NCAA Tournament Preview: (8) South Dakota State vs. (9) Villanova
Most mid-major college basketball programs are just happy to make it to the NCAA Tournament every once in a while. For the South Dakota State women's basketball team, getting to the 'big dance' is much more than that - it's an expectation.
And so is winning on college basketball's biggest stage.
The Jackrabbits (26-6) are making their eighth appearance in ten years in the NCAA Tourney, having secured their best seed in nine years, number-eight, as they open play against number-nine Villanova, Friday (March 16), in Notre Dame, Indiana.
SDSU, the Summit League Tournament champ, is in the top 25 in the nation in points per game (78), field goal percentage (46%), free throw percentage (79%), three-pointers made per game (9), assists (538), and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.28).
They posted non-conference wins over North Carolina State and Oklahoma this season.
The Wildcats (22-8) are in the field of 64 as an at-large out of the Big East Conference, finishing third in the Big East, but beaten in the opening round of the conference tournament by Georgetown.
Villanova is very fundamentally sound. They have committed the fewest turnovers in the nation and are in the top ten in assist-to-turnover ratio and fewest fouls. The Wildcats rank in the top 25 nationally in three-point defense and three-pointers attempted and made.
They have a very balanced scoring attack with four players averaging in double figures. Senior guard Alex Louin and sophomore forward Mary Gedka each average 12 points per game, sophomore guard Kelly Jekot and junior guard Adrianna Hahn each average 11. Gedka led the Big East, hitting better than 60 percent of her shots.
Defensively, Villanova was tops in the Big East, limiting teams to just 59 points per game on 38 percent shooting and just 28 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Tipoff is 6:30 PM, Friday in Notre Dame, Indiana. The winner plays the Notre Dame - Cal State - Northridge game, Sunday in round two.
The regionals will be March 23-26 in Albany, NY; Spokane, WA; Lexington, KY; and Kansas City, MO.
The Final Four is in Columbus, Ohio, March 30 and April 1.
The Jackrabbits are 2-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, winning first round games in 2009 (TCU) and 2016 (Miami, FL). SDSU was the number-seven seed in their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009.
I talked with Jackrabbits head coach Aaron Johnston about the match-up with the Wildcats: