South Dakota State is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, but if the Jackrabbits (26-7) hadn’t won the Summit League Tournament, they would have had to settle for the NIT.
It wouldn’t have mattered that they won at TCU, at Minnesota, at Florida Gulf Coast and were competitive with Texas Tech in Lubbock. They wouldn’t have made the tournament.
That is the curse of being a mid-major.
“We watched what happened to Monmouth and there are a lot of questions about what are the criteria,” South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I think everybody’s a little frustrated with it because it doesn’t seem like there’s one thing they talk about (above all else). Wins against the top 50 and top 100 (are important), and when you say top 50 and top 100, you’re talking about RPI, but then it doesn’t seem like RPI really matters. We were a 28 in the RPI at the end and we end up with a 12-seed. In terms of scheduling, we can’t play enough top 100 and top 50 RPI games. It’s not possible. It would be great if our league had that so that we had those games, but nobody will schedule us. Nobody, I’m sure, will schedule Monmouth either.
“If you have a very good mid-major program, it’s very difficult to get top-100, top-50 games because they’re not going to come to your place and the really don’t want to play you at their place,” Nagy continued. “We’ve had the third-longest home winning streak in the country, so nobody wants to come to our place. It’s really probably the most difficult thing we do is scheduling. We would love to get South Dakota State to the point where we could get an at-large, and everybody says, ‘Well, that’ll never happen.’ I’m not interested in talking about that because I want to do what it takes to make it happen. But it’s not easy because it’s very difficult to put the kind of schedule together to make it happen.”
As it stands, No. 12 South Dakota State will face No. 5 Maryland (25-8) on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET. Freshman forward Mike Daum leads the Jackrabbits with 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while senior guards George Marshall and Deondre Parks are averaging 14.9 and 14.7 points, respectively.
Nagy does not think his team will be intimidated by the Terrapins.
“We’ve played enough high-major schools that our kids know what’s like,” he said. “They’ve seen the bodies, they’ve seen the athleticism. We play four seniors quite a bit, so they’ve been through this. Our kids know what it’s like. I think really for us it’s one of the first times all year the pressure’s been off. We were expected to win the league. We were expected to do very well in our tournament. And so for one of the few times all year, (the pressure is kind of off). Nobody expects us to do anything. I think our kids can relax.”