The Bears and Jackrabbits get together Thursday night (on TruTV) to start both of their journeys in the NCAA tournament. This is the first ever NCAA tournament game for South Dakota State, and the 3rd appearance for the Bears in the last 5 years.
The Bears are coming off a third loss to Missouri in the Big 12 championship, while South Dakota State won the Summit league championship over Western Illinois in overtime to earn the automatic bid. The JackRabbits finished second in the regular season in the Summit, behind Oral Roberts, which was upset by WIU in the semi-finals.
The Jacks are led by Junior Guard Nate Wolters. He is their leading scorer (and one of the top scorers in the NCAA) but is not a very good shooter. Everything they do offensively is through Wolters as he is a good passer and excellent at getting into the paint. He is a good finisher and has a bunch of different shots he can get over bigger players.
Wolters is involved in 68% of SDSU's baskets, through assists or makes of his own. That is an astonishing amount. The Bears leader in that category is Pierre Jackson with just 54.89%. Wolters is also their leading rebounder especially on the defensive glass. That tells me that the posts do a very good job of blocking out and letting the guards get the ball. However, as a team, this is a average rebounding team (just 82nd overall in the nation).
Wolters though is a bad 3-piont shooter in most games. He shot just 24.4% from behind the arc on 131 attempts. To put that in perspective, that is just 12 less than Pierre Jackson took all year, but he made 30 less. He had a few games where he hit 3 or more, and was effective from behind the arc, but in the conference tournament, he was just 2-11.
Wolters is also a volume shooter, taking over twice as many shots from the field as another other Jackrabbit. However, inside the arc, he is an accurate shooter who also gets to the line a lot (over 7 attempts from the FT line a game).
While Wolters might be a bad 3-point shooter, he is surrounded on the court with several excellent long range shooters. Jordan Dykstra, Brayden Carlson, Chad White and Griffan Callahan all shoot over 40% from behind the arc. The SDSU offense is built to get the defense to sink on Wolters with dribble penetration or Dykstra down in the post, though Dykstra is not that effective from down low. Once the defense drops down, they kick it out for open shots or lanes for more dribble penetration. They run a very active and patient offense.
Some will say that this is a one-man team, and while I look back and see that my last 5 paragraphs have pretty much all been about him, I disagree. They play an offense that gets everyone involved, it just flows through the Summit League Player of the Year.
Keys to the Game:
1. Keep Wolters out of the paint
Expect the Bears to have A.J. Walton or Deuce Bello on Wolters early, if one of them don't start. The Bears 3-guard lineup has worked very well the past few games, but will Drew actually come out in that lineup and in the man defense? I have my doubts. I expect the same starting five and a man defense to open the game. However, Walton will be in quick for one of the three big players to matchup better with SDSU.
As we spoke about earlier, Wolters is dangerous in the paint. He is as good as any guard in the nation down there. Baylor has to keep him out of there, and make him a shooter and just a passer.
2. Stay on their 3-point shooters
These guys can shoot. They are great at moving around and getting a good angle for a Nate Wolters pass. They really know spacing well and that is the staple of their offense. This ties in with point #1, but if the Bears can keep Wolters in front of them, the Baylor defenders should be able to stick with their shooters. If the Jackrabbits don't hit at least 35% of the 3-pointers and make 8 total shots, they probably won't win this game.
3. Win the Free Throw game
SDSU is a solid free throw shooting team, hitting 73% of their shots. Where they get the big benefit though is their amount of attempts. They are 24th in the country in Free Throws Attempted. Here is a look at the two teams from the Free Throw line:
The Bears have not done a great job of getting to the FT line, so if the Bears can use their size to get more FT attempts and to not foul the Jackrabbits, that would be a huge advantage for the Bears. I would like to see Baylor be +5 in points from the FT line.
4. Dominate on the glass
SDSU is not a great rebounding team, while the Bears are a solid rebounding team.
The Jackrabbits out rebounded their opposition by 2.35 rebounds per game, while the Bears out-rebounded their opponents by over 5 per game. Add in the size advantage Baylor will have in the post, and the Bears hopefully can get a +8 on the glass.
5. Get those paint points
Are you picking up a theme here? The Bears are bigger, much bigger than SDSU. They have to take advantage of that, something they have not done in some games. The Jackrabbits have some size at the guard positions, starting two 6-4 players in Wolters and Callahan. However their front-line goes 6-4, 6-7, 6-8.
With Quincy Acy (6-7) Perry Jones III (6-11), and Quincy Miller (6-9) Baylor has to attack the post and make them pay. Perry Jones III needs to have a big game. He has been excellent on the glass recently, and if he plays like he did in the first two rounds of the Big 12 tournament, Baylor should win this game easily.
This is not going to be the cake-walk game that a lot of Bear fans expect. I really think SDSU can hang with Baylor for part of the game. However, the Bears athleticism and superior talent at almost every position should wear the Jackrabbits down. I expect this to be a 4-7 point game at halftime. I think the Bears will extend the lead late and make the final score look worse than what this game actually was. Bears win 75-60.