2017-18 Record: 28-7 (13-1 Summit League), First Round NCAA Tournament
Key Returning Players: Mike Daum (F, Sr.), David Jenkins Jr. (G, So.), Brandon Key (G, Sr.), Tevin King (G, Sr.), Skyler Flatten (G, Sr.)
Key Losses: Reed Tellinghuisen, Chris Howell, Ian Theisen, Lane Severyn
Key Newcomers: Alou Dillon (F, R-Fr.), Matt Dentlinger (F, R-Fr.), Aaron Fiegen (F, Fr.), Owen King (G, Fr.)
Since TJ Otzelberger took over at South Dakota State before the 2016-17 season, the Jackrabbits have been among the most dominant mid-majors in the country. They’ve amassed over 50 wins in just two seasons, and made a second trip in as many years to the NCAA Tournament last year.
A loss to 5 seed Ohio State in the First Round marked the third consecutive opening round loss for the program, but South Dakota State will once again be one of the best mid-majors around.
You know the deal with the Jackrabbits: Mike Daum, David Jenkins Jr., and an offense that seems to get more potent by the year. They will be the heavy favorites in the Summit League, and anything short of another NCAA Tournament bid would be a disappointment.
Key Non-Conference Games
The Jackrabbits expect to be good, and their schedule shows it. They’ve never been afraid of traveling to Power 5 schools and walking out with wins, which they did to Ole Miss last year. This year, a strong dose of mid-major talent is on the docket with a matchup against Nevada as the headliner.
Nov. 16 at Florida Gulf Coast
Dec. 1 vs. Northern Iowa (In Minneapolis)
Dec. 4 at Memphis
Dec. 16 at Nevada
Dec. 22 vs. Montana
Three Things to Watch
Mike Daum’s Pursuit of 3,000 Points
I’ve written about Daum almost as much as any other player in college basketball over the last few years, probably to the dismay of our readers. But we’re witnessing one of the greatest college scorers in recent memory, and it’s only right to pay homage. Daum enters the season with 2,232 career points, which is tied with Campbell’s Chris Clemons for the active leader.
He only needs 768 points — which he has done easily in each of the last two seasons — to reach 3,000. Doing so would make him only the fifth player since 1986-87 to reach that mark. Every night is appointment viewing with him, and watching him terrorize defenses from all over the floor is a joy.
Can the freshmen help out in the front court?
With the graduations of Reed Tellinghuisen and Ian Theisen, there are minutes available for freshmen to contribute right away. Tellinghuisen’s spot as a stretch four next to Daum was crucial to SDSU’s offense last year, and a young crop of forwards will have ample opportunities to prove that it can fill the void.
Alou Dillon might have the inside track to that spot. The 6’8 forward is a redshirt freshman and has the size and skill to slide right in as a stretch four. Matt Dentlinger is another redshirt freshman that had a year to get familiar with Otzelberger’s system, and he’s also likely to see minutes in the front court. If the group struggles early on, Otz might look to go with a four guard set with Daum as the lone “big” on the floor.
Will David Jenkins Jr. take a leap?
Jenkins Jr. burst onto the scene last year as one of the best freshman scorers in the country. As a bigger guard that’s capable of both knocking down shots from the outside and getting to the rim, he provides a perfect compliment to Daum’s game. He was one of the better second options in the country, averaging 16.1 points per game.
So how does he improve on what was a successful freshman campaign? For starters, his efficiency leaves something to be desired. Last year, he shot just 43.2 percent from the field on almost 25 percent usage. Whether it be from improved shot selection or simply converting on a couple more attempts, Jenkins Jr. has a chance to be an even more potent scorer.
The duo of Tevin King and Brandon Key provide a steady, consistent presence in the Jackrabbits’ backcourt. King’s jack-of-all-trades game meshes well with the scoring prowess that has been featured around him. He’s the team’s best defender, distributes the ball well, and is a great rebounder for his size.
With Tellinghuisen’s departure, King will be asked to provide a bit more of a scoring punch. King averaged 9.1 points per game last year, but it’s likely that he increases that to double digits. Daum and Jenkins Jr. are going to get theirs. If King ends up being a legitimate scoring threat, the Jackrabbits will once again have one of the best offenses in the country.