Back in July, there was a lot of chatter about Nate Wolters. Here was a guy that went for 20, 5 and 5, and was still regarded as a player who could do more.
It would be tough to do too much more for the Jackrabbits in 2012-13. After all, he led the team with a 13.57 HOOPWAR, making him the sole difference between South Dakota State being in the NCAA Tournament and finishing .500. His 11.97 HW30 is one of the scores among players in the country, not just in the Summit conference, where he definitely led the league.
The better question is if Wolters can do it again, and right now, the answer appears to be a definite yes.
That isn't just my opinion. Veteran sportswriter Lindsay Wilhite covered the conference in the latest Lindy's preview and the Summit League gave us all a sneak preview of what his conclusions were.
Wolters was also named the best playmaker, most versatile and best NBA prospect in the conference.
In other words, only good things are expected from Wolters at the head of the Jackrabbits this season, and it looks like they have an inside track to another Summit League title. It helps that Oral Roberts is gone. They would have been the main competition for South Dakota State, but instead there is just a jumble behind the top squad.
North Dakota State will have the competitor mantle instead, but they have a tough climb to catch the Jackrabbits. Besides Wolters, South Dakota State has Jordan Dykstra who averaged 11.3 points and 4.9 rebounds. His HW30 of 2.27 was the second best on a team that will bring back four starters and five positive value players.
The defense should continue to be strong this season with Wolters, Dykstra and sophomore Taevaunn Prince leading the way. Prince, a freshman who mostly came off the bench for the Jackrabbits last season, had the second best DEF100 on the team with a score of 10.22.
The biggest question mark is the depth of the team. Last year, the team played just 10 players, and two of those -- two starters -- were negative players for the Jackrabbits. Tony Fiegen and Brayden Carlson each turned in negative HOOPWAR scores, which should lead to questions about whether the starting five should really be the starting five.
There is enough talent on the roster to make a better choice from just a value standpoint, and it is scary to think of this team getting better with a few of the positive players getting more minutes. Remember that South Dakota State was an upset special heading into last season's tournament until they were seeded across from Baylor. Even then, the 27-8 Jackrabbits held an early double-digit lead, and gave the Bears quite a bit to handle.
The sad news is that we won't get to see South Dakota State prove itself during the season against too many high-profile teams. The Jackrabbits open the year with Alabama, but the rest of the schedule is lacking for heft. Games at Minnesota and against Marshall in the 2K Sports Classic help a little, but this is not the resume-building slate that you would hope for from a team with this much potential, and with a star the size of Wolters.
That said, if the Jackrabbits can win those three games, they could put together a run like Murray State last year. South Dakota state should be able to get through the Summit League unscathed and this could set up nicely for a gaudy record.
Bottom Line: With Wolters leading the way, there should be nothing stopping the Jackrabbits from making another appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Obviously a lot depends on his performance, and if he can continue at the pace he has for his entire career. But that seems almost like a given for the senior star.
If his supporting cast can be just as good, the team should do just fine. If Dykstra and Prince improve just a bit, this could be a very difficult team for any team, Summit or otherwise, to beat.
We expect to see South Dakota State running high in the MRI this year, and possibly within the top 20 if the lack of schedule strength doesn't keep them down. Expect more on Wolters and his NBA chances throughout the season.