Summit League Preview: SDSU, NDSU lead the way again

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Summit League.

As always, the Summit League looks like it’s going to be one of the most entertaining, high-octane conference races in the country. Last season, North Dakota State and South Dakota State finished tied atop the league standings and, in all likelihood, look primed to compete for the regular season title once again.

On paper, SDSU looks like the favorite. They return the best back court in the league in Wisconsin transfer George Marshall, Deondre Parks and Jake Bittle. Parks was the best of the group last season, but Marshall didn’t get eligible until December and settled quite nicely into that lead guard role. The x-factor for this group will likely end up being Reed Tellinghuisen, a 6-foot-6 sophomore that averaged 8.6 points last season. The Jackrabbits don’t return everyone, however, as losing Cody Larson is going to hurt. Defenses were forced to double him in the post last season, and that created open looks on the perimeter for the myriad of shooters that Scott Nagy has at his disposal.

It will be interesting to see how the Jacks overcome that, but their loss isn’t nearly as big as NDSU’s, as Laurence Alexander, the league’s leading scorer at 18.9 points last season, graduated. With Alexander gone, expect sophomore A.J. Jacobson to embrace a bigger role. As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 forward averaged 11.6 points and shot 40.3 percent from the floor. He’ll be joined on the front line by Dexter Werner, a 6-foot-6, 250 pound bruiser of a power forward that put 22 points on Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. He looks like he should be playing first base for a beer league softball team, but he’s got quick feet, a soft touch and an innate understanding of positioning and leverage. Coaches in the league know how good he is.

Oral Roberts should also factor heavily into the title race this season. Second-leading scorer Korey Billbury transferred out of the program this summer, but the Golden Eagles do return Obi Emegano, a 6-foot-4 power guard that is one of the toughest covers in mid-major hoops. He takes smaller guards onto the block and pulls bigger defenders out on the perimeter. He’s a constant threat to go for 30 on any given night. Beyond that, ORU is going to have some young and unproven pieces, but their style of play — and having the best player in the league on the roster — will let them compete with anyone in the league.

Denver is the x-factor is all of this. The favorite to win the league last season, the Pioneers finished the season just 12-18 overall and 6-10 in the conference. They lost three of their top five scorers, among them Preseason Player of the Year Brett Olson. But this group still has some talent and they still run that Princeton system, making them a tough out on any given night. IPFW is another team that can make some noise in the league. Steve Forbes, their 6-foot-9 bruiser, graduated, but they bring back a pair of veteran guards in Mo Evans and Max Landis that can provide some veteran experience for a team that actually have some promising young talent on the roster.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “It’s pretty open with the top three, but I’ll go with South Dakota State. They’re returning two of the top guards in the conference in Parks and Marshall.”
  • Sleeper: “IPFW. They had a couple good pieces last year, Max Landis and Mo Evans. They play with a chip on their shoulder. They run some pretty good offense, which gets them in good positions to score.”
  • Star to watch: “I’m going to say Obi Emegano. A lot of ppl got him picked preseason player of the year. He’s very versatile. He can score in the post, he can score outside. He’s a matchup problem for most teams in the league.”

 

PRESEASON SUMMIT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts

For Summit League opponents, it probably feels like Emegano has been in the league for a decade. He averaged 13.1 points as a freshman at Western Illinois before transferring to ORU. He sat out the 2012-13 season and tore his ACL after four games in 2013-14. Finally healthy, Emegano lit up the conference last year and should be expected to do the same this season. A powerful, 6-foot-4 guard, Emegano creates match up problems against just about everyone. You know the old guy at the park that doesn’t look like he should be good but no one can keep from getting buckets? That’s Emegano.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SUMMIT TEAM:

  • George Marshall, South Dakota State: Marshall gave the Jacks a massive boost in December when he was became eligible, giving them the best back court in the league.
  • Deondre Parks, South Dakota State: Parks was SDSU’s best guard last season, but with Marshall around for the full season that could change. And that’s a good thing for the Jacks.
  • A.J. Jacobson, North Dakota State: Jacobson was the best freshman in the league last year and will be tasked with carrying the load this season with Alexander gone.
  • Garret Covington, Western Illinois: The league’s second-leading returning scorer.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @thesummitleague

PREDICTED FINISH

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