Chaos in college basketball is expected, especially early in the season. Starting with this piece, we at Today’s U will chronologically look at potential upset bids featuring small schools taking on major-conference opponents.
As many may recall, last year was the most successful season in Summit League history, and it all began on the opening night of college basketball season.
On Nov. 13, 2015, Western Illinois ventured into the Kohl Center to take on then-No. 17 Wisconsin. The Leathernecks played their most complete basketball game in over three years to come away with a 69-67 win to put the conference on the map.
Wisconsin made it to the Sweet 16. Western Illinois didn’t even make the Summit League tournament.
Looking through the opening night slate of games, there are a few different options for a teams from one-bid conferences to upset power-conference teams. The first happens to be another Summit League team.
And In This Corner
The Fort Wayne Mastodons (don’t call them IPFW) enter the 2016-17 season as the favorite to win the conference and make it to the NCAA Tournament. Though they lose high-scoring conference player of the year Max Landis (19.3 points/game, 45 percent from three), they return a guard who may actually be better.
Mo Evans was locked in a battle with Landis for the team’s leading-scorer honors. He was averaging 16.9 points while shooting threes at a 42 percent clip through January 9. After that, he was suspended for the rest of the season due to academic reasons. Fort Wayne succeeded without him, but his scoring was missed.
Evans will join redshirt sophomore and rebounding menace John Konchar as the main players for the Mastodons. Konchar, who’s listed as a guard but plays more as the 5 than he does the 3, hauled in 9.2 rebounds per game last season and even corralled 15 or more rebounds four separate times last season. He’s 6-foot-5.
On opening night, Fort Wayne heads to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas was picked to finish fifth in the increasingly mediocre SEC. They do have the conference’s preseason player of the year in Moses Kingsley, but how the team will do this year is anybody’s guess.
The Razorbacks are best known for their fast style of play, something that put the program on the map. This year, they’ve dedicated their marketing schemes towards it, using the phrase “The #Fastest40 Just Got Faster”. With Kingsley, Dusty Hannahs and Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas, Arkansas should expect to run the floor and get after it.
However, that’s playing right into Fort Wayne’s hands. Last year the Mastodons really opened up the floor offensively and got after it, averaging 79.4 points per game last season, which placed them 34th nationally. Arkansas was not far behind, averaging 78.4 points.
Where this gets interesting is that neither team played great defense, with the Mastodons allowing 76.0 to their opponents and the Razorbacks allowing 74.7. Fort Wayne was 20-4 in games where they scored 70 points or more and just 4-6 in games when they were held to fewer than 70 points.
Teams that played against Fort Wayne last year can attest that trying to play their style of up-and-down, fast-paced offense against them works in the Mastodons’ favor. Their focus isn’t on defense, but rather on outscoring their opponents. Arkansas plays that style, which gives Fort Wayne the edge.
Making an Early Statement
Another factor to this game is the Mastodons wanting to make an early statement, especially to the Summit League. North Dakota State and South Dakota State have combined for each of the past five NCAA Tournament bids from the conference, playing each other in three of the past four conference tournament championship games. In the other game, Fort Wayne was in the championship game.
The last time the Mastodons were picked as the preseason favorite in the conference, they finished fourth in the conference and lost in the Summit League quarterfinals. This time around, they’ll be looking to correct that and end the reign of the Dakotas in the conference.
It should also be noted that four of the past five conference champions have earned road wins against power-conference or nationally ranked opponents. The outlier came during the 2014-15 season, the year the ’Dons were pegged as the conference favorite.
How It Will Happen
In order for this upset to be completed, Fort Wayne will rely on outside shooting from Evans, Konchar, DeAngelo Stewart, Charles Ruise Jr. and Bryson Scott. Scott comes to Fort Wayne as a transfer from Purdue. Some may remember that it was his transfer last season that forced the Boilermakers to go on the graduate-transfer market for a point guard.
Outside shooting was the Mastodons’ bread and butter last season, finishing sixth in the nation at 41.0 percent as a team. Landis had a lot to do with that, but there’s plenty of shooting weapons for the team to spread out the Razorbacks on defense.
Kingsley will likely have a double-double in the game, as Fort Wayne doesn’t have someone to match his size, physicality and versatility in the paint. But that’s okay, because the Mastodons aren’t about stopping guys, they’re about outscoring teams. Should Arkansas get into an up-and-down game, this one’s Fort Wayne’s to lose.