There is an understandable buzz surrounding the Summit League from a national perspective this season. Not only did Oral Roberts sweet 16 run put the Summit on the national map, but all 3 of the presumed Summit League contenders return almost all of their meaningful players this season. Frankly the only player not returning is forward Kevin Obanor for Oral Roberts. Not to mention some interesting additions for Western Illinois and Kansas City and the addition of St. Thomas. There may be more hype surrounding the Summit League this season than any previous season, for good reason.
I think this year’s Summit League can be split into 3 tiers. Tier one being teams 1-3, tier 2 4-7, and tier 3 8-10. While one can be pretty confident in the teams in those tiers, which order they finish in those tiers is absolutely up in the air. I choose not to argue with anyone who predicts either South Dakota State, North Dakota State, or Oral Roberts to win the regular-season title. There are convincing arguments for any of those teams. In fact, depending on how the non-conference goes, each of those teams has legit top 150 Net talent. In my opinion, all three are talented enough to scare any opponent in the NCAA Tournament this year.
Reaching the Summit Season Prediction
- Oral Roberts
- South Dakota State
- North Dakota State
- Kansas City
- Western Illinois
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
- St. Thomas
Picking the regular season is so challenging that I picked a different team in the preseason power rankings and switched to Oral Roberts here. The loss of Kevin Obanor cannot be underestimated, but neither can the defense that ORU played in the Summit League or NCAA tournament. The addition of 2 power 5 guards lifts Oral Roberts as well. South Dakota State was the team I originally had 1st and they are probably the logical choice as they return everyone. There is no argument coming from me with anyone who picks North Dakota State either. Personally, Western Illinois and Kansas City are the clear 4 and 5, and at the same time, South Dakota and North Dakota are well-coached and always seem to have players we are not anticipating who step up. There are a lot of unknowns with both Omaha and Denver and I feel they are safely 8 and 9. St. Thomas is building a nice 2022 recruiting class and gaining a lot of buzz in Summit League circles, however, I feel them finishing 10th is the safest prediction of the 10 predictions above. I have little doubt this will be quoted frequently by St. Thomas fans if I am incorrect on this.
Year 1 under Coach Rob Jeter, was one of the most successful in recent memory for the Leathernecks. The future looks incredibly bright for the Leathernecks going forward. Not only does Western Illinois bring back most of their major contributors from last season, but they also bring in several division 1 transfers. On Paper Western Illinois looks like a team with a lot more depth than last season. Leatherneck fans are understandably excited about this year’s version of Western Illinois basketball. The added backcourt depth and added size should make Western Illinois a dangerous team this season.
Projected Starters: Trenton Massner 6’2 (JR), Colton Sandage 6’2 (JR)
Massner is a transfer from Northwestern State. Massner put up impressive numbers last season, averaging 13.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals. Massner comes in as a do a little bit of everything type player. Massner gives the Leathernecks a needed additional ball-handler, wing rebounder, and defender. Massner gives Coach Rob Jeter some additional versatility that he did not have last season. Sandage spent much of last season off the ball but really started to flourish when he took over the starting role. Sandage finished the season with 9.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2 assists. Sandage will have a lot more help in the backcourt this season with the addition of Massner and other transfers.
Backcourt Contributors: Quinlan Bennett 6’4 (JR), JJ Flores 6’3 (JR), George Dixon 6’5 (JR), KJ Lee 6’8 (FR), Braden Lamar 6’5 (FR), Rob Jeter 6’0 (FR), Matthew Wade 6’0 (FR)
Bennett and Dixon both could see a lot of time in the starting lineup this season. Both are experienced guards who have started at the division 1 level who transferred to Western Illinois this season. Bennett is a Chicago native who transferred from Lamar. Bennett averaged 9.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals. Dixon is a transfer from Eastern Illinois. Dixon is a big guard who does most of his damage down low. Dixon had an incredible 2019-20 season. Averaging more than 11 points and nearly 9 rebounds a game. Dixon’s numbers dropped significantly last season averaging 5.1 points, and 5.6 rebounds. Dixon also averaged 1.4, and 1.7 steals per game those two seasons. Flores brought some great energy off the bench last season and is likely to provide a similar role this season. Lee is a highly touted recruit who brings an impressive size and skill combo to the Leatherneck backcourt but may have a tough time cracking this deep rotation.
Projected Starters: Will Carius 6’7 (SR), Tamell Pearson 6’10 (JR), Luka Barisic 6’10 (SR)
Few teams can roll out a frontcourt with the size that Western Illinois might roll out with this lineup. With both Pearson and Barisic standing at least 6’10. There were times last season where an exhausted Pearson would be the one player trying to hold down the paint for the Leathernecks, so he may be the most excited for the frontcourt help. Carius was voted a preseason All-Summit selection. Carius is a flat out sniper and in the second half of the season Carius took over for the Leathernecks. Carius finished the season averaging 14.7 points, and 5.1 rebounds last season while averaging 40% from behind the arc. Pearson started every game he played last season for Western Illinois. Pearson averaged 10.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and nearly a block a game. Barisic watched his playing time drop while playing at UTSA in Conference USA. Barisic started 21 games two years ago and didn’t start a game last year. Barisic can do some damage down low and also shoot 3’s at a better than 30% clip.
Frontcourt Contributors: Ramean Hinton 6’5 (FR), Cameron Burrell 6’7 (JR), Adam Anhold 6’8 (JR),
Hinton is the highest-rated recruit to ever step foot on campus at Western Illinois and might be the most talented player on the roster. In the second half of last year that ability flashed. Hinton was briefly off and then back on the Leathernecks roster. It is unknown what the issue is but may mean that Hinton may not be counted on at least at the beginning of the season. Burrell showed often last season that he may be one of the best offensive rebounders in the Summit. Burrell is a constant energy and effort guy that is a great complement to some of the other parts of the Leathernecks roster. Anhold missed a portion of the beginning of the season last year but joined and became a solid frontcourt contributor. Anhold averaged 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds last season.
South Dakota State
If this were a preview being written for the 2020-21 season those being written about would be primarily the same. South Dakota State returns, well basically everyone from last year’s Summit League regular-season championship team. All of the top 9 scorers return and really all of the players that received meaningful minutes last season. It certainly makes sense that Summit League voters picked the Jackrabbits to finish atop the Summit League this season. When you factor in the return of potential all-league guard Noah Freidel who missed a chunk of last season with mental health issues the pick seems even stronger. The Jackrabbits are a poised, veteran team that is set to battle North Dakota State, and Oral Roberts for the Summit League crown. I picked Oral Roberts as the regular season champ because I think they figured something out defensively in the conference and NCAA tournament run but there are 3 legitimate contenders and it wouldn’t surprise me if any of the 3 won.
Projected Starters: Alex Arians 6’4 (JR), Baylor Scheierman 6’6 (SO), Noah Freidel 6’4 (SO)
Every year except maybe this one there is a role player on South Dakota State from the previous year who becomes a star when departures open the door for them. Last season that player was Scheierman. In his first season in Brookings Scheierman averaged 6 points per game and then became an all Summit performer last season. Scheierman does everything well. He scores in the paint is deadly from behind the arc, rebounds, and finds open teammates. Last season Scheierman averaged 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. There is a legitimate next-level buzz on Scheierman and given his well-rounded game at 6’6 it’s easy to see why. Arians is that steady do a little bit of everything guard. In some of the same mold as Scheierman just maybe not at the same level. Arians took on the duties of lead ball-handler often last season and did well in that role. Similar to Scheierman the do everything stats are there, Arians averaged 10 points, over 4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists last season. Arians doesn’t get the same buzz as Scheierman or even Freidel but is a critical cog to the Jackrabbits’ success. Freidel is the wildcard. If he comes back healthy and ready he is an all-league type of player. Limited to 14 games last season, Freidel played limited minutes in two of those games. He absolutely has the potential to be the Jackrabbits leading scorer and showed it in his 12 starts last season. A gifted all-around scorer who is adept at taking the ball to the rim and shooting at an elite level from behind the arc. Last season Freidel averaged 16 points per game while shooting nearly 39% from the 3 point line.
Backcourt Contributors: Charlie Easley 6’2 (SO), Matt Mims 6’0 (SO), Jaylon Gentry 5’9 (JR), Zeke Mayo 6’3 (FR)
Easley played a pretty limited role last season for the first half of the season after transferring from Nebraska. In the last 10 games of last season after Freidel decided to take a break from basketball, Easley’s minutes and contributions went up. Easley brought constant effort and was an important backcourt defender. As with most of the South Dakota State backcourt, Easley was also great from behind the arc, shooting 41% from 3. Jackrabbit coaches and fans are excited about what Mayo will bring both offensively and defensively and Coach Henderson feels Mayo will contribute this season. Mims was a solid contributor and ball-handler last season while averaging 3.1 points per game.
Projected Starters: Douglas Wilson 6’7 (SR), Matt Dentlinger 6’8 (SR)
Dentlinger and Wilson enter their third season as the starting frontcourt for the Jackrabbits. Wilson was the 2019-20 Summit League Player of the Year and the odds on favorite to win the award going into last season. A lingering foot injury from the year before seemed to slow Wilson a bit at the beginning of last season, yet he still was an all-league performer. All reports out of Brookings are that Wilson returns this season fully healthy and that’s a dangerous proposition for opponents. A possibly not fully healthy Wilson averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 rebounds last season. Dentlinger is the steady frontcourt starter joining Wilson. Dentlinger’s numbers dipped a bit last season to just over 10 points and 4 rebounds but much of that was due to the growth of other players such as Scheierman, and Freidel. Also the emergence of newcomer Luke Appel. Wilson and Dentlinger return to give the Jackrabbits one of the most formidable frontcourts in the Summit League.
Frontcourt Contributors: Luke Appel 6’8 (JR), David Wingett 6’7 (SO), Aaron Fiegen 6’7 (SO), Broden Lien 6’8 (FR)
Often one wonders how many teams in the Summit players like Appel and Wingett would start for. Wingett started 7 games last year and gives the Jackrabbits another high-level shooter who shot 37% from behind the arc last season. Appel came on strong the second half of last season en route to 7.5 points per game. It would not surprise if Appel’s role continues to grow this season. Fiegen was used sparingly last season and minutes may be hard to come back by this season. Lien is a highly regarded freshman big, who has the ability to step out behind the arc. It looks like he may need to wait one season for major minutes though.
