Last year I picked Oral Roberts to win the Summit. This was due to the promise of returning players and losses on other Summit League teams. The Golden Eagles had a pair of talented freshmen returning in Kevin Obanor and Deshang Weaver to pair with all-league forward Emmanuel Nzekwesi and solid lead guard Sam Kearns. As Brett Favre once said the pieces were in place. Yet the pieces never quite fit right last year. One assumed they couldn’t be worse than the 18-19 team defensively and they technically weren’t, (334th in defensive rating in 18-19) but still finished 223rd in defensive rating last year. That didn’t mean Oral Roberts wasn’t fun to watch, they finished with an offensive rating of 17th. As I preview the team below, it almost seems as simple as an Oral Roberts team competent defensively could be really dangerous.
Sophomore Max Abmas returns as the star in the backcourt after a fantastic freshman season. Abmas showed his ability immediately, scoring 14 in his debut against Oklahoma State and then 20 the following game in the Golden Eagles Home opener vs Houston Baptist. Abmas finished the season averaging 14.4 points per game while shooting 36% from behind the arc. Abmas will look to become more efficient after shooting 41% from the field in his freshman campaign. After Abmas there’s a lot of new additions in the Oral Roberts backcourt. Gone are Deondre Burns and Sam Kearns due to graduation and R.J. Fuqua also gone. Many are very high on freshman guard Jamie Bergens. Considered a 3 star recruit by 247 sports, Bergens is one of the highest-rated recruits to join the Summit League this season. Given the Golden Eagles’ recent history of freshmen shining in their first year, maybe Bergens is the next freshman star. Grad transfer RJ Glasper is another likely contributor in the backcourt. Glasper averaged 18.7 points and 5.1 assists at division 2 Arkansas Tech over his career there. Glasper is likely able to jump right in, he was originally a high major commit, redshirting at Arkansas his freshman year before transferring to Arkansas Tech. Don’t forget about sophomore Carlos Jurgens who redshirted last year after a solid freshman campaign. In his first year, Jurgens alternated between playing off the ball and being the primary ball-handler when he was on the court. Returnees D’Mauria Jones and newcomers Kareem Thompson, Jonathan Alexandre, Sheldon Stevens, and Justin Lovvern will also vie for backcourt minutes. Thompson and Alexandre both are big guards who could pose problems at their size for Summit League defenders, the 6’5 Alexandre and the 6’6 Thompson add size to a team that is already one of the largest in the Summit. Seems logical to assume that Thompson will make a more immediate impact than the freshman Alexandre.
The Golden Eagles start with two talented forwards with guard skills. Junior Kevin Obanor is one of the most intriguing players in the Summit League. The 6’8 225 lb Obanor has been amazingly efficient during his 2 years in Tulsa. Never averaging more than 8.4 shots per game Obanor averaged 14.4 points per game his freshman year and 12.3 his sophomore year. Obanor is one of the most gifted players on the block in the Summit and has shot just shy of 40% from three during his career. The problem is there are times Obanor just disappears. There were 9 games last year Obanor played 20 minutes or less and on the other side of the coin 7 games Obanor scored 18 or more points. Obanor finished the regular season scoring 2 points against Purdue Fort Wayne and scored 27 points and 10 rebounds in a 2nd round tournament loss to champion North Dakota State. Deshang Weaver is a player who many Summit fans may not remember after he injured his knee and redshirted last year. There are some similarities in the skillset of Weaver and Obanor. The 6’8 200 lb Weaver averaged 9.8 points per game his freshmen year while shooting 42% from the 3 point line. Weaver and Obanor may be as good a 1-2 punch in the frontcourt there is in the Summit after Douglas Wilson and Matt Dentlinger in Brookings. One should not underestimate the loss of all-league forward Emmanuel Nzekwesi, but if Weaver and Obanor can help replace Nzekwesi’s scoring load, there may be a replacement for the other things Nzekwesi brought. F/C Elijah Lufile was really solid in his first year with Oral Roberts. Lufile averaged 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. Seems likely Lufile averages at least 20 to 25 on a team without Nzekwesi. The 6’8 275 lb Lufile is built how you would think a prototypical post player should be built. The question is will additional opportunity lead to bigger things for Lufile. Lufile may need to bring more defensive production down low for the Golden Eagles to gain additional minutes. Junior Francis Lacis saw his production decrease in his sophomore year but as was said with Lufile opportunity is there. Lacis is able to step out and hit from outside the arc and had some impact blocking shots last year. Oral Roberts brings in more size in Freshman F/C Nate Clover. Clover already stands 6’8 255 and was named his district’s defensive player of the year 3 times in high school, so maybe he brings a needed inside presence. You are going to notice a theme here but freshmen F Ismael Plet rings in at 6’7 220 and continues the connection of the Oral Roberts program and players from the Netherlands, including fellow freshman Bergens.
In our preseason rankings, our writers ranked Oral Roberts tied for 2nd with North Dakota State. What an interesting team to tie with. North Dakota State whose consistent success and NCAA tournament births and a Oral Roberts team filled with promise whose last NCAA tournament trip was 13 years ago and last time winning double-digit conference games was 6 years ago. Forgetting recent history, Oral Roberts has a rich history. That season 6 years ago was the last of 12 consecutive seasons winning double-digit conference games. So which Oral Roberts team do we get. The team that disappoints or fills promise? I think the answer might be as simple as do they play defense this year. It could be argued that the Golden Eagles lost their best backcourt and frontcourt defender in Fuqua and Nzekwesi. However that team didn’t play much defense, so maybe it changes this year. Do returning players step up on that end? Maybe newcomers bring a newfound defensive intensity? Either way, if the defensive rating number changes we are looking at a new Oral Roberts team.