Just a little over a month ago, it wasn’t a certainty that South Dakota State would even make their conference tournament. The Jackrabbits were 2-6 in Summit League play, and were the ninth place team trying to get into an 8-team tournament. Fast forward to March, and the Jackrabbits are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
The Jacks closed out the regular season with a three-game win streak that vaulted them to the 4 seed in the congested Summit League. With the conference tournament only an hour away from campus, the Jackrabbits had as close to a home court advantage as a team can have at a neutral site, and they used it to their advantage.
South Dakota State rolled over Denver, then proceeded to take down top-seeded South Dakota in the semifinals. In the championship game, the Jackrabbits took down Nebraska Omaha 79-77 on the back of a 37-point performance from Mike Daum. The Jackrabbits received a 16 seed, and will face Gonzaga in Salt Lake City
Why they can win:
To put it simply, the Jackrabbits possess one of the most dynamic offensive forces in the nation. Mike Daum is a mismatch nightmare, and is just as comfortable with bombing threes on a defense as he is bullying them in the post. Daum was second in the country in scoring at 25.3 points per game, hit over 40% from behind the arc, and is among the best in the country at drawing and converting free throws at 87%. Every gameplan revolves around Daum, and rightly so.
The Jackrabbits are among the most reliant in the country on the three-point shot. They take 46% of their shots from behind the arc, and hit them at a decent 36.1% clip. The Jacks are capable of getting hot from deep, and almost always play five guys that are capable of stretching the floor. On top of their perimeter prowess, they shoot 77% from the free throw line. The Jacks capitalize on the most efficient aspects of the game, and they do it frequently.
If South Dakota State hopes to pull an upset, they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders. Daum is going to get his numbers, but they’ll need other contributions from the supporting cast. Like they have for most of the season, the Jackrabbits will likely live and die by the three.
Why they can lose:
To put it nicely, South Dakota State’s offense is as good as its defense is bad. The Jacks are ranked 310th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and are among the worst in the country at forcing turnovers. When you don’t force turnovers and allow opponents to shoot a high percentage like the Jackrabbits do, there’s little margin for error.
Because of a heavy use of zone defense, the Jacks’ opponents shoot a lot of threes. Matter of fact, they allowed the most three-point attempts in the country, and their opponents connected on 37.3% of those shots. Giving up a high volume of threes is an easy way for a game to get out of hand, and could happen quickly if the Jacks aren’t ready to defend.
They’ll also need more production out of their backcourt. Although Michael Orris had a strong Summit League tournament, he isn’t a dynamic guard capable of breaking down a defense at will. The frontcourt can’t do it all, and if the backcourt has a poor showing, the Jacks could be in trouble.