Last season South Dakota spent almost the entire season at the top of the Summit and may have been on track for an NCAA tournament birth, then tragedy struck. All-Summit point guard and potential player of the year AJ Plitzuweit went down with a devastating knee injury. The Coyotes still ended up finishing second in the regular season and were eliminated from the Summit League Tournament in the semifinals. Not only does the injury mean Plitzuweit missed the end of last season but it means he will miss the entire 2021-22 season as well. Also gone is the Coyotes’ other All-Summit guards Stanley Umude. Those two losses will make challenging for the Coyote to repeat last season’s success, but where will they finish? There are two schools of thought on that. The first is that Coach Todd Lee in his short 3 years in the Summit has shown his teams will half high-level success regardless of off-season losses. The thought is that similar to North Dakota State and South Dakota State the Coyotes reload and don’t rebuild. The second school of thought is that the losses of Plitzuweit and Umude are just going to be too much to overcome and the Coyotes didn’t bring enough in to replace their production. The Summit League voters seem to be leaning more towards the first school of thought predicting the Coyotes to finish 4th in the preseason poll and I tend to fall in the second camp predicting the Coyotes to finish 6th.
Projected Starters: G Xavier Fuller 6’4 (SR), Kruz Perrot-Hunt 6’3 (JR), Mason Archambault 6’0 (SR)
With Plitzuweit sidelined, it looks like Fuller’s time to shine as the backcourt scorer. Fuller contributed with 9 points and 5 rebounds a game last season and the Coyotes will likely need a jump in that production this season. With Pliztuweit out in the conference tournament, last season Fuller averaged 19.5 points per game. The 2 game sample is small but may have provided a glimpse into what Fuller is capable of if asked to take on more of the scoring load. Perrot-Hunt is a reliable shooter, defender, and distributor. Perrot-Hunt provides stability and effort to the backcourt. Archambault is the biggest unknown. Archambault only averaged 5 points per game last season in a reserve role, but showed glimpses as a ball-handler and scorer. Nearly a 40% shooter from behind the arc, Archambault seems like the most likely player to enter the starting lineup this season.
Backcourt Contributors: Boogie Anderson 6’3 (SR), Erik Oliver 6’1 (SO), Kanon Koster 6’4 (JR), Max Burchill 6’4 (SO), Keaton Krutcher 6’2 (FR), Damani Hayes 6’4 (SR),
Anderson the son of former Denver Broncos running back Mike Anderson is the player with the most usage from last year on this list. Between him and Koster they are the most likely to see an uptick in production among returning bench players. Oliver may be the player that no Summit League fans had heard of at the beginning of the year and is a household name at the end of it. Oliver was a prolific prep player in Wyoming and went on the put up tremendous scoring numbers at the JUCO level as well. Oliver may be the player that jumps into the AJ Plitzuweit role and we just don’t know it yet. Lee has shown they can recruit JUCO guards that can be big-time contributors in the Summit League. Krutcher was a prolific scorer and shooter at the prep level in Iowa.
Projected Starters: Tasos Kamateros 6’8 (JR), Nikola Zizic 6’11 (SO)
Kamateros came on slow last season before showing some major flashes later in the year. The preseason voters took notice of this also. Kamateros was a preseason All-Summit 2nd team selection. Kamateros averaged 8.4 during the season last year but that production moved to 9.9 during Summit League play, Kamateros showed an ability to score down low and rebound on a consistent basis. Zizic has great size for the Summit League and is an intriguing prospect. He may move from prospect to consistent contributor this season. Zizic already showed if given consistent minutes he may be one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the Summit League as he averaged 13.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per 40 minutes last year. The combination of Kamateros and Zizic may cause legitimate problems for opposing frontcourts this season.
Frontcourt Contributors: Brady Heiman 6’11 (JR), Hunter Goodrick 6’7 (SO), Graham Cassoutt 6’7 (FR)
Heiman missed a lot of time with injury last season after transferring from Nebraska, this played some into his limited role last year. At the same time so did his play. While Heiman showed a great ability to go up and block shots, he was inconsistent at best in the low post and on the glass. Slight of frame, but full of height and jumping ability, at 25 minutes a game Heiman could probably lead the Summit in blocked shots, but one wonders if he will ever be consistent enough to get those types of minutes. Goodrick played limited minutes last year but enters this year with minutes available in the frontcourt. Cassoutt will look to carve out a role in his first season on campus.
Fresh off the greatest NCAA tournament run in Summit League history there are some doubters in the Golden Eagles. Oral Roberts was put 3rd in the Summit preseason poll. There is some good reason for the questions. The Golden Eagles finished 4th in the Summit League (1 game basically separated 1-4) before going on their run in the Summit League and then the NCAA tournament. Oral Roberts also lost all-league forward Kevin Obanor who transferred to Texas Tech. So why does this writer put them in the top spot? Issac McBride who transferred from Vanderbilt has a skill set that fits this team perfectly, and Sir Issac Herron seems to be an immediate impact freshman. The group of players that fit their role perfectly is so different than previous Oral Roberts teams making them more dangerous than years previous to last season.
