The crispness of the fall air, the orange hues that overtake the treetops, and the squeak of basketball sneakers in gymnasiums across the country.
As much fun as Midnight Madness can be, the culmination of a long offseason is the tipoff of a team's first game. With the start of the 2016-17 season quickly approaching, NCAA.com is cracking the books and breaking things down in each of college basketball's 32 conferences.
Let’s continue on with a look at the Summit League.
The Summit was a two-horse race at the top last season. South Dakota State and Fort Wayne each finished 12-4 in conference play, with the former winning the Summit League tournament and earning an NCAA tournament berth.
Top to bottom, this was a fun league to watch in 2015-16. Half of its teams scored 76 points per game or more last season; this conference plays a fast, entertaining brand of basketball. Along with South Dakota State and Fort Wayne, Omaha and IUPUI finished above .500 in league action last year. And North Dakota State, which finished 8-8 in the Summit, made it all the way to the conference championship game before falling to the Jackrabbits by eight.
South Dakota State forward Mike Daum’s per-40 minute numbers were on pace with the likes of Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine last season. He’s that good, and he didn’t even start for the Jackrabbits in 2015-16.
Daum thrived in a bench role last season, but he’ll start for South Dakota State in 2016-17. It’s not exactly a scorching take to say that he deserves the promotion. It’ll be joyful to see what kind of numbers Daum can post in full-time minutes.
Though South Dakota State made the NCAA tournament last season and has the best player in Daum, it also loses several key pieces (including head coach Scott Nagy, who took the Wright State job). With that in mind, Fort Wayne has a great shot to capture the Summit League title this season.
The Mastodons have a distinct identity, and that identity is to scorch foes from behind the 3-point arc. Fort Wayne made 40.3 percent of its triples last season, which ranked ninth in the nation; 43.4 percent of its shot attempts came from distance, which ranked No. 25 in the country.
Some key pieces depart from the Mastodons (namely, Max Landis), but Fort Wayne has plenty returning. Senior guard Mo Evans has a chance to win Summit League Player of the Year honors; the do-it-all point guard averaged 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game last season. He also made 42.5 percent of his 3’s.
Sophomore big man John Konchar returns as well after an excellent freshman campaign. The Chicago native nearly averaged a double-double last season (13.0 points, 9.2 rebounds per game), and those numbers should only improve with experience.
North Dakota State put together an impressive run in last year’s Summit League tournament, knocking off IUPUI and Fort Wayne before falling to South Dakota State in the championship game. The Bison are ranked third in the conference preseason poll, and they have the potential to make some noise this season.
Junior wing Paul Miller is a major reason for optimism. As a sophomore, Miller led the Bison in scoring (15.3 ppg) and snared 4.8 boards per contest to boot. NDSU’s second banana, Fargo native A.J. Jacobson, returns as well. Jacobson averaged 12.7 points per game in 2015-16, and Summit League foes are going to struggle with North Dakota State’s dynamic one-two punch.
Freshman to watch
Keep an eye on Omaha freshman point guard KJ Robinson. Tra-Deon Hollins is the floor general for the Mavericks – he averaged 6.1 assists per game last season – but Robinson is talented, and before long, he should take the reins of the Omaha offense.
Robinson is very tough to keep out of the lane, and once he’s near the goal, he can finish or create for others. He’s not the defender Hollins is at this point, but his tenacity should pick up over time. The Mavericks will have quite a run of solid point guard play if Robinson can pop.