Summit Preview 2016-17

-Jim Root

Summit Preview

1.      Fort Wayne
     North Dakota St.
     South Dakota St.
     South Dakota
     Oral Roberts
     Western Illinois

All Conference Awards

POY: Mike Daum, R So., F, South Dakota St.
Coach of the Year: Jon Coffman, IPFW
Newcomer of the Year: Kellon Thomas, R Sr., G, IUPUI
Freshman of the Year: Cole Gentry, G, South Dakota St.


1.      Fort Wayne

Key Returners:  Mo Evans, John Konchar, DeAngelo Stewart
Key Losses:  Max Landis, Joe Reed, Michael Calder
Key Newcomers: Bryson Scott, Xzavier Taylor


Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament, 13-14 seed

Let’s just get this out of the way: I have an irrational love for the Summit League. Ever since the days of Caleb Green, Ken Tutt, and the dominant Oral Roberts teams in 2004-2008 (back when it was known as the Mid-Continental Conference, or Mid-Con), I’ve had a soft spot for this hodgepodge league from the nation’s heartland. Oakland had its share of great seasons before leaving for the Horizon League, but the conference has been owned by the Dakota States over the last 3 years, accounting for 5 of the conference’s 6 top-2 finishes over that three-year span and all of its NCAA bids. The only other team to crash the top-2 party? IPFW last year. That’s a segue folks!

Both Dakota State schools again have the talent to win the league this year, but I lean towards the Mastodons due to their excellent perimeter group and the outrageous versatility of sophomore John Konchar. A wiry, 6’4 185-lb. guard (or an undersized forward?), Konchar was somehow in the top 6 in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates, while also finishing 7th in steal rate, 17th in assist rate, 7th in turnover rate, 3rd in free throw rate, and 1st in effective field goal percentage. His O-rating in conference play was a completely ludicrous 140.9 while playing the 2nd-highest percentage of total minutes in the league, and he and SDSU’s Mike Daum should have a heated competition for Summit POY over the next 3 years.

Outside of Konchar, there’s still a lot to like here, particularly the backcourt featuring Purdue transfer Bryson Scott and point guard Mo Evans returning from academic ineligibility. Scott never quite carved out a big role in West Lafayette and he wasn’t very efficient, but the downgrade in competition coupled with his aggression off the bounce should make him a dynamic driver in the Summit. Evans, on the other hand, has already shown the ability to be wildly productive for the Mastodons, putting up shooting splits of 54/42/85 to pair with a 31% assist rate (~70th nationally if he had qualified). He had a shot at conference POY before getting spanked by the academic discipline paddle, but the experienced gained by guys like Konchar and DeAngelo Stewart while Evans was out could be invaluable this year.

Coach Jon Coffman is looking for a second straight regular season title (shared with SDSU last year), and he’ll do so with a three-point heavy attack and a largely man-to-man defense. The shooting onslaught will take a hit without Michael Calder and Max Landis, one of the country’s best gunners, but Evans, Stewart, and Konchar all shot over 42% from deep last year, and Charles Ruise and Kason Harrell will both be factors this season from the outside.

Defensively, the Mastodons are great on the defensive glass and avoid fouling, but they give up too many open outside shots in the three-point happy Summit. The interior defense should be boosted by Bradley transfer Xzavier Taylor reinforcing returning center Brent Calhoun, potentially allowing the guards to extend more, but we’ll see if that holds up. Between Evans and Konchar, IPFW has two versatile stars, and the supporting cast is good enough to win another regular season title.

2.      North Dakota St.

Key Returners: Paul Miller, AJ Jacobson, Dexter Werner, Khy Kabellis, Carlin Dupree
Key Losses: Kory Brown
Key Newcomers: Tyson Ward, Cameron Hunter, Seth Coatta


Postseason Projection: NIT

The basketball Bison aren’t quite as dominant as their 5-straight-national-title football counterparts, but they’ve had an excellent run recently under Saul Phillips (took the Ohio job)  and now Dave Richman. They won me a pretty penny with their upset of Oklahoma in 2014 (a ridiculous game where the Sooners had a 95% win probability in the final minute, mind you), and after a “down” year at 8-8 last season, the Bison return a lot of developing talent. Another tournament bid is within reach if things come together.

