South Dakota State Jackrabbits: A Primer

On Friday night, the Illini will officially put the 2004-2005 season behind them when they welcome South Dakota State into Assembly Hall to open up the 2005-2006 basketball season. The Jackrabbits come into Champaign already having split two games as part of the Guardian's Classic including a loss to Kentucky in Lexington.

The exhibition games are over for Bruce Weber and his Fighting Illini, and the season starts anew on Friday night in Champaign as the South Dakota State Jackrabbits venture to Champaign, IL. The Jackrabbits have already played two games as part of the Guardian's Classic, and are 1-1 with a loss to Kentucky in Lexington, and a 61-59 victory over Northern Colorado.

It will be sort of a welcome home for South Dakota State Head Coach Scott Nagy when the Jackrabbits enter Assembly Hall on Friday evening. Nagy is the son of former Illinois Assistant Coach Dick Nagy, and he was a graduate assistant for Lou Henson for two seasons, including the Illini's run to the Final Four in 1989. There is sure to be some memories for the Champaign native as he comes into Assembly Hall as the visitor for the first time in his coaching career. Nagy is in his eleventh season at South Dakota State as head coach, and he is the all-time leader in men's basketball coaching victories. Before SDSU started their transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I last season, Nagy's teams won four North Central Conference Championships (1996, 1997, 1998, and 2002) and Nagy won five North Central Conference Coach of the Year Awards (1996, 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2003).

The Jackrabbits are in their second season of converting to becoming a Division I college basketball program. Last year, as part of their transition process the Jackrabbits were only allowed to play a partial Division I schedule, so they only played 16 games against Division I opponents, winning just one game. This season SDSU will be playing all but one of their twenty-eight games against Division I opponents, including match-ups with Kentucky (71-54 loss on Sunday evening), Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Utah State.

The schedule will be tough for Nagy, especially as he has zero seniors on the roster, and only five players who have seen the court in a Division I basketball game. The Jackrabbits are expected to be led by Streeth and Smith's Preseason All Division I Independent Team members sophomore swingman Steve Holdren and junior forward Ben Beran. In the first two games of the year, that has held true as Beran scored 25 (on 11-17 shooting) against Kentucky and 10 against Northern Colorado and Holdren scored 5 against Kentucky (on 2-11 shooting), but rebounded to score 19 (on 6-10 shooting) against Northern Colorado. The only other player to score in double figures for the Jackrabbits in either of the two games was starting guard Matt Cadwell.

Since the Jackrabbits have played two games already this season, we have a little bit of information to go on to see how they will attack the Fighting Illini on Friday night.

The most obvious part of the Jackrabbits attack is that Ben Beran will see the ball in the post early and often. He has taken a combined 33 shots in the Jackrabbits first two games. Since Beran does see the ball a lot, he is prone to turnovers as he has combined for 12 turnovers in the two games (8 alone against Northern Colorado).

Another thing to watch on the inside, especially on the defensive glass is junior college transfer Mohamed Berte from the Ivory Coast. Berte should contribute more as the season progresses, but he has shown that he can rebound by pulling down 9 rebounds in 26 minutes of play against Kentucky and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes of play against Northern Colorado.

The other quick thing that can be gleamed from the Jackrabbits previous two games is that defensive pressure can frustrate the SDSU backcourt into turnovers. Against Kentucky, they committed 22 turnovers and against Northern Colorado the Jackrabbits handed the ball to the opposition 24 times. When you combine their penchant to turn the ball over with their bad shooting, 35.4% from the floor in the first two games of the season (40-113) it is sort of surprising that SDSU was able to win one of their first two games (though against Northern Colorado they did force 25 turnovers and hold them to just 36.4% shooting).

As the Jackrabbits showed against Kentucky, they will be a pesky team for the Fighting Illini to close out, but this game should be rather pedestrian for Bruce Weber's Fighting Illini. Weber should still be able to continue to mess with the Illini line ups to see which combination of players gives the Illini the most on the floor at the same time against SDSU while the Illini win the game comfortably. The nerves will definitely be out there for the Illini freshmen, but this is a game that should be played at a fast pace like the Illini prefer to play, so the game will be up and down and a fun contest for the fan's to watch.

BRUMBY'S PREDICTION
South Dakota State: 65
Illinois: 80


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