In a conference like the Summit League, where members come and go with much frequency, there are always fans who wonder which teams might be next to join or leave. As a result, fan message boards for schools in the Summit League commonly have threads that offer suggestions for teams that could potentially enter the league. These discussion threads have been especially prevalent in the last few years as Centenary, Southern Utah, and Oral Roberts have all announced intentions to leave (or have already left) the league.
It wasn't too long ago that a common name seen in those threads was Utah Valley. Many fans envisioned a league split along the east and west directional lines, with UVU completing a western edge with Southern Utah. At the time, such a move seemed appealing. The Wolverines had a sensational scorer in Ryan Toolson, which suggested that they could get great players to come to Orem, Utah. Furthermore, the program had put together a number of winning seasons despite playing the schedule of an independent. Alas, such a scenario was just fan opining, and the idea was further squelched when Southern Utah announced it would leave for the Big Sky Conference after this season.
In the time since, the Summit League has further reined in its borders, while Utah Valley has continued to compete in the geographically-challenged Great West. However, for one night we were able to see a match on Friday night that might have occurred if some of those fan-inspired scenarios would have occurred. Utah Valley played at Oakland on this evening as a part of an exempt tournament called the Southwest Classic. Yes, a team from Utah was playing a school in Michigan in the Southwest Classic - fitting for two schools that have played in far-stretching conferences themselves.
The Wolverines came into the O'rena and performed far better than their conference affiliation would have suggested. Indeed, they looked like a Summit League team for much of the match. Isiah Williams, a 6-foot-0 guard, looked like an all-conference contender as he scored at will on his way to 35 points against Oakland's quality guards. He was aided in the paint by Geddes Robinson, who scooped up 11 rebounds despite being an undersized power forward. The Wolverines really did possess a number of qualities seen on Summit League teams, whether it was a strong point guard, quality undersized big men, or a steady reliance on the three-point basket.
But on this night it was another Summit League quality that reigned supreme: constant refereeing. Fans in the Summit League often gripe about the quality of the refereeing in the Summit League, and while we'll leave such commentary for the message boards, it is impossible to talk about this game without talking about the refs. There were 55 fouls called in the game, which resulted in 34 free throw attempts for Utah Valley and 38 for Oakland. Consequently, the game had very little flow even though it was an up-tempo game (77 possessions).
Ultimately, the Golden Grizzlies got the best of the visiting team, as they usually do at their home arena. Anyone who saw the game, though, came away impressed by Williams, Robinson, and the rest of the Wolverines. It was clear on Friday evening that Utah Valley has the pieces in place to once again dominate the Great West. And though they may never join the Summit League, in this age of conference realignment, it would be stunning if they didn't get a chance to join a league with an automatic bid very soon.
at OAKLAND 89, UTAH VALLEY 83 11/25/2011
UTAH VALLEY 2-3 (0-0) -- I. Williams 11-21 8-8 35; G. Robinson 4-7 8-13 16; H. Hunsaker 5-11 4-4 17; B. Aird 2-9 1-3 5; K. Woods 0-1 0-0 0; A. Hubbard 2-5 0-0 4; K. Thompson 0-1 0-0 0; R. Fannon 1-1 1-2 3; Z. Jones 0-0 3-4 3; T. Brown 0-2 0-0 0; K. Enos 0-3 0-0 0; W. Sinclair 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 25-34 83. OAKLAND 3-2 (0-0) -- R. Hamilton 10-21 13-16 34; T. Bader 5-10 0-0 12; C. Petros 2-6 2-4 6; L. Lucas-Perry 3-8 8-10 15; D. Williams 1-3 0-1 2; D. Valentine 3-4 1-1 7; B. Cushingberry 2-3 4-5 10; R. Bass 1-2 1-1 3; K. Sikora 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-57 29-38 89.
Three-point goals: UVU 8-24 (T. Brown 0-2; H. Hunsaker 3-6; I. Williams 5-11; K. Enos 0-3; A. Hubbard 0-2), OAK 6-27 (R. Hamilton 1-9; L. Lucas-Perry 1-5; B. Cushingberry 2-3; T. Bader 2-7; D. Valentine 0-1; R. Bass 0-1; D. Williams 0-1); Rebounds: UVU 33 (G. Robinson 11), OAK 41 (C. Petros 13); Assists: UVU 9 (H. Hunsaker 3), OAK 9 (R. Hamilton 5); Total Fouls -- UVU 26, OAK 29; Fouled Out: UVU-None; OAK-C. Petros.