A little more than 24 hours from now the IUPUI Jaguars will take to the court as the curtain rises on the 2011-2012 basketball season. Head Coach Todd Howard will make his sideline debut Tuesday night when the Jags face IU-East in exhibition action. Before the season tips I wanted to share with you my Summit League preseason ballot. The league sends out a ballot in early October and asks the coaches, media members, and SIDs to vote for the preseason awards. Media members and SIDs can vote for anyone, while coaches cannot vote for any of their players. Ballots were due on October 6th and for the second straight season I struggled to place the teams in spots 1-10 and figured out early on the league is stocked with excellent guards and wing players.
Let’s begin with the Summit League preseason player of the year IUPUI Sr. F Alex Young. I voted for AY5 and was a little surprised he took home the award. In my mind it was close between Alex and Oral Roberts G/F Dominique Morrison. The Summit League does not release votes, only the winner and it even surprised Alex that he was tabbed the preseason POY. “I thought the vote would go to (Reggie) Hamilton (from Oakland) and not to me. It’s an honor for me and the program, but all you get for it is a larger target on your back.” My vote went to Alex because 19 times out of 20 he is the best player on the court. He led the league in scoring and like Morrison will be a heavy favorite to be selected all-Summit first team for the third straight year. Coach Howard believes that is an honor that is often overlooked. “How many players and programs can say they have a three-time first team performer? Not many and that is a huge honor for Alex and I’m proud of him to be named the preseason player of the year because it shows him just how respected he is in this league. Sometimes as a coach you don’t want your guy to get such an honor to keep them hungry or grounded, but in this case I was rooting for him to take home this award to get him going in the right direction.”
The big key for Alex and the Jaguars is who will compliment his scoring? Morrison leads a loaded Oral Roberts team while AY and the Jags need to find players who can take over the scoring left by graduating all-league performer LeRoy Nobles.
Here is the Summit League first team as voted on by the coaches, media, and SIDs:
Michael Craion F Oral Roberts; Frank Gaines G IPFW; Reggie Hamilton G Oakland; Dominique Morrison F Oral Roberts; Nate Wolters G South Dakota State; and Alex Young (POY) F IUPUI
My first team did not match the one voted on and in fact Micheal Craion didn’t even make my 11 man ballot. He deserved preseason consideration a year ago and lost his sophomore season to a foot injury. I kept him off of my ballot because I expect other players to have more of an impact than Craion. Since my vote was cast he scored 14 and pulled down 16 boards in ORU’s Blue-White scrimmage. There was more too it than the injury. When the Jags visited ORU late last year I heard Craion was not working hard in coming back from his foot injury. Perhaps he knew it was a redshirt season and was not putting in the effort other expected. In any case, the stories shared with me last February did factor in my preseason vote. If he is back and the player he was a freshman, then he deserves the preseason nod and will be a load down on the blocks.
Here is my first team ballot (in order of vote 1-6):
Alex Young; Dominique Morrision; Reggie Hamilton; Nate Wolters; Damen Bell-Holter C Oral Roberts; and Jordan Dykstra F South Dakota State.
As you can see I didn’t have Gaines and of course didn’t vote for Craion. Why Bell-Holter and Dykstra? Bell-Holter was a pain the rear a year ago for IUPUI and overall he averaged 13.3 ppg shooting 51% while pulling down 7.8 rebouds per game. I think he is an excellent big man who can pass the ball and clean up the boards. Dykstra is a terrific player and is only a sophomore. He scored 11.3 per game shooting 56% from the floor and was 34-66 from behind the arc. I voted for Dykstra because when the season is over I think he can be a first team performer. Frankly, my choice for Bell-Holter (5) and Dykstra (6) was not easy based on who I voted 7th and 8th. I found a log jam in spots 5-8, more on that in a moment.
