Summit 2018-19 Preview

Preseason Predictions

Player of the Year: Mike Daum, Sr., South Dakota St.
Coach of the Year: Rodney Billups, Denver
Newcomer of the Year: Ronnie Harrell, R Sr., Denver
Freshman of the Year: Zion Young, Western Illinois

Team Previews

Tier 1

1. South Dakota St.

Key Returners:Mike Daum, David Jenkins, Tevin King, Skyler Flatten, Brandon Key
Key Losses: Reed Tellinghuisen
Key Newcomers: Alou Dillon, Owen King, Matt Dentlinger, Aaron Fiegen, Matt Mims, Ryan Krueger


Outlook: Thanks to the Mike Daum effect, the Jackrabbits have had a vice grip on the Summit’s automatic bid for three years running. There was some speculation early this summer that Daum might leave, which caused the rest of the league to salivate at the thought of finally facing a ‘Daum-less’ South Dakota State team in 2019.

Welp, those appetites were abruptly spoiled when ‘the Dauminator’ dropped the mic with this social media bomb on April 28th. 

Yup, that’s right folks – he is indeed back, along with everyone not named Reed Tellinghuisen from last year’s well-oiled machine, which gives the Jacks the inside track to go dancing for a fourth consecutive season. 

You won’t find another player in America who wields more power over his respective conference than Mr. Daum. Had he left, trying to pick the 2019 Summit champion would have been a tedious exercise. But his return makes the Jackrabbits a near unanimous selection to claim the league title yet again. At 6’9, Daum’s unrivaled offensive versatility makes him an outlier within the Summit landscape. Opposing coaches have been banging their heads against the wall for years searching for the formulaic recipe to slow him down. Chris Holtmann and the Ohio State staff had four days to prepare for South Dakota St. in the NCAA tournament, along with a defensive demolisher in Keita Bates-Diop, but Daum still went off for 27 and gave the Buckeyes all they could handle in the opening round.

I hope everyone is aware that Daum has a legitimate shot to eclipse the 3,000 point mark for his career this season. He needs 768 points to get there, a more than reasonable target given he’s poured in 800 plus in each of the past two seasons.

That would make him the 8th player in the history of college basketball to reach that milestone. For context, the coveted 3,000 hit club in Major League Baseball has four times as many members (32).

Daum’s underappreciated frontcourt partner, Reed Tellinghuisen, is the only significant loss from last year’s 13-1 Summit juggernaut. There’s no single guy who mirrors Tellinghuisen’s rare combination of shooting and size, so head coach TJ Otzelberger will have to patch up his production with a multitude of options. Skyler Flatten swung back and forth between the 3 and the 4 last year, so sliding him up to the 2nd forward spot on a more permanent basis could form a deadly small-ball offensive lineup. 6’6 Ryan Krueger is yet another threat from long range who could be interchangeable with Flatten, and 6’8 Alou Dillon gives Otzelberger some legitimate size to plug in the middle for a bigger lineup alternative. 

Regardless of how Otzelberger fills Tellinghuisen’s vacancy, the iron clad perimeter trident of David JenkinsBrandon Key and Tevin King will keep the outer perimeter defensive shell fortified. The parallel development of Jenkins, Key and King last season on both sides of the ball was a beautiful thing to watch. Jenkins is the flashy young bucket-getter, while Key and King are the seasoned veterans responsible for orchestrating the offense and finding open shooters.

Bottom Line: Back when Otzelberger first took over for Scott Nagy, he tried to shake things up defensively with an intricate 1-3-1 zone – as my colleague documented last year, this decision could not have backfired any worse, prompting him to quickly abandon the zone and revert back to a more traditional man-to-man. While the personnel upgrades in the backcourt are partially responsible for the recent crescendo of SDSU’s defensive efficiency, Otzelberger deserves a lot of credit for quickly adjusting after what was clearly a failed experiment. The Jackbunnies offense will continue to be an unstoppable force, but the other side of the ball is what truly incited SDSU’s dominance in the league last year. Expect more of the same in 2019 as Daum and the boys should cruise to yet another Summit championship.

