Tag Archives: North Dakota State Bison

What to Take Away From Early on in the Summit League

It’s difficult to grab anything from the results of games this early in the season.  Teams are still in the process of trying to figure themselves out, and that can be hard to decipher with a mix of Power 5 and non-D1 schools on the schedule.  Everything in the first weekend in the Summit League played to form for the most part.  There are still a few takeaways from the beginning of the season that should grab your attention.

The undefeated Coyotes

Perhaps the one thing that did not play to form was South Dakota finishing the opening weekend undefeated.  Before the start of the year, the Coyotes appeared to be the largest wild card with so many unknowns and newcomers on their roster.  Led by two double-doubles by Trey Burch-Manning, the Coyotes could be a serious threat this season if he keeps up this type of production.

Craig Smith pointed out that his team is a far more competitive roster this year.  His players are taking basketball, film sessions, practice and improvement very seriously.  This showed in their win at Drake.  The Coyotes were giving a maximum effort to pick up the win.  Air Force transfer Matt Mooney was shooting with confidence and proved to be a clutch player for South Dakota.

If the Coyotes can hit their ceiling, they could potentially be a top 3 team in the Summit League.

The Jackrabbits may be the worst team in the state of South Dakota

No one should be hitting the panic button for South Dakota State yet.  Why even hit the panic button when you have not gotten to the Summit League slate?  The Jackrabbits are 0-2, and they did play two tough teams in California.  This new offense by TJ Otzelberger shot just 29 percent over its first two games, and the star Mike Daum was less than impressive.

Can the Mavericks defend?

Everyone knew that Omaha could score, but most would grade its defense as below average.  The Mavericks were able to go on the road and hold their two opening opponents to 39 percent shooting.  Their perimeter defense was able to hold UC Santa Barbara and USC to 25 percent from long range over two games.

The Bison have a serious lack of size

The North Dakota State offense has not seen height as a necessity under David Richman.  The defense has struggled with length in the post.  In the Bison’s win over Arkansas State, Richman gave his two bench post players a combined 17 minutes.  With the season-ending injury to Malik Clements, the Bison may be struggling with their depth this season, just as Fort Wayne did last season.

Oral Roberts is…something

It’s hard to gauge a team that lost by 15 to a Big 12 team and beat a D2 school by 11.  Junior center AJ Owens can score in the post, but finds himself taking jump shots he shouldn’t be taking.  Senior guard Jalen Bradley can score in quick spurts on the perimeter and has an underrated mid-range game, but struggled to find consistency last season.  Both players scored 21 against Rogers State, but couldn’t get to double figures against Baylor.

The only freshman to get to double figures for the Golden Eagles against Baylor was Emmanuel Nzekwesi.  If the Eagles can get Nzekwesi going and develop him by January to have a consistent scorer, the Golden Eagles should have a shot at making the Summit League tournament.

Could be a long year for the Pioneers.

Rodney Billups wanted to change an entire culture in the Denver basketball season.  Going from the Princeton offense to a run-and-gun scheme will prove to be difficult.  The Pioneers have a valuable piece in Joe Rosga to make that transition game easier, but the team is going to have to figure out how to defend in fast-paced games.

The Pioneers lost to Jacksonville 84-92.  84 sounds good, but Jacksonville went on to only score 68 against a slow-paced Air Force team.

Billups did say before the start of the year that his junior center is due for a breakout season.  He may have been onto something as Amigo had 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists against Jacksonville.

Email Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

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These X-Factors Can Make the Difference in the Summit League

There was not a large degree of separation in the Summit League last year.  The two top seeds in the conference tournament, Fort Wayne and South Dakota State, had challenges in the first round.  Teams need incoming players and x-factors to step up, and make a difference in games.  So who might those guys be?

Denver – Daniel Amigo

Rodney Billups wants to change Denver basketball.  His plan is to take a roster of players recruited for a slow Princeton offense, and turn it into a program with a fast up-tempo style of play.  It will take some time, and there are not many that think he can turn the Pioneers into anything successful this early in his tenure.

