Mar 6, 2012; Sioux Falls, SD, USA; South Dakota State Jackrabbits guard Nate Wolters (3) was named most valuable player in the 2012 Summit League Tournament against the Western Illinois Leathernecks at Sioux Falls Arena. Jackrabbits won in overtime 52-50. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-US PRESSWIRE
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits earned an NCAA Tournament berth on Tuesday night with their Summit League championship victory. St. Cloud native Nate Wolters and company are worth rooting for during March Madness.
The South Dakota St. Jackrabbits were probably the favorites to win the 2012 Summit League Tournament, but considering Nate Wolters was struggling, it didn't seem like they had much of a chance at earning the state of South Dakota's first berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Wolters -- a St. Cloud, Minn., native -- and his Jackrabbits battled back from a 12-point deficit to force overtime on Monday night, eventually defeating the Western Illinois Leathernecks to punch their ticket for the Big Dance. Griffan Callahan, the team's only senior, capped off the game with a clutch 3-pointer to put South Dakota State ahead for good.
The next step is March Madness, of course, as the Jackrabbits will find out where they're seeded during Selection Sunday this weekend. Considering the Brookings, S.D., school is going to be the closest Minnesota fans have to a local team in the Tournament -- and the added bonus that they're the fun underdog pick -- the South Dakota State bandwagon should pick up some steam over the next week.
Regardless of who Minnesota's neighbors to the west play or how they do, it's simply surprising to see the team come as far as they've come in a short time.
SDSU was able to remove themselves from a pretty exclusive club with Tuesday's win, taking South Dakota off of a list that now includes only the states of Maine and Alaska as teams that have never sent a team to the Tournament. It took the Jacks just four years of being eligible at the Division I level to overcome the odds, further complicated by the fact that head coach Scott Nagy led the team to a two-year record of 14-44 from 2006-08.
They've certainly changed it around now, though, and shouldn't bother looking back. The Jackrabbits will look to sustain their stay in the spotlight for the next few weeks following Tuesday night's dramatic overtime victory on ESPN2.
And, if they're smart, the Minnesota -- and midwest -- sports fans will be cheering all the way to the end. If unable to cheer for the Gophers, why not cheer for Minnesota native Nate Wolters and the underdogs closest to home?
Check out our comprehensive StoryStream on the Summit League Tournament.