Projected Starters: Max Abmas 6’0 (JR), Issac McBride 6’0 (SO), Kareem Thompson 6’5 (JR)
Abmas is now a household name to almost all college basketball fans. Abmas finished last season as the nation’s leading scorer and took home a plethora of national awards. Abmas almost never left the field last season averaging 37 minutes a game. Not only did Abmas average over 24 points per game he also averaged 3.8 assists. Abmas really was the engine that ran Oral Roberts last season. The discussion out of Tulsa is that Abmas took the feedback that he got in the NBA draft process and ran with it. It’s reported that Abmas put on 15 lbs of muscle and is bigger, stronger, quicker, and faster this season. Thompson joined Oral Roberts last season from the JUCO ranks and was the perfect complement to the backcourt. Thompson gave the Oral Roberts backcourt size, scoring, shooting, defense, and effort. Thompson is one of the candidates for an expanded role with the departure of Obanor. There will be games McBride comes off the bench and games he starts. It will likely depend on matchups. Against teams with great backcourt size, it may mean McBride isn’t paired with Abmas as often and against smaller backcourts, they may run more together. Either way, both will play a big role, given Abmas played 37 minutes a game last year, there will be plenty of minutes they play together. McBride started his college career as a highly touted 4-star recruit at Kansas and transferred in the middle of his first year, he then went to Vanderbilt before coming over to Oral Roberts. The coaches rave about his defensive ability and shooting ability.
Backcourt Contributors: Carlos Jurgens 6’4 (JR), Trey Phipps 6’2 (SO), Jamie Bergens 6’2 (SO), Elijah Lawrence 5’10 (FR) Jonathon Alexandre 6’6 (SO)
Jurgens was an unsung hero in last year’s NCAA tournament run. Even though he is being put in backcourt contributors in this article, Jurgens will see plenty of starts this season. Jurgens is one of those do a little bit of everything guys that will do whatever is asked of him by his team. Phipps is a transfer from Oklahoma and will likely be a major contributor this year. The Tulsa native comes home to play. Bergens, Lawrence, and Alexandre may be in a bit of a numbers crunch this season.
Projected Starters: Francis Lacis 6’7 (SR), Deshang Weaver 6’7 (JR)
Lacis is a little bit in the same mold as Jurgens. He may begin the season in the starting lineup and may eventually give way to talented freshmen Sir Issac Herron. No matter what his role you can always count on Lacis doing whatever it takes to help the team win. Lacis always seems to make the right pass make a hustle play and after struggling to defend the post during the regular season, did a fantastic job defending the post during the NCAA tournament. As was said with Lacis, it is my feeling that one of these two players gives way to Herron in the starting lineup. Weaver is a fascinating player. His freshmen year he took the Summit League by storm and then missed his second season with an injury. Early last season it seemed that injury was slowing him down. Then by the end of the year, Weaver was a solid post defender, especially with Obanor frequently in foul trouble. Weaver has never met a 3 point shot he didn’t think he would miss but also impressed with his interior defense at the end of last year.
Frontcourt Contributors: Sir Issac Herron 6’9 (FR), Nate Clover 6’8 (SO), Ishmel Plet 6’7 (SO), Elijah Lufile 6’7 (SR), Luka Tekavcic 6’11 (FR),
Herron has been described as already the team’s best rebounder and best frontcourt athlete. I don’t think it’s impossible that he starts day one. The highly touted recruit might be the latest gem that Oral Roberts pulls from their most fertile recruiting area, Texas. Clover has fantastic size (6’8 240) and showed some defensive flashes last season. It will be interesting to see if in year two he can find some of those vacated frontcourt minutes. Plet is another good-sized player (6’7 225). Tekavcic stands 6’11 and like many European bigs sports ball-handling not typically seen by players 6’11. His stuff on tape looks good but hard to judge given the competition.
Last year was one of the toughest in Darin Hansen’s time as head coach of Omaha. The Mavericks lost their first 10 games in Summit League play and were in danger of finishing at the bottom of the Summit and being left out of the Summit League tournament until they swept a two-game series against Denver to finish Summit League play and moved past the Pioneers in the standings. This season the question on many fans’ lips is was last year an off year or the beginning of a trend. History would say that it was an off-year. Hansen’s teams typically finish in the top half of the Summit. On the other hand, the losses of Ayo Akinwole, Marlon Ruffin, and Matt Pile are going to be a challenge to overcome. The Mavericks bring in a couple of power 5 big men in Akol Arop, and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler and are hopeful they bring in an immediate talent upgrade. There are some who feel the Mavericks will bounce back this season unless Poor Bear-Chandler and Arop make a major impact this season and Robinson makes a big year 2 jump, I see a bottom 3rd finish for Omaha.
Projected Starters: La’Mel Robinson 6’0 (SO), Felix Lemetti 6’1 (JR)
Robinson was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult season for the Mavericks. Robinson comes into this season as the most likely candidate to take on the bulk of the scoring in the backcourt. Robinson came in strong in the second half last season, scoring in double figures 6 of his last games. Robinson finished the season averaging 9.3 points and 2.3 rebounds. Robinson seems better-suited playing in lineups where he is not the primary ball-handler. This leads to the prediction of Lemetti joining Robinson in the backcourt. Lemetti joins the Mavericks after playing last season at the JUCO level. Lemetti played his freshmen year at the Division 1 level, playing at Fairfield. Lemetti played in 25 games in his freshman season averaging 5 points per game. Last year at the JUCO level Lemetti averaged 9.9 points and 3 assists and seems primed to take on the lead guard role this season for the Mavericks.