Billups thinks oft-injured center Daniel Amigo can be the difference maker for the Pioneers in 2017, and could be due for a breakout season with the Pioneers.  It is difficult to factor in how much of an impact Amigo can make for the Pioneers, as he has only played in 28 games over two seasons.  A quality big man could go a long way for the Pioneers in transitioning to their up-tempo offense and could help jump them a few spots in the Summit League.

The Pioneers are expected to be in the bottom third of the conference.  If Amigo can stay healthy, and defend the the post, and get the Pioneers some inside looks, the Pioneers could move up to the top half of the conference.

Fort Wayne – Mo Evans

It may sound crazy to have an All-Conference player as an x-factor for a team.  Mo Evans sat out a bulk of the conference season in 2016 due to an academic issue.  Guys coming back like this do not have a great history of coming back to be a leader.  Jon Coffman has stated that Evans is ready, but we will have to wait and see if Evans’ teammates can see him as a leader.

The one fault the Mastodons had in 2017 was their lack of depth.  With Evans in the lineup, the ‘Dons may have finished their season in the NCAA tournament.

IUPUI – Ron Patterson

One could just assume that a transfer from Syracuse could just come in and dominate the Summit League no matter what school he transferred to.  Patterson has an interesting offensive skill set that could possibly make him Newcomer of the Year in the Summit League.  The Jaguars were competitive in 2016 because of their scrappy defense.  Patterson is replacing Marcellus Barksdale, one of the best perimeter defenders in the Summit League over the last couple of years.  Replacing Barksdale’s minutes, Patterson will need to be able to defend Summit League’s best perimeter players and start the Jaguars transition defense.

North Dakota State – Deng Geu

The Bison struggled with depth and athleticism at center last season, and the void for that was sitting on the bench, redshirting.  Geu spent 2015-2016 redshirting and getting ready for 2016-2017.  The Bison did not have a center that could run the floor last season when they were having problems setting up their weave offense.  If Geu can come in and defend and score on the Summit’s best post players like Mike Daum, Tre’Shawn Thurman, and Matt O’Leary, the Bison have a chance at winning the Summit League again.

Omaha – Daniel Meyer and Zach Pirog

The Mavericks had problems last season when needing to count on their post players off the bench.  Starter Tre’Shawn Thurman has the potential to be an All-Conference player, but Thurman got into foul trouble early on in several games last season.  The progress of Meyer and Pirog coming off the bench and giving big contributions could make or break the season for the Mavericks.

Meyer is your classic banger down low in the post, but struggled on defense in his sophomore season.  Pirog is the opposite.  His length gives post players a different look over Meyer, but the 6’10” center lacked the post moves to be a threat off of the bench last season offensively.  If these two players developed in the off season, the Mavericks could be a serious threat in the Summit League.

Oral Roberts – Head Coach Scott Sutton

Sutton does not have a lot to work with this season.  Every game is going to be a teaching moment for his young team, and there will be several of these moments.  If he can get through the regular season without a health issue, we should all be impressed.

South Dakota – Triston Simpson

The Coyotes struggled with consistency…everywhere…last season.  There was not a load of depth on the roster, and Craig Smith often did not know who to go to off the bench last season.  Smith has almost guaranteed Iowa transfer Trey Dickerson the starting spot at point guard.  Their freshman backup point guard Triston Simpson scored 20 points in 19 minutes off the bench in the Coyotes’ lone exhibition game.  If Simpson can provide consistent scoring and energy off of the bench, then he can become one of the Coytotes’ biggest asset to late season run in the conference tournament.

South Dakota State – Michael Orris

Never known as an offensive minded point guard at Northern Illinois or Kansas State, Orris will have to be an efficient point guard on offense in TJ Otzenberger’s run and gun offense.  It is difficult to gauge how effective Orris can be in the Jackrabbits’ offense, but now he is their starting point guard.  Orris will have to defend the conference’s best point guards Tra-Deon Hollins, Mo Evans, and Kellon Thomas in order for the Jackrabbits to win the Summit League.  That is a tall order.  If he can bother those point guards, South Dakota State could have a advantage in their most important conference games.

