Football isn’t the only game in town this week - or so I’m told. The South Dakota State men’s and women’s basketball teams, both the preseason favorites in the Summit League and the defending conference tournament champions, christen their 2012-13 seasons on Friday and Saturday, respectively, with a couple of interesting contests against a major-conference foes.
Here’s a primer:
SDSU men at Alabama, 8 p.m. Friday, ESPNU
The Crimson Tide return four starters from a relatively young squad that went 21-12 and made the NCAA tournament last season. Guard Trevor Releford - a Kansas City, Mo., product - is an all-SEC performer. He’s flanked by a couple of 7-footers.
Alabama was picked sixth (out of 14) in the SEC preseason poll, but is ranked 35th in the KenPom preseason rankings. That’s 14 spots ahead of SDSU.
The Jacks have never faced Bama before, but did take on its coach – Anthony Grant – when he was at VCU. Grant has brought that same uptempo style to Tuscaloosa.
"We’re going to have to take care of the basketball - that’ll be the big deal," SDSU coach Scott Nagy said. "If we can’t, we’re going to have a hard time beating them."
As of now, the Jacks plan to play true freshman point guard Jake Bittle and redshirt classmates center Connor Devine and wing Matt Donlan. That could change if there’s an injury. Right now, everybody is healthy and available, according to Nagy.
SDSU women vs. Villanova in Minneapolis, 2 p.m. Saturday
Although not as renowned as their male counterparts, the Wildcat women have a pretty good thing going. Coach Harry Perretta has won 617 games in 35 seasons at the helm. Last year, he led Nova to a 19-15 mark, a No. 35 ranking in RPI – some 25 spots ahead of the Jacks – and the third round of the WNIT. This year, it’s been tabbed 10th out of 15 teams in the Big East preseason poll.
Senior forward Laura Sweeney is the top returning player, an all-league pick for a team that likes to spread the floor with and shoot the 3.
Meanwhile, SDSU is unlikely to use senior guard Steph Paluch this weekend. Her status for the season remains up on the air due to an ACL tear suffered in March. She could decide to redshirt. A decision is likely to be made in the next 1-2 weeks.
"We kind of give her the best picture we can about where we think she’s at, about how she’s able to help us," coach Aaron Johnston said. "Ultimately, it’ll be her choice."
The Jacks will play Game 2 on Sunday against host Minnesota or Washington State, two programs they’ve faced (and beat) in recent years.
Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.