BROOKINGS – The SDSU Jackrabbits earned a 16th seed in the West Region and face No. 1 Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The game tips off a 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on TBS.
South Dakota State (18-16) tied for fourth in the Summit League regular-season standings with an 8-8 record despite sitting in last place at 2-6 at the midway point of conference play.
They’ve won nine of their past 11 games, including six consecutively.
The Jackrabbits picked up three wins in three days to capture the Summit League tournament last week, capping it off with a 79-77 defeat of Omaha in the title game on March 7.
“Our job is to just try to give ourselves the best chance to win games. Obviously, the season didn’t start the way we would have liked, so some losses started mounting and as a result, you’re going to be a lower seed,” first-year SDSU head coach T.J. Otzelberger said when asked about the draw following the team’s public gathering to view the CBS Selection Show at Cubby’s Sports Bar & Grill on Sunday evening. “To me, at that point, when you’re playing a team that’s a top-10 team in the country, regardless, you’re going to be playing somebody really good and with a lot of strengths.
“So we need to worry about what we can control and that’s us being at our best, and that’s what we’re going to aim to do.”
The Bulldogs (32-1) didn’t drop a game until their regular-season finale – a 79-71 home loss to BYU, a game in which they led by as many as 16 points early.
They won the West Coast Conference regular-season title for the fifth year in a row and the 20th time since 1994 with a 17-1 mark. They then cruised to the tourney championship in Las Vegas. Gonzaga beat ranked Saint Mary’s for a third time this year, 74-56, in the final on March 7.
Gonzaga has won the WCC Tournament 16 times since 1995.
The Bulldogs are making their 19th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 20th overall, the other coming in 1995.
Head coach Mark Few, in his 18th season, has a record of 498-112 at Gonzaga. His teams have won 16 WCC regular-season titles and 13 WCC tourney championships.
In the previous 17 trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs have advanced to the Sweet 16 six times and the Elite Eight once (2015). This is the second time they’ve earned a No. 1 seed – the other coming in 2013.
Gonzaga also advanced to the Elite Eight in 1999 under head coach Dan Monson.
As usual, the Bulldogs are good on the offensive end at 84.6 points per game. And this may be the school’s best defensive team of all-time as they allowed 61.2 points per contest.
West Coast Conference MVP Nigel Williams-Goss, a junior, leads five players in double figures with a 16.9 average. He sat out last season due to transfer rules.
Senior Przemek Karnowski, who is 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, anchors the middle and averages 12.6 points.
“I coached their point guard Nigel Williams-Goss at Washington for two years and was fortunate to be around him every day,” Otzelberger said. “He’s an unbelievable player, a great guy. I’ve watched their team, because of that, quite a bit – more than you’d normally watch somebody else. I’ve seen them play a lot through the year and they’re an unbelievable team, great offense and defense in the half court.
“We’re going to have to be on our A game executing; make sure we value the basketball; and be effective in the rebounding battle.”
The Jackrabbits are making their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and fourth NCAA Tournament trip in that stretch. They also qualified in 2012, 2013 and 2016.
Summit League Player of the Year and two-time Tournament MVP Mike Daum is second nationally at 25.3 points per game.
His 861 points this season are the second most in league history. The sophomore ranks 15th on SDSU’s all-time scoring list with 1,379 points in 68 games – a 20.28 career average.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE DIVISION I POSTSEASON
Appearances: 6. Overall record: 1-5.
NCAA: 0-3. NIT: 1-1. CBI: 0-1.
NCAA Tournament (0-3)
2012 – No. 14 seed South Region
Second Round – Lost to No. 3 Baylor 68-60
2013 – No. 13 seed South Region
Auburn Hills, Mich.
Second Round – Lost to No. 4 Michigan 71-56
2016 – No. 12 seed South Region
First Round – Lost to No. 5 Maryland 79-74
2017 – No. 16 seed West Region
Salt Lake City, Utah
First Round – vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
National Invitation Tournament (1-1)
2015 – No. 8 seed
First Round – Won at No. 1 Colorado State 86-76
Second Round – Lost at No. 5 Vanderbilt 92-77
College Basketball Invitational (0-1)
First Round – Lost at Old Dominion 72-65