Backcourt Contributors: Marco Smith 6’2 (SR), Nick Ferrarini 6’5 (SR), Sam’i Roe 6’1 (SR), Kyle Luedtke 6’5 (JR), Grant Frickenstein 6’5 (SO)
Smith started 12 games last season and averaged 4.2 points per game. Roe and Ferrarini also started a handful of games also. All seem to be mostly set up to have similar roles this season. With probably similar results. Ferrarini is one of the better shooters in the Summit League but is probably limited in other avenues. Luedtke and Frickenstein are unknowns given their limited playing time so far in Omaha
Projected Starters: Wanjang Tut 6’9 (SR), Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler 6’7 (SR), Akol Arop 6’5 (SO)
Tut is one of the most intriguing, baffling, maddening, and easy-to-like players in the Summit all rolled into one. Tut will have games where he looks unstoppable and then scores a total of 6 points the two games following. Last season Tut scored 31 points in a game against North Dakota State and then scored a total of 14 points in the next 4 games. In order for Omaha to take a jump in the standings this season, Tut is going to have to become a more consistent contributor this season. Tut can be a solid contributor on the defensive end. Poor Bear-Chandler is an Omaha native who transferred home for his senior season from Wichita State. Poor Bear-Chandler averaged 12 minutes last season but figures to see a significant jump in Omaha. Poor Bear-Chandler brings excellent size at 6’7 250 lbs and is an intriguing addition at the Summit League level. Arop like Poor Bear-Chandler is a former 3* prospect who transferred from the power 5 level. Arop is also an Omaha native coming home after transferring from Nebraska. Arop is an elite athlete at the Summit League level but comes in as a bit of an unknown after only playing 5 minutes per game in his freshmen season at Nebraska.
Frontcourt Contributors: Darius Hughes 6’7 (JR), Devin Evans 6’9 (JR), Dylan Brougham 6’9 (SO), Frankie Fidler 6’7 (FR)
Evans is a candidate for increased minutes this season. Evans has shown he is a competent rebounder and a decent athlete. Evans averaged less than 10 minutes a game last season but I could see that going up. Hughes has played both as a guard and a forward. Hughes prefers to play down low taking advantage of a quickness advantage against bigs and using his size against guards. Brougham played sparingly in year 1 and Fidler comes in with a reputation as an inside-outside guy who likes to shoot the 3.
North Dakota State
When you compare North Dakota State with the other two top competitors for the Summit League regular-season crowd, you could argue that the Bison maybe don’t have the top-level superstars of South Dakota State and Oral Roberts, but there is no arguing that they have high-level talent in their 1-7 or maybe even 8 on their roster. North Dakota State is probably the deepest team in the Summit. To that point, there’s a chance that uber talented freshmen forward Grant Nelson won’t even start for the Bison. There’s no other team in the Summit that you would say that about. The Bison return 6 players that averaged at least 20 minutes per game last year on a team that went 11-5 in Summit League play and took Kansas to the brink during non-conference play. In other words, the Bison return everyone. I picked them 3rd but really do feel that 1-3 in the standings will be separated by a game or two in the standings. Coach Dave Richman has had teams finish near the top or at the top of the Summit in years with far less talent. So this incredibly talented team bringing back every contributor with another year of experience under their belt is poised for another run-in the Summit.
Projected starters: Sam Griesel 6’6 (JR), Tyree Eady 6’5 (JR), Maleek Harden-Hayes (SO)
The first thing that jumps out at you with the Bison starting backcourt is their overall size. Almost unheard of in the Summit the Bison will often roll out a lineup that stands 6’5, 6’6, and 6’7. One could argue the lack of a pure point guard can hurt North Dakota State, but both Griesel and Eady are fully capable of handling the primary ball-handler duties, as is Jarius Cook. Add in the suffocating defense that the Bison play, partially because of this length and also because of consistent defensive intensity. Griesel made a jump in role and results last season. One of many North Dakota State players that does just a little bit of everything. Griesel averaged 11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3 steals and contributed a steal a game also. Eady spent a little more time with the ball in his hands than Griesel last season. The Bison lost now-departed Donald Carter to injury and immediately turned to Eady. Eady responded with eerily similar production to Griesel with 11.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. Harden-Hayes played limited minutes his first year in Fargo but was a major contributor last season. Harden-Hayes started 21 games while averaging 8.8 points and shooting 38% from behind the arc.
Backcourt contributors: Jarius Cook 6’3 (SO), Dezmond McKinney 6’0 (FR), Boden Skunberg 6’5 (FR), Andrew Kallman 6’4 (SR), Willie Guy 5’11 (SO), Grayson Haman 6’4 (FR), Kolbe Rada 6’1 (FR),
The first thing that comes to mind when you look at both the starting Bison backcourt and the potential reserves, is talented players are going to be waiting on minutes. Cook probably belongs in the projected starter section but frankly, it comes down to talented big Grant Nelson and the belief that he ends up in the starting lineup. If Nelson starts it probably comes down to either Cook or Harden-Hayes in the starting lineup and it may be a little of both. Cook started every game last year and was more of a backcourt scorer than distributor as he averaged less than 1 assist per game. McKinney was a regular bench contributor last season and averaged 14 minutes per game. Skunberg was a highly regarded freshman coming into last season but minutes were hard to come by. One player who I am intrigued by what their role looks like is Kallman. Kallman started every game of his career while at Division 2 Northern State and averaged over 13 points and 3 assists per game last year. I am not sure where he fits in this crowded backcourt but I would assume his transfer to the division 1 level would have come with his belief that he will play significant minutes. Guy transfers from the JUCO ranks and comes in with a reputation as a distributor and an outside shooter.
