South Dakota State
Projected Conference Wins: 2 to 6
Projected Regular Season Finish: 6th to 9th
Key returning players: To be determined
History and tradition may be on the side of the Jackrabbits, but 2019-2020 isn’t on their side.
You’re probably shocked by this ranking, or maybe you’re not. You might be mad by this, and if you are, you should probably grow up. These are trivial rankings from a blog, written by a guy with just a little too much time on his hands.
The Summit League is pretty even and up for grabs this season. Really, it feels like there are 3 tiers of basketball teams.
Since we’re working our way up, we’re just going to talk about the bottom tiers. The bottom tier is Denver, and that’s it, just Denver. The middle tier are teams 4th to 8th. All teams in this tier have about the same amount of talent and experience, but what may make or break their seasons will be their overall health.
Injuries to both Oral Roberts and South Dakota broke their seasons last year. Both teams finished 7-9 to finish 5th and 6th in the standings. With better health, each of them could have finished above North Dakota State. They were in the 2nd tier.
Omaha was in the 2nd tier in 2017-2018. Probably could have picked up a few more wins with a healthier Mitch Hahn and Renard Suggs.
Every team loses players from year-to-year. Everyone has something to make up. All the teams are shuffling in new faces and trying to figure out their rotations.
The Jackrabbits lost their head coach. They graduated the Summit League’s all time scoring leader, in addition to graduating two other starters. David Jenkins, who was expected to be the focal point of their offense going forward, transferred to UNLV.
First year Head Coach Eric Henderson will be dealing with entirely new look Jackrabbit team. The roster returns 18% of their scoring from last season, which is the lowest in the Summit League. The team also has just 40 division one starts on the roster, also the lowest in the Summit League, and the lowest amount of division one minutes, 500 minutes behind Denver.
This is the first time in a long time South Dakota State will be coming into the season without a star. There was a long line of Mike Daum, Cody Larson, Deondre Parks, Jake Bittle, Jordan Dykstra, or Nate Wolters…this season, they don’t have a star coming into the season. No one knows who “The Guy” is for the Jackrabbits this year.
Henderson came off as the most excited Summit League coach at the Summit League Media Day, and he did claim everyone in the locker room is confident and ready to be The Next Guy.
I’m going to do a comparison to Omaha, because, well, you know why…
The two teams are similar in experience, both have just 2 seniors and 2 juniors, both lack size, both like to play at a higher pace. That’s some pretty vague exposition, but here we go.
This is the third year Omaha’s 4 upperclassmen will be playing together. One of South Dakota State’s upperclassman, Beau Brown is a seldom used walk on, and the other three have never played game a college basketball game together.
If Omaha was in a close game with anyone in the conference, they know who is taking over the game down the stretch. In contrast, South Dakota State doesn’t have that. The Jackrabbits may have plenty of talent on their roster, but they follow the typical archetype of a team missing leadership in late game situations.
And a side note: out of the players who are coming back – The Jackrabbits were seriously afraid of Matt Pile last year. When they played in Omaha, South Dakota State was up by 8 when they put Mike Daum on the bench, and the Mavericks came back in less than 2 minutes. They couldn’t afford to play without Daum last season, because they were not confident in the players behind him.
Their roster just follows the type of pattern of teams who struggle down the stretch of games and have poor communication defense. Basketball is played on a court and not on a spreadsheet in my computer, so it’s just up to the Jackrabbits to go out and play and tell me I’m wrong.
It’s up to Henderson and his staff to get his players to play as a team, and not just letting the players try to each selfishly be “The Guy.”
The rest of the Summit League is more experienced than the Jackrabbits, and are less likely to have those issues. There are more “toss up” games for South Dakota State, certainly more than there have been in the last 4 years.
I know I spent a paragraph shit talking about their returning players, but the Jackrabbits do have talent on the roster.
Senior point guard Brandon Key decided to use a redshirt last season. As a junior, Key led the Jackrabbits in assists and was 5th in the conference in assists per game. He was also 8th in the conference in assist to turnover ratio. Key also came off the bench when the Jackrabbits played Maryland in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and he scored 16 points in 29 minutes. North Dakota State’s Vinnie Shahid is the only Summit League player to have more points and minutes in the NCAA Tournament (not counting NDSU’S “First Four” game). Key’s ability to be a floor general and experience will be an x-factor in the ceiling of how good the Jackrabbits can be this season.
Junior college transfer forward Douglas Wilson was the NJCAA Player of the Year last season and was the leader of a National Championship team. The 6’7″ forward will be an immediate impact for the team down low, but he doesn’t have much of a perimeter game and won’t help with stretching out the floor, like Jackrabbit offenses have been accustomed to in the past. Oddly, as the NJCAA Player of the Year, he didn’t make Jucorecruiting.com’s top 100 junior college prospects.
Fellow junior college transfer Tray Buchanan did make the website’s honorable mention list. The 6’4″ guard started his college career at North Dakota before transferring to Des Moines Area Community College. Buchanan scored over 19 points per game at DMACC and made 2.5 threes per game. Henderson expects him to be a key player on the team with Wilson and returner Alex Arians.
Again, the Jackrabbits have a talented roster, and it will be up to the coaching staff to lead everyone to figure out their roles in order for the team to finish in the top half of the league.
With the Denver’s roster, I made a comparison to the movie world, and I’d like to do that with South Dakota State.
This Jackrabbit roster is just like the casting of Major League 3. There was no Tom Berenger, no Charlie Sheen, no Wesley Snipes/Omar Epps, just role players like the All State guy, the idiot catcher, and Corbin Bernsen as a grown up came back. The movie did bring us Walter Goggins, and you don’t know that because you didn’t waste your time on that movie, and I respect that. This team is looking for their Walter Goggins.
Now, you know I’d never accuse the Summit League of picking favorites and showing favoritism toward anyone. They’d never help out one of their favorites in scheduling.
The Jackrabbits, are one of the three teams to never have three consecutive conference road games, though. They do have a pretty difficult week in January where they travel to Denver for a Wednesday night match up, and then travel all the way to Fort Wayne for a Saturday afternoon contest. They are fortunate enough to have that journey over winter break. Their other two game road trip is after week of rest, too.
They’ll also have 4 of their last 6 games leading into the conference tournament at home.
The Jackrabbits have talent, but they will have chemistry issues and growing pains in comparison to the rest of the league. Life after Daum (and Jenkins) might just be a little rough, but they’ll be fine, eventually.
I think it’s just fine to expect them to not be at the top, or even the top half of the league, this one year.
Okay, there is a possibility I might just want South Dakota State to be bad for once, but I think there is a strong case for them not having high expectations this season.
My trivial Summit League preseason rankings
8th South Dakota State