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2014-2015 Season Preview: NDSU, SDSU take step back in Summit League hierarchy

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source:
Scott Sutton (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Summit League.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Turnover is the name of the game for the Summit League as we head into the 2014-2015 season. There will be five new head coaches in the nine-team league and that doesn’t include Scott Sutton, the head coach at Oral Roberts, who will return to the conference after a two-year stint in the Southland. Just one first-team all-conference player is back this season, and among those who have left were the league’s best player (Taylor Braun) and biggest personality (former North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips).

That said, the Summit League should end up being one of the tightest conference races in the country this year, as the separation between the top teams in the conference is quite small.

Our pick to win the regular season title is Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles had enjoyed a terrific run near the top of the Summit League for a decade-and-a-half before the school got swept up in the realignment chaos and wound up in the Southland. After a two year hiatus, Sutton is back with one of his better teams. Senior Obi Emegano is healthy after tearing his ACL last season and junior guard Korey Billbury had a terrific sophomore campaign in Emegano’s absence. Losing Shawn Glover will hurt, but the key for ORU will be whether Brandon Conley takes a step forward this season.

ORU’s biggest challenger will be Joe Scott’s Denver Pioneers. While he loses Chris Udofia to graduation, Scott does return Brett Olson, a first-team all-conference guard last year and our Preseason Player of the Year. He’s a sharp-shooter who hit more than 50 percent from three in league play, but he’s also going to have to learn to be “the guy”. In total, the Pioneers bring back four starters from last year. Denver joined the Summit prior to the 2013-2014 season.

New IPFW head coach Jon Coffman will enter this season without three of the Mastodons’ top six players from a year ago, but he does get back sophomore point guard Mo Evans, who is expected to be one of the league’s breakout stars, as well as big man Steve Forbes. Forbes is a dominating presence in the paint, but he only averaged 21.3 minutes as a junior due to fitness and foul trouble.

South Dakota State loses a number of key pieces, but former Florida big man Cody Larson will be one of the league’s most athletic players. The Jackrabbits will also get a boost when former Wisconsin point guard George Marshall gets eligible in December. North Dakota State will be without Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund and former head coach Saul Phillips, but the Bison have built a strong enough program to withstand the turnover. Expect big seasons from Lawrence Alexander and Kory Brown.

source:
Brett Olson (AP Photo)

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Oral Roberts
Out: None

PRESEASON SUMMIT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Brett Olson, Denver

Olson is the only player from last season’s all-Summit first-team to be returning to school this season after averaging 14.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 boards. He shot 51.5% from beyond the arc in league play, but with Chris Udofia graduating, Joe Scott is going to need Olson to take on a more commanding role this season if the Pioneers are going to play their way out of a tough, balanced conference.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SUMMIT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Cody Larson, South Dakota State, Sr.: Larson, who began his career at Florida, might be the bst athlete in the conference.
  • Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts, Jr.: Emegano was on pace to have a huge season in 2013-2014 but tore his ACL in the fourth game of the year.
  • Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State, Sr.: A four-year starter at the point, Alexander will be the catalyst for the Bison, will have plenty of scoring to replace.
  • Steve Forbes, IPFW, Sr.: The big fella needs to get in shape and stay out of foul trouble, but he’s a monster when he does.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @TerryVandrovec

PREDICTED FINISH

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

Late Night Snacks: Minnesota holds off Nebraska-Omaha, Princeton proves legitimacy

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Minnesota 92, Nebraska-Omaha 79 — Friday nights in college hoops tend to be quiet, but Minnesota and Omaha put on a show at The Barn tonight with the Gophers holding on for the win. Deandre Mathieu led all scorers with 27 points for Minnesota.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) SMU went on the road and beat Wyoming to improve to 10-2 on the season. This all but concludes the Mustang’s non-conference schedule — they still have a date with Hofstra in mid-January — and now things really begin to ramp up. Their next three: at Cincinnati,vs. Connecticut, at Louisville. SMU is a solid team, but we’ll find out just how good they are during this stretch.