2. South Dakota

Key Returners: Tyler Hagedorn, Trey Burch-Manning, Tyler Peterson, Triston Simpson
Key Losses: Matt Mooney
Key Newcomers: Cody Kelley (Wyoming transfer), Jay Harvey (FIU transfer)


Outlook: With how quickly Craig Smith fast-tracked the ascension of South Dakota over the past three years, it was only a matter of time until the big pocket suitors started calling. Utah State gave Smith 3.5 million reasons to head west, paving the way for new head coach Todd Lee’s Vermillion homecoming.

Lee, the former assistant to Thunder Dan Majerle at Grand Canyon, will bring three decades of coaching experience and a contemporary offensive scheme back to his alma-mater.  

“For Coach Smith, it was a motion offense – move the way you want to – and a lot of sets,” said Tyler Peterson in an interview with the Argus Leader this summer. “With Coach Lee so far it’s been a lot of reading the defense. Take what they’re giving us. It’s a new system for all of our guys to learn but I think it’s definitely going to benefit us this year.”

It’s hard to say how a veteran squad will react and adapt to a fundamentally new offense. From a personnel lens, 4 of 5 starters are back, including the potent frontline pairing of Trey Burch-Manning and Tyler Hagedorn, but that one starter lost – Matt Mooney – was the straw that stirred the drink for the Coyotes. 

Mooney possessed one of the most complete games in the Summit, versatile enough to play and defend any of the three guard spots on the perimeter. The net impact of Mooney’s loss is tough to quantify, but the advanced on / off splits from last year give us a good starting point.

Full disclosure – the following screenshot shocked me…

It’s hard to fathom the fact that South Dakota was actually better with Mooney off the floor – I remain in denial.

Perhaps I’m just a stubborn defender of Mooney, but I staunchly believe the ‘Yotes will miss his on-floor leadership. His shooting percentages did take a minor dip last season, but he was instrumental as the primary creator and go-to scoring option for the league’s 2ndmost efficient offense. And based on the changes Lee is planning to implement with a more ‘player-friendly’ system (less ‘systematic’ and more ‘free-flowing’) a premier playmaker like Mooney could come in handy.

Those responsibilities will now fall squarely on the shoulders of Mooney’s former perimeter partners Triston Simpson and Tyler Peterson, as well as Wyoming grad transfer Cody Kelley. Simpson and Peterson are both pliable guards who have the ability to play with or without the ball on offense. They were forced to defer to Mooney for the past two seasons, but that’s about to change as they now shift focus towards picking up the scoring slack left behind by Mooney. This makes Kelley a perfect addition to the backcourt as an unselfish offensive facilitator and vocal floor general capable of directing the offense. 

Bottom Line: In an offensive-minded conference like the Summit, Smith’s commitment to defending at a high-level separated SoDak from the rest of the league the last two years. Despite going head-to-head with a super-human scorer like Daum, the ‘Yotes have tallied just one less win than their in-state rivals over the past two seasons. Given what Lee helped construct at Grand Canyon – one of the best mid-major defensive units in the country last year – SoDak could boast the Summit’s best defense for the third year in a row.

It all comes down to the returning veterans collectively replacing Matt Mooney’s role and production. Mooney was South Dakota State’s kryptonite last season – he dropped 30 in all three head-to-head tilts last year, but it still wasn’t enough to top Daum and the Jackbunnies in the rubber match at the Summit tournament title game. Still, with the offensive firepower in Hagedorn, Burch-Manning, Peterson and Simpson back in action, I see the ‘Yotes on a yet another collision course with their in-state neighbors. 

3. Denver

Key Returners: Joe Rosga, Ade Murkey, Elvin Rodriguez, Jake Krafka
Key Losses: Daniel Amigo
Key Newcomers: Ronnie Harrell Jr. (Creighton transfer), Tory Miller-Stewart (Colorado transfer)


Outlook: Rodney Billups now enters a pivotal 3rdseason in his first crack as a Division 1 head coach, making slow, but steady progress in each of his first two seasons. A 15-15 overall record on the surface looks unappealing, but the Pioneers emergence down the stretch is why I’m extremely bullish on the 2019 outlook. Denver limped out of the gate with a 1-4 start in league play, but hit the nitrous in late January to race past the non-Dakota schools for a 3rd place finish in the final Summit standings.

