When it comes to college basketball, I slavishly follow my alma mater, South Dakota State University. My favorite teams also include the Kansas Jayhawks and the Duke Blue Devils. Because of my Snookums, I also now root whole-heartedly for the Tennessee Lady Vols (unless they’re playing the Lady Jacks).
South Dakota State University is in the first year of the five year transitional period moving from NCAA’s Division II to Division I. A weird thing about the NCAA is that in year one of moving up from D-II to D-I, you count as a D-II opponent for D-I teams, and count as a D-I team against D-II schools. So, basically, nobody wants to schedule you. Next year, year 2 of the transition, you’re a D-I “counter” which is good, because the NCAA only allows you to play two non-D-I schools, but year 1 is a real challenge.
SDSU’s Lady Jacks are having an excellent year, 20-6 so far, including a 7-5 record against D-I schools, and wins over the likes of Alabama, Kentucky, and Oklahoma State. Pretty heady for a newbie D-I program. SDSU’s women have as much talent as they’ve ever had, and that includes a D-II national champion team a couple of years ago. Some computer ratings [*1] have them as high as 56th in the nation, which would put them in the Big Dance for women’s basketball (unfortunately, they’re not eligible, and won’t be for quite a while). Still, not bad at all.
The SDSU men have not had the same experience. Their best player never suited up this year, victim of a mysterious illness, which was variously diagnosed as mono, Lyme disease or the dreaded shrugged shoulder syndrome. Their point guard bailed out and transferred to another D-II school a couple hundred miles east. Another key player, struggling with a foot injury, quit basketball. A sharpshooter signed from junior college (this was the guy who broke Kirk Heinrich’s high school scoring records) never made it to campus. And then the season started.
The SDSU men’s coach, Scott Nagy, is a good coach. You don’t compile a record of 210-59 in nine years by being a bad coach. But moving from D-II to D-I is difficult enough. Nagy put together an extremely challenging schedule this year. Of the 13 D-I schools on this year’s schedule (all games on the road, by the way), 10 have winning records.
Did I mention that of the three seniors on the SDSU men’s team, they came into this year with ZERO starts between them?
Undermanned, the Jackrabbits were playing a schedule that was probably over their heads. One night, playing D-II Southwest Minnesota State, it happened. The Jacks quit, and got run out of their own arena by a team which had never beaten SDSU before. When you’re at the bottom, you can stay there, or you can start working your way out.
The Jacks have been working their way out. Tonight, playing yet another D-I school, Central Florida, SDSU was competitive for the entire game. They finally lost by 10, but Coach Nagy was effusive in praise for his team’s effort.
They didn’t quit.
Sometimes, not quitting is victory enough.