If Gonzaga is the poster-child program for reaching the Final Four despite the disadvantages of playing in a modest conference, then South Dakota State – currently 1st in the Summit League – is an example of a talented basketball outfit which cannot garner a strong-enough seeding to help the Jackrabbits get out of the NCAA tourney’s early rounds and into the Sweet Sixteen.
Some Cinderellas can show up at the Big Dance again and again without ever getting past the first 2-step. The Jackrabbits are hoping to change that this season.
The star of the 2018-19 squad is 6’9” senior forward Mike Daum, a physical beast who has averaged around 25 points while putting up double-double stat lines as a matter of habit. Daum’s sidekicks include sophomore David Jenkins and senior Skyler Flatten, each possessing the agility and scoring touch to put the offense on their backs alongside the dominant forward.
The Jackrabbits are an ultra-efficient scoring machine, averaging well over 80 points per game. That’s hasn’t been enough to warrant a national title futures line at some sportsbooks, though the team has appeared as a 200/1 sleeper and will likely carry Las Vegas odds of around 50/1 to reach the Final Four.
Despite some struggles on the defensive end, the Jackrabbits are dominant on the glass with over 30 defensive rebounds per game. Daum helps with that quite a bit. If a top-ranked squad goes cold shooting against SDSU in the NCAA Tournament, they may invent a slightly-different way to say the upperclassman’s name.
South Dakota State proved its mettle in December with a 4-point loss to the then-undefeated Nevada Wolf Pack. Despite an exceptionally quiet night from Daum, who scored only 5 points in the road contest, coach T. J. Otzelberger’s squad raced (or hopped) out to a 40-33 halftime lead and fought the high-powered Mountain West hosts on every square inch of the court for 40 minutes.
The Jackrabbits have won 11 out of 12 games since falling to Fort Wayne on January 3rd.
While South Dakota State may not achieve as high as a #8 or #9 seed for March Madness, a long-odds Cinderella pick often has better chances to make a real run with a #12 or #13 seed, which enables them to avoid playing a Final Four favorite in the first 2 rounds of the tourney. 8th seeds may enjoy a weaker opponent in the Round of 64 but almost always play the Regional #1 seed in the next round.
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