The Pioneers played inside-out last year through a low-post operator in Daniel Amigo. Other than Oral Roberts’ assemblage of giants, Amigo was an aberration in a conference largely dominated by guards. Amigo wasn’t always efficient as a scorer and finisher around the rim, but his ability to bend the interior defense drew so much attention inward from defenders out on the perimeter. With the off-ball help sagging down towards Amigo, the floodgates flew open for deadeye shooters Joe Rosga and Jake Pemberton to torch the nets from distance – per Synergy, Denver’s most efficient source of offense last year was via spot-up jumpers, as the Pioneers’ knocked down 40% of their triples as a team.

Losing a weapon like Amigo is typically cataclysmic in the Summit, but Billups couldn’t have asked for a better replacement than Colorado import Tory Miller-Stewart. After starting the first six games of the 2017-18 campaign, an untimely foot injury abruptly ended his career at Boulder. His numbers from 2016 and 2017 don’t jump off the page, but he could be a dominant force against undersized Summit front lines. Synergy confirms that he’s an excellent scorer on the block, ranking in the 88th percentile nationally in points per possessions on post-ups. That said, he must become a more willing passer out of the post to find open shooters and cutters when the inevitable double-teams drift his way.

Defensively, Miller’s Power-6 caliber size and strength should translate into one of the premier paint protectors in the entire Summit. Even against bigger and stronger forwards in the Pac-12, the advanced on / off numbers prove that he’s a plus defender:

Yes, I’m well aware it’s a tiny sample size, but even looking at the same figures from the year prior – Miller clocked in 16 minutes a game over a full season in 2016-17 – corroborates the fact that he’s a net asset defensively.

As high as I am on Miller-Stewart, he’s not even definitively the best part of the transfer twofer joining the mix this year – in my opinion, Ronnie Harrell Jr. (formerly of Creighton) has a chance to be a secret weapon for the Pioneers. With the English language offering so few synonyms for the word ‘versatility’, it’s a descriptor that gets tossed around far too leniently in the basketball world – but Harrell is worthy of that adjective. He’s one of those rare point-forwards at 6’7 that can pass and create offensively, and guard a multitude of positions on defense. Simply dropping Harrell in the starting lineup will wash away many of the Pioneers’ turnover blemishes that resurfaced far too often last year – Denver posted a league worst 20% turnover rate in conference play last season.

Harrell’s presence should take a ton of pressure off Ade Murkey and Elvin Rodriguez, the two primary returning backcourt pieces from last year – though, Harrell’s arrival doesn’t rid Denver of all their problems. Murkey and Rodriguez still have a ways to go in their offensive development, which leaves Rosga as the lone scoring / shooting threat on the perimeter. For all of Harrell’s strengths, shooting is not one of his fortes, which means a significant portion of Denver’s offensive efficiency will lie in the hot shooting hand of Rosga – well, unless freshmen Taelyr GatlinJoseph Lanzi and Jase Townsend can infiltrate the lineup right away. 

Bottom Line:  Denver loses two starters, but essentially replaces each with net upgrade in Miller-Stewart and Harrell.  As effective as Amigo was, Miller-Stewart is a best case scenario replacement and no team in the league is armed with a multi-faceted pocket knife like Harrell – in fact, he’s probably the best 1-v-1 matchup for Daum in the league. 

I flirted with the idea of bumping the Pioneers up to 2nd in my projected standings, but 3rd place feels about right, given the cornerstone pieces returning for both South Dakota State and South Dakota (the undisputed top-2 contenders in the league).

Tier 2

4. Purdue Fort Wayne

Key Returners:John Konchar, Kason Harrell
Key Losses: Bryson Scott, Jax Levitch, Xzavier Taylor
Key Newcomers: Dee Montgomery, Marcus DeBerry (Northern Arizona transfer), Matt Holba (Lehigh transfer), Tionne Rollins, Jarred Godfrey, Josh Inkumsah


Outlook: Name change alert! The confusing meaning behind the old IPFW label is now gone, and the Mastadons have been officially rebranded to Purdue Fort Wayne – so there’s that. One more random though before proceeding with the actual preview. It’s a shame ‘PFW’ (I’ll be using that acronym from here on out and you can’t stop me) couldn’t restructure the home and home series with Indiana to go on forever. 