Projected Starters: Rocky Kreuser 6’10 (SR), Grant Nelson 6’10 (FR)
It’s not uncommon for a player like Kreuser to make the jump after their junior season from 10 points per game to an all-league player. It is a unique situation that Kreuser can come back with the extra year for an encore. Behind Oral Roberts All American Max Abmas, I had Kreuser 2 on my ballot for preseason player of the year. Kreuser is an absolute problem down low and developed a great first step last season. Not to mention he can also step outside. Kreuser shot 36% from behind the arc on almost 5 attempts per game. Last Season Kreuser averaged 15.7 points and 7 rebounds per game last year. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think he could go to 18 and 8 this season. I just got done describing one matchup problem so I might as well describe another. Nelson stands 6’10 with the quickness of a player 4 inches shorter and put on an additional 15 lbs of muscle on his frame this off-season. Like Kreuser Nelson also is willing to step outside and shot 36% last season from behind the arc. After a slow start to his freshmen campaign, Nelson became a major contributor off the bench for the Bison. Nelson’s athleticism, skill, and natural ability are something rarely seen from a player his size in the Summit League. This year might be Nelson’s year to shine.
Frontcourt Contributors: Andrew Morgan 6’10 (FR), Joshua Streit 6’8 (FR)
There are only so many minutes to go around and with players like Harden-Hayes, Griesel, and Eady it’s possible typical frontcourt reserve minutes get distributed among the Bison’s backcourt. Morgan brings some intriguing size at 6’10 230, and may assist when that size is needed. Both come with impressive resumes from the Minnesota High School ranks.
Last year North Dakota finished 5th in the league and after a couple of key losses in the offseason, I dropped them to 7th. The Fighting Hawks took a big hit when they lost All-Summit forward Filip Rebraca. To make the loss hurt even more, Rebraca didn’t really want to leave. Due to a visa rule that requires the school Rebraca attends to have his graduate program, Rebraca was forced to look elsewhere and landed at Iowa. The Fighting Hawks also lost a versatile wing in Seybian Sims, who transferred to Northern Kentucky. As bad as the losses of Rebraca and Sims hurt they may not even be the ones that hurt the most long term. Summit League Freshman of the Year Tyree Ihenacho decided to transfer, and surprisingly in what could be considered a lateral move, Ihenacho transferred to James Madison. The Fighting Hawks do brig back several major contributors and that should help cushion some of the blow. At least on paper what North Dakota brings in doesn’t match what they lost so a drop in the standings seems possible. Last season North Dakota only won one non-conference before finishing .500 in league play, so the hope is things will gel with all the new additions earlier this season.
Projected starters: Caleb Nero 6’2 (JR), Bentiu Panoam 6’2 (SR), Ethan Igbanugo 6’2 (SR)
Going with the returning players as the projected starters. If this were the typical lineup, however, it lacks size especially against teams like South Dakota State and North Dakota State. I really could see a mix of starting lineups in an attempt to match up with what the opponent brings to the table. The 3 listed above I tend to think are the 3 players that lead in backcourt starts. The other thing concerning this backcourt is none of the 3 players are what many would consider a true point guard. Nero joined as a transfer last season, and Fighting Hawk fans were excited about what Nero would bring. To say the results were mixed would be an understatement. Nero started the season scoring in double figures in 4 of his first 5 games. Nero then scored in double figures in only 1 of his next 7 games. Things ever seemed to completely click for Nero last year. Even so, coming into this year, Nero still feels like both the player who could make the most significant jump this year and at the same time the player most likely to get buried in the rotation. Panoam was almost the opposite of Nero. He came into the season buried on the bench and only scored 2 total points in his first 4 games. Panoam then came to life. Panoam scored in double figures 9 times after that slow start, including 5 of his last 6 games. Igbanugo is that steady 3rd guard in this lineup. Igbanugo averaged 8.3 points last year while shooting 37% from behind the arc. The Fighting Hawks bring a veteran backcourt that competes every night. If all 3 can take another step forward this season, it can lessen the impact of the backcourt losses this season.
Backcourt contributors: Paul Bruns 6’4 (FR), Matt Norman 6’4 (SO), Reid Grant 6’3 (FR), Jackson Anderson 6’2 (FR)
Bruns brings some intrigue as he comes in and Fighting Hawk fans are excited about his potential, of the 3 freshmen guards Bruns seems to be coming in with the most fanfare. . Bruns was the South Dakota Class A player of the year last season. Norman comes over from the JUCO level where he averaged 16.7 points and 5 assists per game. Norman also shot 36% from behind the arc. Both Norman and Bruns give the Fighting Hawks some much-needed backcourt size.
