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Hope Index: At long last, South Dakota State provides a glimmer

Don’t tell me there was a lot of hope in Brookings in mid-January.

NCAA Basketball: Summit League Conference Tournament-South Dakota State vs Omaha Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the offseason we’ll be looking back at each 2016-17 mid-major conference tournament champion to see how probable (or improbable) it was that they ended up on the sport’s grandest stage. An explanation of the exercise, and factors we’ll be considering, can be found here.

South Dakota State didn’t have much hop (or hope) in it on Jan. 28.

The Jackrabbits had endured a losing non-conference run for the first time in six seasons, and had sunk to 1-5 in Summit League play after an overtime loss at IUPUI. Missing the league tournament in T.J. Otzelberger’s first year looked like a real possibility for the mid-major darling.

Then the rest of the season happened. SDSU righted itself in league play, and rode Mike Daum — one of the nation’s best scorers — to the NCAA Tournament. But after that uninspiring start, do we finally have that glimmer hope fans can cling to next season?

South Dakota State Jackrabbits

  • 2016-17 Summit League Tournament champion
  • Tied for fourth in regular season (8-8)
  • N. 16 seed, West Regional
  • Lost to No. 1 Gonzaga (66-46)

Record: 2.5

If we’re grading on a five-point scale, then a team with an 8-8 league record has to get a 2.5, right? The Jacks 7-3 run to end the regular season pulled them even, but didn’t include wins over the top two teams in the league (South Dakota and North Dakota State). Overall, they didn’t pull even until their first league tournament win, which finally erased the damage of a 7-8 non-conference run. That wasn’t pretty, but there also weren’t any glaring losses. Nonetheless, SDSU did not have the sparkling record of most NCAA Tournament teams.

Trends: 3

SDSU was certainly playing better heading into the league tournament. The Jacks largely left their worst offensive performances in November and December. And as Daum unleashed his fury on the Summit, they shot better than 62.5 percent on two-point field goals five times over their final 10 games. Part of that was likely due to a league that as a whole didn’t play great defense, but it’s undeniably a trend. For its part, the SDSU defense was largely the same throughout the year, despite Otzelberger’s tinkering. Junior wing Chris Howell was personally trending upward, averaging 13.8 points per game over the eight games leading into the league tournament after scoring — and playing — sparingly prior to that.

Health: 5

The Jacks were essentially injury free, and down the stretch Daum, Reed Tellinghuisen and Michael Orris were hardly coming off the court.

Metrics: 3

Scoring was not the problem for the Jacks last season. They racked up the Summit League’s best offense, mainly because of Daum’s ultra-efficient, historic season (25.1 PPG, 65.5% TS%). Tellinghuisen was no slouch as an athletic second option, Howell emerged as a slasher and bigs like A.J. Hess and Ian Theisen stretched the floor. Defense, however, was another story. The Jacks had the third-least efficient defense during league play, and rarely put pressure on the opposing offense, being next to last in forcing turnovers and blocking shots. So, we end up with a split that skews upwards because of the Jacks offensive firepower.

Hope Index: 13.5

Finally, a team that registers some shock value. Midway through January, the NCAA Tournament did not seem like a possibility for the Jacks. Yet there they were, getting their brief moment in the sun against Gonzaga. But this run is tempered since SDSU had the best player in the Summit, who did end up carrying the Jacks through the league tournament. If there was a “wildcard” factor involved in this — and maybe there should be — having Daum would score high marks, and remove at least some of the surprise.

Hope Index

Team League Index Verdict
Team League Index Verdict
Texas Southern SWAC 19 Obvious
Mount St. Mary's NEC 16.5 Little surprise
UC Davis Big West 16 Little surprise
South Dakota State Summit 13.5 Mild surprise!