Between now and when league play resumes we'll be taking a look at how each team fared in non-conference play in our "Non-Conference Wrap Up" series.
Non-Conference Win/Loss: 8-4 (6-4 against Division I)
Current KenPom rank: 97th nationally (2nd in league)
Laudable Trait: South Dakota State maintained one of the nation's most efficient offenses even while playing a decently tough schedule that included several games away from Brookings. The strengths of the team's offense have been its ball control, ability to get to the free throw line, and accuracy from beyond the arc. These are things the Jacks did well in league play last year, but it says a lot about their continued growth as a team that they were able to do so against the slate of opponents they faced this fall.
Lamentable Trait: The biggest challenge for SDSU this year was to improve on the defensive side of the ball. The team has shown improvement, especially in guarding the perimeter, but there is evidence that teams with penetrating guards or scoring post-players can get the best of the Jacks. As a team, they're allowing opponents to shoot 52 percent inside the arc. Chad White and Griffan Callahan, who are often be called upon to defend opposing wings, are committing over 4 fouls per 40 minutes. And Jordan Dykstra, the team's biggest post defender, is also fouling at a more than 4 rate per 40 minutes.
Best Win: In their final tune-up before conference play resumes, the Jackrabbits went to Seattle and dismantled Pac-12 contender Washington. Nate Wolters had the biggest performance of his career in that one playing against NBA-caliber guards, which resulted in a flurry of national attention for both him and South Dakota State.
Worst Loss: Less than a week after trouncing North Dakota by 38 points in Brookings, the Jacks headed to Grand Forks for a rematch against the future Big Sky team. UND jumped all over SDSU in the rematch and pulled away for a 19-point victory. For a team that didn't even have a "bad" loss up to that point, this one definitely stands out as the worst.
Top Performer: Junior Nate Wolters. The 6-foot-4 phenom has been nothing short of spectacular in non-conference play. Earlier we talked about SDSU's tremendous offensive efficiency -- well, it's all possible because of Wolters. His immaculate care of the ball sets the tone for the team, and his driving ability allows him to both draw fouls and open up the perimeter for his teammates. After a breakout performance (nationally speaking) against Washington, Wolters has the attention of college basketball's cognoscenti. With that, the attention should continue through league play where Wolters will have a chance to contend for Player of the Year.
Player To Watch In League Play: Sophomore Jordan Dykstra. I had expected that Dykstra would play closer to 30 minutes per game this year after averaging about 20 in his freshman campaign. Though he was limited in the early going due to an injury, Dykstra has still been right around the 20 minutes per game mark this season. Given how strong he was in league play a year ago, it's a bit surprising to see that his scoring numbers are down. Coach Scott Nagy will need more out of the young forward as the season progresses, especially on the defensive side to help stop opponents from scoring near the rim. Chances are good that he'll rise to the challenge.
Overall Assessment: South Dakota State has had a very strong non-conference. It owns a signature win (Washington) and just one loss to a non-major conference opponent (North Dakota). The team also won three games in three days at a neutral site event -- seasoning that should come in handy once March rolls around.