SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The 2019-20 Summit League men's basketball season is expected to be a highly-contested journey all the way to the first week of March and a strong indicator of that is nearly half of the programs received first-place votes in the preseason poll.
And, after all the votes were tabulated, it was 2019 Tournament Champion North Dakota State that found itself on top of that poll after receiving 23 of 34 first-place votes from a panel of the league's nine head coaches, sports information directors and select media members. NDSU's ascension to the top of the preseason poll is the program's first since the 2013-14 season.
The Bison, who topped the poll with 526 points, captured the postseason event as the No. 4 seed with Tournament MVP Vinnie Shahid leading the way. Shahid was one of six players selected to the preseason all-league first team. Classmate Tyson Ward (12.4 ppg) was a second-team honoree.
South Dakota followed NDSU in second place with six first-place votes and 457 total points. The Coyotes are led by second-year head coach Todd Lee, who has Preseason Player of the Year Stanley Umude back to anchor a squad that went 7-9 in league play a year ago. Umude is the first Coyote to earn that distinction since USD joined the league prior to the 2011-12 season.
Lee also has two more preseason all-league team selections in Triston Simpson (first team) and Tyler Hagedorn (second team) back to aid in a potential championship run. Hagedorn was a preseason all-league selection a year ago as well, but missed the entire campaign due to injury.
With a pair of front-line starters back that landed on the preseason all-league first team, Oral Roberts was pegged to finish third in the poll with a trio of first-place votes and a 404-point total. Forwards Emmanuel Nzekwesi, a second team all-league performer last year, and 2019 Newcomer and Freshman of the Year Kevin Obanor both return to provide a potent inside threat.
Following its runner-up finish from a year ago, Omaha was picked to finish fourth with 369 points. Reigning Coach of the Year Derrin Hansen has a veteran squad back with three double-figure scorers returning to his lineup. Two members of the that trio, JT Gibson (12.9 ppg) and Matt Pile (11.2 ppg), were preseason all-second team selections.
South Dakota State's Eric Henderson inherits a Jackrabbits' squad that has won the last four regular-season titles. The former Jackrabbit assistant is one of two first-year coaches in the league and his team was picked to finish fifth with 300 points, while receiving the final two first-place votes.
Purdue Fort Wayne, who enters its final season as a league member, was picked to finish sixth with 224 points. Senior Matt Holba is the Mastodons top-returning scorer after averaging 11.7 ppg a year ago. He was picked as a preseason all-second team honoree.
Western Illinois, who became the first No. 8 seed in tournament history to knock off the top seed a year ago, was picked to finish seventh after totaling 188 points. The Leathernecks return the league's top returning scorer in Kobe Webster. The junior was a preseason first-team selection after averaging 17.0 ppg.
Like Henderson, North Dakota's Paul Sather is a first-year coach as he took over for the Fighting Hawks after a successful run in Division II at Northern State. His first UND squad was picked to finish eighth with 164 points after winning six league contests in its debut season as a league member last season.
Denver rounded out the poll in ninth place with 113 total points. Head coach Rodney Billups has a young core back that will look to bounce back from a three-win season in league play.
Points for the preseason poll were compiled on a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis, while all-league teams were compiled on an 11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. The top six vote-getters earned first-team honors and the next five were selected to the second team. Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own student-athletes or team.
The 2020 Summit League Tournament will be March 7-10 at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.
2019-20 Preseason Summit League Player of the Year
Stanley Umude – South Dakota
Preseason All-Summit League First Team
Emmanuel Nzekwesi, Oral Roberts, Sr., F (14.8 ppg/8.5 rpg/1.2 apg)
Kevin Obanor, Oral Roberts, So., F (14.4 ppg/7.2 rpg/0.5 apg)
Vinnie Shahid, North Dakota State, Sr., G (13.1 ppg/3.0 rpg/2.6 apg)
Triston Simpson, South Dakota, Sr., G (14.0 ppg/3.7 rpg/3.6 apg)
Stanley Umude, South Dakota, Jr., F (14.4 ppg/5.5 rpg/14 apg)*
Kobe Webster, Western Illinois, Jr., G (17.0 ppg/4.4 rpg/3.1 apg)
Preseason All-Summit League Second Team
Tyler Hagedorn, South Dakota, Sr., F (13.0 ppg/5.9 rpg/1.1 apg)#
JT Gibson, Omaha, Sr., G (12.9 ppg/2.8 rpg/2.1 apg)
Matt Holba, Purdue Fort Wayne, Sr., F (11.7 ppg/4.2 rpg/1.2 apg)
Matt Pile, Omaha, Jr., F (11.2 ppg/7.9 rpg/1.2 apg)
Tyson Ward, North Dakota State, Sr., F (12.4 ppg/6.2 rpg/2.3 apg)
*Preseason Player of the Year automatically earns a spot on first team
#Hagedorn's stats are from 2017-18 season
Rank School (1st Place Votes) Points
1. North Dakota State (23) 526
2. South Dakota (6) 457
3. Oral Roberts (3) 404
4. Omaha 369
5 South Dakota State (2) 300
6. Purdue Fort Wayne 224
7. Western Illinois 188
8. North Dakota 164
9. Denver 113
Preseason Summit League Notes
• Stanley Umude is the first Coyote to be named Preseason Player of the Year since South Dakota became a league member prior to the 2011-12 season. He is also the only returning All-Summit League first team performer back from 2018-19.
• In his first year as a Bison, Vinnie Shahid started all 35 games for the Bison and led the team in scoring at 14.1 ppg. He had eight 20-plus point scoring games, including 22 in The Summit League title game vs. Omaha and 20 vs. top-seeded Duke in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament
• Preseason All-League first team selections Emmanuel Nzekwesi and Kevin Obanor of Oral Roberts and Kobe Webster of Western Illinois all earned all-league second team accolades in 2018-19.
• Nzekwesi and Omaha's Matt Pile both had nine double-doubles a year, which is the highest total among returners
• Obanor was the only player in The Summit League to shoot better than 80 percent from the foul stripe (82.7), 55 percent from the floor (58.3) and 40 percent from 3-point range (41.3).
• Webster's 17.0 ppg is the highest average among league returners – he also had 10 20-plus point scoring games as a sophomore.
• Triston Simpson started all 30 games he played in for South Dakota, averaging 14.0 ppg. He added six 20-plus point scoring games en route to earning all-league honorable mention.
• Joining Shahid on the all-league preseason team from the Bison is classmate Tyson Ward, who was an all-tournament selection in 2019 and had his best season to date, averaging 12.4 ppg as a junior
• Purdue Fort Wayne's Matt Holba's 81 made 3-pointers are tied for the most among league returners with North Dakota's Aanen Moody. Holba shot 43.1 percent from beyond the arc as a junior.
• Pile shot 58.7 percent from the field as a sophomore – that figure ranked second in the league and is tops among returners.
• Maverick teammate JT Gibson is the team's top returning scorer and was among five Omaha starters that averaged in double figures last season (12.9 ppg)
• South Dakota's Tyler Hagedorn returns to action after missing all of the 2018-19 season. As a junior in 2017-18, he earned all-league second team honors after starting 34 games for the Coyotes and averaging 13.0 ppg and 5.9 rpg.
• North Dakota's Marlon Stewart is the Fighting Hawks' top returning scorer after averaging 14.3 ppg as a junior last season. He is the league's top returning assist man (3.8/g) and only returning league player that had a 10-assist game in 2018-19.
• Denver's Abe Murkey is the only returning Pioneer that averaged double figures after he scored at an 11.3 ppg clip as a junior.