Are Summit Hoops Earning Respect?
Summit League basketball, long considered a second tier league in the hinterlands of the upper-Midwest, could eventually turn into a 2-bid conference
As it stands today, a Summit League team could dominate the pre-conference schedule, win the regular season championship and be left out of the NCAA Tournament in the chilly Midwestern deep freeze or at best be granted an NIT berth, if they drop the league championship tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in early March. The Summit League is a 1-bid conference.
Such is the fate of a mid-major conference.
But, based on recent success, Summit League hoops are moving in the right direction. The league has moved up to an overall rank, based on the RPI, of #10 overall out of 32 Division I conferences. If the Summit League can maintain this position, it would be an all-time high level water mark for the conference.
The RPI (rating percentage index) is unforgiving and accurately reflects where teams stand in relation to all other teams. To move up nationally, Summit League teams must compete against and beat more challenging, higher tier opponents.
This year's Summit League non-conference success started when Western Illinois trumped then No. 17 Wisconsin of the Big Ten, followed eight days later with South Dakota State (SDSU) triumphing over TCU. Then in a 4-day span this last week, the University of South Dakota beat Minnesota and SDSU also trounced the Gophers on Tuesday night. The North Dakota State Bison were up on Illinois, of Big 10, by 14 points early in the second half before faltering. They did top North Dakota in Grand Forks Friday night 69-67. Omaha, considered near the bottom of the league in league-wide pre-season polls, gave a very good Colorado (8-1) team all they could handle in Boulder and also took Minnesota and Missouri to the wire.
Summit League teams have a 40-28 record and boasts a 34-11 mark against fellow mid-major teams. The Summit has six teams in the RPI top 151 (Denver is at 252). The highest ranked team in the Summit is #28 Oral Roberts. They fell to #30 Oklahoma (#7 AP Poll) Friday night 96-73.
“Our league’s probably way better than what people anticipated, and maybe even better than some within the league thought too,” South Dakota Jackrabbits coach Scott Nagy said. The non-conference portion of the schedule is a situation where league teams find themselves cheering for everyone else, Nagy said. “We all compete, and we all want to beat each other,” he said.
The Summit League is also adding new facilities to attract top recruits. Omaha just opened $75 million dollar multi-sport Baxter Arena. The University of South Dakota and North Dakota State University are building or playing in new facilities. "There's a commitment there in our league," Commissioner Tom Douple said. "I don't know of any other league that has so many new arenas and that helps in recruiting."
The Summit League has shown it can compete successfully against larger programs. However, they still likely need to place two to three teams consistently in the top 50 RPI before the Summit can earn the 2-bid 'respect'.