Men face Baylor in first trip to NCAA Tournament

Marcus Traxler


The SDSU men’s basketball team has been on Cloud Nine for the last few days since winning their first Summit League title.

Now it’s back to work.

The Jackrabbits are headed to the “Land of Enchantment” for a chance to make some more noise on the national stage. SDSU drew the 14th seed and will play third-seeded Baylor in Albuquerque, N.M. on Thursday in a South Region second-round matchup of the men’s NCAA Tournament. The game will be at The Pit on the campus of the University of New Mexico and will be aired on Turner Broadcasting’s TruTV network, starting at 6:27 CT.

That moment of seeing “S. Dakota St.” on national television let out a tremendous cheer from fans and players alike, yet another moment that has been special with the Jacks making the tournament.

“It’s been cool. All of the fan support that we have gotten has been really great. But now we’re focusing on Baylor,” said SDSU’s Nate Wolters.

The other side of that draw means it’s time for business.

Baylor, ranked 10th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, finished with the same 27-7 mark that the Jackrabbits finished the season with. But the Bears did it in the Big XII conference, finishing a runner-up behind Missouri in the conference’s tournament championship.

“It didn’t matter what draw we were going to get. We knew that we were going to get a very good basketball team,” Jackrabbits head coach Scott Nagy said.

That they are. Baylor will pose the most athletic and challenging foe of the season thus far. Much like Washington, whom the Jacks beat earlier this season, the Bears have future NBA talent in forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, who make up a formidable front along with Quincy Acy.

“As I look at them I just wonder how we’re going to score around the basket. They’re one of the most athletic teams in the country,” Nagy said.

The Jackrabbits have made a small dent on the national scene and Wolters has quickly made a name for himself, so the Jackrabbits probably won’t be sneaking up on anyone.

“I think it’s a good matchup. We don’t know much about each other. It will be nice to play somebody that we haven’t played all season,” Jones said of the Jackrabbits.

In truth, SDSU has certainly watched more of Baylor in flipping through the television channels on their couches than the Waco, Texas-based team has watched of the first-time tournament players.

“I watched them earlier this year and they’re pretty athletic. We’re going to have to rebound and box out well. We’ll have to try to spread them out,” SDSU’s Jordan Dykstra said.

There will be challenges for the Jackrabbits. That’s to be expected with the ability of Baylor at the level that it is, but SDSU doesn’t want to be the first-timers who are starstruck and blown out in their first experience of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re just looking to go down there and have some fun. We want to make a splash and to just play our ball and we don’t want to get so caught up in the moment that we don’t play to our potential,” Dykstra said.

The Jackrabbits went out of their way this season to beef up their non-conference schedule, heading to the road to play Minnesota, Georgia and Nebraska, all losses, before breaking through with a 19-point win at Washington. All of that scheduling went for naught when none of the other teams that the Jacks scheduled made the 68-team field, making SDSU the only team in that situation. Nonetheless, SDSU’s head coach, himself a first-timer leading the Jacks on the big stage, says they’ll be ready.

“When I think about trying to stay in the game with them, defense and rebounding and limiting them to one shot are going to be really important to staying in the game,” Nagy said.

After gritting out a 52-50 overtime win over Western Illinois for the Summit League Championship five days prior to the announcement, the defensive effort, the one that has been heralded all season as much improved, came through when it counted.

“Everybody talked about how good Western’s defense was in that game but I think ours was pretty good too. We put a lot of work in the offseason and it paid off,” Dykstra said.

In the swift moments of the matchup being announced, SDSU fans may have cringed when the Jackrabbits were on the 14-seed line, with the Jacks’ RPI and record likely in place to allow them to be better than that. Chad White didn’t seem fazed by the pending matchup.

“They’re beatable. Everybody’s beatable,” he said.

That might be most important. After all, it is March.