Saturday, March 7, 2009

Summit League Tournament Preview

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The Summit League had a very solid season in 2009, finishing No. 17 in Ken Pomeroy’s conference ratings. It also featured an excellent race for the regular-season title, with the championship coming down to the final day, when North Dakota State defeated Oral Roberts to win the league outright. ORU finished 14-4, two games back of NDSU. Oakland was the only other team to finish above .500, going 13-5. Demonstrating how top-heavy the league was, every other team went .500 or worse.

Favorite: North Dakota State has been one of the more impressive mid-major teams all season, yet has not received much publicity. The Bison have a chance to make some noise come March, thanks to their outstanding three-point shooting prowess and ability to take care of the ball. Plus, they have two dynamite go-to players in Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman. Woodside is one of the most productive players in America, while Winkelman is a scoring and rebounding machine up front. Mike Nelson is an effective three-point shooter who can do a little of everything, and Michael Tveidt has been heating up recently.

Contenders: Oral Roberts had won five in a row before falling to North Dakota State in the season finale. The Golden Eagles have the league’s best defense and get plenty of points off offensive rebounds. They are led by one of the best guards in the conference in Robert Jarvis, a high-volume shooter and big-time scorer. Forwards Marcus Lewis and Kevin Ford provide balance inside with scoring and rebounding. Oakland won seven straight games to end the season, and is one of the two teams to beat North Dakota State. The Golden Grizzlies have a very efficient offense and can beat teams inside and out. On the perimeter, Erik Kangas is an outstanding shooter who can fill it up in a hurry, while Johnathon Jones is a fantastic distributor but can also score well. Up front, 6-11 Keith Benson is a load to stop with his size and finishing ability.

Sleeper: The league was very top-heavy and one of the top-three teams is almost guaranteed to win it, but a potential sleeper could be South Dakota State. The tournament is being held in South Dakota, albeit not on the Jackrabbits’ home floor, and SDSU has lost just three games in the state all year. Guards Garrett Callahan and Clint Sargent are very good shooters who can score, while Anthony Cordova is an efficient scorer and rebounder inside.

Prediction: Each of the top three teams in the Summit is capable of winning the conference tournament and getting the automatic bid. North Dakota State has an excellent offense and the best inside-outside duo; Oral Roberts has a fantastic defense and Robert Jarvis; and Oakland has the best trio and is on a hot streak. However, I’ve been professing my admiration for NDSU throughout the season, and it’s tough to go against them with an NCAA Tournament bid on line. Woodside and Winkelman want to end their careers with a bang, and they will -- in the NCAA Tournament.

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