As an Indiana University alum, the Mastadons offensive clinic put on display in Assembly Hall last year has been burned into my brain for eternity. Hoosier fans probably walked away from that 92-72 ass-kicking thinking, “who the hell is Kason Harrell and why is he playing in the Summit?” Summit loyalists need no introduction to the human pistol – Harrell’s connected on 42% of his threes in conference play over the past two seasons. He’s automatic when he has time and space to set his feet, but he typically need someone to get him the rock. Last year, in the ‘Dons Nascar-paced fast-break attack, that responsibility belonged to John Konchar.

I could write 2,000 words describing the beauty of Konchar’s flawless game, but I’ll just be lazy and screenshot the picture of his player page. Just look how it lights up like a Christmas tree:

If the Oscars handed out their awards to college basketball, Konchar would’ve been a shoe-in for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ during the 2016 and 2017 campaigns.  Mo Evans effectively ran the offense during Konchar’s freshman and sophomore seasons, but he was more than ready to take the wheel when it became his turn last year. As denoted by the red text, yellowed highlighted ‘#1’ under ARate in the picture above, Konchar led the conference in assist rate while maintaining a 2.9 assist to turnover ratio last season. His mastery of the point guard position is just another piece of evidence that he can mold into any role on the floor.

With Jax Levitch – a 6’7 stand-still shooter on the wing – no longer around, head coach John Coffman may play four true guards this year with some combination of rising sophomore Matt Weir, JUCO star Dee Montgomery and Northern Arizona transfer Marcus DeBerry as the two other running mates next to Harrell and Konchar. This won’t be a major roll of the dice defensively, given Konchar rebounds like he’s 6’10 and DeBerry has decent size to check opposing 4s in man-to-man.

Bottom Line: Waving goodbye to Bryson Scott won’t be easy – it’s rare to see a former Big Ten caliber guard transfer down to the Summit ranks, precisely why Scott was one of the top players in the league the minute he stepped on the floor in a Mastadon uniform. Coffman brought in a promising young group of guards to restock the backcourt, leaving the interior as the one minor soft spot in the 2019 roster. 

Lehigh transfer Matt Holba is a bit thicker than the aforementioned Levitch, but has the skillset to step into a similar role as a floor spacing 4. He could play some 5, but Dylan Carl looks to be the best bet to eat up a healthy portion of the minutes in the paint. Carl can also step away and stroke it with confidence, but Coffman is more concerned with his impact on the other side of the ball – PWF got torched at the rim last year, surrendering the highest 2-point FG% in the league. With 6’9 260 pound Xzavier Taylor graduating, Carl should see his minutes spike considerably – if he can maintain a 6.3 block rate over a larger sample size, it would go a long way toward holding the defense steady.

5. North Dakota St.

Key Returners:Tyson Ward, Cam Hunter, Deng Geu, Jared Samuelson, Chris Quayle
Key Losses: Paul Miller, AJ Jacobson
Key Newcomers: Vinnie Shahid, Jordan Horn (Siena transfer)*


*Note - Jordan Horn’s eligibility is still in question - North Dakota State is appealing the redshirt requirement

Outlook: Head coach Dave Richman found himself in uncharted waters last year as the Bison treaded below .500 for the first time in his four year tenure in Fargo. With a three-headed wing attack of Paul Miller, AJ Jacobson and Tyson Ward all back from a team that came just one game shy of ‘reaching the Summit’ in 2017, last season was unquestionably a major misstep.

But wait a second… Despite free falling in the conference standings from 11-5 two seasons ago to 5-9 last year, the advanced metrics would tell you the 2017 and 2018 squads were nearly inseparable – NoDak State finished 176th overall last season, in’s overall rankings, just 9 spots lower than the year prior when they finished just one game shy of 1st place. 

Thus, it’s somewhat unfair to say NoDak State regressed – rather, the advanced stat nerds would say the Bison simply just ran in-place…

With the other two thirds of that aforementioned wing trident gone, Ward will be the one writing the script in 2019. Given his relatively high usage last year, stepping into the lead scoring role shouldn’t be too burdensome for the slash-heavy swingman, but his maturity as a creator is what head coach Dave Richman is really pushing for. Devoid of a true point guard last season, Miller and Ward did the bulk of the facilitating offensively in Richman’s pick-n-roll happy offense – per Synergy, 25% of the Bison’s offensive possessions ended in pick-n-roll action, the 3rd highest rate in the entire country.