NDSU only loses one key contributor from last year’s team (wing Kory Brown), and between the trio of Khy Kabellis at PG and wings Carlin Dupree and Paul Miller, they should be able to adequately replace his production. The Bison play an incredibly intelligent game, refusing to turn the ball over and working to get good shots. The shooting let them down a bit last year, but Miller was highly efficient, and I expect better percentages from Kabellis and stretch-four AJ Jacobson this time around. Jacobson and fellow big Dexter Werner (much more of a widebody rebounder) know their roles (Matt Cox stamp of approval) and never turn the ball over, and Kabellis, solid as a freshman in that regard, should be even better with a full year of experience. None of the Bison squads in the past 3 years have been good passing groups (bottom 15 or so in the country in assist rate), but Kabellis, Miller, and Dupree are all good off the bounce, and thus should be able to create solid shots for themselves when needed. NDSU has solid young depth as well, with Malik Clements in the backcourt and Dylan Miller in the frontcourt.

Paul Miller had some injury issues last year as well as being suspended for a game in the Summit League tournament, but he’ll be counted on to be a leader on this team, along with seniors Dupree and Werner. Based on Miller’s on-court demeanor, I’d guess the suspension was nothing, but it’s something to monitor as the team looks to push SDSU and IPFW this year.  

The defensive end is where NDSU really excels, dominating the defensive glass and playing intelligently to avoid giving opponents easy points. Richman extended his defense more last year, taking away the three pointer against highly-efficient conference opponents, but they ended up getting gashed on drives against teams with effective drivers (Combs of IUPUI, Marshall and Parks of SDSU). With Werner and both Millers back, they should still be strong on the defensive glass, but losing Brown’s versatility will be tougher to replace on this end. Redshirt freshman Deng Geu may be able to help in there; he's a lengthy 6’8 athlete who was South Dakota’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014-15.

As the team returning the most production in the league and with a promising young coach, NDSU has a great shot at another conference title and tournament berth. They’ll need to improve the offense, but the experience and talent has the potential to do so, and sports fans in Fargo should have something to cheer for all the way into March.

3.      South Dakota St.

Key Returners: Mike Daum, Reed Tellinghuisen, Ian Theisen
Key Losses: Deondre Parks, George Marshall, Jake Bittle, Keaton Moffitt
Key Newcomers: Mike Orris, AJ Hess, Cole Gentry, Andre Wallace


Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16

Coming off an NCAA Tourney berth, the Jackrabbits must replace all three perimeter starters and their top reserve, leaving them extremely prone to regression in the standings. And yet somehow, I feel like I’m being too low with this prediction, and for one reason: Mike Daum, the Dauminator. Daum is an absolute manchild, the best offensive player in the league, and his presence alone will make everyone around him significantly better (including perfect stretch-4 Reed Tellinghuisen, who should get more open threes than he knows what to do with).

Daum reminds me a ton of my high school center, Mike Hojnacki, both in appearance and game, and I know only 1% of my readers will get that (hi Mom and Dad!). He’s not the most athletic-looking guy, but he can jump - simply watch him yam on Maryland's Damonte Dodd last year to see what I mean. He’s thick, he’s super long, and has exquisite touch, using an inside-outside scoring repertoire that makes him nearly impossible to stop. He was the Summit kPOY ('s player of the year award) last year despite playing only 53% of his team’s minutes (kind of absurd), and a 20-10 season is not out of the question for him this year. Additionally, Ian Theisen provides solid depth behind Daum as a rebounder and surprisingly decent shooter, and redshirt freshman Adam Dykman may contribute some at the 4 behind Tellinghuisen with his length and shooting touch.

The backcourt is going to be the biggest question mark for the Jacks this year, but they have some talented (if unproven in the Summit) players to plug in. Mike Orris comes over as a grad transfer from Northern Illinois, and he’ll likely battle with redshirt freshman Cole Gentry for the starting PG spot. Orris is a pass-first, tiny-usage guy who struggled with turnovers in the MVC, and while I think new coach TJ Otzelberger goes with Orris and his experience to start the year, the clearly more talented player is Gentry. He ran a ton of pick-and-roll in high school, showing an advanced ability to get to the rim as well as make the right skip pass when necessary (he reads the defense extremely well). After sitting a year behind George Marshall and Deondre Parks, he could be in for a huge year if he can seize major minutes.

Otzelberger was an assistant under Fred Hoiberg (and Lorenzo Romar, for 2 years), so I thoroughly expect the Jackrabbits to get up and down the floor, take a large chunk of threes, and avoid fouls on both ends. Daum is an interesting player in that system - he’s like a weird cross between Georges Niang and a Ford F-150 - but a Hoiberg disciple will be able to figure out how to use him best. Finding productive wings for the system will be the biggest challenge - someone from Skylar Flatten, Tevin King, AJ Hess, Lane Severyn, and Andre Wallace will likely need to emerge as a double digit scorer (my money is on Flatten as he returns from injury).

