Auburn Hills — South Dakota State's men's basketball team is a bit more comfortable this March.
The Jackrabbits advanced to their first NCAA Tournament last season, and under the bright lights, fell as a No. 14 seed to third-seeded Baylor in the Round of 64.
But this year, with a senior-laden team that has been in the Big Dance before, the No. 13 seed Jackrabbits like their chances to upset No. 4 seed Michigan Thursday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
"I think this time it's a little less overwhelming for us," coach Scott Nagy said Wednesday. "The stage is big, and we know that."
Nagy's team didn't know exactly what to expect last season. The Jackrabbits were still adjusting to playing in Division I, making a transition from Division II in the 2008-09 season. In its fourth season in Division I, South Dakota State won the Summit League, and now the Jackrabbits enter the tournament as back-to conference champions.
"I think last year having made it through the transition from Division II to Division I, it was very emotional for me and for some of our players and staff," Nagy said. "This year it's less emotional. It feels a little bit more like business."
And the players are ready to work.
"The bright lights, the big stage — it was kind of new for all of us (last year)," senior center Tony Fiegen said. "It does feel a little bit like a business trip because we're coming here to play well."
If the Jackrabbits hope to advance to the Round of 32, senior guard Nate Wolters — who averaged 22.7 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds this season — will have to lead the way. But that task comes with a difficult speed bump in Michigan sophomore guard and national player of the year candidate Trey Burke. Wolters is likely to face Burke on both ends of the floor.
"I think a lot of people in the country have a problem stopping him," Wolters said of Burke. "I'm going to do my best to make him take tough shots. He's going to obviously score his points. He's just that type of player."
Wolters playing Burke to a stalemate would give the Jackrabbits a great chance to win, but they can also lean on their veteran experience against Michigan's youth. South Dakota State's starting lineup consists of two seniors and three juniors, and the Wolverines start two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen.
"I think our experience will play to our advantage here," Fiegen said. "Last year we got off to a quick start that really helped us. I think it will be important for us to get off to a quick start again this year.
"We've got more experience back in the locker room that will definitely play to our advantage."