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New-look South Dakota State could be a 2017 Cinderella

AP Photo/Young Kwak

Shell-shocking Big Ten power Maryland with a late surge in March’s NCAA Tournament matchup may be only the beginning for South Dakota State.

The 2016 Summit League champions reload for 2017 with inside track not only on a conference title repeat, but perhaps completing the opening weekend upset Maryland staved off in the past season.

If the Jackrabbits do so, it’ll be with a revamped look in certain areas.

Four key players are gone, all guards: Jake Bittle, Keaton Moffitt, Deondre Parks and George Marshall. Parks and Marshall each averaged just shy of 15 points per game, a considerable void for the 2016-17 roster to fill.

Another sizable void is on the bench, as South Dakota State also welcomes new head coach T.J. Otzelberger.

“We have our work to do,” former head coach Scott Nagy said following the NCAA Tournament loss. “We have got some very good young players coming. “George and Deondre and Keaton and Jake will have done for us, is just solidified that if you come here, you’re going to have a great opportunity to be successful. But you’re also going to play with great teammates.”

Those remaining, great teammates will now play for Otzelberger, a first-time head coach but an accomplished assistant with stints working alongside some great minds.

His most recent tour of duty was at Iowa State, his second in Ames, assisting Steve Prohm. Prohm maintained the lofty standards set at mid-major powerhouse Murray State, and even elevated the Racers to a level not seen previously under Mick Cronin or Billy Kennedy.

In that regard, Otzelberger has a blueprint applicable to South Dakota State. Like his former colleague Prohm, he’s taking over an established mid-major — somewhat less established historically than Murray State, but recently well-established, nonetheless.

“We have a long and storied tradition and history in men’s basketball at SDSU and this is a tremendous opportunity to move our program forward under T.J.’s leadership,” athletics director Justin Sell said when introducing Otzelberger as the head coach in April, via GoJacks.com.

Elevating South Dakota State from an already lofty perch given its place in the college basketball universe means finding the next Deondre Parks, George Marshall or Nate Wolters.

Otzelberger knows the lay of the recruiting land from his time at Iowa State, which should translate in building a new generation of Jackrabbits. He also spent time with one of the game’s best recruiters in between tours in Ames, spending two seasons alongside Lorenzo Romar at Washington.

In the interim, he isn’t exactly inheriting a bare cupboard. Last season’s leading scorer, forward Mike Daum, returns to key South Dakota State’s pursuit of another Summit League title.

Daum averaged 15.2 points per game in 2015-16, and should have the opportunity to score more. The Jackrabbits ranked a respectable No. 75 nationally in adjusted offensive per KenPom.com, but Otzelberger’s past paired him with some of the most uptempo styles in the game.

Romar’s Washington teams have long relied on a free-flowing style, while former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg operated with a brand of basketball at Iowa State that ranked no worse than 24th nationally in adjusted offense from 2012 through 2015, and as high as No. 6.

Expect the Jackrabbits to live up to their nickname with a speedy style next season. That could make catching them even more challenging for the rest of the Summit League, and pose a serious threat should South Dakota State return to the NCAA Tournament.

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