On the defensive end, they’ll likely play a lot of man, though they might not have the athletes to match up against high-level talents. Hoiberg’s teams were known for being in a ton of aesthetically-pleasing shootouts (primarily due to the lack of fouls on both ends of the court, keeping the game moving), and although Daum will get to the line a lot, I expect that to hold true for this squad (King got to the line a lot in a small sample size - we’ll see if that holds).

With Daum, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!, but the backcourt uncertainties are enough to have me back off on predicting a second straight conference title.

4.      IUPUI

Key Returners:  Darell Combs, Matt O’Leary, Nick Osborne, Jordan Pickett
Key Losses: Marcellus Barksdale, Mason Archie, TJ Henderson
Key Newcomers: Kellon Thomas, Ron Patterson, Stephan Bennett


Postseason Projection:

I don’t know what’s cooler about IUPUI - that four of their five probable starters began their college careers at different D1 schools (would be five if Nick Osborne hadn’t left the team - I couldn’t find out why on the internet), or that their coach is Jason effing Gardner, point guard of some super fun Arizona teams at the start of the 2000s (Salim Stoudemire, Channing Frye, Luke Walton, Andre Iguodala).  After an incredibly slow start last year, the Jaguars turned it around for conference play, finishing a respectable 9-7. With the return of leading scorer Darell Combs and the addition of two talented transfers in the backcourt, IUPUI should continue to rise up the league standings.

Combs was the key to the offense last year, a multi-dimensional threat who is equally comfortable knocking down threes (42%) or getting into the paint and to the free throw line (9th in the conference in fouls drawn per 40 minutes). He’ll have a lot of help this year with returning big man Matt O’Leary (a very good defensive rebounder and finisher in the paint) as well as transfers Kellon Thomas from Kent State and Ron Patterson from Syracuse. Thomas is a grad transfer, and after being forced to start at PG for the Golden Flashes (he’s more of an off-ball scorer), he should bring a nice combo of scoring and playmaking. He’ll split ball-handling duties with Combs and especially Patterson, a pass-first athlete who couldn’t break into Jim Boeheim’s 7-man rotation (why does he never go deeper than that?). The main reason he didn’t play much was his appalling three point shooting - 9/52 in his final year there - that’s 17%, for those of you without calculators. Expect an uptick due to higher confidence and a change of scenery, though. The Orange’s loss is the Jaguars gain, and with that three-headed backcourt plus TJ Henderson and DJ McCall off the bench, Gardner’s perimeter group looks set.

Defensively, Gardner will mix it up - predominantly a man-to-man team, he’ll throw in a few zone wrinkles, and he also isn’t afraid to press at times as well (a scheme that the quick-handed, rangy Patterson should thrive in). He’ll stress the defensive glass, and Osborne’s absence will be most noticed there. O’Leary is solid, and Osborne’s likely replacement, Aaron Brennan, is serviceable despite his lack of height, but unless redshirt junior Josh James returns fully ready to play a larger role than in 2014-15 (he sat out last year to focus on academics), the team will lack a true ass-kicker on the glass.

I almost picked the Yaguars (as Ron Burgundy would call them) to finish second in the league because of how much I love the additions of Thomas and Patterson, but after diving deeper on the Dakota States, I just couldn’t make that leap. The potential for a higher finish is certainly there if the three-headed backcourt meshes and James/O’Leary/Brennan/Evan Hall lock down the boards, but I’m just not quite ready to pull the trigger here.

5.      Nebraska-Omaha

Key Returners: Tra-Deon Hollins, Tre’Shawn Thurman
Key Losses: Jake White, Devin Patterson, Kyler Erickson, Tim Smallwood, Randy Reed
Key Newcomers: Mitchell Hahn, KJ Robinson, Renard Suggs


Postseason Prediction: None

If it seems like every Summit team is enormously fun, well, that’s because they are (and that means my biased opinion is doing an acceptable job of convincing you of that fact). What makes Omaha so awesome? Simple - the defensive ability of point guard Tra-Deon Hollins, when combined with the Mavericks’ up-and-down pace, resulted in Hollins averaging a ridiculous four steals a game. His appeal doesn’t stop there, however - he’s also the league’s best passer (28.6% assist rate in conference) and the maestro of an offense that put up 80 points in a half last season (oh yeah - and they lost that game somehow). Though he loses prolific running mates Devin Patterson and Jake White, Tre’Shawn Thurman is back, Marcus Tyus returns from injury, Kyler Erickson was granted a 6th year of eligibility, and Mitch Hahn was added via transfer. All of those guys should give the Mavs plenty of firepower this year.

