South Dakota State hasn’t lost a game in 91 days. Virginia Tech’s last defeat was 53 days ago. Two of the country’s largest win streaks meet on Sunday when the No. 1 seed Hokies and No. 9 seed Jackrabbits collide in Blacksburg.
“I think what we are is a really consistent team,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said on Saturday. “We don’t have a lot of ups and downs. … The thing that makes us consistent is our leadership. We have great, great leaders. Watching Virginia Tech, you can see they have great leadership and great poise. But then when you look at how each team plays, I just think both are really efficient on offense and defense.
“They don’t turn it over a lot. We don’t turn it over a lot. They rebound really well, we rebound really well. Their offensive efficiency, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage are really high. That’s what we do a good job of. We have good balance on offense, they have good balance on offense.
While South Dakota State (29-5, 18-0 Summit) isn’t a brand name, it’s a program that’s found major success on the national stage.
In Johnston’s 25 seasons, a tenure that dates back to 2000, the Jackrabbits won the D-II national championship in 2003 and jumped up to D-I. And in the 19 years at the highest level, they’ve been to 11 NCAA tournaments, advancing four times, including this season. That’s without mentioning their trip to the Sweet 16 in 2019. As a No. 6 seed, they routed then-No. 3 seed Syracuse (25-9) in the Carrier Dome by 11, 75-64, to advance from the second round.
This year’s SDSU team is talented, too. It beat No. 8 seed USC, who recorded a win over fellow No. 1 seed Stanford back in January, in overtime in Blacksburg on Friday night, 62-57. And it showed it could compete in the non-conference, fending off NCAA tournament squads like Mississippi State (63-62) and Louisville (65-55).
“South Dakota State is a really good basketball team” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “I don’t think Aaron and his group are fighting for respectability. They have been here for a long time. People who know, know that they’re a very good program. They’re competitors, compete, play hard, disciplined and they play fundamentally good basketball.”
The Jackrabbits also saw No. 1 seed South Carolina back in December. The Gamecocks took that meeting by 18 in Sioux Falls, 62-44. So, SDSU knows what it’s like to see a team as skilled as the Hokies.
The Jackrabbits might not have two All-Americans like the Hokies do in Elizabeth Kitley or Georgia Amoore, nor a lineup filled from top to bottom with all-conference selections in Taylor Soule – who is healthy after dealing with severe cramps on Friday – and Kayana Traylor. But two-time Summit League Player of the Year Myah Selland averaged 16 points per game in 2022-23 and dropped 29 on USC. Haleigh Timmer scored in double figures vs. Mississippi State and Kansas State.
Yet, Virginia Tech (28-4, 14-4 ACC) is on a run of its own. While SDSU is on a 22-game win streak, the Hokies have a 12-game stretch themselves. They’re playing with confidence and poise. Even if they didn’t score the ball at a high rate in the first-round victory over Chattanooga, they defended well.
Sunday will be an interesting battle, one that will require plenty of adapting for both sides. And that’s good news for college basketball fans – both groups have excelled in that aspect this season.
“I think we are really good at adjusting to what’s happening during the game,” Johnston said, “what’s required in that moment and figuring that out and staying with that as opposed to saying, ‘Here is what we do, if it works, great. If it doesn’t, we are going get beaten.’ A lot of teams are that. They have their system, and it works or it doesn’t. … We are really flexible. We are able to try to play in a lot of different ways and kind of figure it out as we are going in those games.”
Tech’s success in that realm dates back to mid-January when it struggled against Miami, Clemson and Duke. Opponents found ways to take Kitley, the two-time ACC Player of the Year, out of the game. The Hokies’ needed to find a workaround.
They discovered that, and they’ve been stronger since. But it’s been more than just Kitley. Amoore, who Brooks has often referred to as his “mini-me” on the floor, sees things others don’t. Against the Mocs, she sprinted to Brooks during a dead ball and explained how Chattanooga was shading towards Kitley, leaving sharpshooter Cayla King wide open in the corner.
“She was very adamant about what it was, and when she’s like that, I’m like, ‘Okay, just go with it,” Brooks said of that conversation with Amoore. “That’s the trust I have in her because she sees it, and she knows exactly what’s going on out there. And she knows what I want. It’s a luxury because she’s developed into our leader. We always felt she was going to be. Now, she’s at that point.
“[A coach the other day] said, ‘What you have is a 53-year-old mind on a 20-year-old kid’s body. It’s so true. She thinks like I do. She knows what I want, and she knows what’s good for our team.”
A trip to Seattle is on the line at 5 p.m. ET (on ESPN2) on Sunday in Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies are expecting a physical game – Brooks described SDSU as “very handsy” defensively – but they’ve got the backing of another sold-out crowd. And they’re 55-1 in non-conference games at home in Brooks’ seven seasons.
“If we are going to win the basketball game, we are going to have to play extremely well, play hard and play disciplined basketball,” Brooks said.
9 Responses You are logged in as Test
Statement time. Beat the Jacks and go to Seattle.
We need scoring in bunches from ladies not named: Liz & Georgia. SD plays very good “D” and we need a TEAM win. We can do it!!! GO Lady HOKIES!!!
If we are worthy of our #1 seed we don’t lose this game, especially at home.
No excuses, let’s go lady Hokies….U got this!
Good read, David! Very complimentary to the Rabbits; they are tuff!
Good article. Looks like we will be facing a tough out!
Agree. Do not sleep on this team!
Yes really good article. Love the coverage
This was a really nice article, David. Thank you.
Love that team!!!
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