By Jesse Kramer
The Summit League has a different makeup in the 2013-14 season as Denver entered and UMKC left. Two of last year’s title contenders, North Dakota State and South Dakota State, will once again be at the top of the league, although newcomer Denver is up there with them.
1. North Dakota State
North Dakota State fell six points shy of earning a NCAA tournament berth against South Dakota State last season, but now that Nate Wolters is gone, the Bison are the conference’s new favorite.
The Bison, who won 24 games, return every noteworthy player from last year’s squad. Taylor Braun, Lawrence Alexander, Kory Brown, and Mike Felt will form the best backcourt in the Summit League for the 2013-14 season.
Braun (pictured) is hands-down the conference’s best all-around player. He averaged 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, three assists, and 1.5 steals last season while shooting 43.5% on three-pointers. He scored in double figures in all but three games and had six games with more than 20 points.
Together, Alexander and Brown form a talented duo of floor generals. Alexander, who led the team with 34.2 minutes per game, averaged 10.8 points and 3.6 assists while Brown averaged 4.9 points and 2.1 assists.
Felt, who came off the bench in all but three games led the team with 70 made three-pointers and drained them at a 36.6% clip.
In the frontcourt, the Bison return Marshall Bjorklund, TrayVonn Wright, Chris Kading, and Brett VandenBergh.
Bjorklund, the country’s leading returner in field-goal percentage at 66.7%, averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds last season, good for second on the team in both categories. Wright started alongside him in the frontcourt and averaged 10.3 points, six rebounds, and 1.8 blocks.
Denver won 22 games last season in the WAC and looked poised for a NCAA tournament berth, but the Pioneers were upset by Texas State in the conference tournament. They went to the NIT and beat Ohio, but then lost to Maryland in the second round.
Now a member of the Summit League, the Pioneers have three starters returning, putting them in a position to challenge for the conference’s championship.
Leading scorers Chris Udofia and Brett Olson return to lead the charge. Udofia, who averaged 13.3 points, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks appears to be a clear first-teamer. Last season, the 6’6″ forward shot 51.6% from the field and ranked No. 50 in block percentage. Olson, a deadly shooter, averaged 11.4 points and drained 43.4% of his treys. He ranked No. 19 in effective field-goal percentage nationally.
Also returning for the Pioneers are guards Jalen Love and Cam Griffin. Love, a starter last season, averaged 7.2 points while shooting 52.8% from the field and 37.7% from long range. Off the bench, Griffin averaged 6.1 points, 1.8 assists, and 1.5 steals.
3. South Dakota State
After back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, South Dakota State is no longer the favorite in the Summit League. However, there is a still an outside chance at a three-peat.
Three starters return for the Jackrabbits this season: Jordan Dykstra, Brayden Carlson, and Chad White. Dykstra was a bit disappointing last year as his offensive rating dipped, but he still put up very solid numbers, averaging 12.5 points and 7.9 rebounds. He remained a strong three-point threat at 42.7% as well.
Carlson has the potential to replace Nate Wolters as the Jackrabbits’ leading scorer. He averaged 9.1 points and 2.5 assists last season and shot 36.2% on three-pointers. Two seasons ago, as a sophomore, Carlson was one of the nation’s most efficient shooters at 48.2% from the field and 46.1% on treys.
White also had a successful junior season, averaging 9.8 points and shooting 42.1% from beyond the arc. However, he also was a better shooter as a sophomore at 47.2%.
Two key players for South Dakota State next season will be senior Marcus Heemstra and sophomore Jake Bittle. Heemstra will likely replace Tony Fiegen at the second forward spot. The 6’9″ Iowa native averaged 4.2 points last season on 55.9% shooting. The Jacks also add Florida transfer Cody Larson, a 6’9″ forward who recorded 12 points in 25 games for the Gators.
Bittle will most likely step in as the starting point guard after averaging 2.5 points and 0.9 assists in 12.3 minutes per game last season. Bittle received lots of playing time during the first few months of the season, but an injury in late January sidelined him for 11 games. When he returned he only logged 6.3 minutes per contest.
