The Jackrabbits have a pretty standard resume for a double-digit seed in the tournament. A strong conference season (13-3 in the regular conference season with a conference tournament win) and a few non-conference losses. The Jackrabbits' best win is probably a 70-65 victory against Steve Alford's New Mexico team back in December. There are also losses to Minnesota, Belmont, a pair of SEC teams in Alabama and Tennessee, as well as SDSU's worst loss to Hofstra (a team that went 7-25 in the CAA).
SDSU's three conference losses came at the hands of Oakland, South Dakota, and North Dakota State -- three teams that SDSU beat in return matchups during the regular season. The Jackrabbits then went to the conference tournament and beat two teams with IUPUI in their name (IUPUI, and IUPUI Fort Wayne, if you were curious), before besting North Dakota State in the season rubbermatch and conference title game.
However, the Jackrabbits aren't on a particularly hot streak coming into the tournament. Thanks to the late placement of two non-conference games against Cal State Bakersfield and Murray State -- both losses -- the Jackrabbits are just 6-3 in the last nine games,
The big name here is Nate Wolters. He is a big point guard (6'4) that leads his team in just about everything. He is the top scorer with 22 points per game, while pulling down the second most rebounds on average (5.6 per game) and dishing out the most assists (5.8) and nabbing the most steals (1.8). Wolters is going to be a bull of a matchup for Trey Burke. The senior point guard is very high usage (over 30 percent of available possessions), plays nearly 90 percent of his team's minutes, and draws an average of 6.0 fouls per forty minutes.
Wolter's success is aided by a solid group of guys around him. Wings Brayden Carlson and Chad White are both low usage shooters. Carlson hits 35 percent of his threes while White is hitting 43 percent. On the inside, Jordan Dykstra and Tony Fiegen provide the inside presence. Dykstra is an inside-out player, who is hitting 43 percent of his outside shots while leading the team in rebounding.
The starting five play the majority of the time. All five players average over 31 minutes per game, and the next two most used players don't even crack 30 percent of SDSU's available minutes. Marcus Heemstra is another post player, and one of the first players off the bench. Taevaunn Prince is a wing player, and the only one in the team's top seven that isn't a junior or a senior.
The Jackrabbits' game
South Dakota State has a very similar profile to Michigan. Use your very good point guard to score and open up opportunities for other players. The Jackrabbits are a very good shooting team, with an eFG% of 53.5. As a team they hit nearly 40 percent from three, and they will shoot a lot from outside, with well over a third of all shots coming from deep. If you are having bad thoughts about all those open threes Wisconsin kept getting, I've got bad news for you on this game.
On the other side of the ball, SDSU hasn't been as effective. The Jackrabbits have an overall defensive rating of 103.1 in Kenpom's rankings (209th), thanks in large part to poor shooting defense (an allowed eFG% of 50.9) and a Michigan-like lack of forced turnovers (TO% just 17.1 on defense).
On the bright side, this isn't a very big team. While the backcourt measures between 6'4 and 6'4, all of SDSU's post options are around 6'8. This has helped keep some of SDSU's rebounding numbers down. Although the team is still one of the best in the nation at not giving up offensive boards (26 percent OR% allowed on the season). Michigan has had trouble in the past when teams could focus inside and beat Michigan at the basket. This team probably isn't equipped to do that.
However, the similarities on offense are striking, and this could quickly turn into a shooting contest between two very good, very streaky teams. SDSU is good at getting open shots for its shooters around the outside, and Nate Wolters is terrific trying to score on his own. Michigan's big worry in this one is getting beat at its own game. If SDSU comes into the game hot, Michigan could find itself buried quick.
That being said, the similarities do benefit Michigan. The Wolverines have shown an ability to hum along effectively on offense against all but the most elite defensive teams, and while this game has the look of a shootout, it is certainly a shootout Michigan can win.
We will look more at the Jackrabbits over the next day or two, as well as looking into potential second round matchups.