Projected Starters: Mitchell Sueker 6’9 (SR), Brendan Howard 6’5 (JR)
Sueker is the constant in the Fighting Hawks frontcourt. Sueker joined North Dakota last season after transferring from the division 2 level. Sueker was a solid if unspectacular presence for the Fighting Hawks last season. A good athlete with the ability to step outside. Sueker may need to carve out a bigger role this season after the loss of Rebraca. The North Dakota coaching staff is hoping they can hit again with a player from the division 2 level. Howard is undersized at 6’5 but is also built like a fire hydrant weighing in at 230 lbs. Howard was a 2 time player of the year for the state of Montana in high school. Howard transfers from Montana State Billings, where he averaged over 20 points per game. If the skill set can translate to the division 1 level, North Dakota should be in a good place in the frontcourt.
Frontcourt contributors: Brian Mathews 6’9 (FR), Tsotne Tsartsidze 6’9 (SO), Gavin McGrath 6’10 (FR), A’Jahni Levias 6’6 (FR), Brady Danielson 6’4 (JR)
Mathews has a bit of a feeling of a freshman who could contribute sooner rather than later. Mathews comes in with a defensive reputation and has excellent size for a freshman big (6’9 230). Tsartsidze and McGrath also bring some impressive size to the North Dakota frontcourt. Danielson gives a bit of shooting and a presence that has been around the program. Levias joins as a freshman eligibility-wise but played at the JUCO level last year. Levias put up impressive numbers last season averaging 17.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. If his numbers are any indication Levias may be in line for some big minutes this season.
Picking Kansas City fourth may be considered the biggest limb that I am out on. South Dakota fans and Western Illinois fans both have legitimate arguments why their teams are more deserving. If you look at the transfers from last year’s team, there is a strong argument against Kansas City. However, I think many Summit League fans are missing a couple of things. Josiah Allick is a legit All Summit candidate and I think will step nicely into the lead scorer role. Kansas City also brings back a healthy Arkel Lamar and Hidde Roessink who both only played in 5 games last year. They also bring in Evan Gilyard from New Mexico State who started every game last year and is a 38% career 3 point shooter,Gilyard brings with him the defensive intensity Kansas City is known for. In addition to Gilyard, the Roos bring in Anderson Kopp from Lamar to bring in additional shooting. In short, without McKissic, Kamgain, and Williams, this year’s version of the Roos may actually be a better shooting team that has more depth and has some intriguing options down low.
Projected Starters: Evan Gilyard 5’10 (SR), Marvin Nesbitt 6’4 (SR), Anderson Kopp 6’5 (JR)
Kansas City lost a whole lot in the backcourt from last year. Most notably is defensive player of the year and All Summit player Brandon McKissic who transferred to Florida. Also transferring were Franck Kamgain, and Zion Williams. The Roos seemed to do an adequate job replacing some of that lost production. An intriguing aspect of this year’s backcourt is if Nesbitt takes another step forward. Last season Nesbitt averaged over 10 points and 6 rebounds a game while averaging 2 steals per game. Nesbitt seems like the leading candidate to take on some of the backcourt scoring with McKissic’s departure. McKissic shot 46% from behind the arc while dropping to 32% last year. It is reasonable to think this year’s shooting will fall somewhere between the two. Gilyard is one of the reasons to expect McKissic’s shooting numbers to go back up. Gilyard gives the Roos ballhandling and a lead guard they were often missing last year. McKissic way too often took on the majority of the ball-handling and often didn’t have adequate help. Gilyard should help solidify the lead guard spot. Kopp joins Kansas City from Lamar. So far in his first two seasons, Kopp has been a free-firing guard who only shot 28% from 3. After watching a couple of Lamar games from last season (Kopp is one of two players to transfer to the Summit from Lamar). Kopp seems to have the potential to be more of a 35% type shooter from behind the arc. Given the strength of Kansas City’s frontcourt and Gilyard at lead guard, it stands to reason that Kopp has a lot more clean looks this season.
Backcourt contributors: Jacob Johnson 6’5 (SO), Sam Martin 6’0 (SO), Shemarri Allen 6’4 (JR), Timothy Barnes 6’3 (FR), Justus Peuser 6’1 (FR), Paxton Payne 6’2 (SO)
Johnson who started 11 games last season, seems to be the most likely to move into the starting lineup more permanently this year. Last season Johnson averaged 20 minutes a game, averaging 5 points per game and shooting 45% from behind the arc. Allen put up some impressive numbers at the JUCO level last year and Martin showed some flashes as he started to get some playing time later in the year last year. The two freshmen probably face a minutes crunch given the depth in front of them this year.
Projected Starters: Josiah Allick 6’8 (JR), Arkel Lamar 6’5 (SR)
Allick made a huge jump in his second season. A gifted big man with good footwork, quickness combined with size (6’8 240) Allick averaged 15 points and 6 rebounds per game. Allick did most of his damage down low but also showed the ability to step outside and hit 35% of his three-point shots. With McKissic moving on, Allick is officially the focal point of the Roos offense. Lamar was a mid-season addition from UMBC. Arkel made an instant impact for the Roos, Lamar scored 19 points and 9 rebounds in his 3rd game and 11 points and 9 rebounds in his 4th game. Lamar then suffered an injury. Played in 1 more game before his season coming to an end. This has the feeling of a redemption season for Lamar who first started playing college basketball in 2016. Lamar was a major contributor, starting 30 games for the UMBC team that shocked 1 seed, Virginia, in the NCAA tournament. This season is Lamar’s last opportunity in college basketball and I think he makes it count.