2) Princeton went out west and dismantled a solid Pacific team, 83-58, in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic. The win pushes the Tigers to 9-1 on the season.

3) For the second time this season, Utah State and UC Santa Barbara did battle, and for the second time the Aggies came out on top. The Gauchos figured to have a better chance this time around as their star player Alan Williams, who missed the first meeting, was back for tonight, but Utah State won 77-71 in overtime. Spencer Butterfield at 31 and 10 in the win.

STARRED

1) Stephen Croone, a 6-foot-0 guard from Furman, had some kind of night going off for 40 points and 11 rebounds in an 86-83 victory against Liberty. Scoring 40 points on just 16 shots is downright efficient. Croone could have had even more if he hit his free throws as he was 13-21.

2) SMU’s bench was the reason for coming away victorious at Wyoming as they combined to score 32 of the Mustangs’ 62 points. Markus Kennedy led the way with 15 point.

3) Marist entered tonight’s game against Bucknell at 1-9, but their record may not be the best indicator of what kind of team the Red Foxes are as six of their losses have come against teams ranked in the Top 100, according to Ken Pomeroy. Marist has won two straight games after thrashing Bucknell, 69-51. Chavaughn Lewis had 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in the win.

STRUGGLED

1) Not having played in close to two weeks, Bucknell may have felt the lingering effects of the exam break tonight at Marist. The Red Foxes, who were 1-9 entering the game, jumped out to a 21-3 lead. The closest the Bison would get the rest of the way was 14 points — just a thorough beating.

2) Sacred Heart’s trip out west got more difficult tonight as they lost 82-50 to UNLV. The Pioneers shot just 3-17 3PT and 1-6 FT. They are now 2-10 in Anthony Latina’s first season at the helm.

3) Yale (minus Javier Duren) lost tonight to Albany, 70-62. The loss isn’t necessarily a bad one, but the performance of everyone with the exception of Javier Duren was poor. Duren was 8-15 FG for 26 points, while the rest of the team was 10-42 for 36 points.

Minnesota fends off a talented Nebraska-Omaha group

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On the surface, Minnesota leading Nebraska-Omaha — who is in just their second year of playing a schedule comprised of almost exclusively Division I competition — 83-77 with just minutes remaining in regulation may seem like a lackluster effort by the Golden Gophers. That’s far from the case.

Minnesota played well. Their potent offense ran up 90+ points in a 92-79 win, and they excelled in transition throughout the game. Deandre Mathieu poured in 27 points on 9-11 shooting. Their defense left much to be desired, but a tip of the hat must be given to Omaha.

Omaha isn’t eligible to win the Summit League championship as they are still in the midst of their transition to Division I, but they will no doubt be a factor in that league, along with Denver, North Dakota State, and IPFW.

It was clear this wouldn’t be a walk in the park for Minnesota from the beginning as Omaha had an offensive answer every time Minnesota looked like it may go on a run. In the opening half, they used the three-point shot to keep pace and knot the game at 44 by halftime, hitting ten triples.

To think that the Mavericks could duplicate their shooting performance in the second half would have been nearly impossible, and they didn’t. In fact, they didn’t hit one shot from beyond the arc in the second half. Despite that, they leaned on Devin Patterson and CJ Carter, who scored in a variety of ways.

Head coach Derrin Hansen is building something good in Omaha — no doubt about that. A team just doesn’t go into Iowa and lead the Hawkeyes with less than ten minutes remaining without being a talented bunch.

As for the Gophers, they have played well since consecutive losses in Maui against Syracuse and Arkansas, having won five straight games. Mathieu and Andre Hollins both had big nights, but it was the play of Malik Smith off the bench (19 points, 5-8 3PT) that should have Gopher fans encouraged. Minnesota already has one of the better back courts in the Big Ten, and if Smith — who transferred from Florida International to follow Rick Pitino Jr. — fills the role of instant offense off the bench, the Gophers become that much more dynamic.

Minnesota has a final tune-up against Texas A&M Corpus Christi next Saturday, prior to their Big Ten opener vs. Michigan — that’s when the fun begins.