Summit League Preview: Three-team race at the top

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

PRESEASON SUMMIT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Mike Daum, South Dakota State

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.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SUMMIT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • 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

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @summithoops

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