South Dakota State is headed to the NCAA Tournament! Not North Dakota State -- that's the team South Dakota State beat in the Summit League Final. Not South Dakota -- that's the team South Dakota State beats in football every year. South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits.
Freshman Mike Daum powered SDSU to the tournament. A versatile 6'9 big man, Daum earned Summit League Tournament MVP honors by averaging 19.6 points per game on just 11 shots per game. He had 18 points and eight rebounds in the 67-59 win over NDSU.
Under Scott Nagy, who has been in charge of the Jacks for 21 years, SDSU has gone from a reasonably okay Division II team to a consistent competitor in the D-I tournament. This is now their third appearance in March Madness in five years, although this team is quite a lot different from the Nate Wolters-led squads that went dancing in 2012 and 2013. This team is nearly always at the summit of the Summit League, and this could be the year they take down a big conference foe.
How can they pull the upset?
Mike Daum is a 6'9 freshman who arrived in Brookings as an absolute problem for small league big men. He's got ballhandling capabilities and a jumper that guys his size normally don't, and he probably represents the Jacks' best chance at winning. He's a large part of why they're in the tournament in the first place, earning Summit League Tournament MVP after scoring 19.6 points per game on just 11 shots per game. His two biggest talents are getting fouled -- he's sixth in the nation, drawing 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes -- and shooting -- he shoots 44.8 percent from downtown and hits 82.2 percent of the large amount of free throws he takes.
Daum only plays about 20 minutes a game, but he can take an opposing big man out of the game, both figuratively and literally. He can take them out of their comfort zone by forcing them to defend his consistent jumper. And he can cause them to foul out. If the Jacks play an opponent that depends on a dominant big, Daum can neutralize that threat.
SDSU is also led by a pair of senior guards, Wisconsin transfer George Marshall and juco transfer Deondre Parks. Although they're identical in size -- both listed 6'1 and 194 pounds -- Marshall has twice as many assists per game and provides an outside threat, while Parks does his best work inside the arc.
You may have yelled SCOREBOARD at an annoying, gloating opposing fan or player when your team is winning. Well, SDSU fans can do this every game, because they're almost always winning on the scoreboard.
In 1968, a pair of SDSU professors founded a company called Daktronics with the intent of making electronic voting systems. Fast-forward almost 50 years, and they're one of the world's largest producers of the worlds largest scoreboards.
They're still based out of Brookings, now the town's second-largest employer besides the university.
Look, folks, this is simple. If you control the scoreboard, you control the game. Just display the score such that your team is winning. You think people pay attention to the game? Not when they can look at stunning visuals on an incredibly crisp Daktronics display hanging overhead. If you control the scoreboard, you control the game and SDSU controls the scoreboards.
There is no stronger evidence of this than SDSU's tremendous home-court advantage. SDSU went 13-0 this year, but just 8-7 on the road. In 2013, they were 13-0 at home but just 9-7 on the road. In 2012, they were 14-0 at home, but just 7-7 on the road.
A lot of teams are better on the road than at home, but the Jacks are consistently PERFECT at home and nearly .500 on the road. Guess who installed the scoreboards at SDSU's Frost Arena? Of course, it was Daktronics.
We know geography is one of the biggest factors in where the selection committee places teams in the tournament. Well, the closest tournament site to SDSU is in Des Moines, where Daktronics just installed a new video board at Wells Fargo Arena. Although I suppose the committee could send them out to Denver, where Daktronics just installed a new scoreboard at the Pepsi Center. Although our latest Bracketology update actually has them going to Oklahoma City, where the scoreboard at Chesapeake Energy Arena was installed by Daktronics.
With so many NCAA sites at arenas with Daktronics scoreboard, you have to assume the Jackrabbits will make the Sweet 16. IF they get that far, they'll probably be in the West Regional at the Honda Center in Anaheim ... which recently got an enormous Daktronics scoreboard.
That should see the Jacks into the Final Four. Sadly, the NRG Stadium where the Final Four will be held uses a Mitsubishi scoreboard, so I wouldn't bet on the Jacks to win the national championship.
Jackrabbits are very good dogs.
Photo credit: Jim Harper, Wikimedia Commons
Goooooood ears! Very good ears. Jackrabbits have big ears because they live in the desert, and all that extra surface area allows their bodies to diffuse heat much more quickly. It's the same principle behind fennec foxes in North Africa. Good ears.
Technically, jackrabbits aren't rabbits, they're hares, wilder bunnies built to exist in harsher environments. They've got more powerful legs and can run faster, and are asked to fend for themselves practically from the time they're born. SDSU teams have been called the Jackrabbits since a 1905 football game against Minnesota, when a Minnesotan reporter noticed SDSU teams were fast, remembered they had jackrabbits in Minnesota, and put two and two together.
SDSU's mascot also has good ears:
Photo credit: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
This rabbit has existed for a while, but it wasn't until 2010 that the school decided he needed a name. They settled on Jack. Jack Rabbit. Jack Rabbit the Jackrabbit. I'll allow it, mainly because of the ears.
On Tuesday night's SportsCenter, Scott Van Pelt made a mistake while introducing the Summit League final.
I just wrote 1,300 words about South Dakota State, and afterwards, I went to the top of the post to write my headline, and put down "why San Diego State should be your NCAA Tournament upset pick." Clearly, SVP is not the only one having this problem.
We need to settle this once and for all. Just because San Diego State has more students, plays in a bigger conference, has an FBS football team and not an FCS football team, has a more historically successful basketball team, has nicer weather, and an Aztec would probably be able to kill a jackrabbit if the two were in a fight doesn't mean they should have permanent rights to "SDSU."
Please, selection committee: Put the Jacks in the same bracket as the Aztecs. San Diego State probably thinks its too good to play South Dakota State in a non-conference competition, so unless somebody intervenes and forces this game to happen, it probably never will. The Jacks deserve the opportunity to win SDSU once and for all, and this year's team is good enough that they might be able to pull it off.
How do I know these guys?
Although the Jacks have been a DI team for roughly 10 years, they've already made themselves a semi-regular participant in March Madness. They went back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, led by the phenomenal play of Nate Wolters. They lost by eight to Baylor as a 14-seed and by 15 to Michigan as a 13-seed.
Wolters went on to become the first SDSU player in the NBA in over 30 years, but now he's playing in Turkey.
Can they really pull an upset?
Quite possibly! If Daum shoots well and irritates his counterpart at center, this team has enough players to win a game.
SDSU ranks 78th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which is actually better than the 2013 team with Wolters. They're certainly deeper and more versatile. The Wolters teams banked heavily on Wolters to create plays, whereas this team has several players who can harm opponents.
The Jacks have proven they can beat major conference opponents, knocking off TCU, as well as Minnesota. It is worth noting that those were two garbage teams, and their only game against an at-large tourney squad was a loss at Texas Tech. But still. Two wins against major conference teams.