As you might have guessed for a team that scored 80 in a half, Omaha thrives in transition offensively, having the 6th-shortest average possession length and ranking 18th nationally in % of possessions finished in transition. Coach Derrin Hansen wants to play extremely fast - top-5 nationally in tempo all 4 years in the Summit - and get easy baskets at the rim. The three guys that graduated were the Mavs’ only respectable shooters, and while Tyus returning is a boost in that area, getting to the rim will be even more crucial this year. Unsurprisingly for a team that plays small and at a breakneck speed, Omaha doesn’t get on the offensive glass. Thurman will be the “best” at that, but it’s relative, and his game is more based on muscling his way to the line and taking advantage of Hollins’s expert driving and dishing.

Because of their lack of shooting, the Mavericks really struggle against zones (and teams that are disciplined in getting back on defense), and Hansen will need to find a way to solve that. Hahn’s skill will be useful in the middle as a zone buster, but again, there just won’t be much spacing around him unless some of the bit players last year or newcomers step up as shooters.

Defensively, Omaha struggles on the glass as well, primarily due to their adamance in getting out in transition. They also don’t really defend the rim at all (and the addition of Hahn isn’t really going to change that), but behind Hollins, Tyus, and reserve Zach Jackson, the perimeter defense should again be stout, getting in opposing guards’ shorts and pressuring the living hell out of them to force a bevy of turnovers. If you can take care of the ball against them, you’ll be successful, but that’s like taking care of honey against a swarm of infuriated bees. Good luck!

Due to the system, the Mavs’ success will often be dictated by their opponents’ personnel, and so I think their upside in the standings is somewhat limited.

6.      Denver

Key Returners: Jake Pemberton, Joe Rosga, Thomas Neff, CJ Bobbitt
Key Losses: Marcus Byrd, Nate Engesser, Bryant Rucker
Key Newcomers: Luke Neff, Ade Murkey


Postseason Projection: None

After last season ended in massive heartbreak - 90% free throw shooter Joe Rosga missed a free throw to tie the game against Summit #1 seed South Dakota State in the tourney semifinals - the ultra-slow Pioneers should be an extremely hungry team this year. They’ll be young (they were 305th nationally in experience last year and likely won’t play any seniors this year), but many of the sophomores and juniors cut their teeth last year for Denver, and they won’t be as “young” as their ages indicate.

As mentioned, Denver played insanely slow under fired coach Joe Scott. Their tempo rankings over the last 4 years, starting in 2013, are 346, 350, 351, 351. Yep, that’s dead last. There’s a pretty compelling argument to be made that a team playing in the thin air of the Mile High City should be playing fast (to take advantage of opponents not being used to the air, or to take advantage of opponents who dabbled in the omnipresent marijuana options), and while new coach Rodney Billups will probably speed it up somewhat after assisting under Tad Boyle, it’ll still be a far cry from running opponents ragged.

Offensively, Scott and Billups have differing philosophies. Scott made a point to recruit shooters (consistently in the top-10 in effective field goal percentage while taking a colossal amount of threes), while Billups will focus more on pounding the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line. While they aren’t tall, Denver does bring back two bigger guys who excelled at getting to the line. CJ Bobbitt and Christian Mackey should enjoy the coaching change with interior play more featured, and Mackey in particular should blossom with his strength on the offensive glass. He’ll need to avoid fouling as frequently as he did last year, though, as they aren’t ultra-deep up front, though big body Daniel Amigo should at least enjoy the system change to something more interior-based. Both Bobbitt and Mackey drew a ton of fouls and will keep the Pioneers strong on the defensive glass as well.

The remnants of Scott’s shooters should give Billups some perimeter weapons as well, with Rosga and Thomas Neff both being sophomores who impressed in their first campaigns. Rosga in particular has the look of a future star in the Summit; he was overmatched at times physically last year, but an offseason in the Pioneer strength program should help him this year. Neff’s younger brother Luke should be a valuable addition to Denver’s shooting corps as well, with Duke Douglas and Jake Holtzmann giving some perimeter depth, though neither one is known for knock-down shooting. A sneaky exciting piece will be freshman Ade Murkey, a hyper-athletic wing from Minnesota who will immediately be this team’s best dunker while also having nice shooting touch.