At 6’6 with a sound handle, Ward can be a real weapon as a downhill penetrator and catalyst for drive-and-kick opportunities for sharpshooters Cam HunterJared SamuelsonChris Quayle and Siena transfer Jordan Horn scattered across the 3-point stripe. Hunter should help Ward initiate the offense at times, but Richman was smart to bring in a dynamic playmaker in Vinnie Shahid to reinforce the backcourt. The 5’11 NJCAA All-American is a complete lead guard who plays with an unselfish, pass-first mindset, and his near flawless long range jumper will keep opposing defenses on high alert.

Bottom Line: As discussed in the opening paragraphs above, NDSU’s somewhat unlucky season last year is a valid reason to believe that – all other things equal – 2019 is destined to trend back in the right direction. Unfortunately, the assumption of all things being equal does not hold when you factor in the departures of Miller and Jacobson, two pillars of the program over the last four seasons. They now hand the baton off to Ward and Hunter, who must tightly integrate with two highly touted backcourt additions in Shahid and Horn to redirect the Bison back to Summit relevance.  

Tier 3

6. Oral Roberts

Key Returners: Emmanuel Nzekwesi, Sam Kearns, RJ Fuqua, Chris Miller
Key Losses: Javan White, Albert Owens
Key Newcomers: DJ Weaver, Francis Lacis, Kerwin Smith (Grand Canyon transfer)


Outlook: Chris Mills REFUSES to join the ‘pace and space’ revolution sweeping through college basketball. 

Rev up the tempo? 

Eh, no thanks…

Chuck’ it from the cheap seats? 

Nah, I’m good…

That’s not to say Mills is stubborn. He’s simply following the ‘Scott Drew Basketball for Dummies’ textbook step-by-step, an approach that’s churned out 20-win seasons like clockwork for over a decade at Baylor.

On offense, points in the paint are king. No one – and I literally mean no one – played through the post more often than Oral Bob did last year. Per Synergy, 20% of the Golden Eagles offensive possessions’ were post-ups, almost three times higher than the national average (7%). This is Emmanuel Nzekwesi’s area of expertise, ORU’s meal ticket in the middle who will resume his role as the offensive epicenter this season. Nzekwesi was forced to play somewhat out of position last year as the nominal 3 offensively, in order to make room for Javan White and Albert Owens inside. Collectively, this trio did considerable damage on the offensive glass, as few teams had a lineup that could counter 6’8, 6’9 and 6’10 at the 3, 4 and 5 spots, respectively. 

On defense, Mills utilizes that octopus-esque length to aggravate opposing ball handlers through a unique and unpredictable 1-1-3 zone. Similar to the scheme Drew runs at Baylor (though, less frequently), ORU’s zone will shape shift constantly as the ball gets rotated side-to-side. Unlike standard zones that confine players to distinct guarding areas, the Golden Eagles’ scheme can be hard to pick-up as it can sometimes morph into more of a matchup type zone. Regardless, it was probably a foreign concept to ORU fans who had never been exposed to such a quirky defense. Mills played zone on 65% of all defensive possessions last season, the 12th highest rate in the country per Synergy, a drastic jump from just 11% over the last four years of Scott Sutton’s tenure. 

Executing this preferred style of play on both ends of the floor requires elite length and top-flight athletes. White and Owens are big losses, but 6’8 Chris Miller is back to shore up the interior and Francis Lacis – one of the highest rated European prospects – will join the glass crashing brigade as well. The other two frontline members waiting in the queue are hybrid wing / forward DJ Weaver (once a 4-star recruit before tearing both ACLs in high school) and GCU transfer Kerwin Smith.

Bottom Line: Mills’ clearly focused his time and attention on bringing in big bodies to replace White and Owens, but let’s not forget about the little guys. Sam Kearns and RJ Fuqua weren’t asked to do a whole lot last year as young guards still finding their footing in the Summit. Now one year older and with a full season of reps under their belts, they’ll need to step up in a big way to take the scoring pressure off Nzekwesi’s big shoulders and knock down enough outside shots to keep the defense honest – otherwise, guards will collapse and swarm Nzekwesi every time he gets a touch inside.

At the end of the day, I like that this team has an identity and the schematic nuances associated with what Mills is trying to instill should become more instinctual in year 2. 