Western Illinois – Mike Miklusak

The Leathernecks need a third scorer behind Garret Covington and Jabari Sandifer.  As the most inefficient scoring team and least consistent, the Leathernecks need a scorer with some consistency.  As a 46-percent shooter, Miklusak can be efficient, but Billy Wright’s playing time for Miklusak has been inconsistent.  The inconsistent minutes has been because of injuries Miklusak has suffered over his career, not entirely because of Wright’s incompetence.

Even as a senior, Miklusak will have some competition for minutes.  Freshman Jeremiah Usiosefe will be competing with him for minutes at the wing position, and Usiosefe made four threes in the Leathernecks’ exhibition game without missing any.

Email Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

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Every Summit League Team’s Case on Why They Can Win the Conference

The Summit League preseason rankings and awards were unveiled a few weeks ago.  You probably did not agree with them, and that’s okay!

That is not how the regular season will shape up.  Those are not all the players that will end up earning those regular season awards.  Injuries will happen at the worst possible times.  A transfer that sat out last year will make an impact that’s larger than expected.

Last season, the Summit League was a tough fought race until the very end.  There was not a lot that separated Omaha at number three and South Dakota at number eight.

The most important teams that will matter at the end will be whoever wins the regular season and, if not the same team, whoever else wins the Summit League tournament.  So what is every team’s case as to why they have a chance at winning the Summit League this season?

Here is everyone’s point of view sorted by the Summit League preseason rankings.


Fort Wayne

Hi, we’re Fort Wayne.  We used to be IPFW, but we rebranded ourselves to feel like we have our own new identity, apparently.  We may have lost last year’s conference player of the year, but we have Mo Evans coming back.  Before we were forced to sit out Evans for the second half of the year, due to academics, he averaged 17 points and five assists per game.  We’re positive he is back and ready to play and has learned from his mistakes.

Evans is an all-conference caliber player, and maybe even the best point guard in the league.  We’re going to be teaming up him in our back court with sophomore John Konchar, who could feel a little fire in his eyes after not receiving the attention of South Dakota State’s Mike Daum for best sophomore, or even the best player in the league.

Our run-and-gun offense is one of the best offenses this league has seen in a while, and we’re confident that only two teams in the league have defenses that are capable of slowing us down.  Our biggest fault last season was our depth.  Last year we were only able to go with seven competent players by the end of the season.  This year, we are going to be able to go ten deep with our offense.

South Dakota State

We may have lost three guards that were very important to our offense, but we have a slightly new offensive scheme.  We have also recruited players that we believe fit best with our system.  Also, our best player’s nickname is “The Dauminator.” What more do you want?

North Dakota State

With a lack of center, our weave offense may have struggled to score last year, but that is fine.  We’re returning just about everyone.  We have lost our starting two guard, Malik Clements, to an injury, but we have a stellar “next one up” philosophy.  We’re always confident about replacing the players we have lost.

We have confidence in our redshirt freshman center Deng Geu to be a future star in our league, and with a post presence on offense, we really can be a threat this year to win the regular season championship.  With a healthy and athletic center, we may even be able to go up against the best post players in the league like Mike Daum and Tre’Shawn Thurman.

The Jackrabbits were in the rankings ahead of us because of how good Mike Daum is.  While Daum could very well be the best all around player in the conference, it takes an entire team to get through the season and conference tournament.  David Richman preaches a team concept to us, and we are not just based on one guy.

IUPUI

Does anyone else have a former Syracuse player?  Nope, did not think so.  Our offense should be more well-rounded this season, and we still plan on having the same scrappy defense that we did last season.

Did anyone else sweep IPFW, we mean Fort Wayne, in the regular season last year?  No?  Okay, that is what we thought.

