'Tis almost time for tipoff

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.

Tuesday Tidbits

These are heady times for South Dakota State fans. The football team is tied for first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and both basketball teams are preseason favorites in the Summit League:

SDSU sophomore RB Zach Zenner still leads the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yards per game (166.22) despite being held to a season-low 49 at Southern Illinois. He also continues to be second in total rushing yards at 1,496.
Plus, teammate senior linebacker Ross Shafrath is tops in the FCS in solo tackles per game at 7.22.

The SDSU wrestling team kicked off the Chris Bono era on Sunday by hosting the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open. The Jacks placed four in the top three in their weight classes, equaling their best finish in three years.
Up next: The first four duals under Bono. SDSU will face Cleveland State, Indiana, Northern Illinois and D-II Tiffin on Saturday in DeKalb, Ill.
As for the Jacks latest high-profile recruit, New Mexico prep standout Paul Mascarenas said he also had offers from Minnesota, Utah Valley and St. Cloud State. A freestyle national champ at 113, he projects to compete at 125.

The Summit League women’s soccer tournament concluded Sunday in Brookings with Oakland taking its eight postseason crown. The attendance for the championship match in a tournament that didn’t have a true host team: 130. By comparison, there were 348 fans at the 2009 title game in Brookings when SDSU was playing.

The SDSU cross country teams on Saturday will compete in the Midwest Regional meet in Springfield, Mo. The men are ranked 11th in the region and have hopes of a top-10 finish and perhaps a couple of national qualifiers in fifth-year senior Mike Krsnak and sophomore Trent Lusignan, who finished 1-3 at the Summit League meet. Krsnak narrowly missed out two seasons ago and took a redshirt last fall to gear up to make the leap.

The SDSU volleyball team needs a win at four-time defending regular-season champ NDSU on Friday - and maybe some help - in order to qualify for the four-team league tournament. And there’s no official word yet on the availability of star Kelli Fiegen.
Here are the Jacks’ playoff scenarios, as explained by the sports information office:

  • If Oakland sweeps and UMKC wins, SDSU is out no matter what happens at NDSU because Oakland would have 10 wins and UMKC has the tiebreaker on SDSU if both finish at 9-7.
  • If Oakland splits and UMKC wins, SDSU is in at No. 4 seed because all three teams would be 9-7, which would invoke a tiebreaker where the top two teams advance based on collective record against the tied teams.
  • If Oakland loses both and falls to 8-8 and SDSU wins, SDSU is in no matter what UMKC does because SDSU would be 9-7 and UMKC would be the only other team that can reach 9-7. So the final two spots would go to SDSU (No. 4 seed) and UMKC (No. 3 seed).
  • If SDSU beats NDSU, UMKC loses to Omaha and Oakland splits, SDSU would be 9-7, Oakland would be 9-7 and UMKC would be 8-8.
    Tiebreaker: Results of head-to-head competition between the two tied teams.
    Result, SDSU advances as No. 3 seed based on a head-to-head tiebreaker over Oakland, which would be the No. 4 seed. UMKC is eliminated.
  • If Oakland, UMKC, SDSU, USD and NDSU all finish at 8-8. SDSU would be 3-5 against those teams. Oakland is 3-5 against those teams. NDSU would be 5-3 against those teams. USD is 5-3 against those teams. UMKC is 4-4 against those teams.
    Tiebreaker 1: Results of each tied team’s collective record against the other teams tied for the same position. That eliminates SDSU, Oakland and UMKC, and puts USD and NDSU in the field.

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.

Video highlights from South Dakota State’s legendary comeback win at Southern Illinois.

Week 9 wrap

A few final thoughts from South Dakota State’s crucial 16-12 win at Southern Illinois on Saturday:

Despite posting a non-offensive score for the fifth week in a row, the Salukis were held to their lowest point total since a 24-3 loss to Indiana State on Sept. 29. That game was also in Carbondale, where SIU is just 8-7 since opening its new stadium.
Meanwhile, SDSU now has three wins when scoring 17 or less and three wins when scoring 30 or more. You could look at that in a couple of ways: The Jacks are versatile or semi-inconsistent.

John Stiegelmeier became the second coach in SDSU history to reach 100 career wins, joining Ralph Ginn, who posted 113 in 22 seasons. The feat isn’t as rare within the Missouri Valley Football Conference, however, as five of the 10 current coaches have hit the mark. The others: Joe Glenn, USD, 189; Dale Lennon, SIU, 136; Terry Allen, MSU, 122; Mark Farley, UNI, 102.
The SDSU players gave Stiegelmeier the game ball after the win, and quarterback Austin Sumner said that getting to that landmark was motivating.

Still, no coach is above reproach, and the Jacks had a couple of head-scratching situations prior to their game-winning drive.
On third-and-4 from its 11-yard line with less than 5 minutes left, SDSU ran a QB option play to the right with Austin Sumner, who isn’t known for his running ability. Why? According to Stiegelmeier, that was the same play called when Sumner gained a career-high 24 yards earlier in the game. The problem was that SIU came out with a totally different defensive look and blew up the play. In fact, Stiegelmeier felt that Sumner was lucky to retain possession.
On the very next play, the Jacks then lined up to go for it on fourth-and-3 despite being at their own 12 and possessing all three timeouts. But they were called for delay of game and then punted.
Asked about that just minutes after the game, Stiegelmeier said he indeed planned to run a play and wasn’t sure what held up the play. Receiver Trevor Tiefenthaler said the thought behind that was SDSU needed only 3 yards, and the Jacks were confident their defense would have given up only a field goal if the conversion failed.

