Don’t lose faith in the Jacks just yet

To say the South Dakota State men’s basketball team is struggling this season would be an understatement, especially when you think about how successful they’ve been the past five seasons.

As of right now, the Jacks are 12-6 overall and 5-8 in the Summit League. They are in eighth place out of nine teams in the Summit League with three games remaining in the regular season. 

It would be their worst finish in the Summit League since their first season in the league in 2007-08 when they came in last place. It would also be the first time they would finish outside of the top five since the 2008-09 season.

If the Jacks don’t do well in the final three games, they might not even make the Summit League Tournament, which is March 4 through March 7 at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls. The ninth place team does not get to participate and, right now, SDSU is only one game ahead of Oral Roberts.

It’s crazy to think that a year ago at this time, this team was atop the Summit League. There are two reasons the Jacks have struggled this season: they don’t have a scoring point guard and they have a new head coach.

Starting at point guard right now for SDSU is senior Michael Orris, who is averaging 7.7 points a game. Last year the Jacks switched off between Deondre Parks and George Marshall, who each averaged 14.9 points a game.

The Jackrabbits are reliant on sophomore forward Mike Daum to carry the team offensively. As of now, Daum is averaging 23.8 points per game. If he were to finish the season with that average, it would be the second highest in a single-season in SDSU history. Jason Sempsrott averaged the most in a season in 1996-97 when he averaged 23.9.

The Jacks finally got scoring from someone else Saturday against South Dakota when junior forward Reed Tellinghuisen scored a career-high 28 points. But, the Jacks fell 91-89 to their in-state rival.

There is some hope for the Jacks, under first-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger, if they do make the Summit League Tournament. They’ve been close in most of their losses in the Summit League.

Only two of SDSU’s eight losses have been by more than 10 points. They also lost two of those games by two points.  

In the past, the Jacks have been successful in the tournament. Since the tournament moved to Sioux Falls in 2009, SDSU has gone 14-5. They’ve won the tournament three times and have only been knocked out in the first round once.

They also have home court advantage. Even though the Jacks aren’t doing as well as they usually do, I expect there to be a big number of SDSU fans in attendance because 36,661 people attended the men’s Summit League Tournament last year. We could see close to the same number of people if SDSU were to make a run in the tournament.

No matter what SDSU does, it should be a fun tournament. First-place North Dakota State is 9-3 and second-place USD is 9-4. After that, there is a log jam in the middle with third-place IUPUI and SDSU separated by three games.

It’s going to be tough for the Jacks to win the tournament if they get in, but winning a couple games would be huge heading into next year. SDSU will only lose A.J. Hess and Orris next year, and will return top two scorers in Daum and Tellinghuisen.

So, don’t lose hope just yet. There’s a reason why college basketball fans call it “March Madness.”