Omaha

Everyone is downgrading us because we lost two second team all-conference players who combined for 35 points a game.  We still have last year’s NCAA leader in steals in Tra-Deon Hollins, and we have Marcus Tyus coming back who averaged 14 points per game as a junior to replace a bulk of the lost scoring.

We may have a relatively new roster, but there are only two players on our active roster that have never played in an NCAA Division I basketball game.  Where else are you going to find that experience in the Summit League?  We’re taking on five Power 5 teams in our non-conference schedule, because we are that confident in our team.  It has nothing to do with financials.

We were picked seventh in the preseason rankings last year and we ended up in third.  You guys are silly.

Oral Roberts

We were picked to finish sixth in the Summit League rankings?  Wow, you guys think higher of us than we do.  Look at how much Scott Sutton is worth as a coach… Thanks!

South Dakota

We were probably the worst defensive team in the Summit League last year.  Our offense functioned about as well as a production of The Island of Doctor Moreau.  It is all going to be cool now, though.  We got rid of three-fourths of our team, and we have a whole new crew that look like a legitimate basketball team.

Denver

We’re out here in the coolest city in the Summit League.  We’ve got a brand new head coach, Rodney Billups, who is going to take our methodical Princeton offense to a fast-paced velociraptor offense.  Billups claims our oft injured center Daniel Amigo is healthy and more suited for this new offense than the Princeton one.  No one is prepared for Amigo.  He could be the Summit’s best-kept secret.

Western Illinois

Garrett Covington is one of the best all-around scorers in the Summit League.  We think.  I mean, look at how many points he scored.  Please don’t make your, “Well if he weren’t on a terrible team,” arguments.  We have Covington and a bunch of guys that were pretty good in high school.  Rankings are useless.

 

Email Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

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Big Ten Triple Play

Sorry for the baseball reference on a football site but I wanted to do something different. I really wanted to opine on three teams who, in my view, had the biggest storylines this past week.

Here are my thoughts on Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan:

Nebraska

Husker fans, give some credit where it’s due. Despite a disappointing 2015 season filled with bad luck, head coach Mike Riley is doing something Bo Pelini was never able to do, and that’s win marquee matchups. That trend started last season when Nebraska knocked off College Football Playoff finalist Michigan State and defeated UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.  Ithas continued into this season as the Cornhuskers beat Oregon, 35-32, last Saturday in Lincoln.

A rejuvenated Tommy Armstrong, who has been given more offensive freedom, particularly running the ball, scored the game-winner on a 34-yard quarterback keeper while the defense, which was one of the areas seen as a weakness, sealed the victory. The question now is: With a signature victory, is Nebraska a legitimate contender in the Big Ten West?

Well, I predicted Nebraska to finish second, tied with Wisconsin, in the West, Iowa running away with the division. It’s not like I had them being a non-contender,  but I also didn’t have them playing so well and cohesively this early on. It’s hard to say what exactly made the difference but it’s clear this can be a potent, high-scoring team with a reliable defense, despite being gutted by key departures this past off-season.

I actually believe this upcoming game against Northwestern will be a good gauge of where the team is. Even though the Wildcats are playing poorly, this is a team that has had the Huskers’ number ever since they joined the Big Ten. If they are true contenders, these next four weeks should be relatively easy victories until the biggest test of the season against Wisconsin.

Iowa

Let’s face it, Kirk Ferentz is a good head coach and the numbers don’t lie. In many ways, it’s pretty darn impressive given the fact he has to compete against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State on the recruiting trail and on the field. But a great coach? Now, that’s a different story.

To me, Ferentz gets a huge reward for being a tease, who just flirts with greatness and never cashes in. The extension is clearly based on a season where the stars aligned almost perfectly. Even then, the Hawkeyes left much to be desired as they were blown out in the Rose Bowl. I don’t know about you but it seems like Iowa is content with being slightly above average. Even when Ferentz comes crashing down to earth and wins the typical seven games, he still gets rewarded with a nice chunk of change.

