SDSU-Quinnipiac: What to watch for

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SDSU-Quinnipiac: What to watch for

Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

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The 2019 NCAA Tournament journey begins for the South Dakota State women’s basketball team Saturday morning in Syracuse, New York.

SDSU’s 26-6 campaign was rewarded with the 6-seed in the Portland region (a program-best seed in the Big Dance), but don’t expect the Jackrabbits’ high seed give them a first-round push-over.

Awaiting the Jackrabbits is 11-seed Quinnipiac University, winners of 21 straight.

This season, Quinnipiac went 18-0 in conference play and won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament to earn an automatic bid into the tournament field — a place where the Bobcats are no strangers.

Just two seasons ago, Quinnipiac advanced to the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed before falling to eventual national champion South Carolina — proof of the Bobcats’ ability to survive and advance on March’s biggest stage, even as the underdog.

Here are four things to look for in Saturday’s matchup:

OFFENSE VERSUS DEFENSE

Quinnipiac boasts the second-best scoring defense in the country, a unit allowing just 50.5 points per game. That elite defense will be put to the test against South Dakota State’s top-15 scoring offense that averages 80 points per game on better than 48 percent shooting.

Not to be overshadowed by that battle is how the Bobcats’ offense (65.3 points per game) fares against the Jackrabbit defense (62.5 points allowed per game).

If the Bobcats can keep the score low and slow the pace of play, it increases their chances to upset the Jacks. If SDSU can speed up the game and turn it into a high-scoring affair, the Jacks should move on.

STAR POWER

SDSU seniors Macy Miller and Madison Guebert have performed well when the team needs them most throughout their careers, so expect nothing less in what could be their final game in a Jackrabbit uniform.

Quinnipiac has two double-digit scorers of its own in seniors Jen Fay, who won the MAAC tournament MVP, and Aryn McClure, but their offensive output doesn’t reach the same level as the Jackrabbit backcourt duo.

SUPPORTING CAST

Alongside Fay and McClure, the Bobcats have three other players who average eight points per game or more and it will be on them to up their level of play to support the team’s standouts. If Quinnipiac can get some extra production from its role players and bench it will greatly increase its upset chances.

For SDSU, the frontcourt duo of sophomore Myah Selland and junior Tagyn Larson averaged double figures in points this season to take some of the scoring pressure off Miller and Guebert. Sophomore Tylee Irwin’s 7.7 points per game shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Irwin has proven to be a valuable member of the SDSU starting five for both her offense and defensive versatility.

TOURNAMENT EXPERIENCE

Seven current Jacks played in the NCAA Tournament first round a season ago when SDSU fell to Villanova in overtime and the three Jackrabbit seniors (Miller, Guebert and Sydney Palmer) have played in at least three NCAA Tournaments.

However, Miller and Guebert are the only members of the current roster who have game experience in NCAA Tournament win.

Looking at Quinnipiac, four current starters played in the Bobcats’ Sweet 16 run from two seasons ago. Having four players who know how to win in March could be an advantage for the Bobcats when it comes to Saturday’s contest.

Opening tip is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, March 23 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. The game will be televised on ESPN2.