Here’s what the North Dakota State men’s basketball team was dealing with before it ever played a game this season: the uncertain health status of Chris Kading’s rehabilitated hips and shoulder, an unknown with a true freshman point guard in Khy Kabellis, a void of a marquee returning player for the first time since the 2009-10 season and the wonderment of who was going to pick up the departed statistics and end-of-game-big-shot status of Lawrence Alexander.
Certainly, the hope was Paul Miller would improve on his 6.7 points per game of his freshman season and A.J. Jacobson would continue to develop into more of a scoring threat of his 11.6 points per game effort as a freshman. NDSU had a veteran returning in forward Kory Brown, but his bread was buttered with defense and any points production from him was almost considered a bonus his first three seasons. The preseason thought from a lot of us was if this team could win just as many games as it lost that it would be considered a pretty good year.
But 20 wins?
Nonsense. But that’s exactly what happened — NDSU reached 20 wins for the fourth straight year and although Dave Richman was not the Summit League Coach of the Year, what the staff did with this team was rather impressive. I think they got all they could out of the bunch by reaching the Summit tourney title game and in the end, the best team won. South Dakota State was more veteran and had more to its attack than the Bison did. It wasn’t easy. Richman had to deal with the departure and then the return of junior Carlin Dupree, who started all 33 games as a sophomore but Richman figured he was more suited to his team to come off the bench and that didn’t sit well with the player. And you have to question the maturity of the team when the leading scorer, Miller, gets suspended one game during the Summit tournament.
The Bison will continue their season in some fashion at a post-season tournament other than the NCAA or NIT. The program has avoided the dreaded mid-major rebuilding year and if there was ever a season where that looked possible, this was it. It didn’t happen. Consider the potential as “reached” with this team.