Speaking of crashing, how about the loss to North Dakota State? Yes, the Bison were the better team Saturday and I know they have several FCS championships but it’s still nonetheless an embarrassing loss that shouldn’t have happened. Sure, Iowa can still win the West but no one will take it as serious as before, which wasn’t real serious to begin with given the fact they didn’t beat anyone last year.

I think the loss to North Dakota State shows what Kirk Ferentz’s coaching tenure is in a nutshell: consistently inconsistent. He will have a big season and get a contract extension but then fall back into obscurity. His success comes in spurts and is never sustained. Some Iowa supporters are still behind him but I feel bad for others who, like me, aren’t interested in mediocrity. Until Iowa can win a game of importance , this contract is just not acceptable.

Michigan

In the days leading up to last Saturday, the Colorado Buffaloes thought it would be cool to release a fake depth chart to poke fun at Jim Harbaugh for not revealing his own. And guess what? It looked like those antics might have played a part in Michigan coming out flat, as Colorado scored three minutes into the contest and went up 21-7 at the end of the first.

Michigan’s special teams came through with a blocked punt for a touchdown and the offense scored several touchdowns for the halftime lead. In the third, Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, who had 246 yards and three touchdowns, sustained a foot injury that ended his day and Michigan was able to take control of the game. Jabrill Peppers’ 56-yard punt return score early in the fourth quarter effectively put the game out of reach, 45-28. Despite the win, the question on everyone’s mind was if this is a sign of things to come or just a fluke.

Well, I’m here to tell you, Michigan will not only return to its winning ways over Penn State but do it in convincing fashion. First, while the offense hasn’t been incredibly impressive, it’s  been solid and should be in for a feast this weekend. Penn State’s defense has been atrocious, yielding 341 rushing yards to Pittsburgh and 286 passing yards to Temple. Second, unless the Nittany Lions can make big plays and move the chains early, they will face third down, where they are 9-of-33 and Michigan has allowed just 4-of-38. Not a good combination.

Last, they say it’s a team game but we haven’t seen someone like Peppers in a long time and he is a game-changer. It’s like he’s Percy Harvin, Devin Hester and Charles Woodson rolled into one, all formidable players. Unless Penn State can render him obsolete, the Wolverines will roll easily, 42-20.

 

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

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Can any Summit League redshirt freshmen be impact players?

Redshirt freshman have come into the Summit League the last couple seasons and made immediate impacts to help guide their team to successful seasons.

In 2014-2015, AJ Jacobson made his way onto the Summit League Honorable Mention Team and was second in scoring for North Dakota State while being instrumental in helping the Bison reach the NCAA Tournament.

In 2015-2016, Fort Wayne’s John Konchar and South Dakota State’s Mike Daum both made the Summit League first team and helped their teams to the top two Summit League spots for NCAA and NIT bids.

So are there any redshirt freshmen that could make an immediate impact to help their programs reach the top of the Summit League?  Here are a few potential redshirt freshman in the Summit League that could become stars in 2016-2017.


Adam Dykman – South Dakota State

Jackrabbit fans should be seriously excited for this Nebraska native.  Dykman did not see many offers out of high school but was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Nebraska in 2015 after averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game his senior season.  Several members of the Nebraska High School basketball community were confused that the 6’7″ forward did not see any offer from the three in-state Division 1 basketball programs.

In his redshirt season with the Jackrabbits, Dykman put on 12 pounds, and will be competing for minutes in a front court with a lack of depth at this point.  He can post up as well as go outside and shoot from long range, as he shot 42% for his career on threes in high school.  Summit League teams are not looking forward to matching up with Dykman and 6’9″ post Mike Daum for the next few years.

Cole Gentry – South Dakota State

After graduating three guards, the Jackrabbits will be looking for someone who can be their starting point guard under their new coaching staff.  The team could be looking to Northern Illinois transfer Michael Orris, who started in 22 games as a junior for the Huskies, but Orris may not be the right guard for an up-tempo style that the Jackrabbits want to play, so the 5’10” Gentry could get the nod to run the team offense.