7. Western Illinois

Key Returners: Brandon Gilbeck, Kobe Webster, CJ Duff, Isaac Johnson, Jeremiah Usiosefe
Key Losses: Dalan Ancrum, Delo Bruster
Key Newcomers: Zion Young, Ben Pyle, Perion Little, Keshon Montague


Outlook: In a league where points are plentiful and scoreboard operators get nightly workouts, Western Illinois’ offense looked like an ugly outcast last season. The Leathernecks fell a whopping .13 points per possession below the league average scoring rate of 1.08, one of the largest intra-conference gaps in the country. In addition to head coach Billy Wright’s distain for chasing after missed shots – the Leathernecks’ were dead last in America in offensive rebounding rate last year – questionable shot-selection compounded the problems of an already limited offensive team. 

Last season, the crux of WIU’s offense was predicated on shot-making off-the-dribble – the Leathernecks posted the 3rdlowest team assist rate in the country and nearly 29% of all offensive possessions ended with either an isolation or pick-n-roll ballhandler play style, as defined by Synergy. Essentially, the guards played a lot of “my turn, your turn” on offense with no apparent structure or system in-tact. 

The backcourt will look identical to last season, for the exception of a potential breakout star in freshman Zion Young. The 3-star recruit was a key cog in Chicago powerhouse Simeon High School’s top-ranked team in the state. Young has a developed frame for his age and his size at 6’4 should allow him to guard all three spots on the perimeter, while Isaac Johnson – another burgeoning bucket-getter who led the Leathernecks in scoring 4 of the last 5 regular season games – likely slides up to a small-ball 4 positionally. Johnson played mostly on the wing last season, but hauled in missed shots at one of the highest rates in the Summit. Young, Johnson and chiseled Canadian Jeremiah Usiosefe will likely eat up the bulk of the minutes along the perimeter, which should make the Leathernecks a sticky squad on the glass with Defensive Player in the Year Brandon Gilbeck back to patrol the paint.

Bottom Line: Perhaps I’m being short-sighted by shrugging aside the deficiencies of last year’s anemic offense, but freshman-to-sophomore year springboard is on the horizon for Johnson and offensive maestro Kobe Webster. Webster’s counting stats are what pop on paper, but his savvy decision-making as the offensive alpha was wise beyond his years last season. His lack of size and strength may inhibit him from ever being an elite finisher at the rim, but that’s about the only nitpick as he embarks on what could be a sparkling sophomore campaign. Webster, Young, Johnson, Usiosefe and CJ Duff and will form a potent perimeter crew that could take the Leathernecks even higher than my [admittedly conservative] projection of 7th.

8. Omaha

Key Returners: Zach Jackson, Mitch Hahn, KJ Robinson, JT Gibson, Matt Pile, Ayo Akinwole
Key Losses: Daniel Norl
Key Newcomers: Brett Barney (Wichita St. transfer), Elishja Duplechan


Outlook:For all the fuss made about mid-major challenges with non-conference scheduling, you have to tip your cap to head coach Derrin Hansen for the gauntlet he threw on the calendar last year. While Patrick Ewing was boosting his team’s confidence with a pillow-soft, MEAC-heavy non-con slate, Omaha took trips to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisville and TCU all before Thanksgiving break. 

Unfortunately, Hansen’s hopes of battle-testing his team in preparation for conference season never came to fruition. After a solid 9-7 league record in 2017, the Mavs tumbled down the Summit standings, landing just one step above the basement floor occupied by Western Illinois. Omaha looked like a shell of itself on both sides of the ball compared to 2017, but the inability to get consistent stops was the noticeable defect. 

Two years ago, Omaha was a solid defensive unit by Summit standards, and checked in with the 5thbest team defense in the league, on a per possession basis. That proficiency fell off a cliff last season as the Mavs were lacerated inside to the tune of 1.16 points per possession, good for dead last in the Summit by a substantial margin. Losing Tra-Deon Hollins, Tre’Shawn Thurman and Marcus Tyus all in the same summer proved to be a perfect storm and head coach Derrin Hansen quickly realized how valuable that trio was defensively. Mitch Hahn’s recurring shoulder issues last year poured gasoline on the fire, often leaving Matt Pile or Lamar Wofford-Humprey as the lone big inside – perhaps this explains why Omaha hit the brakes offensively last season after consistently playing at one of the fast tempos in the country:

While I don’t foresee any groundbreaking improvements in 2019, Pile appears to be an answer for some of the defensive cracks which shined through last year. He showed brief glimpses of his upside early on, but really came into his own as the season progressed, earning himself a spot in the starting rotation by early February. Putting his inexcusable free-throw shooting to the side – my mother would shoot better than 36% from the charity stripe – Pile posted the Summit’s highest block rate and was top-10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates during league play. 

