NBA these days. He blows by people, using his jump shot as a counter to keep defenses from sloughing off of him. Napier’s game is much more crafty. I think he can dunk, but I’ve never actually seen him dunk in a game. He’s quick, but he doesn’t have sprinter speed. His biggest skill is his ability to keep an defender off balance and read which way his opponent is leaning. His biggest strength is his basketball IQ and savviness.

Walker is as gregarious as a kid can come, blessed with the kind of larger-than-life personality that can only be bred in the Bronx. His smile is infectious and his charm is contagious. Napier is quieter, more introverted. His approach to the game is workmanlike, and what defines him, as Calhoun put is, is “his incredible self-belief” and his ability to instill that belief in others.

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“These kids would follow him across the desert for a drink of water,” Calhoun said. “As much as any single other thing, Shabazz led this team. You could see him talking to them. His swagger, his positive arrogance about how good they are translates to every other player out there.”

That wasn’t an easy thing for Napier to develop, either.

He couldn’t have taken over the program at a more difficult point in time.

Napier was a freshman on the 2011 team that won the title. He was the sidekick to Walker in the back court, the point guard that allowed Calhoun to use Walker off the ball. He played a major role in bringing home UConn’s third championship banner and he was expected to take over the role that Walker vacated when he left for the NBA. Throw in the fact that UConn had a roster that included Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith in Napier’s sophomore year, and UConn entered the preseason as a consensus top three team.

And it all went to hell.

The Huskies were a mess during Big East play, eventually flaming out of the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed. A lot of the blame got pinned on Napier that season. He was supposed to be the leader, and he wasn’t leading. As the saying goes, a point guard’s most important stat is his winning percentage. The issue, however, was that Napier simply didn’t know how to lead. He didn’t know how to differentiate between yelling and motivating. He didn’t know how to react to players laughing off a loss. He didn’t yet understand that every person is going to handle losing a different way, and while every loss was, for him, as bad as it could get, he couldn’t grasp that it was possible to be as competitive as he was without being as demonstratively distraught after a disappointing performance.

“He wasn’t mature enough,” Calhoun said. “He had to fine tune who Shabazz was. He tried to lead at a time when he couldn’t lead. Following Kemba Walker? That’s a tough act to follow. He wasn’t as good sophomore year when I coached as he should have been. Last year under Kevin he started to blossom a little bit. This year, that great Shabazz gave himself to his teammates.”

PREVIEWS: Wisconsin-Kentucky | UConn-Florida

Shabazz long ago climbed out of the shadow cast by Kemba and his national title. He did it when he led last year’s team to 20 wins despite the fact that there was no tournament waiting for them as the end of the season. He did it when he turned himself into an All-American this season. He did it with all of the big shots that he’s made throughout his career.

He may look like Walker from afar, and he may end up accomplishing the same thing, but the two differ as much as their accents.

“A lot of the things I do is what he did, because I learned from him,” Napier said. “He made it there, but I’m just out here trying to be myself and create my own path.”

There is one thing that Napier indisputably has in common with Walker, however: When he leaves UConn, he is going to be a tough act to follow.

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)
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 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