Deng Geu – North Dakota State

The 2015 Gatorade South Dakota State Player of the Year redshirted the 2015-2016 season to add on muscle.  He added 15 pounds onto his 6’8″ frame and is now listed at 210 pounds.

With graduations and transfers, the Bison do not have depth in their front court with their top seven scorers last season being 6’6″ or shorter. The athletic, high-flying center has room to make an immediate impact for the Bison.  He is a likely candidate to start at the center spot, or be one of the first guys off the bench in 2016-2017.

JT Gibson – Omaha

The 2015 Gatorade Minnesota State Player of the Year and Minnesota Mr. Basketball was only able to play in eight games in 2015-2016 before being sidelined with an elbow injury, but was be given a redshirt and will be a freshman in 2016-2017.  Gibson was able to show some flashes of what he could be in his short time on the court.  For Omaha fans, it was like when a strong character in a DC Comics film gets 70 percent of their scenes cut and you have to wait for the Director’s Cut to come out to see just how much better the movie would have been with that character in the film.

It may be difficult for Gibson to play in a lot of minutes in his (second) freshman season, with so many experienced guards on the Omaha roster, but he certainly has the potential to be an impact player for the Mavericks with his shooting ability and athleticism.  In his brief time with the Mavericks, he was able to show that could shoot and rebound the basketball, which was two of the weakest areas of the Mavericks last season.

Emmanuel Nzekwesi – Oral Roberts

The 3-star recruit from Texas, originally from the Netherlands, joined the Golden Eagles in the second semester of 2015-2016 and chose to redshirt the remainder of the season.  The 6’8″ 215 pound Nzekwesi has the ball handling of a wing player and could give Summit League teams troubles if coach Scott Sutton plays his freshman on the wing.

Oral Roberts graduated 6’7″ Brandon Conley, who played 20 minutes a game in the post, and 6’5″ DaQaun Jeffries, who also played 20 minutes a game, transferred, so there are 40 minutes a game in spots that Nzekwesi could possibly fill.

Nzekwesi was recruited by Texas, Western Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.

Chris Miller – Oral Roberts

While the rest of the Summit League appears to be recruiting and playing small ball, Oral Roberts has recruited larger players.  The 6’8″ 260-pound post player took the 2015-2016 season to redshirt so he could…do something, I guess.  Miller drew interest out of high school from Arizona State, Georgia, and Arkansas, so there could be a degree of potential in this redshirt freshman.

Miller will join junior Albert Owens and sophomore Javan White (and Nzekwesi) in the post who combined for 14.6 points 8.9 rebounds per game last season. Both players have their own weaknesses so Miller could potentially beat Owens and White out for playing time in the post to help Oral Roberts compete in what could be a poor season for the Golden Eagles.

The Golden Eagles may be the team left out of the Summit League tournament if Nzekwesi and Miller can not make an immediate impact on the team.

E-mail Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Zips Ready to Play North Dakota State in BracketBusters

by Ryan Isley

When the BracketBusters schedule was announced on February 4th, the match-up between the Akron Zips and North Dakota State Bison looked like an intriguing one for the Zips. At the time, the Bison were 18-5 and had won 10 of the previous 12 games. The Zips were riding what was then a 13-game winning streak and were 17-4 overall. It seemed that a win over the Bison would definitely strengthen the Zips’ resume for the NCAA Tournament.

While the Zips have continued on their run – improving to 21-4 with what is now the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games – the Bison have faltered. Since the game was announced, North Dakota State has gone 2-2 and has taken a lot of shine off the game that will be televised on ESPN2 Friday night.

In fact, the Bison are just 4-4 in their last eight games. That slide coincides with an injury to their leading scorer – Taylor Braun – who went down with a stress fracture in his right foot on January 12th against Oakland and has not played since. North Dakota State won that game and the next before falling in two straight contests against Western Illinois and South Dakota State, the top two teams in the Summit League.

