On the rise

Marcus Traxler

The Jacks are looking forward to another great season with new leaders and a new defensive focus.

Men’s basketball at SDSU has reached a crossroads.

Last year was the best season in the short time the Jacks have been at the Division I level, but they left a lot to be desired defensively. Picked to finish third in the Summit League preseason poll, SDSU has a bit of a target on its backs.

All of last year’s success on offense did not transfer to the other end of the court; SDSU was awful defensively. The Jackrabbits finished in the lowest 20 percent among the 336 Division I teams in field-goal defense and scoring defense, and the Jacks were fourth-worst nationally in three-point percentage defense. A higher finish in the Summit League will only be attainable with a better defensive effort, something the Jacks addressed over the summer.

“Coach [Scott] Nagy has always put an emphasis on defense and rebounding but this year he’s going pretty hard at it. Offense always comes over time but our defense has to get better,” sophomore Chad White said.

Nagy had similar things to say about the matter and touched on the importance of keeping the opposing team’s score low.

“That’s been a point of emphasis, that we get teams off the three-point line. If we can keep teams in the low 40s [for shooting percentage] with as good as we’re going to be offensively, we’ll be pretty good,” Nagy said.

While it may seem hard to replace Dale Moss and Clint Sargent, Nagy said he firmly believes both Chad White and Brayden Carlson will be capable players to fill the void left by those players.

“I don’t think there’s any question in my mind they’re going to replace Clint and Dale and Clint, and Dale were good players. We feel that Brayden is going to be one of the top defenders in the league and he’s just a good little weapon to have,” the 16-year head coach said.

A big season for the Jackrabbits will probably be led by Nate Wolters, who is on many experts’ top point guard lists and was the only sophomore in the country who averaged 19 points and six assists last season. He’ll be counted on to lead and facilitate an offense that was sixth in the nation last year in points per game, averaging nearly 82 points per game.

The Jacks’ starting lineup will include the lone senior, Griffan Callahan, along with Tony Fiegen, Wolters, Carlson and White, which Nagy said is the team’s best defensive lineup.

Jordan Dykstra, who made the all-newcomer team a year ago, will start by coming off the bench, a role he excelled in late last season.

“I’ve definitely tried to put on more weight because I’m going to be facing bigger competition this year and just try to get a little stronger and quicker so I can play better defense this year,” Dykstra said.

SDSU has eight new faces on the team and the Jackrabbits are going to need some of them to step up right away. Fans can figure one of these players will  include Winner, S.D. native Zach Horstman, joined by Canadian Taevaunn Prince and Bulgarian Samuel Francis. Both Prince and Francis are international recruits and should be able to jump in and help the squad right away.

“Coming from high school to college basketball is a big transition so it’s a slow process, but they’ll get there and everyone is filling in their roles,” White said.

“These things are good. It’s the first time playing in front of a crowd inside Frost Arena for some of these kids and we were tight,” Nagy said of the Jacks’ win in their only exhibition game this year over Minnesota State, Moorhead, 77-64.

Last season, SDSU opened the year with six straight victories, including four at Frost Arena. An opening like that will be a distant memory after the Jacks host Western Michigan on Saturday at the Frost Arena. After the first game, SDSU will play eight consecutive road games, meaning their next home game won’t be until Dec. 6. That road trip includes games in Minnesota, Georgia, Nebraska, and a three-game tournament, the CBE Classic at Macon, Ga.

The next logical step for the Jackrabbits is to reach the 20-win plateau, and Nagy said early road wins will be key, but the ground will have to be made in the conference schedule.

“We’re going to be tested against some very good teams and we’re going to be okay,” Nagy said. “We’re very confident that we can win every one of those games. We could play well and not win any of those games. Whether we will or not I don’t know but I know that we’ll have the talent to do that.”