SDSU has won three in a row in the series since laying an egg against the Salukis in a 2009 home game for the Valley title.

Injury update: Stiegelmeier said that what happened to the right knee of OL Josh Kage in the fourth quarter was “not good.” He was less sure about the status of WR Jason Schneider (left ankle). Reserve LB Robbie Jelsma also had to be helped off the field, suffering what appeared to be a concussion on kick coverage.

SIU came in ranked last in the Valley in rushing offense (111.8 yards per game) yet tallied 131 yards by halftime against the normally stout SDSU run defense. Thirty-six of those came on fly-sweep runs by receiver LaSteven McKinney, who had just 15 rush attempts in the first nine games. The Jacks adjusted to that as the game went on, giving up just 44 yards rushing in the second half and forcing McKinney to fumble.

The Salukis came up empty on four drives that moved inside the SDSU 35-yard line, punting three times and missing a field goal (it was blocked by Jacks DT Andy Mink) late in the first half. One of those stalled due to a penalty. SIU was flagged a season-high 10 times for 63 yards.

Several SDSU players moved up the career charts Saturday. Sumner is now 10th in career passing yards, passing Noel Bouche (3,947); receivers Aaron Rollin and Tyrel Kool are tied with each other for 8th in career catches at 120; and Rollin is 10th in career receiving yards at 1,662.

An update on the Valley postseason situation with two weeks left in the regular season: NDSU and Illinois State virtual locks with eight D-I wins, including one each against Football Bowl Subdivision squads. No Valley team has ever been left out with eight D-I wins. The Bison and Redbirds meet next week in Bloomington-Normal, too.
Indiana State can still get to 8-3 with a win in its finale at Youngstown State in two weeks, but one of those is against a lower-level foe.
The Penguins are also in the mix at 5-4 and an FBS win. They finish at struggling Western Illinois before hosting the Sycamores.
SDSU is in decent shape in that it has the potential to get to nine wins and boasts head-to-head victories over Indiana State and Youngstown. The Jacks go to No. 1-ranked North Dakota State this week with the winner clinching at least a share of the league title before hosting last-place South Dakota to close the regular season.

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.

Southern Illinois coach Dale Lennon after a 16-12 loss to South Dakota State.

SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner after a comeback win at Southern Illinois.

SDSU football coach John Stiegelmeier after a comeback win at Southern Illinois.

Countdown to … Southern Illinois

Some news and notes leading up to the Jackrabbits’ contest at Southern Illinois. I’ll have live coverage starting at 1:30 p.m. Saturday:

On the injury front, SDSU continues to improve. Reserve LB R.C. Kilgore is the only player unavailable this week. OLs Jon Fick and Alex Parker rebounded well from their first action of the season and are in position to continue gaining reps.
For the Salukis, starting safety Carlton Lewis is out and OLs Ethan Wirth, Tanner Crum and Richard Wilson are questionable.

SDSU RB Zach Zenner has rushed for at least 87 yards in every game, while SIU hasn’t had a back go for more than 82 in any game. As a team, the Jacks lead the Valley in rushing at 201.1 yards per game. SIU is last at 111.8. Strangely enough, SDSU is also last in the league in sacks allowed.
The Salukis top rusher (by one yard) is sophomore Mika’il McCall, who began his career at the University of Iowa. The three-star appeared in two games in 2011 before being suspended for violating team rules.

The Jacks may have set an unofficial record for pink jerseys - an indication that a player failed to meet some sort of responsibility - this week at practice. However, true freshman LB Charles Elmore and kickoff specialist Jay Carlson were the only offenders who see regular playing time.

Led by North Dakota native Dale Lennon, the SIU staff has plenty of ties to this area. Included: offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer (formerly the head coach at the University of Sioux Falls) and defensive line coach Austin Flyger (who played for Augustana and the Sioux Falls Storm and coached at Northern State).

The Salukis have just one game left after this, meaning their best hope is to finish 7-4. Does Lennon think that would be enough to get them into the playoffs?
"We need things to go right," he said. "We lost control of our own destiny when we lost to North Dakota State, so right now our goal is to win on Saturday. We can’t even look beyond anything because we need to find a way to win against South Dakota State."

SDSU and SIU have four common foes so far. The Jacks beat Indiana State, Youngstown State and Missouri State, but lost to Northern Iowa. The Salukis beat Youngstown State, Missouri State and UNI, but lost to Indiana State.
SIU does not play South Dakota this season, while SDSU does not play Illinois State.

The conditions for Saturday: Game-time temp of 54 degrees with showers and 12 mph winds. The Salukis are averaging 10,784 fans.

