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The Summit League was pegged as Oakland’s conference to lose from the outset of the season, and the Golden Grizzlies didn’t disappoint. While they didn’t necessarily dominate the competition, they still won the conference by two games over IUPUI, which finished 15-3. They were also Oakland’s lone league loss. Oral Roberts came in third at 13-5, while South Dakota State was the only other team to finish above .500 in Summit League play. Although Oakland might seem like the clear-cut favorite, that might not be the case.
Favorite: Oakland got off to a rough start, with losses to Kansas, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Michigan State and others, but the Golden Grizzlies bounced back in time for conference play. Although they only won six games by double-figures, a 17-1 record is impressive nonetheless. Oakland loves to push the ball and they get to the free-throw line often. The Golden Grizzlies have one of the best mid-major big man in Keith Benson, while Johnathon Jones is a playmaker extraordinaire. Derick Nelson is a versatile offensive player, and Larry Wright can really shoot.
Contenders: IUPUI handed Oakland its only loss of the conference season, beating the Golden Grizzlies by 24 in late January. The Jaguars have won 12 of their last 14 games. They are an extremely effective offensive team, making shots from inside and outside the arc and also getting to the free-throw line. Defensively, they force turnovers and pick up steals. The forward tandem of Robert Glenn and Alex Young is unparalleled in the Summit, while Leroy Nobles provides balance. Oral Roberts was inconsistent at the start of the conference campaign, but won nine of its last 11 games overall to finish the season. The Golden Eagles are a good rebounding team that knows how to create fouls and play solid defense. They have four players averaging at least 12 points per game, including an excellent frontcourt trio in Dominique Morrison, Michael Craion and Kevin Ford. Warren Niles is the main man on the perimeter.
Sleeper: IPFW won four of its last five games to end the season, and it has an impressive four road conference wins. Offensively, the Mastodons take care of the ball and hit threes, while they control the defensive glass and contest three-point shots. Forward Deilvez Yearby carries them on offense, while guard Ben Botts leads a deep crop of perimeter gunners.
Prediction: I loved this Oakland team heading into the season, and I haven’t seen anything to make me pick against them. Sure, the Golden Grizzlies didn’t obliterate every opponent they faced, but they did what they needed to do in order to get to 17 wins in the conference. Benson is capable of taking over games in the paint, and Jones can get into the lane with ease. I expect to see IUPUI reach the title game. If Oakland can slow down Glenn and Young, I think that its inside-outside balance and multiple weapons will be too much. Oakland will get to the Big Dance.