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The Other Top 25 Preseason Rankings: No. 25 South Dakota State Jackrabbits

The Jackrabbits are favorites in Eric Henderson’s second year as head coach in Brookings

NCAA Basketball: South Dakota State at Arizona
Douglas Wilson should once again lead an offensive juggernaut at South Dakota State.
Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

2019-20 Record: 22-10 (13-3 Summit League)

Key Returning Players: Douglas Wilson (F, Sr.), Noah Friedel (G, Soph.), David Wingett (G/F, Soph.), Matt Dentlinger (F, Jr.), Alex Arians (G, Jr.).

Key Losses: Allou Dillon (transferred to Winona St.), Brandon Key (G, Sr.).

Key Newcomers: Cooper Cornemann (G, Fr.), Luke Appel (F, Jr. Kirkwood CC) and Charlie Easley (G, Soph. Nebraska).

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits were the cream of the crop in the Summit League regular season last year along with their rivals to the north.

A 13-3 Summit League mark in head coach Eric Henderson’s first season after taking over for T.J. Otzelberger helped keep the ‘Rabbits rolling as the squad saw its third consecutive 20-win season and a share of the regular-season conference title.

The Jackrabbits sneak into our Other Top 25 after the Ivy League announced it won’t compete in any winter sports this year. Yale had been ranked 12th in our poll, but was removed to make room for South Dakota St.

Henderson and company were knocked out of the Summit League tourney before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered sports in March, but there is plenty of talent for South Dakota State to make a run at a conference crown this season.

KenPom agrees. The site has South Dakota State as the highest-rated Summit League team by a long shot. The Jackrabbits come into the season at 95th in the nation and North Dakota State, the defending tourney champs, are at 179.

Preseason pollsters apparently are in the same boat as well. South Dakota State was picked as the league favorite in the preseason polls and Jackrabbits star Douglas Wilson was the preseason league player of the year.

South Dakota State landed three on the preseason all-league teams showing just who the favorites are in the Summit League.

3 things to watch

A hyper-efficient offense

The Jackrabbits’ offense was really, really efficient in 2019-20.

No, really.

According to KenPom’s stats, South Dakota State was fourth in the NCAA in effective field goal percentage at 55.8%, third in two-point field goal shooting at a whopping 57.4% and a modest 60th in 3-point shooting at 35.4% from long range.

Wilson was a massive part of that offensive firepower, and I’ll get to that later in the preview so sit tight.

The scariest part? The Jackrabbits really didn’t lose much at all. The team brings back all five of its leading scorers and if the offense holds up, watch out.

Wilson’s rise

Douglas Wilson was a monster last season in his first year up in Brookings. He was the 2019-20 Summit League Player of the Year after averaging 20.5 points and 5.9 boards per game on 64% shooting in 20 Summit League games.

Kinda wild to say that Wilson was playing JUCO ball just two years ago — when he happened to be the 2018-19 NJCAA National Player of the Year.

He averaged around 21 points and nine boards on 67% shooting in JUCO, so it would have made sense if his shooting efficiency dipped. Well, it didn’t really dip. He had less of a work load with a plethora of floor spacers around him constantly in college, making his life inside even easier.

Fountain of youth?

There is a ton of youth on the roster, but the team is a tad older than last year’s group.

With Wilson as the lone senior, the Jackrabbits have eight underclassmen — two who got major minutes as freshmen last season in Wingett and Freidel.

“There’s a lot of things we need to get better at,” Henderson told the Brookings Register in early October. “Obviously we return a nice core of players, but we’re also pretty young. So we need to continue to take every day and get better. Some of the more specific things that we’ve tried to get better at is our ability to guard the basketball. One on one guarding the basketball and keeping the guy in front of us is something that we think will help us take the next step of becoming a better team.”

X-Factor(s)

Wingett and Freidel

These two can light it up from three. Wingett and Freidel combined to shoot 38.6% from long range on 123-of-318 shooting.

With Wilson and bruiser Matt Dentlinger anchoring the paint and mid-range, Wingett and Freidel give Henderson some fun options on the outside.