At 11 a.m. Thursday, the second season of college basketball begins. None of those wins or losses the last five months affect the next three weeks of basketball. And with a win or go home tournament, seeding decides jersey colors and not much else.
So once your eyes stop leaking from that Nigel Williams-Goss editorial and rolling from that crazy bad Guardian article, get excited for new stories in March. The journey begins in Salt Lake City, which also hosted the Zags the last time they were a one seed. The end results of that trip were less than ideal. But new year, new corporate-sponsored-arena name (Vivint Smart Home Arena is cleverer than EnergySolutions Arena, no?) and hopefully new results.
Meet the opponent
South Dakota State Jackrabbits 18-16 (8-8), KenPom 187
South Dakota State has the worst record of all tournament teams and sat at 15-16 at the end of the Summit League regular season. They shocked their conference by knocking out the first place South Dakota Coyotes in the semifinals and going on to beat the Omaha Mavericks in the championship game, capping a 6 game winning streak.
The Jackrabbits are led and largely dependent on sophomore Mike Daum, the second leading scorer in all of college basketball (25.3 points per game). Daum is an all-time hoister, averaging 15.2 field goal attempts per game. That’s about as many as Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams III shoot per game combined (15.4). The 6-9 forward shoots more threes per game than Jordan Mathews (5.4 to 5.2). But most notably, he goes to the free throw line… a lot. Daum averages 8.4 free throws per game and shoots a remarkable 87 percent.
The team in general is a superb free throw shooting team, shooting 77.6 percent, the ninth best in college basketball. The Jackrabbits win a lot of their games on the charity stripe. South Dakota State is 13-2 when they have a +10 free throw attempt differential. Their game plan is largely centered on screens for Daum and slashing lanes by their guards, largely in hopes of getting fouled. KenPom has the Jackrabbits as the 62nd best adjusted offense in the country (42nd in the tournament).
But there are some glaring deficiencies when a team goes 18-16, and for the Jackrabbits that would be their defense. With the 309th KenPom ranked defense, South Dakota State are brutally bad at guarding the other end. Opponents average 77.4 points per game against the Jackrabbits. The lone WCC team with a worse overall defense than South Dakota State according to these two figures is the 9-20 Pepperdine Waves.
South Dakota State gave up an NCAA worst 960 three point attempts this year. 40 percent of the points scored against the Jackrabbits came from threes. They average a -1.5 turnover margin.
What to watch out for
How the Zags guard Daum
Daum takes 27 percent of his team’s shots and he takes them a little bit everywhere on the court. This year’s Zags team has stood out by their ability to play defense unlike past teams, with the length and athleticism of their bigger guards and notably Williams. Williams will have a large crack at taking him on, but that also may not be possible with the Jackrabbits undersized lineup. Doubling the big would force first year coach TJ “Otz” Otzelberger to adjust and rely on his secondary options.
Gonzaga is not only a premiere defense, but also a team that is great at avoiding their opponents getting to the free throw line. The Zags have only shot fewer free throws than their opponents six times this season, and Florida is the only team to shoot ten or more free throws than them. When South Dakota State does not win the free throw margin by 10 attempts or more they are 5-14.
Shutting down the second options
When it’s not Daum shooting for South Dakota State it’s most likely guards Reed Tellinghuisen and AJ Hess. The guards are each 6-feet-7-inches and shoot 6 three pointers a game. Tellinghuisen is the team’s minutes leader (32.8) and is the only other double digit scorer (11.9 points per game).
A junior, Tellinghuisen will be the benefactor of potential double teams on Daum, and is likely the key for South Dakota State staying in the game. Hess often substitutes in for Daum and Tellinghuisen and averages 9.8 points per game.
Point guards Michael Orris and Tevin King will drive and try to get fouled, as neither of them average a three point attempt per game. The difference between Orris and King versus Nigel Williams-Goss, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson could be the biggest gap between the two teams, except for maybe one other guy...
What does Otz do about Karnowski and Gonzaga’s bigs?
Karnowski seems like the odd man out in this game. His potential matchups outside of Daum shoot more threes than they do field goals. Few may try to have Karnowski go up against Daum to get him in foul trouble. Daum gives up four inches and 55 pounds to Karnowski.
If Daum is on Karnowski, expect a feast for the other big in for the Zags. Zach Collins and Killian Tillie are ideal answers to perimeter players like Tellinghuisen and Hess.
Great chance for Gonzaga’s guards
After years of Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer casting threes, it’s odd to have a Gonzaga tournament team that is not devastating from outside. Guys like Jordan Mathews and Josh Perkins are both solid threats, but they are at times streaky.
A matchup against the worst three point defenders could greatly help this backcourt gain confidence moving forward in the tournament. Mathews scored 23 points in his only game in the tournament last year for Cal, and that number does seem unrealistic with this game’s potential.
Perkins would welcome a perimeter defense like South Dakota State’s considering his struggles in Vegas behind the arc (2-10 throughout the tournament) and with an ankle sprain. This would be a great chance to help the guard build up confidence and his game for a potential tournament run.
Time: 11:00 AM PT
TV: TBS (Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl)
Radio: Gonzaga IMG Radio Network (Tom Hudson and Matt Santangelo)
Online: March Madness Live