Sunday, September 22, 2013

32 In 32: Summit League

Now a senior, Taylor Braun is one of five returning starters that attempts to lead North Dakota State out of Summit League and into NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of the Summit League)

Most other sites offer fantasy advice or last-minute pregame strategies on Sunday mornings, but that's not the way we do business around these parts. Start your day off the right way, with some college hoops as your kickoff appetizer, beginning with our latest "32 In 32" conference preview, this one profiling the eight-team Summit League, which our older readers will fondly remember as the Mid-Continent Conference:

1) North Dakota State - After a 24-win season that saw half of those victories come in Summit League play, the Bison are in prime position to capitalize on Oakland's move to the Horizon League by returning all five starters as North Dakota State hopes to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Ben Woodside helped the program nearly upset Kansas. Senior swingman Taylor Braun, the Bison's leading scorer last season, anchors an offense that also includes sophomore Kory Brown and point guard Lawrence Alexander in the backcourt, while seniors Marshall Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright take care of business in the paint. Sixth man Mike Felt and sophomore forward Chris Kading lead the supporting cast on one of the deepest mid-major teams in the nation.

2) Denver - Joe Scott and the Pioneers arrive in the Summit after spending the 2012-13 campaign in the Western Athletic Conference, where they went 16-2 in the regular season before reaching the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. Senior forward Chris Udofia returns after finishing as Denver's leading scorer last season, and has junior Brett Olson back with him to anchor the backcourt, with sophomore Jalen Love likely taking over at the point guard spot in the absence of Royce O'Neale. Junior Cam Griffin, who shot 50 percent from the field coming off the bench last season, will likely move into a starting role this year for the Pioneers.

3) South Dakota State - Reigning champions of the Summit League for a second straight year after a losing effort to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, the Jackrabbits now brace themselves for life after superstar guard Nate Wolters, and place the heart of their offense in the hands of second-leading scorer Jordan Dykstra, a 6-8 senior forward. Senior Brayden Carlson is the most likely successor to Wolters at the point guard position, with fellow fourth-year South Dakotan Chad White serving as his primary backcourt partner.

4) Omaha - The Mavericks have an inside/outside scoring duo whose capabilities are unlike most others in the league, as senior center John Karhoff and shooting guard Justin Simmons, a fellow senior who shot 40 percent from three-point range last year, are the two biggest pieces to the Omaha attack. Junior point guard CJ Carter will need to work on his ball handling for the Mavericks to better this prediction, and shooting guard Alex Phillips will hear his number called more frequently this season as well.

5) South Dakota - Four starters return for the Coyotes, which offsets the loss of leading scorer Juevol Myles. Senior and Manhattan native Karim Rowson mentors a young backcourt that includes a pair of rising star combo guards in Casey Kasperbauer and Canadian Brandon Bos, while 6-10 senior Trevor Gruis does the dirty work for South Dakota in the paint.

6) Western Illinois - Senior forward Adam Link becomes the main source of production for the Leathernecks after four of their top five scorers graduated. In the absence of last year's offensive leaders, Western Illinois will be looking for greater offensive results from junior point guard Remy Roberts-Burnett, who replaces Ceola Clark in the lineup.

7) IPFW - Luis Jacobo will be the name fans of the Mastodons will hear early and often this season, as the senior forward is given the keys to the car by Tony Jasick. Junior guard Joe Edwards will most likely start this year after serving as IPFW's sixth man as a sophomore, while seniors Michael Kibiloski and Kevin Harden should see a boost to their stat lines; particularly Harden, who played in only twelve games during his junior campaign.

8) IUPUI - The return of junior guard Ian Chiles to team with 6-9 senior center Mitch Patton gives the Jaguars an inside/outside scoring duo that could be hard to beat early in the year, especially if senior swingman Donovan Gibbs can make an impact. Senior point guard P.J. Hubert is IUPUI's top three-point threat, connecting on a 38 percent clip from beyond the arc last season.

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