The Jackrabbits also add freshman shooting guard Anders Broman, ranked a three-star recruit by Scout, to the team. Broman scored 70 points in a single game in both his junior and senior seasons.
In its first season in the Summit League, Nebraska-Omaha finished respectably in sixth place. The Mavericks now return four starters plus three key reserves, and they could make a big jump in the standings.
Leading scorer Justin Simmons, who earned All-Summit League Second Team honors last year, is back for his senior season. In 2012-13, he averaged 16.7 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.2 steals, and he shot better than 40% from beyond the arc.
Joining Simmons in the backcourt are starters CJ Carter and Alex Phillips. Carter led the team with 2.8 assists per game, and he also averaged 9.7 points. In 21.1 minutes per game, Phillips posted 8.2 points and shot 37.5% on three-pointers. Omaha also returns sophomore Marcus Tyus (6.0 ppg) and senior Caleb Steffensmeier (3.5 ppg, 1.6 apg)in the backcourt.
Up front, the Mavericks have seniors John Karhoff and Matt Hagerbaumer. Karhoff is the team’s top returning rebounder with 4.1 boards per game, and he also averaged 12 points and 2.4 assists. Hagerbaumer logged 13.8 minutes per contest and averaged 2.7 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 79.6% from the field.
5. South Dakota
South Dakota lost leading scorer Juevol Myles and backup guard Steve Tecker, but everyone else is back for the Coyotes.
Senior Trevor Gruis and sophomore Tyler Flack return to start in the frontcourt. Gruis, a potential all-conference first team player, averaged 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds last season while shooting 56.7% from the field. He posted a pair of double-doubles and recorded a career-high 26 points against IUPUI in February.
Flack had an impressive freshman campaign with 5.1 points. 3.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. He ranked in the nation’s top 100 for block percentage and could win conference defensive player of the year this season.
In the backcourt, the Coyotes return Brandon Bos (11.0 ppg, 42.7 3P%), Casey Kasperbauer (8.8 ppg, 41.9 3P%), and Karim Rowson (7.9 ppg).
South Dakota will add three transfers to its backcourt: Trey Norris (North Texas), Adam Thoseby (Utah State), and Tavian Pomlee (Iowa Western). Thoseby did not play much for Utah State, but he did have a 16-point burst against Idaho State, and Pomlee averaged 13 points for Iowa Western. He received offers from other high-quality mid-majors such as Kent State, Vermont, Northeastern, and Bucknell.
6. Western Illinois
Western Illinois earned a share of the conference title last season, but now the Leathernecks are in rebuilding mode. Terrell Parks and Ceola Clark III, who were starters and their two leading scorers, graduated, as did starting forward Jack Houpt and sixth man Don McAvoy III.
Senior Adam Link (9.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and sophomore Remy Roberts-Burnett (6.5 ppg, 2.0 apg) return to form a solid core, but after that the Leathernecks will be relying on freshmen and junior college transfers Mohamed Conde and Tate Stensgaard. Conde and Stensgaard both produced well at junior colleges last season, and if that translates to Division I they will add some much-needed depth to the frontcourt.
IPFW loses a pair of starters in Frank Gaines and Mario Hines, but everybody is back for the 2013-14 season. The Mastodons were the hottest team in the Summit League at the end of the season, winning six straight games before falling to South Dakota State in the conference semifinals.
Now, it’s time to see if they can put something together for a longer stretch this season.
IUPUI won only one Summit League game last season, so it is hard to imagine the Jaguars performing much worse. However, it is also unlikely that they will improve.
Six players from last year’s club are gone, including leading scorer John Hart. The one bright spot for IUPUI is the addition of Milwaukee transfer Ja’Rob McCallum, who averaged 7.9 points as a freshman in 2010-11.
Summit League Player of the Year
Taylor Braun, North Dakota State
Summit League Defensive Player of the Year
TrayVonn Wright, North Dakota State
Summit League Freshman of the Year
Anders Broman, South Dakota State
Summit League All-Conference Team
Justin Simmons, Nebraska-Omaha
Taylor Braun, North Dakota State
Chris Udofia, Denver
Marshall Bjorklund, North Dakota State
Trevor Gruis, South Dakota
*All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.