Defensively, Billups (assuming he follows Boyle’s lead) will favor a conservative scheme, opting to dominate the defensive glass (certainly possible with Mackey and Bobbitt) while not extending pressure and making things difficult for opponents in the paint. The one danger with that scheme is the possibility of giving up too many threes, which could be a major problem in the highly-efficient Summit. Billups’s best perimeter defender will be point guard Jake Pemberton, a steal master in Scott’s half-court trapping schemes, but his penchant for turnovers on the other end unfortunately balance out his quick hands.

With a new direction under Billups, I expect some rough patches as the personnel adapts to a very different scheme. Scott unwittingly left some nice pieces behind, though, and with no seniors likely to play this year, Billups has a real chance to contend in 2017-18.

7.      South Dakota

Key Returners: Dan Jech, Tyler Flack
Key Losses: Tre Burnette, Shy McClelland, Trey Norris, DJ Davis, Casey Kasperbauer, Eric

Key Newcomers: Trey Dickerson, Matt Mooney, Carlton Hurst, Tyler Peterson, Triston Simpson


Postseason Projection:

Yet another Summit squad with major impact transfers coming in to pump up the backcourt talent, South Dakota hopes the newcomers can help vault them up the standings after a 5-11 finish last year. The Coyotes have only been in the Summit League for 5 years (and only a D1 program for 7 years), but they flashed potential with a 9-7 finish in 2015. The returning frontcourt of Tyler Flack and Dan Jech along with the three guard transfers bodes well for the future in Vermillion (I have no idea what part of South Dakota that’s in - I just know that as the electric city in Pokemon).

Third-year coach Craig Smith (not the former Boston College stud) (it’s amazing that the term “former Boston College stud” exists) roams the sidelines, a long-time Tim Miles assistant at Nebraska, Colorado State, North Dakota State, and something called Mayville State. Like many Tim Miles teams, Smith’s don’t really pay attention to the offensive glass, and given their personnel (Jech and Flack are thinner post men), that’s probably a smart choice. Ball movement is often neglected as well, but with the infusion of Trey Dickerson from Iowa at PG and Matt Mooney from Air Force on the wing, they should have two solid passers on the floor together frequently. Those two also led the ‘Yotes in scoring during their summer trip to Spain, and they should complement each other nicely as they set each other up for scoring opportunities. They’ll be running a high-setting motion offense, hoping to pull the defense up above the free throw line and create space inside for drivers (they don’t shoot many threes at all).

On the defensive end, they’ll play mostly man-to-man, with a hint of zone sprinkled in to keep opponents guessing. Flack showed some impressive ability as a shot-blocker last year, using his length to bother drivers and shooters alike, and sophomore Tyler Hagedorn has the height to deter would be scorers as well. I’m not sold on Mooney or Hurst as perimeter defenders, and their slow feet outside will likely allow opponents to continue their relentless rim attacks (which resulted in plenty of free points at the line). The Flack/Jech frontcourt should be stout on the defensive glass, traditionally a strength of Miles teams, and the rebounding definitely saw an uptick after Flack came back from injury halfway through the year.

South Dakota opens a new arena this year, and with the plethora of incoming talent, they have a chance to open it with a bang. The bench is a question mark - a lot of young players will have to step up, including Logan Power, newly granted a scholarship, and freshmen Triston Simpson, Tyler Peterson, and Brandon Armstrong. If all of the new pieces gel, this prediction could be low, but the teams above them are far more experienced in the Summit League.

8.      Oral Roberts

Key Returners: Jalen Bradley, Aaron Young, Aaron Anderson, Albert Owens, Kris Martin
Key Losses: Obi Emegano, Brandon Conley, DaQuan Jeffries
Key Newcomers: Dezmond McDaniel, RJ Smith


Postseason Projection: None

Few teams nationally (and probably no one else in the conference) relied on one player as much as Oral Roberts relied on Obi Emegano last year. He was #1 in possessions used in the Summit (41st nationally) and #2 in percentage of shots taken (29th nationally), all while putting up an excellent 113.5 O-rating, and he was almost the only Golden Eagle to average double figures in scoring (big man Albert Owens snuck in with his 10.3ppg average). For all of Emegano’s brilliance, though, Oral Bob struggled to a 6-10 conference finish, and without him this year, it could be a rough year in Tulsa (mark that as a first for me - a dig at Tulsa that didn’t involve Frank Haith).

