- Matt Cox
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Mike Daum, Sr., South Dakota St.
Coach of the Year: Derrin Hansen, Nebraska Omaha
Newcomer of the Year: Kevin Obanor, Fr., Oral Roberts
Freshman of the Year: Kevin Obanor, Oral Roberts
1. So-Long Mike & John
Two of the most decorated players in the history of the Summit will embark on their last Summit championship journey this week - Mike Daum and John Konchar - in hopes of extending their collegiate careers for one last crack at NCAA tournament glory. Daum’s Hall of Fame shrine will have to be engraved in size 10 font to fit in all the accolades he’s accumulated over the years, but one frontier still remains - advancing past the opening round in the Big Dance. After eclipsing the 3,000 point career scoring mark, another Summit tournament title followed by a NCAA tournament victory would add another layer of icing on top of an already sweet, sweet legacy.
For Daum to get another crack at the postseason spotlight, something tells me he’ll have to go through his arch nemesis, John Konchar, who has defied all logic with the numbers he’s compiled over his 4-year career at Purdue Fort Wayne. As referenced by Brian Shaw of Midcontinent Communications, Konchar is the only player in NCAA Division 1 history to score 2,000 career points (2,034), grab 1,000 career rebounds (1,133), dish out 500 career assists (540) and record 200 career steals (267). His box scores are routinely littered with crooked numbers across all stat columns, a testament to his uncanny ability to impact the game in so many ways.
2. Mavericks Blazing
After a disappointing season last year, it was easy to dismiss Nebraska Omaha as a legitimate threat to challenge for the Summit title in 2019. Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps we should’ve seen the writing was on the wall indicating a breakthrough campaign was in the cards for Derrin Hansen and his veteran-laden Mavericks.
The sharpshooting stretch forward Mitch Hahn missed nearly half of the 2018 season with a recurring shoulder issue, while the Mavs struggled to adjust to life without Tra-Deon Hollins, Tre’Shawn Thurman (currently at Nevada) and Marcus Tyus, who collectively consumed an overwhelming majority of the offensive possessions the year before. Thus, last season’s slippage in the Summit standings was simply the fallout of re-tooling the roster and re-jiggering the lineups.
Amazing how much can change in a summer - with Hahn back and healthy, along with another year of on-floor chemistry development between Zach Jackson, KJ Robinson, JT Gibson and Matt Pile, everything fell into place this season. Had it not been for an untimely slip up at Oral Roberts last week, Omaha would’ve been finished right alongside South Dakota State at the top of the Summit standings in a two-way tie for first. Still, the #2 seed is an enviable position, which allows the Mavs to delay the inevitable date with the Jackrabbits until the title game (assuming they take care of their business).
3. Denver Dumpster Fire
I have no idea what sparked the fire in Denver this season, but how in the world a team with this level of experience and high-major talent wound up in dead stinkin’ last will never make any sense. The Pioneers returned two full-time backcourt starters in Joe Rosga and Ade Murkey, and brought in two of the top transfers in the Summit in Creighton import / swiss-army knife Ronnie Harrell and Colorado import / rebounding machine Tory Stewart-Miller.
In just the second game of the season, the Pioneers proved this newly assembled machine could play with just about anyone in America when they took Kansas State right down to the wire in Manhattan. From there, everything came undone and after months of sustained futility, Rodney Billups finally threw in the towel on the season - Billups removed all but one upperclassmen from the starting lineup for four of the final five games of the season, with Joe Rosga as the lone veteran in the first 5. Sure, Tory Stewart-Miller struggled to stay healthy all year, but that alone is nowhere near a strong enough excuse to explain how the Pioneers finished below North Dakota and Western Illinois in the final standings.
The Summit made no alterations to its championship format, opting to keep the tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While this is technically a neutral site, I’m sure the six schools not named South Dakota and South Dakota State would be quick to cite the convenience of the one hour drive from both Vermillion and Brookings to Sioux Falls.
With this being North Dakota’s inaugural season in the Summit, the league now has an awkward 9-team field, which leaves Denver as the odd man out, an appropriate punishment for one of the most disappointing seasons in all of college basketball.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
There’s no question that South Dakota State is the class of the conference, which explains why the oddsmakers have the Jackbunnies slated as heavy favorites to win their fourth Summit championship in just as many years - for context, 5dimes has SDSU -235 to win the tournament, compared to +195 for the field.
According to bracketmatrix.com, South Dakota State is projected to be seeded somewhere in-between their last two tournament seedings. The Jackrabbits are currently pegged as a 14-seed, a couple notches down from last season’s 12-seed but a couple spots up from the 16-seed in 2017.
Dark Horse Team
We’re going into pitch black territory for this dark horse pick: the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles…
Coached by Paul Mills, a longtime disciple of Scott Drew at Baylor, ORU closely emulates the teachings of Mills’ former mentor. The Golden Eagles play a tricky matchup zone and utilize supreme length at the forward position to disrupt cross-court and interior passing lanes. Emmanuel Nzekwesi has become a household name around the Summit, but recurring injuries have paved the way for freshman forward Kevin Obanor to take centerstage this season. Obanor, built similarly to his elder front court partner Nzekwesi, has been a revelation for Mills of both sides of the ball. His per minute rebounding statistics are nearly better than Nzekwesi and Obanor has already showcased an advanced offensive skillset with a silky smooth outside jumper.
It all comes down to health. Along with Nzekwesi, starting point guard Sam Kearns has been in and out of the lineup all season and has been MIA the last two games. Mills recently said he expects to have a full roster back for the conference tournament, which makes the Golden Eagles a dangerous 5-seed and legitimate threat to spoil Daum’s quest for four straight conference tournament titles.
(1) South Dakota State over (8) Western Illinois
(2) Nebraska Omaha over (7) North Dakota
(3) Purdue Fort Wayne over (6) South Dakota
(5) Oral Roberts over (4) North Dakota State
(1) South Dakota State over (5) Oral Roberts
(3) Purdue Fort Wayne over (2) Nebraska Omaha
(1) South Dakota State over over (3) Purdue Fort Wayne