After two tough road games this weekend, the South Dakota State men's basketball team looks to put this behind them and focus on two crucial games at home.
Coming off of a critical road loss against rival South Dakota and a less-than-remarkable victory at UMKC, the Jackrabbits have their final four games of the season at home, where they are undefeated so far in this season.
Losing against South Dakota really brought the young Jacks back down to Earth, knocking them out of contention for a potential regular season conference championship, as they now trail the leading Oral Roberts Golden Eagles by 2.5 games.
During that loss, the Jacks found out what it takes to be a championship-caliber team. While the possibility of a NCAA Tournament bid still stands with the conference tournament March 3-6, they have much work to do to get back to the quality play that has gotten them to this point.
One bright spot for the Jackrabbits coming out of this weekend, other than the continuous stellar play from point guard Nate Wolters, is the fact that for the first time in their run in Division I, the Jackrabbits have their first 20-win season, making their mark as one of the up-and-coming teams in the country.
Despite those 20 wins, SDSU is still being written off as just another team having a good season. There are still plenty of critics doubting the Jacks, writing off all of their accomplishments, not only as individuals, but as a team.
However, this weekend may be the Jackrabbits' best chance to gain some support from the outside, make a name for themselves on a national level and silence the critics heading into the final stretch of the season.
This Wednesday, the Jacks host their intrastate rival, North Dakota State. In their previous meeting, the Jacks ended their six-year drought against the Bison, upending the home team 91-88 in overtime.
Wolters was key down the stretch of that game, scoring 18 of his 27 points in the second half and overtime. One key element for the Jacks will be containing NDSU's Taylor Braun, who lit up SDSU for a 28-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Except, with all there is on the line in terms of rivalry against North Dakota State, the game on Saturday will be the one where the rest of the country will be focusing on when it comes to national recognition.
In the annual BracketBusters challenge, South Dakota State was paired up against the Buffalo Bulls out of the Mid-American conference. Not only did they get chosen to battle a quality opponent in Buffalo, they received a nationally televised game, one that will be featured on ESPNU Saturday, February 18th at 1 p.m. ET, the first nationally televised game at home in school history.
With this game, the Jackrabbits have their opportunity to show the rest of the country, and the selection committee, just how good they really are, and that their 20-7 record is no fluke. This will also be the first chance fans of great college basketball players get to see another in his element.
Some know Wolters, others do not. One thing is for sure, while he might not be one of the biggest names in college basketball this year, he's one whose name will generate some buzz in the near future. Perhaps as soon as this time next week.
It's getting to be time where we find out just how good some of these teams really are. South Dakota State has two more weeks to prove their self-worth in the world of college basketball. North Dakota State and Buffalo bring with them enough talent to knock off the stumbling Jacks.
Whether or not SDSU can regroup and get back on the winning path will be up to them. They have the potential, now they just need to prove it in the most critical part of the season.
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