Here is the Summit League second team voted by the coaches, media and SIDs:
Damen Bell-Holter; Ceola Clark G Western Illlinois; Jordan Dykstra; Warren Niles G Oral Roberts; and Steven Roundtree F Oral Roberts
Now, here is my second team in the order I voted them 7-11:
Steven Roundtree; Frank Gaines; Ceola Clark; Warren Niles; Christian Siakam C IUPUI
While I had Bell-Holter and Dykstra on my first team the rest of the voters placed them on the second team and I’m fine with that. I think that Roundtree is in the discussion for the back-end of the first team it’s scary to see that Oral Roberts may have 4 of the top 8 players in the league. For my vote Gaines was a second team performer after putting up 14.6 ppg and snagging 6.2 rebounds per game. I was not as high on Gaines because IPFW had some excellent shooters last year that opened things up for Gaines. If he can duplicate his numbers then he will end up a first team performer. He has to prove to me that he can do that. (There you go, like he cares what a radio thinks…but I have a vote Frank!)
Earlier I mentioned not voting for Craion based on an injury and here I go and vote Ceola Clark 9th overall. Clark was the reigning defensive player of the year and 1st team performer entering last season. An injury robbed him of most of the season and he is back as a 5th year senior. For me, Clark has proven he can play in this league and because of that got my vote for the 2nd team. Had Craion been a two-time all league performer than h likely gets my vote, but I held him back because he has only had one year, while Clark has multiple years in the league. Make sense? Probably not to ORU fans, sorry. They will be just fine because another preseason pick Warren Niles is a player I really like even though he has torched the Jags over the years. He is an easy choice for me and it shows you the depth at guard when a player like Niles who averaged 14.3 per game is the 4th best guard on my ballot. So, on my ballot ORU had 4 of the top 10 players in the league.
My last pick went to the most improved player during the 2010-2011 season Christian Siakam. He finished the year with a double-double in 4 of the Jags last five games. Siakam really grew as a player last year finishing the year with 8.9 ppg and 6.6 rpg. Over those last five games of the season including two tournament games he scored 15.2 ppg and grabbed 10.4 rpg. If he does THAT this season, then the Jags will be a team to reckon with and he will be first team all-league. That is a big THAT and it is something I’m looking forward to finding out.
Picking the preseason finishing order of the Summit League is a Vegas roll of the dice. For me there is no question that Oral Roberts is the preseason pick. Scott Sutton’s team returns everybody of importance and based on the 1st and 2nd team they have some talent.
Here is projected finish for the league as voted on by the media, coaches, and SIDs:
Oral Roberts (27 first place votes); Oakland (4); South Dakota State (1); IUPUI; North Dakota State; IPFW; UMKC; Southern Utah, Western Illinois; and South Dakota.
South Dakota is entering their first year in the league and are not eligible for the post season tournament. The Coyotes return four starters from an 18-15 squad that lost in the Great West Conference tournament championship game a year ago. Honestly, I didn’t know much about them when my ballot was due.
Here was my projected finish:
Oral Roberts; South Dakota State; Oakland, IUPUI, North Dakota State, South Dakota, IPFW, UMKC, Western Illinois, and Southern Utah.
After Oral Roberts I struggled to finish 2-10 and picked SDSU based on Wolters and Dykstra plus they have a nice home court advantage. Now will Wolters get by defenders like he did a year ago and can SDSU replace some excellent departing shooters? Oakland must to replace two-time player of the year Keith Benson, but retains Hamilton and sharp shooter Travis Bader. Will OU be athletic enough in the front court and will Reggie Hamilton score 30 a night only to forget about his teammates? IUPUI has the preseason player of the year and a smooth 5th year senior Stephen Thomas at the point, but will sophomore Donovan Gibbs make a big leap? The Jags will need to replace the minutes and points of LeRoy Nobles and the minutes of 4 year player John Ashworth. Will those minutes belong to freshman or is a player like Sophomore Greg Rice ready to step up?
I can see the Jack Rabbits, Grizzlies, and Jaguars finishing anywhere in the 2, 3, or 4 spots. Then you take your chances in the Summit League tournament and remember that ORU has never won a tournament championship outside of Tulsa. As for the rest of my picks…I just guessed because you never know what will happen until the season tips off. The only thing we know, ORU is the league favorite with their three major challengers all featuring game changing players.