On paper the Summit League went a mere 3-1 yesterday, and certainly there was nothing terribly impressive about South Dakotalosing at home in OT to Canisius. By the same token even though it was a road win, the league office won’t be printing t-shirts to commemorate IPFW’s 82-76 victory at Tennessee-Martin.
But you’ll forgive Summit League commissionerTom Douple if he directs your attention to the day’s other two results. Oral Roberts won at Xavier, 64-42, and South Dakota State defeated Washington in Seattle, 92-73. Factor in margin of victory, strength of opponent, and the fact that both games were road wins, and that has to rank as the league’s most impressive December day in a very long time.
There’s an asterisk by ORU’s win, of course. The Musketeers were missing three starters — Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, and Dez Wells — after the trio was suspended for their participation in last weekend’s brawl with Cincinnati. Nevertheless all the Golden Eagles could do is play the opponent that faced them, and it’s worth noting that this is indeed the Summit League’s top team. What Scott Sutton’s group lacks in perimeter prowess they make up for in offensive rebounding. Leading scorer Dominique Morrison is most effective when he gets to the line — which ordinarily he does often, though in yesterday’s laugher he didn’t need to — and 6-5 senior Michael Craion manufactures steals in prodigious quantities.
Oral Roberts might be the favorite in this year’s Summit race, but yesterday they had to take a backseat to South Dakota State in wow factor. The Jackrabbits faced an opponent that was (mostly) at full-strength (Washington was without seven-footer Aziz N’Diaye, out with a knee sprain), and Scott Nagy’s team dominated said opponent from start to finish. When a Pac-12 team hosts a Summit League opponent, it’s the home team that’s supposed to have the star guard that toys with the opposing defense and drives into the lane at will. Tell that to SD State star Nate Wolters. The 6-4 junior recorded 34 points and seven assists without committing a single turnover on a court where non-conference opponents don’t win games very often. By the final stages of this game there were entire possessions where no other Jackrabbit touched the ball.
For the past two seasons the Summit’s been Oakland’s plaything (two-year conference record: 34-2) but now with Keith Benson safely spirited away to the NBA the league is open for participation from other programs. Circle January 7 on your calendar, when ORU will host SD State in Tulsa. This may still be a one-bid conference come March, but yesterday the Summit showed just how dangerous a one-bid conference can be.