For the first time this season, there wasn't a major shake-up in the Efficiency Margin standings. The top-six remains as it was last week, while UMKC jumped the two Indiana-based schools after putting together a strong homestand. The reason for the standstill is the balance that we had in the league schedule last week. Most of the match-ups featured evenly matched teams, and the previously most overmatched teams -- South Dakota and UMKC -- were at least playing at home. As a result, blowouts were few and far between last week.
So that's where we stand as of the games played through Saturday, January 21. Now let's get to the individual teams.
The Jackrabbits have had a number of monkeys on their back since joining The Summit League. At first, they had a tough time winning games, period. After learning to win in Brookings, they still struggled to put together a winning season due to an inability to win on the road. In 2009-10, the Jacks finally picked up a few road wins, and then last season they went 8-6 on the road in league play. But what prevented them from taking the next step was an inability to beat the league's top teams, namely IUPUI, Oakland, and Oral Roberts. They've slowly but surely gotten that monkey off their back, beating both IUPUI and Oakland this year. And they'll get ORU in Brookings in two weeks. But the biggest monkey over the last few years has been North Dakota State, which had beat SDSU 10-straight times heading into this season. Finally, on Saturday night, the Jacks dropped the Bison, in Fargo no less. It has taken the South Dakota State program a few years to get to this point, but by putting all of these stepping stones behind them, there's now just one thing on which to focus: the league championship.
Despite possessing the most efficient offense in the league, Oral Roberts still finds itself at No. 2 in the Efficiency Margin standings due its middling defensive efficiency. We know that ORU is capable of putting together strong defensive performances based on its non-conference results, but those performances have gone by the wayside as the offense has come along. Of course, the Golden Eagles have mastered the art of the shoot-out, or so it seems based on the outcomes of their home games against North Dakota State and Oakland. And while Oakland won the league race last season while partaking in a number of shoot-outs itself, that team did possess the No. 1 defense in the league, too. Here's a look at where some of the previous conference tournament champions have ranked at season's end in defensive efficiency:
We can't make a blanket statement that only the great defensive teams win the league tournament, but it's pretty darn close. It's still early, but if ORU continues to win games with its elite offense and average defense, it could go down as one of two outliers in the past seven seasons to defy the "defense wins championships" convention.
North Dakota State has two great offensive traits: tremendous accuracy from inside the arc and a league-leading ability to get to the free throw line. Those characteristics help conceal the fact that the Bison cough up the ball at a league-worst rate. We could look at this in two ways. First, NDSU is a very young team, and inexperienced squads tend to make more mistakes. Second, the Bison get a lot of their scoring by driving to the basket, which puts a player in a position to cough the ball up at an increased rate. Of course, this trait hasn't hindered them much, but it is something to keep an eye on as the season goes on, especially in a league that has been fairly strong at retaining possession of the ball. The following table shows the turnover rate for each team in the Summit League.
As you can see, the Summit League as a whole has an average turnover rate well under the national average. Only NDSU sits above the D-I mean.
I dedicated a lot of words to Western Illinois last week, including this piece about how pace discrimination could lead us to undervalue the per-game stats of its players. So let's keep this blurb short. Despite a terrible loss at UMKC on Thursday, don't count out the Leathernecks. That was their first lapse of the season, and they rebounded with an ugly win over South Dakota. The key for them going forward is to maintain their defensive toughness because their offense is too hot-and-cold for them to allow a team to get hot from the field.
One of the website's readers submitted a question about Efficiency Margin splits between home and away games. While these splits are still not fully formed because not everyone has played everyone home and away, it can be interesting to see how teams performed in the first half of the season. The following table presents "home" Efficiency Margin less "away" Efficiency Margin for each team through week 5 (league games only). The higher, the better.
Oddly enough, Southern Utah is the lone team that has been better on the road than at home. The Thunderbirds are just 1-3 at home and 4-2 on the road. It's also worth noting that SDSU and NDSU have been the most dominant home teams. Again, part of that is due to the schedule they've played at home; we'd expect those numbers to come down after teams like ORU, SUU, and WIU come to town.
