LWOS continues its conference previews with the 2020-21 Summit League Basketball Preview. A coaching change and the graduation of three-time player of the year Mike Daum did not keep South Dakota State down. The Jackrabbits continued their winning ways with another league title. However, they failed to win the conference tournament for the second straight year. Still, the expectation is that SDSU will compete for a championship once more. They are the team to beat again.
2020-21 Summit League Basketball Preview
9. Denver Pioneers
Key Returners: Jase Townsend, Robert Jones
Key Losses: Ade Murkey, David Nzekwesi
Key Newcomers: Frank Ryder (Colorado), Eric Moenkhaus (JUCO), Kobey Lam (JUCO)
Denver struggled to seven wins last season, barely escaping the league basement. Furthermore, the Pioneers lose their best player from last year in Murkey, who was a second-teamer after averaging 18.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Jase Townsend will be expected to step up in his absence in the backcourt. The team is still fairly young overall, so this will be another developmental season. Denver can mark this season a success by staying out of last place.
8. Western Illinois Leathernecks
Key Returners: Anthony Jones
Key Losses: Kobe Webster, Zion Young, Ben Pyle
Key Newcomers: Tamell Pearson (UAB), Rod Johnson (Chattanooga), Will Carius (D-III)
Western Illinois will look like a brand new team this season. All five starters and all but one key contributor from last season are gone. None of those are bigger than Kobe Webster, who did it all for this team. He used his final season of eligibility to play in the Big Ten at Nebraska. The Leathernecks have some grad transfers of their own in Johnson and Carius, but there is not much experience otherwise. Unfortunately, it looks like it is going to be another down year for WIU as the roster works on finding cohesion.
7. North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Key Returners: Filip Rebraca, De’Sean Allen-Eikens
Key Losses: Marlon Stewart, Kienan Walter, Billy Brown
Key Newcomers: Caleb Nero (Weber State), Mitchell Sueker (D-II), Keybian Sims (JUCO)
North Dakota made a surprise run to the Summit League Championship Game in Paul Sather’s first year at the helm. However, most of the players responsible for that are gone. Production for the team this year will most likely shift from the backcourt to the frontcourt with Rebraca, an all-league honorable mention in 2019-20. Still, the guard slots will be filled with players who will need to step up behind Allen-Eikens. The Fighting Hawks are in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season.
6. South Dakota Coyotes
Key Returners: Stanley Umude
Key Losses: Tyler Hagedorn, Triston Simpson, Tyler Peterson
Key Newcomers: Brady Heiman (Nebraska), Mason Archambault (JUCO), Kanon Koster (D-II)
South Dakota finished in third place and was competitive throughout league play. That was largely due to the outstanding senior class they had. However, the Coyotes are having to regroup now and are hoping to do so with the incoming transfers. Umude is the only player left on the roster who is proven at this level. He averaged 16.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season on his way to making the second-team. South Dakota will end up taking a step back this season.
5. Kansas City Kangaroos
Key Returners: Brandon McKissic, Marvin Nesbitt Jr.
Key Losses: Jordan Giles, Javan White, Rob Whitfield
Key Newcomers: Hidde Roessink (Oklahoma State), Demarius Pitts (D-II), Jonathan Bolden (JUCO)
Kansas City returns to the Summit League after spending some time in the WAC. The Kangaroos were a balanced group last season, but graduation wipes away most of that production. Senior Brandon McKissic will be expected to step up as the team’s leader. He is strong defensively but will need to improve his offensive numbers. Plenty of new roles will need to be carved out with the roster, and there is inexperience abound. Kansas City can stay out of the bottom of the league, but there is not much else to be excited out.
4. North Dakota State Bison
Key Returners: Rocky Kreuser, Sam Griesel
Key Losses: Vinnie Shahid, Tyson Ward
Key Newcomers: Donald Carter III (JUCO)
North Dakota State powered their way to a split of the regular-season title behind the duo of Shahid and Ward. The Bison will have to figure out life without them heading into 2020-21. However, there is some promise in the frontcourt with Kreuser and Griesel back. Developing new guys into leaders at the guard position is what will determine how far this team can go. Still, the expectation is that NDSU will end up having a bit of a down season by their standards.
3. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Key Returners: Max Abmas, Kevin Obanor
Key Losses: Emmanuel Nzekwesi, Deondre Burns, R.J. Fuqua
Key Newcomers: R.J. Glasper (D-II), Kareem Thompson (JUCO), Sheldon Stevens (JUCO)
Oral Roberts received balanced production from its starters last season. Half of that production has moved on, but there is still a lot of talent left behind. Max Abmas made the all-newcomer team last season and will lead the backcourt, while Obanor is the leading man in the paint. There are a few guys who redshirted last season who should fill some of those holes as well. The Golden Eagles should find a way to stay in the top half of the league and potentially surprise for a title push.
2. Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks
Key Returners: Matt Pile, Marlon Ruffin, Zach Thornhill
Key Losses: K.J. Robinson, J.T. Gibson
Key Newcomers: Marco Smith (Kansas City), Sam’i Roe (JUCO), La’Mel Robinson (Redshirted)
Omaha finished in fourth place last season as their rising core of guys gained another season of experience. Four starters are back while a few newcomers will give this team some depth. Matt Pile averaged a double-double with 11.6 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. He also took home the defensive player of the year award and will lead the charge for this squad. The Mavericks are legitimate league title contenders and are looking to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
1. South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Key Returners: Douglas Wilson, Matt Dentlinger, Noah Freidel
Key Losses: Brandon Key
Key Newcomers: Charlie Easley (Nebraska), Luke Appel (JUCO)
South Dakota State was once again at the top of the league, though they tied for the regular-season title with rival North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are returning almost their entire roster, including the reigning player of the year in Douglas Wilson. He should have one or both of Dentlinger and Freidel joining him on the league’s first-team by the end of this season. The Summit League is South Dakota State’s to lose, and they should be a dangerous mid-major outside of the league as well.
2020-21 Summit League Basketball Preview Award Projections
Player of the Year: Douglas Wilson, South Dakota State
Wilson cashed in on his performances last season after winning both this award and newcomer of the year. He averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while also being efficient with his shot at 62.9 percent from the field. There is nothing to indicate he will not repeat here.
Defensive Player of the Year: Matt Pile, Nebraska-Omaha
Speaking of repeats, Matt Pile is looking to do the same thing with the league’s top defensive award. He held down the paint for the Mavericks last season with 1.5 blocks per game. However, he is also a rebounding machine, leading the league in defensive rebounds last season. His ability to change the game on the defensive end of the court is something special.
Freshman of the Year: Marcus Watson, Western Illinois
Western Illinois may be rebuilding, but they have a great piece to do it around in Marcus Watson. He was a McDonald’s All-American nominee coming out of Morgan Park High School in Chicago. He averaged 16.7 points and 10 assists in his final year and left Morgan Park as their all-time assists leader. He should make an immediate impact on a young roster and showcase his talents.
Newcomer of the Year: Rod Johnson, Western Illinois
Johnson comes to the Leathernecks as a graduate transfer after starting 30 games for Chattanooga last season. He averaged 6.4 points and 4.5 rebounds over 20.7 minutes per game for the Mocs. He should find himself in a starting role for Western Illinois right away. However, more may be asked of him than was at his prior school.
Sixth-Man of the Year: Marlon Ruffin, Nebraska-Omaha
The Summit League is full of repeat projections this season. Ruffin earned this honor last season after averaging 8.8 points and 3.3 rebounds off the bench last season. His role as Omaha’s top option off the bench should not change in 2020-21. However, he should be able to improve on his numbers as he continues to develop as a junior.
Coach of the Year: Derrin Hansen, Nebraska-Omaha
Hansen has been with the program throughout their Division I existence. He was close to getting them to their first NCAA Tournament berth back in 2019. However, the team he has now may be even better than that squad. Hansen will have to coach quite well to try and keep pace with South Dakota State this season. Still, he should have Omaha ready for the fight and will be well deserving of this honor.
All-Conference First-Team Projection: Max Abmas (Oral Roberts), Douglas Wilson (South Dakota State), Stanley Umude (South Dakota), Matt Pile (Nebraska-Omaha), Matt Dentlinger (South Dakota State)