The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are a trendy pick for a first-round upset and maybe even to follow that up with a run to the Sweet 16. I get it, they have lots of desirable qualities, just remember if you are making those picks for your bracket, you are backing a team you have probably never even seen play this season. That is tough to do in general and you are also fading the team that won the Big East regular-season title. That is a pretty big risk to me.
Let’s have a quick look at SDSU. They finished a perfect 18-0 in the Summit League and were second in the nation in scoring. They were the top three-point shooting team in the country and that helped them lead the country in effective field goal percentage too. Those are great accomplishments but at the same time, they did not beat anybody. Their best win was in their first game of the season against Bradley (#92 at KenPom). In their two games against Power Conference opponents, they lost by double digits to Alabama and Washington. Those games were months ago, but they are still probably out of their league.
On the flip side, no, Providence is not the best Big East regular-season champ we have ever seen. All they did was win game after game to the tune of a 14-3 conference mark. I did not like what we saw from the Friars in the Big East Tournament where they were blown out by Creighton, but this team has a proven track record of winning games against good competition so I am not sure why so many are so down on them heading into this game. This feels like a narrative that has gained some traction rather than a true analysis of these teams.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (30-4) vs. Providence Friars (25-5)
Thursday, March 17, 2022
KeyBank Center, Buffalo, New York
Spread: Jackrabbits +2.5 (-110), Friars -2.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Jackrabbits +110, Friars -130
If folks are going to give the Jackrabbits a bump because they shoot so well from deep we at least have to also acknowledge that the Friars are good at defending the arc. Opponents have hit just 31.2% of their three-point attempts against Providence.
If South Dakota State shoots the ball well they can compete, but I still like the Friars for a couple of key reasons. The first is experience. According to KenPom, they are the 6th most experienced team in the country. By comparison, SDSU is just 293rd by that measure.
I also think that the Jackrabbits are going to struggle with the size of the Friars. Providence center Nate Watson is bigger than most post players in the Summit League and the Friars make sure he uses a fair number of possessions. SDSU big man Luke Appel can try and bring him away from the hoop but teams don’t really need to guard him out there. He has made just five three-pointers all season.
SDSU has not been a good offensive rebounding team and playing against bigger, more athletic opponents is not going to help them there. They really have to be on the mark because they are not going to get a lot of second looks at the hoop.
Providence rarely dominates and I do not expect they will embarrass a quality South Dakota State team. I just don’t see this as the upset spot most do. The Friars just have too many advantages and are going to be a tough out for whoever comes next. Look for a win where we do not have to worry about the final possession of the game affecting the spread.