It seems like a perfect time for the Bison basketball teams to begin their seasons and that’s what we have tonight as the NDSU men and women each play an exhibition tonight (shamless plug: I’ll be live with Saul Phillips at 6:20 tonight on Channel 6); but was thinking when will Bison fans start paying attention to hoops? Last season it was definitely after the football team wrapped up, but I’m here to tell you if you do that this year, you’ll be neglecting one of the best stories going in college basketball.
First; this men’s basketball team is the most talented group NDSU has had since the magical season of 2008-09, a squad that won the Summit League and made the NCAA Tournament. Remember that this team has made two straight postseason appearances, personally I thought they should have made the NIT last season, but that’s a debate for another day. The core group returns for a third straight season, Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund and Trayvonn Wright have been thru the wars together, they have logged plenty of miles similar to Brock Jensen, Grant Olson and Marcus Williams. They have had some big wins, but are lacking that signature victory. That will come this season, I’m not saying at Ohio State or Notre Dame, but it could be for the Summit League regular season title (which guarantees an NIT bid) or in Sioux Falls.
Second; the league is completely different than what it was in 2009. Oakland and Oral Roberts were the clear challengers to NDSU that season and had been the Summit League powers for years. Fast forward to this year and those teams are long gone, Denver joins the conference with high credentials, the Pioneers come into the league off a NIT appearance and Chris Udofia may be the best player in the league. SDSU won’t drop off that much and Cody Larson’s arrival will certainly help the Jacks, it’s NDSU, Denver and SDSU for the right to go to the Dance.
Third; the non-conference schedule is the best in years, especially at home. I’ve heard fans complain about no good non-conference games at the BSA, but that’s not the case this season. Southern Miss comes to Fargo on November 18th, the Golden Eagles made the NIT quarters last year, Phillips said that “will be the most talented team that has ever come to the BSA.” Add on two more talented teams from the CAA, Towson and Delaware, the Tigers are ranked 24th in the first mid-major poll and have completely turned around their team from a one win squad a couple years ago. Also the game this year between NDSU and UND should be terrific; UND is picked 2nd in the Big Sky and the Bison lost the last time they played in Grand Forks, that game is on November 24th, FCS Selection Sunday, it figures to be a busy day on the blog.
Fourth and final, plenty of fans have told me over the past couple of years that they didn’t appreciate the Woodside/Winkelman crew enough that senior year. I remember seeing the BSA packed on a Saturday night for IPFW that year and thinking this is a different vibe. I don’t know what to expect from the crowd this season, but this may be another special group, Wright’s dunks have become must-see in person, and Taylor Braun is a player that should be playing in a better league than the Summit. IUPUI, Omaha and USD may not get the blood going, but this type of group won’t come along again, and I realize the arena is a major detractor, but this team has the potential to be special.
That’s just what I think, plenty of sites have written about NDSU; here’s some links:
ESPN’s projection as well (You need to be an ESPN Insider)