Despite their recent slump, the Bison are not going to sneak up on the Zips.

“They have played well, they just had an injury,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “They have got 20 wins already and one of their best guys got hurt.”

Going 4-4 without players is something that Dambrot would know about, as that is the exact record the Akron Zips claimed after the first eight games this season. The start of the season came with point guard Alex Abreu battling a sprained ankle and the Zips also dealing with three-game suspensions to Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell for a “clerical error” at the same time. Not to mention that Quincy Diggs was suspended in October for the 2012-13 season.

It wasn’t until Akron got Harney and Treadwell back and Abreu started to get healthier that the Zips started on this run that began with a win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff one week before Christmas.

“Obviously we lost the two games without (Harney and Treadwell) and Abreu got more healthy as we went,” Dambrot said. “It took us a couple, three weeks to figure it all out still because those guys didn’t play the first three games. Since we have had our whole group, we have won 17 games in a row.”

While most people have called this game a “low-reward, high-risk” contest for the Zips and wonder if Akron is going to be ready to play once the ball is tipped, head coach Keith Dambrot isn’t buying into that notion.

“I don’t really worry about low reward or high risk,” Dambrot said. “We know it’s gonna be a hard game. We need to win every game, it doesn’t matter who we play against. Good, bad or ugly, we can’t afford to lose.”

If the Zips needed any reason to not take the Bison lightly, all they would need to do is look at their recent past in the BracketBusters event. The Zips are 3-6 overall and have lost four of their last five BracketBusters games.

One of the unique aspects of the BracketBusters – which will end following this season – is that teams step out of conference to play a game near the end of the conference season. While that is a difficult adjustment, it isn’t the biggest concern for Dambrot this time around.

“I think it’s hard on the guys because they’re used to playing conference games but I think the hardest part is not playing for five days or six days,” Dambrot said. “That’s difficult. Nobody wants to practice four straight days in the middle or end of February.”

The Zips last played Saturday night when they defeated Bowling Green 67-50 at home and have been practicing this week in preparation for their contest against North Dakota State. One reason that Dambrot isn’t too worried about his guys being ready to play is that they are a deep team and players know if they aren’t performing that they can be replaced.

“I believe in character of people and I think our guys have enough character that they’re going to try to play every single night,” Dambrot said. “The good thing for us is that if a couple of guys don’t want to play, we’ve got other guys who will. I think that’s the biggest thing for us is that we’ve got them on that short leash because we’ve got enough guys.”

The Zips have been slowly welcoming back yet another player over the last couple weeks as Chauncey Gilliam has been returning from knee surgery and working his way back into Dambrot’s rotation.

“I think it holds everybody more accountable but it also gives you a little bit more pop, a little experience,” Dambrot said. “If our young guns struggle, we know we’ve got that hired gun on the bench. If we get an injury, we know we have got another guy.”

The conversation about injuries and depth came about 20 minutes after Dambrot watched one of his guys go down as guard Brian Walsh was carried off the practice floor after spraining his ankle on Wednesday. While Walsh’s status for the North Dakota State game is still uncertain, it would seem highly unlikely that he would be able to take the floor.

Even though Dambrot doesn’t want to look at the game as “high-risk, low-reward,” the Zips will enter this game with a target on their back while the Bison will be playing with nothing to lose. The Bison have no shot at getting at at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and a loss for the Zips may put them in a similar position as previous years where they are close but not quite in unless the win the MAC Tournament.

Akron will need to be on top of their game and may need contributions from all of their available players if they are to beat North Dakota State and keep the nation’s longest winning streak intact as well as their hope of an at-large bid just in case they don’t win the MAC Tournament.

With the way this team has prepared and with the mindset of their coach, I think Zips fans can expect to see their team come out ready to play Friday night. And who knows – they just might bust some brackets come March.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]