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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 23 2014

Jackrabbits can still be formidable despite Wolters' departure

FARGO – After four dazzling seasons, “The Franchise” left Brookings, S.D., for Milwaukee. Nate Wolters put South Dakota State on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament map, now he’s in the NBA with the Bucks.

The Jackrabbits haven’t disappeared from radar, however. They remain the two-time Summit League tournament champions, and until somebody knocks them off, they still hold that crown.

North Dakota State is considered the top contender to dethrone the Jacks this season, and the Bison will get their first crack at them at 4 p.m. Saturday at Frost Arena. Whichever Summit team reaches the NCAA tourney this year will probably have to beat SDSU in the state of South Dakota since the Summit tourney is in Sioux Falls anyway.

But at 10-9 overall and 2-2 in the Summit, the Jacks have some weaknesses to address, said head coach Scott Nagy.

“I’m most bothered by the fact I thought we would be a better defensive team,” he said. “We’re talking about it and working on it. It’s the only way I know how to address it. The players understand, and I think they’re a little bit frustrated by it, too.”

Still, there’s nothing like an old rival coming to town to put some emphasis into fixing a weakness. NDSU owned this series, winning 10 straight until Wolters-led teams won four of the last five, including the Summit tourney title game last March.

With Wolters having moved on, the Jackrabbits have been a more of an interior-based team this season. The leading scorer is 6-foot-8 forward Jordan Dykstra, who’s averaging 16.6 points per game. Cody Larson, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Florida who was one of the country’s top recruits out of high school, is averaging 13.6 points.

“They’re a lot different,” said Bison senior center Marshall Bjorklund. “They like to throw it inside, something they hadn’t been doing with Wolters there. We’ll have to adjust to that.”

The adjustment starts with the 6-foot-8 Bjorklund, who head coach Saul Phillips said he would put up against any center in the country.

“I like our guys inside, but they’re going to be tested thoroughly,” Phillips said. “They’ve all been through a bunch of battles and have played against some pretty good front lines this year. We’re going to need to lean on that.”

NDSU will also need to lean on the experience of playing at Frost, which is the most hostile for the Bison in the Summit League. NDSU led by six points at halftime last year, but fell flat the second half, getting outscored 38-16 in a 69-53 defeat.

“We came out in the second half and just got drilled,” Bjorklund said. “It just goes to show how tough it is to play there. We’ve had some good times down there and some pretty bad times. Their fans can be pretty nasty.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at bisonmedia.areavoices.com