A fair number of SDSU players and coaches are hanging on to their Hobo Day beards out of superstition. That includes head coach John Stiegelmeier, who is one win away from 100 for his career - all at his alma mater.

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.

Tuesday Tidbits

The treacherous football-basketball overlap is officially upon us. It’s going to get weird:

The Associated Press preseason polls are out. The SDSU men won’t play anybody in the top 25, but do face two in the receiving votes category: Minnesota and New Mexico.
The SDSU women have No. 8 Penn State and No. 18 Nebraska plus vote getters Middle Tennessee State, Georgetown and Creighton.

The Summit League women’s soccer tournament will be held in Brookings this week. The semifinals are Friday (No. 1 Oakland vs. No. 4 Western Illinois; No. 2 Fort Wayne vs. No. 3 NDSU) and the title tilt on Saturday.
SDSU did not make the four-team field for the first time since joining the league, ending the longest active streak in the Summit (four years). That’s despite going unbeaten in its final five matches.
A similar scenario could play out in volleyball as tournament host NDSU has slipped to sixth in the standings with just three conference matches to play.
SDSU has jumped into third, two back of Fort Wayne and IUPUI and one up on Kansas City and Oakland. The Jacks’ last three league matches are all on the road against South Dakota, Kansas City and NDSU.
But, first, SDSU hosts top-40 team Iowa State tonight.

The NCAA put out a couple sets of academic scores late last week: Graduation Success Rate and federal graduation rate. As a whole, SDSU wound up almost exactly in live with the D-I averages. But several programs graded out as below average in one or both indicators, including … women’s basketball, a program that regularly challenges for the GPA title across all levels.
Makes you wonder if these numbers are even worth tracking. You can find all the results here.

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.

Countdown to … Youngstown State

Some news and notes in advance of South Dakota State hosting No. 22-ranked Youngstown State for Hobo Day on Saturday. I’ll have live coverage starting at 1:30 p.m.:

With a month left in the regular season, five of the 10 teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference are within one game of first place. What’s more, most of them will play each other down the stretch - and no team has ever won the Valley with three conference losses.
A quick reset on what’s ahead in terms of head-to-head play between contenders. Indiana State is arguably in the best position given its remaining schedule and a win over NDSU:
Southern Illinois (4-1): at NDSU, vs. SDSU
Indiana State (4-1): none
NDSU (3-1): vs. SIU, vs. SDSU
SDSU (3-1): at SIU, at NDSU
Illinois State (3-2): at Indiana State, vs. NDSU

There’s not much separation between the Jacks and the Penguins in the main metrics. YSU is 22nd in the FCS coaches poll; SDSU is essentially 26th. SDSU is 117th in the Sagarin Ratings, four spots ahead of the Penguins. SDSU is 13th in the Gridiron Power Index, while YSU is 21st.

The Jacks are 4-0 against the Penguins since joining the Valley in 2008. Three of those victories have been by double digits, including both meetings in Brookings.
On a related note, SDSU remains the only school in the league with natural grass on its field. The conditions didn’t seem too bad on Wednesday, considering Brookings High had played two games there in the previous week, but an inch of snow subsequently fell. Temps on Saturday are expected to be in the upper 30s to low 40s with 12 mph winds and a 20-percent chance of rain.
Meanwhile, it was 82 degrees in Youngstown on Thursday, and the Penguins plan to conduct their Friday walk through indoors in Sioux Falls.
"That’s what you make it out to be," Penguins coach Eric Wolford said. "You can make anything you want to be an issue, and we’re not going to let the field be an excuse for us not playing well."

The latest injury update from SDSU: Every regular than safety Skyler Luxa was in uniform Wednesday, and he hasn’t been ruled out yet. Andrew Brown will start if Luxa can’t go.
Reserve LB R.C. Kilgore is likely out this week and beyond due to injury.
OLs Alex Parker and Jon Fick could potentially see their first action of the season Saturday, although their reps would be limited. Andrew Mueller is also available. He was last week, too, but didn’t see any time.
LB Ross Shafrath is probable, but has been wearing a yellow non-contact jersey this week after making a wobbly exit against UNI in the fourth quarter.
DLs Doug Peete and Andy Mink are in better shape than they were last week, while WR Tyrel Kool is questionable after aggravating a season-long knee injury. He practiced Wednesday, too, and without a brace.

The Jacks will have some recruits on campus this weekend and many more for the home finale vs. South Dakota on Nov. 17.

SDSU and YSU rank 1-2 in the Valley in rushing offense and 2-3 in rushing defense. Other noteworthy stats and comparisons:

  • YSU has scored 30 TDs compared to 13 by SDSU.
  • YSU leads the Valley in sacks allowed (6) and the Jacks are last (21).
  • YSU is second in third-down conversions (53.4) and SDSU is second in third-down defense (33.3)
  • Neither team has a player in the top 10 in the league in catches or receiving yards, while YSU has only one player in the top 40 in tackles (LB Travis Williams is 29th at 40).
  • Both teams have candidates for the Rice Award (SDSU LB T.J. Lally; YSU WR Andre Stubbs) and the Payton Award (SDSU RB Zach Zenner; YSU QB Kurt Hess and RB Jamaine Cook).

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.


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