Bruce Marshall | Jan 8, 2013 | ARCHIVE

WESTERN ILLINOIS (SUR 12-3, PSR 9-3)...Rugged and functional Leathernecks are hellbent to make Big Dance after losing in double OT vs. South Dakota State in last year's Summit Tourney finale. Coach Jim Molinari is familiar to many from a previous stint at Bradley and has fashioned a hard-nosed squad that wins mostly with defense, allowing only 51.1 ppg, third lowest in the nation. Well-balanced, senior-laden lineup features solid inside-outside threats with C Terrell Parks (13.1 ppg) and F Adam Link (10.2 ppg) doing most of their damage around the bucket while no-nonsense 6th-year sr. G Ceola Clark III (13 ppg; also last year's Summit Defensive MVP)) pulls the strings from the perimeter. Survived tough early-season six-game road trip with only two losses and recently covered six spread decisions in a row. Also making a fortress out of Western Hall in Macomb, where WIU is undefeated SU in eight tries thru Jan. 8.

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUR 11-6, PSR 6-7)...The most recognizable current brand in the Summit after its Big Dance appearance last season and scare that the "Hoosier-like" Jackrabbits it put into Baylor in the sub-regional at Albuquerque. Four starters returned from last year's accomplished side including star G Nate Wolters (21 ppg) and smooth-shooting F Jordan Dykstra (47% triples). Lost in the final seconds at Alabama and won at New Mexico (following an arduous 21-hour bus trip for HC Scott Nagy's side from Nashville and a game vs. Belmont). Everyone in lineup save F Tony Fiegen will shoot the 3-ball. Potential sleeper to watch in March. Note "unders" in 7 of last 8 "totals" thru Jan. 9.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE (SUR 13-3, PSR 11-3)...Legit contender with four starters back from last year's 17-win team and already owning a victory over South Dakota State at Fargo. Deep junior-oriented class that was attracted to NDSU after its 2009 team made it to the Big Dance and put a scare into Kansas. The Bison have their best team since, thanks to arguably the Summit's best frontcourt paced by matchup headache 6'7 F Taylor Braun (15 ppg) and bullish 6'8, 240-lb. Marshall Bjorklund (13 ppg), while spindly 6'7 jr. TrayVonn Wright exudes athleticism. Not terribly embarrassed in pre-Summit road trips to highly-ranked Big Ten foes Indiana and Minnesota. Pace conscious, and "under" 7-1 last eight "totals" on board thru Jan. 9.

OAKLAND (SUR 7-10, PSR 5-9)...The Golden Grizzlies have made noise in recent years for HC Greg Kampe, but this year's edition does not seem a vintage one, as Oakland has struggled to replace last year's national scoring leader Reggie Hamilton. Providence transfer G Duke Mondy has added some firepower, but his efforts have been inconsistent, with rail-thin 6'5 G Travis Bader (19.2 ppg) now the main go-to threat. Oakland has a puncher's chance most nights, but not much size beyond 6-10 C Corey Petros, with defense often shaky, and bench depth lacking.

SOUTH DAKOTA (SUR 7-10, PSR 7-8)...Veteran HC Dave Boots had to replace four starters from last year's 10-18 side (which was in the final year of reclassification after Coyotes stepped up from lower ranks) but seems to have done a decent job reloading on the fly thanks to a slew of transfers and a new backcourt featuring Kansas State transfer G Juevol Myles (15.2 ppg) and juco Karim Rowson (10.2 ppg). Remember that Boots had never experienced a losing campaign at Vermillion in 23 years before last season, and that the Coyotes scored a stunner over rival SDSU last Saturday in the Dakota Dome, where USD also barely lost 73-71 vs. Western Illinois in late November.

IUPU-FORT WAYNE (SUR 6-9, PSR 6-4)...The Mastadons have one of the league's best players in high-scoring G Frank Gaines (19.3 ppg) but often struggle to score when opponents can scheme Gaines out of the offensive flow. But a decent collection of athletes works hard on defensive end for 2nd-year HC Tony Jasick, allowing the Mastadons to hang inside of a few hefty poitnspreads (including a 3-0 mark as DD road dog with covers at Valpo, Drake, and Notre Dame).

IUPUI (SUR 6-13, PSR 5-11)...The Jaguars took their lumps in a rugged pre-league slate (games at Michigan, Valpo, Maryland, and just north of downtown Indy, at Butler) but have made a mild recovery with four covers in their last five games. All of this without leading returning scorer and key G Ian Chiles (10.2 ppg), who has been nursing a toe injury since mid-December, although Purdue sr. transfer G John Hart (14.2 ppg) has been a very welcome addition. And 6'9, 248-lb. Jr. C Mitchell Patton (13.1 ppg) is one of the few post scoring threats in the Summit. Almost upset WIU on the road last week and will now start to play more home games in our favorite-named home venue in the country, The Jungle, a 1215-seat bandbox that has been known to unnerve foes.

UM-KANSAS CITY (SUR 4-12, PSR 7-8)...The Kangaroos have been hopping in the wrong direction this season, failing to adequately replace graduated leading scorer Reggie Chamberlain, though juco transfer Nelson Kirksey (53% from floor) has had his moments at shooting guard. Simply not enough offense, and current 8-game SU losing streak thru Jan. 8 has Summit sources believing 6th-year HC Matt Brown could be in trouble.

NEBRASKA-OMAHA (SUR 4-14, PSR 6-7)...The Mavericks, better known to oldtime AFL fans as the alma mater of one-time Denver Broncos QB (and Bills and Dolphins WR) Marlin Briscoe, are transitioning to Division I and ineligible for the Summit Tourney. Brutal road-heavy non-league slate featured trips to Texas Tech, Tulane, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa State, among other venues. Not much defense but Mavs can score some points in their uptempo mode thanks to juco G Justin Simmons (14.6 ppg, but 23 ppg in last three Summit games thru Jan. 10). Just beat UMKC in late December for first win over Summit foes, but defense makes it unlikely the Mavs can pull many upsets this season.