The South Dakota State Jackrabbits have had one of the top scorers in the country for a few seasons now in Mike Daum.
He’s back for his senior season.
“We feel like we are (close),’’ said South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger. “But we didn’t get the job (against Ohio State in the first round last March). We feel we are there as a program. Still believing you can do it and actually doing it are different. We had to win three games in three days (to win the Summit title). We took care of business to get there. We just want another opportunity.’’
The Jackrabbits were a 12 last season, up from being a 16 the previous season. How you earn a 12 or 13 to have a chance for a first-round upset is determined by how a team plays/wins/beats during the regular season.
South Dakota State played a great schedule last season, beating Iowa and Buffalo on a neutral court, Ole Miss on the road, and playing but losing at Kansas, Wyoming, at Wichita State and at Colorado.
“To get the 11 or the 12 or the 13 you have to take care of business,’’ said Otzelberger. “If you’re a 15 or 16 in most cases the odds are stacked against you.’’
Taking the team to Canada to Montreal and Ottawa Aug. 8-13 is a start. Playing at Nevada will help in the non-conference, too. But the heavy lifting on this season will begin this summer.
“We return five guys who played heavy minutes,’’ said Otzelberger. “We don’t have any (contributing) juniors and only one (playing) sophomore. We will need to find ways to get the younger guys caught up. We just need to get everyone on the same page.’’
Daum, a 6-9 forward, averaged 25.1 as a sophomore, 23.9 as a junior and could/should average at least that this upcoming season. He tested the NBA draft process, but knew he wasn’t going to be selected and came back to school. Otzelberger said the objective this summer is for him to continue to get his body right and he said it already looks better.
He’s an elite scorer, but Otzelberger said he needs to become more than say Kyle Wiltjer has been as a pro, a scorer but a liability on the defensive end.
Otzelberger said this will be a critical summer for Tevin King, a rising senior guard that has been their version of “Marcus Smart, a leader a toughness guy that helps you win.’’ But Otzelberger said King has to take that next step, ideally on the offensive end after averaging nine points a game.
And if there is a player who could be a difference maker to take the Jackrabbits across that finish line and actually win an NCAA tournament game it could be freshman Owen King. He was a quarterback in high school in Minnesota and someone who Otzelberger said could have played Big Ten football but chose hoops.
“He’s a winner,’’ said Otzelberger of the 6-3 guard. “He gives us a lot of toughness and intangible qualities. He will be an impactful player who will play heavy minutes and possibly an eventual starter.’’
Getting King to assimilate in the offensive flow with Daum this summer will prove invaluable, and possibly the start of the climb toward a possible first-round upset if the Jackrabbits can get to the NCAAs again.