Often times with young, athletic forwards, inflated shot-blocking stats are deceiving – there’s a laundry list of guys who chase blocks with reckless abandon, which often manifests in too many fouls or poor defensive rebounding positioning. 

Neither is the case with Pile. His league leading 7.8 block rate last year is validated by the alarming variance between the Mavs’ defensive efficiency when he was on the floor, versus when he sat – Pile’s presence in the paint bolstered Omaha’s defensive efficiency by a colossal .14 points per possession (1.06 vs. 1.20). 

To contextualize that discrepancy, the Mavs were a middle of the road defensive unit when Pile played. When he didn’t, Omaha was one of the worst defenses in college basketball. 

His offense is a major work in progress, but he won’t be asked to do much if Hahn can stay healthy. Hahn and Jackson are a formidable 1-2 scoring punch, and both are unique in their ability score inside and out at their respective positions. Hahn’s a 4, but can get kerosene hot from deep and is a sure enough ball handler on the perimeter. Jackson is a true 3-level scorer, and will often post-up smaller guards inside. 

Bottom Line: When Jackson and Hahn are both locked in, Omaha can compete with anybody in the Summit, but the consistency of the supporting cast will be mandatory this season. The development of perimeter pairing KJ Robinson and JT Gibson are headed in the right direction, and the arrival of Elisha Duplechan gives Hansen another playmaker in the backcourt. The minor roster upgrades are nice – Wichita State transfer Brett Barney will team up with Pile in the frontcourt – but they won’t be enough to springboard the Mavs into the upper half of the standings after falling off the ledge last year.

9. North Dakota

Key Returners: Marlon Stewart, Cortez Seales, Conner Avants
Key Losses: Geno Crandall, Dale Jones
Key Newcomers: Aanen Moody (plus a bunch of others)


Outlook: Hey, welcome to Summit Fighting NoDaks! Congrats on moving to what feels like your rightful home with the other three major Dakota schools, North Dakota St., South Dakota and South Dakota St. – Let the Dakota games begin!

Well, maybe curb the enthusiasm for now. There isn’t a ton to be amped about the 2019 roster, which features just three recognizable names from last season. Cortez Seales and Conner Avants tasted success during the peak of the Brian Jones era in Grand Forks two years back when the Fighting NoDaks rode the dazzling duo of Geno Crandall and Quinton Hooker all the way to the NCAA tournament. Seales and Avants were key contributors on that 22-9 squad, Jones’ best during his nine year tenure at the helm. They were well suited for their complementary roles on that team, each bringing their own defining skill to the equation – Seales is a steady ball handler and crafty penetrator, while Avants gobbles up every missed shot on the boards.

Top returning scorer Marlon Stewart and redshirt freshman Aanen Moody don’t hold a candle to the Crandall / Hooker tandem, but their basketball resumes indicate we may have only seen a sliver of their ultimate potential. Moody was a prolific scorer coming out of high-school and is regarded as a other-worldly shooter, while Stewart quickly asserted himself as the 2ndfiddle offensively to Crandall after transferring in from Creighton. While Seales and Avants are effective at their respective crafts, expecting a significant leap this year would be wishful thinking. Thus, Stewart, Moody or one of a bajillion newcomers need to break out in a big way in either a dynamic playmaker and / or efficient scorer type of capacity.

Bottom Line: Unless Kienan Walter starts chugging protein shakes and puts on some serious weight, the Fighting NoDaks need to find some sort of interior presence to replace Dale Jones, a versatile contributor on both sides of the ball. Jones’ departure guts the NoDaks of their top 3-point shooter (not named Geno Crandall) and defensive rebounder off a team that ranked 7thand 9thin the Summit in 3-point FG% and defensive rebounding rate, respectively. An unforeseen breakout from one of the new kids on the block could certainly debunk my prognosis here, but I feel fairly confident placing the Fighting Hawks on the ground floor of my projected Summit standings.