The Bison men’s basketball season ended tonight in a similar fashion to last year with a last second chance to try and win/tie the game; last year in the 1st round of the CBI at Wyoming; this year in the 1st round of the CBI at Western Michigan. Where there any differences or improvements from 2012 to 2013? Obvious when you look at record; NDSU won 17 games last season, they won 24 this year. They finally won a game at the Summit League Tournament; two in fact; before falling in the conference championship game. I predicted back in October that this team would make the Summit League final; I had them 2nd in my preseason poll, NDSU took 3rd. We can only speculate on what this team could have done had Taylor Braun not broke a bone in his foot; but he did.
- We saw continued great strides in Braun; who averaged 15 points a game and shot 46 percent from the field; he had stretches in games where he put the Bison on his back and refused to let them lose. He is the glue of the Bison team, a 1st team all-conference performer; who if he stays healthy; should garner plenty of votes as the conference player of the year. He improved his shooting this year and needs to do that again for next season. I’d like to see more times when he takes over a game; I think he can do it; he’s just that good.
- Lawrence Alexander; I thought was tremendous; he played the most minutes by almost 200 compared to everyone else; he averaged 11 points a game and asserted himself even more than he did during his freshman year. The key for him in my mind is to make the steps that Braun and Trayvonn Wright made during their junior year. I think his shot selection needs to improve; there were times that I thought he was somewhat out of control and was too quick to shoot; think that comes with maturity.
- Trayvonn Wright continues to wow with his athleticism; he had some dunks this season that made you shake your head and his improved shooting from outside was noticeable right from the first game of the season; but he had games against the high-majors and better teams (Indiana, Minnesota, Akron and the Summit Final) where he vanished. That cannot happen next season if NDSU wants to end its NCAA tournament drought.
- Marshall Bjorklund started the season on fire; his best night came against SDSU back in December when he scored 20 points and was unstoppable down low in the win against the Jacks. He was leading the NCAA in field goal percentage; but after Braun’s injury; Bjorklund was the most affected; he was double-teamed; sometimes triple-teamed; his point and shot totals took huge hits; just look at the 1st Western Illinois game and the SDSU games. Biggest key in my mind is how NDSU improves its offense so that Bjorklund is a factor in each game.
- I thought Kory Brown and Chris Kading each showed flashes that as a Bison fan you should feel good about. Brown’s high school coach told me when he verbally committed in May that he would be the best defender on the team. He was right. Brown became the shut-down guy for NDSU, he was on Nate Wolters when the games got tight and I thought his offense got better as the season went along. Kading provided some necessary height down low and some grittiness that will only get better after another year in the weight room. I can’t give enough of an evaluation of Brett VandenBergh; he had one great shooting game against USD; and I know that they needed VandenBergh to play but it would have been nice to save that redshirt.
Remember this team gets Joel Lindberg back next season; Saul Phillips told me in August before the Lindberg injury that he was going to be fighting for a starting spot. This team adds 2 incoming freshmen in AJ Jacobson and Carlin Dupree for next season, Jacobson for sure redshirts; Dupree has the athleticism to be a game changer, but on a team that is bringing a majority of it’s scoring back; is he needed? Time will tell. The door is open for NDSU to walk thru next season and be the top dog in the conference; we’ll see if they’re ready to take that next step.