The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, December 29, 2015 10:20 pm

Summit League has earned some respect

Greg Jones | The Journal Gazette

Often times the Summit League is called one of men’s college basketball’s best-kept secrets, and the usually overlooked, but talented and deep, league might be getting some notice this year after completing a record-breaking nonconference schedule. 

The conference’s RPI (Rating Percentage Index) stands at No. 10 nationally after peaking at No. 8 on Dec. 19. It is the second-best RPI of any mid-major league, and the previous high of eighth was the best all-time RPI for the Summit League. 

The conference is on pace to beat its best-ever end-of-season RPI of 16 in 2011-12. 

The Summit League has four wins against teams from Power-5 conferences (three against Big Ten) and has a Top 25 win when Western Illinois knocked off then-No. 17 Wisconsin, last year’s national runner-up, on Nov. 13. It was the first time a Summit League team beat a ranked Big Ten team on the road.

The other Summit League wins were against Minnesota by South Dakota and South Dakota State.

With 73 nonconference wins, the league has surpassed the previous record of 70 set in 2013-14. It has already established new standards for Division I and mid-major wins this season.

Conference play starts tonight when Oral Roberts travels to Fort Wayne to play IPFW at Memorial Coliseum in the first league game.

The following is a rundown of some things to watch for during conference play.

5 teams

South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits have jumped to the top of the league with the second-best scoring offense (78.3 points) and defense (62.9) and top scoring margin (13). South Dakota State was No. 15 in the latest mid-major poll.

North Dakota State: Paul Miller’s 18.1 points are second-best in the Summit League and have helped the Bison to the top of the league in the nonconference.

IPFW: The Mastodons continue to surprise some as they continue to match the 2013-14 team for the school’s best-ever Division I start. The Mastodons come into conference play as the hottest team with three straight wins.

Western Illinois: After the season-opening win at Wisconsin, the Leathernecks now come in at No. 22 in the mid-major poll. Western Illinois is second in the league in scoring margin at 7.9 points per game. 

Oral Roberts: Along with the league’s top scorer in Obi Emegano, the Golden Eagles also have the top rebounder in Brandon Conley, who has three double-doubles and four 10-rebound games thus far. A four-game losing streak, though, has Oral Roberts 5-5 in its last 10 games.

4 players

Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts: The redshirt senior guard was named the preseason conference player of the year and is averaging 22.4 points and 4.4 rebounds and making 83 percent (84 of 101) from the free throw line. As of Dec. 21, Emegano ranked in the top five nationally in six offensive categories, including second in points (296).

Tra-Deon Hollins, Omaha: The junior guard leads the nation in steals (57) and steals per game (4.1). He is also scoring 10.5 points and handing out 6.1 assists.

Mo Evans, IPFW: Despite scoring at least 20 points in four straight games, the junior guard has yet to be named the league’s player of the week. Evans leads the Mastodons with 16.8 points and 4.5 assists.

Deondre Parks, South Dakota State: Parks was named the league’s player of the week for Dec. 7-14 and is averaging 17.8 points and 5.3 rebounds. The senior guard was named to the preseason all-conference first team. 

3 games

Oral Roberts vs. IPFW at Memorial Coliseum, today: The first league game pits two offensively dangerous teams. The Golden Eagles are averaging 78 points per game, while IPFW comes in at 74.

Omaha at South Dakota, Jan. 9: Both teams could be league-title contenders but more importantly they are the two top-scoring teams in the conference with Omaha (87 ppg) No. 1 and South Dakota (78.3) No. 2, and it should simply be fun to watch. The rematch will be Feb. 10 at Omaha.

North Dakota State at South Dakota State, Feb. 25: The second of two matchups between the two teams (the other being Jan. 16 at North Dakota State), this one could go a long way in deciding the league champion. 

2 storylines

How well will the preseason polls hold up? South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Oral Roberts, IPFW and South Dakota were picked as the top five teams in the preseason. The order before the conference season begins is South Dakota State (11-3), IPFW (10-4), North Dakota State (9-4), Western Illinois (7-4) and Denver (8-5), with Omaha (8-6) and Oral Roberts (8-6) right behind. 

IPFW lives by the 3-pointer and dies by the 3: The Mastodons are by far the top 3-point-shooting team in the league with 125 made 3s out of 330 attempts, a mark of 38 percent, which puts them as the No. 3 team. Problem is, the Mastodons have also given up 91 of 246 (37 percent), last in the league.

1 fact

The Summit League has 26 road wins, which leads all Division I conferences this season. IPFW has a league-best five, which is tied for second nationally.

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