Outstanding guard play will be on display in the NCAA Tournament South Region second-round matchup between the fourth- seeded Michigan Wolverines and the 13th-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits, as the two teams get together at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday night.
The winner will advance to the third round on Saturday to play the victor in the clash between No. 5 seed VCU and No. 12 seed Akron.
After making the field of 68 for the first time last season, SDSU followed that up with another strong campaign by going 25-9 overall and 13-3 in the Summit League, and it backed up its No. 1 seed in the recently-concluded conference tournament by claiming a 73-67 victory over North Dakota State in the championship game. The Jackrabbits fought hard in last year's NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed against No. 3 seed Baylor in the second round, but ultimately fell to the Bears in a 68-60 final.
Michigan showed flashes of brilliance this season, even earning the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll in late January, but after a treacherous run through the Big Ten Conference, it ended with a 26-7 overall record, which included a 12-6 league ledger. The Wolverines were bounced from the Big Ten Tournament early after losing to a very good Wisconsin team in the quarterfinals, 68-59. They have qualified for 24 NCAA Tournaments in their history, and they won the national championship in 1989. This year's accomplishment marks the first time they've qualified for three straight NCAA Tournaments since 1994-96.
Michigan holds a 2-0 advantage in the all-time series with SDSU, but the latest matchup occurred back in 1988.
The Jackrabbits are led by superstar guard Nate Wolters, who not only won the Summit League Player of the Year but is one of the more revered players in NCAA History. With averages of 22.7 ppg, 5.8 apg, and 5.6 rpg, he is about to become the first player in Division I history to record at least 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game in two separate seasons since assists became and official statistic in the early 1980s. South Dakota State is far from a one-man show however, as Jordan Dykstra (12.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Tony Fiegen (10.1 ppg) and Chad White (10.0 ppg) are also consistent performers. As a team, the Jackrabbits net 73.9 ppg while draining 47 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from 3-point range, and it plays solid defense too in limiting the opposition to 65.6 ppg.
The Wolverines' answer to Wolters is Trey Burke, who was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. He has been extremely efficient en route to 19.2 ppg, boasting strong percentages from the field (.479), 3-point range (.401) and the foul line (.793), and he is also one of the nation's top floor generals with 222 assists (6.7 pg) compared to just 67 turnovers. Playing Robin to Burke's Batman is Tim Hardaway, Jr., who nets 14.8 ppg while grabbing 4.7 rpg for good measure. Nik Stauskas is lethal from 3-point range, connecting on 71- of-158 from beyond the arc (.449), while Glenn Robinson III brings 10.7 ppg and 5.4 rpg to the mix, while making more than 55 percent of his field goal attempts. The Maize and Blue rose to the top of one of the best conferences in the nation by playing exceptionally well at both ends of the floor, scoring 75.2 ppg while yielding just 62.9 ppg.