After trying to make sense of the SWAC, it's time to move on with the conference previews as the college basketball season gets closer to reality. Next up is the Summit League, formerly known as the Mid-Continent Conference.
1) Oral Roberts - Eddie Sutton took four teams to the NCAA Tournament, and his son Scott may be on the verge of going back there with this year's incarnation of the Golden Eagles. Four starters return, and swingman Michael Craion could also be back after missing last season with a broken foot. Dominique Morrison could be the Summit Player of the Year with another season like the junior campaign enjoyed by the 6-6 forward a year ago, one in which he averaged 19.5 points per game while shooting an astounding 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Junior Damen Bell-Holter and sophomore Steven Roundtree, the two leading rebounders for Oral Roberts last season, are also back to spearhead the effort on the glass while Roderick Pearson quarterbacks the team from the point.
2) Oakland - Many have learned never to count out the Golden Grizzlies in Greg Kampe's long tenure in Michigan; and even though the coach loses star center Keith Benson to the NBA as well as sharpshooter and former St. John's transfer Larry Wright to graduation, the coach gets the other two members of his backcourt troika for one more year. Reggie Hamilton will be the man who makes the motor run for Oakland. The 5-10 senior point guard averaged over seventeen points and five assists per game, and backed it up with a 49 percent shooting clip from the field that included 37 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore Travis Bader, who shot 44 percent from long range to lead the conference last year, joins Hamilton in the Oakland guard corps; and swingman Drew Valentine will be expected to help pick up the slack in the rebounding department with the departures of Benson and Will Hudson.
3) South Dakota State - Take a look at the Jackrabbits if you believe in the concept of means to an end. With only one senior in 6-4 guard Griffan Callahan, South Dakota State rode the combination of youth and experience to a 19-12 record; and the best part about last year's squad is that nearly everyone returns this season. Point guard Nate Wolters is only a junior, and comes into the 2011-12 campaign on the heels of a season in which he was second in the Summit in scoring (19.5 points per game) and led the league with over six assists per night. In addition to Callahan, Wolters will also get help from sophomore forward Jordan Dykstra, the Jackrabbits' leading rebounder last year.
4) IUPUI - The biggest challenge surrounding the Jaguars (at least to casual fans) is to spell out what their program stands for. Nonetheless, Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis gets hometown swingman Alex Young back for his senior year after he led the Jaguars in scoring, blocked shots (not bad since he's only 6-6) and steals last season. With John Ashworth no longer around, fellow Indy product Stephen Thomas will likely step into the starting point guard spot while Sean Esposito could see some increased opportunities off the ball. Christian Siakam will be the force inside for IUPUI after leading the team in rebounds a year ago.
5) IPFW - Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne replaces former head man Dane Fife with his top assistant Tony Jasick after Fife replaced Mark Montgomery (now in charge of Northern illinois) on Tom Izzo's Michigan State bench. The Mastodons, in addition to probably having one of the coolest nicknames in Division I college basketball, return leading scorer Frank Gaines; but are compromised outside with the loss of sharpshooters Ben Botts and Zach Plackemeier. Trey McCorkle, a 6-10 senior, will be counted on to make plays inside while Gaines creates opportunities from the backcourt.
6) North Dakota State - Two years ago, the Bison were the darling of the NCAA Tournament when they nearly defeated Kansas in the round of 64 thanks to a spectacular performance from the immortal Ben Woodside. Ben is unfortunately no longer around; but NDSU returns four of last year's starters, including seniors Drew Lundberg and Eric Carlson. Taylor Braun, a 6-7 sophomore swingman, joins forces with fellow second-year player Marshall Bjorklund to provide the Bison with two threats on each side of the ball that could also be potential double-double per night guys for head coach Saul Phillips. Sophomore guard Mike Felt returns as the team's top distance threat, as he shot 47 percent from downtown last season.
7) Southern Utah - The Thunderbirds look to leave the Summit with a bang since they will compete in the Big Sky for 2012-13 and beyond, and leading the charge for Southern Utah will be junior forward Jackson Stevenett, the team's only player to average double figures in scoring a season ago. Senior center Matt Massey, a 6-9 Australian, is the top rebounder to come back; and the Thunderbirds will also enjoy continuity at the point in the form of senior guard Ray Jones, whose four assist per game led the team through a year in which they went 7-11 in Summit play.
8) Missouri-Kansas City - The Kangaroos lose both of their top two scorers, but senior Reggie Chamberlain will be there to make sure that UMKC doesn't experience too much difficulty in replacing their productivity. Chamberlain comes back off of a junior campaign in which he averaged over eleven points per game while also shooting a team-high 40 percent from three-point range. Swingman Trinity Hall and Cameroon import Bernard Kamwa will probably move into the starting lineup on an everyday basis after seeing most of their playing time off the bench last season.
9) South Dakota - The Coyotes are still in the process of making the jump from Division II, but that doesn't mean they won't be competitive in the Summit League this season. Senior guards Charlie Westbrook and Louie Krogman, the team's two leading scorers last year, are back for more; and so too are big men Trevor Gruis and Ricardo Andreotti, the latter a native of Brazil.
10) Western Illinois - Rounding out the Summit League are the Leathernecks, who are undoubtedly looking to improve on the heels of a seven-win season that only yielded just two conference victories. Guard Ceola Clark returns for his senior season after a toe injury limited him to just six games last season, and he will be aided by Tommie Tyler, a 6-3 senior who, like Clark, was limited due to injury a year ago. Jack Houpt, a 6-7 swingman, is the top returning scorer; and his 36 percent clip from three-point range should help bolster an offense that averaged just 57 points per game last season.