Thanks to reader NorCalJack for submitting the question. You can too by clicking here!
Our next reader question comes from Jrad5221, who wonders how Oakland's big men have fared this season. The big men in question, redshirt freshmen Corey Petros and Kyle Sikora, have had the unenviable task of trying to replace last year's dominant duo of Will Hudson and Keith Benson. Of course, two redshirt freshmen would have a hard time replacing the production of Hudson and Benson, but when evaluated against the performance of similarly-positioned freshmen from past years, they've done alright. Here's a look at how Corey Petros compares in several tempo-free statistical categories to similar Summit League freshmen over the last few years:
The good news? Petros has performed at a similar level as last year's freshmen studs Marshall Bjorklund and Jordan Dykstra, and he's done it while playing significantly more minutes. The bad news? Neither of those players have taken much of a leap in 2011-12. They're solid players who would fit on any team in the league, but they've yet to develop a dominanting presence. Of course, Oakland fans will flock to the comparison to Will Hudson. Even as a freshman in limited minutes, Hudson was stellar on the offensive glass. But keep in mind he didn't truly breakout as a producer of points until his final season.
Now let's look at some comparisons for Kyle Sikora, the 7-footer who has been starting for Oakland in recent weeks.
Very few 7-footers have become legitimate contributors in the Summit League in recent years. NDSU's Jordan Aaberg has shown some flashes this season, and Sikora's freshman figures compare favorably with his up to this point. Having a guy like that to come off the bench is a positive in this league. James Granstra, who eventually became a solid producer for Western Illinois, is another who had a freshman season comparable to Sikora's. If Sikora followed Granstra's career-arc, he'd become a solid 10-point, 6-rebound starter with shot-blocking ability. The gold standard here is Keith Benson. The former OU standout is the only one here who had a plus-100 offensive rating in his first-year, and his defensive rebounding percentage is indicative of just how strong of a force he became on the defensive glass. Sikora's ceiling remains high, but so too do the range of possibilities on the low end. Fortunately for Oakland fans, the coaching staff there has a solid history of developing big men.
Thanks to Jrad5211 for the question. If you want to submit one for future use, learn how here.
The biggest difference for UMKC this week? A healthy Trinity Hall. The Roos had been without their starting swingman since the end of December, and it showed. Hall has the ability to create his own shot, and he's capable of getting rebounds at a decent clip. With him playing heavy minutes for the first time in almost a month, the Roos were able to get a few close-range buckets and a few more rebounds than normal. Hall was 8-of-10 on two-pointers and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc this week. He also chipped in 7.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 sophomore's return gave UMKC the boost it needed to protect its home court last week. Perhaps the team's season isn't lost after all.
Losers of six straight, the Jaguars now find themselves sitting in ninth place in the league standings. If the regular season ended today, so too would their season. It's astounding to think of a Summit League tournament without the Jags -- they've just been that consistent over the last decade or so. Right now, it's hard to find many positives with this squad.
Since he was injured at the beginning of the month, Trey McCorkle just hasn't been the same player. During non-conference play he was playing very well on the offensive end, and he was rebounding at a career-high rate. Over the last four games, the senior center has tallied just 20 points and 11 rebounds. IPFW can't compete if McCorkle isn't producing. Here's to hoping that whatever is ailing the big fella will fall by the wayside soon.
The RPI doesn't mean a whole lot for teams that are not contending for a spot in the NCAA tournament, where RPI is one of the indicators used to determine seeding, but it does matter for symbolic reasons when judging the relative strength of conferences. Even though South Dakota is having a less-than-stellar season, its RPI currently sits at 277, which is a major improvement over previous cellar dwellars in the Summit League. Last season, two teams finished over 300 in the RPI (WIU, 336; Centenary, 342). In 2009-10, Centenary finished at 314; Southern Utah at 328. USD has helped to elevate the league in the conference RPI standings even as the team has struggled this season.
That's it for this week's Weekly Breakdown. Please tell your friends about it. And check back for more next week.