Frontcourt Contributors: Hidde Roessink 6’10 (JR), Caden Boser 6’8 (SO), Trace Evans 6’9 (SO), Blake Bowman 6’5 (FR), Jack Chapman 6’7 (FR)
Roessink is the most intriguing player that I didn’t list as a projected starter. Roessink transferred from Oklahoma State, and last year in his first year playing for the Roos, Roessink only played in 5 games before injury ended his season. In those 5 games (1 start) Roessink averaged 7.6 points and 4 rebounds. If Roessink can come back healthy this season, maybe he finds himself moving into the starting lineup at some point. Boser didn’t play much in the first half of his freshmen season and then when he did the 6’8 200lb Boser came out firing from behind the arc, shooting 43% on 2.3 shots pe game. Evans is a JUCO transfer from Australia, who if nothing else brings one of the best mullets you will ever see. The two freshmen seem to have a chance seeing the same fate as Kansas City’s frontcourt freshmen.
Jeff Wulbrun takes over as head coach at Denver and inherits a team that won only 1 Summit League game last year and spent the last two years of Rodney Billups tenure at the bottom of the Summit. As with many teams in the first year of a coaching change the Pioneers have a lot of roster turnover on the roster for Wulbrun’s first year. Wulbrun has to hope that Denver can have similar success to what Western Illinois had in Rob Jeter’s first season. Let’s take a look at the Pioneers.
Projected starters: KJ Hunt 6’3 (JR), Payton Moore 6’4 (JR), Tevin Smith 6’5 (FR)
Hunt may not be the flashiest of the members of the Pioneers backcourt, but he might be the most important. Denver has lacked solid lead guard play for a few years. Hunt absolutely brings that. Hunt started 46 games at McNeese State and then last year Morehead State prior to transferring to Denver and averaged 3.1 assists last year. Hunt also shot 33% from 3 last year while averaging 6.9 points. One thing that seems clear coming out of Denver is the staff feels they have a true lead guard. Smith is considered the highest-rated recruit to ever commit to Denver. Smith was rated the #8 recruit in the state of Illinois and had heavy interest or offers from Depaul, Oregon, and Wisconsin among many others. There is a good chance Smith is in the starting lineup right from the beginning for Denver. Moore is another division 1 transfer joining the Pioneers from Rice University. Moore started only 3 games in his time at Rice but brings size and some defensive ability Denver is looking for in the starting lineup. Moore hasn’t shown much ability to shoot from the outside in his career but has some impressive per 40-minute steal numbers.
Backcourt contributors: Coban Porter 6’4 (FR), Drake Muller 6’4 (SO), Taelyr Gatlin 6’3 (SR), Jordan Johnson 6’1 (SO) Korey Hess 5’11 (SO)
Porter falls into the same category as fellow first-year player Smith. A player the Denver coaching staff feels lucky to have on campus. Porter is the brother of Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter and this may have played a role in Porter signing with the Pioneers. Muller showed some flashes late in his freshman season and it will be interesting to see how that translates and Gatlin brings a veteran presence to the backcourt and has started most of his career at Denver but finds himself in a bit more crowded backcourt. Johnson averaged an impressive 7 assists at the JUCO level last season.
Projected Starters: Mikey Henn 6’8 (SR), Tristan Green 6’9 (SR)
This time last year not many Summit League fans knew the name Will Carius as he transferred to Western Illinois. I could see Henn similarly becoming a household name in the Summit League this year. I am not necessarily predicting Henn will be in all league conversations but I think he gives the Pioneers a similar stretch 4 forward that Carius gave Western Illinois. Henn has been well-traveled in college basketball playing one season at UC Davis, one at Cal-Baptist, and one at Portland. Last season at Portland Henn averaged 7.8 points, and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 40% from behind the arc. Green along with Gatlin is one of two players to start more than 12 games last year for Denver and return. It’s possible that the young frontcourt players start taking Green’s starter minutes as the season goes along but it seems Green will be starting in the frontcourt as the season tips off. Green is the top returning rebounder for Denver this season and also averaged 5.9 points last season. Green like Henn mentioned above is willing to step outside the arc averaging 3.1 attempts from behind the arc last season but only shot 29% from distance last year. One advantage that both Henn and Green having over the three freshman bigs brought in this season is none of the first-year players weighs more than 210 lbs, so this gives the advantage in minutes to the veterans with a little more bulk at least to start the season.
Backcourt contributors: Javonni Bickham 6’6 (JR), Touko Tainamo 6’9 (FR), Pedro Lopez-Sanvicente 6’8 (FR), Felipe Motta 6’7 (FR), James Sanders 6’3 (JR)
Bickham is a returning veteran who gives the Pioneers toughness down low. He is undersized at 6’6 for a player that prefers playing in the block but does come in at 225 lbs. All 3 freshmen come from an international background. Tainamo is from Finland and is a member of the Finnish national team. Lopez-Sanvicente is from the Canary Islands in Spain, and Motta is from Italy. The backcourt opportunities exist for all three to have a chance to contribute major minutes as the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.