Many of the role players around Emegano return, including Owens, shooter Jalen Bradley, point guard Aaron Young, veteran defender Aaron Anderson, and not-Coldplay-singer Kris Martin. They’ll all face a massive task stepping into larger roles, though, and who becomes the go-to scorer(s) for this team is a Rocky Mountain-sized question mark. Because of all the isolation that Emegano ran last year, the team’s ball movement was pretty poor, and the other guys were not responsible for much shot creation. Sorting out how they’ll get good shots should be longtime coach Scott Sutton’s biggest priority, and he may need to turn to one of his true freshmen, Dezmond McDaniel or RJ Smith.

Sutton is definitely the part of this team that makes me most nervous about the 8th-place prediction. In 17 years in Tulsa, Sutton has had only 2 seasons where the Golden Eagles finished under .500 in the conference (last year, and then his second year when he was still getting the program stabilized). He’s won double-digit conference games 13 times in those 17 years, repeatedly proving he can reload his roster and succeed in this league. So needless to say, I’m a little apprehensive about picking them 8th.

The most consistent element of Sutton’s Oral Bobby teams has been the perimeter defense. They’re disruptive, running opponents off the three-point line and forcing a relatively high rate of isolation plays, and that should continue with the returners on the perimeter. Where they’re a bit weak is inside. Owens didn’t rebound well for his size, and Sutton is hoping that sophomore Javan White can maintain his huge board rates while growing into a much larger role - like many young bigs, he also needs to avoid the constant foul issues that plagued him as a rookie.

The roster consistency here should help Oral Bob avoid falling into the cellar, but the lack of any star power will probably doom them to mediocrity (or worse). Martin and White could both break out as sophomores, and one will likely need to simply because of all of the production that must be replaced without Emegano, but it won’t be enough.  

9.      Western Illinois

Key Returners: Garret Covington, Jabari Sandifer
Key Losses: JC Fuller, Jalen Chapman, Tate Stensgaard, Jamie Batish
Key Newcomers: CJ Duff, Jeremiah Usiosefe


Postseason Projection: Miss the Summit Tourney again

Friday the 13th is known for crazy, eerie, supernatural stuff happening, but I don’t think anything has topped what happened on Friday the 13th last November - Western Illinois went into the Kohl Center in Madison and beat Wisconsin to start the season. It felt like the Upside Down in Stranger Things; left was right, light was dark, and forwards was backwards. The world eventually righted itself, though: Wisconsin went 22-13 and made the Sweet 16, while Western Illinois tumbled to a 10-17 (3-13) nightmarish campaign. What should have been a confidence builder for the Leathernecks turned into an aberration, and they didn’t even qualify for the Summit postseason tournament for the second straight year (only the top 8 go).

On the bright side, Western Illinois returns two talented players in wing scorer Garret Covington and point guard Jabari Sandifer, and if coach Billy Wright can figure out a way to boost the offense into “respectable” territory, the Leathernecks stand a chance to improve. Wright runs a motion offense, but it is pretty clunky, struggling with spacing and lacking any interior presence or drivers to threaten the paint. Sophomore Brandon Gilbeck showed some potential last year, but he’s hardly a go-to scorer, and it seems very likely the ‘Necks will be impotent from 2-point range again. The lack of aggressive drivers or creators off the bounce leads to them also struggling with extended perimeter defenses - they rely so much on Covington’s shooting that if he’s taken away, the offense stagnates even more than normal. When that happens, rather than forcing the ball inside and attempting to punish the defense, the ‘Necks often settle for poor shots. Wright has to hope that playing Sandifer alongside another PG, sophomore De’Angelo Bruster, alleviates some of that, although Bruster was a walking turnover in his first season.

Also on the bright side, the Leathernecks had the conference’s fourth-ranked defense last year, based on keeping running opponents off the three point line and walling off the defensive glass. Gilbeck is an excellent defensive rebounder who should only get better in his second year, and both candidates to play the 4-spot, Mike Miklusak and Jalen Morgan, do acceptable work on the boards as well, so that should continue to be a strength. Wright’s teams won’t force turnovers, but with a deeper stable of guards including freshmen CJ Duff and Jeremiah Usiosefe, they should still be able to take away the arc - crucial against the Summit, which had the highest aggregate 3-point percentage of any conference last year at 37.4%.

Back to the negative side - these guys all still go to school in Macomb, Illinois, a bleak place that I passed through often in my journeys from Milwaukee to Columbia, MO - not a lot going on there. They also probably won’t climb out of the league’s cellar this year with all the transfer talent coming in elsewhere and the total lack of a competent offense.