By: Eric Graves
The Summit League has been won by its two Dakota teams – the South Dakota State Jackrabbits and the North Dakota State Bison – the last five years, with South Dakota State winning three of the last five and North Dakota State winning two of the last five. However, there is a new number one in the preseason poll, Fort Wayne.
The North Dakota State Bison were captained last year by senior Kory Brown and junior AJ Jacobson. Now, since Brown has graduated, the reins of the team have been turned over to AJ Jacobson and a slew of new players. Coach Richman expects his only three freshman not with the red shirt tag to have a big impact, Tyson Ward, Cameron Hunter, and Jared Samuelson. Returners to the Herd will be junior guard Paul Miller and Senior forward Dexter Werner. Miller and Werner are going to be expected to perform at a high level this year as they were selected to the preseason All-Summit League first team and second team, respectively. Coach Richman and crew are expecting to try and make a run this year as they were projected to be third in the conference behind Fort Wayne and South Dakota State.
South Dakota State, the reigning Summit League Champion, has replaced head coach Scott Nagy and for the first time in 20 years someone else will be patrolling the sidelines for the Jackrabbits, T.J. Otzelberger. Coach Otzelberger brings a more up tempo style of play to the Jackrabbits. The Jackrabbits lost 4 players to graduation, including starting guards Deondre Parks and George Marshall. This greatly affects the Jackrabbits depth and they are going to need younger players to step up. Lucky for Coach Otzelberger he has the Preseason Summit League player of the year on his squad. Mike Daum coming off of averaging 15.2 ppg is looking to take over and dominate the Summit League this year.
Going into this season Fort Wayne has been chosen as the favorite to win the Summit League according to the preseason poll. Coach Jon Coffman has some talented players on his roster headlined by redshirt-sophomore John Konchar and senior Mo Evans. Konchar was named to 2016-17 Summit League Preseason First Team after averaging 13.0 ppg and 9.2 rpg last year. Evans got second team honors, and was second on the team in scoring last season with 16.9 a game and also added over 5 assists. The ‘Dons did lose their leading scorer Max Landis last year however, but are hoping to fill the void with young players who can step up. The Mastodons added 5 freshman to an already deep roster this season.
These are the top 3 teams in the Summit League this season with the best chance of taking home the championship at the end of the year. However, don’t count out Omaha who returns senior guard Tra-Deon Hollins who has been selected to the Preseason All Summit League First Team. However, Omaha lacks many other players to compete with the likes of SDSU, NDSU, and IPFW.
At the end of the season I see the Mastodons of Fort Wayne taking home the Summit League Championship and ending the 5 year streak of either of the two Dakota teams winning it. Fort Wayne has two impressive guards in Evans and Konchar along with a deep bench that will allow them to keep their key players rested. A Summit League championship would mean Fort Wayne’s first ever NCAA Tourney bid, and that could carry a lot of momentum into March.