Earlier this year, I asked the question why there was no buzz surrounding the NDSU men’s basketball team? The Bison won five straight games in late January/early February and had moved into the top half of the Summit League.
What followed was a three game losing skid, so I could understand why fans were tempered about their feelings about this team. But NDSU ended the year with a buzzer beating win at Purdue Fort Wayne, thanks to Vinnie Shahid and that seemed to spark them heading into the conference tournament.
Perhaps the biggest thing to happen to NDSU was not directly related to them. South Dakota State’s stunning first round loss to Western Illinois opened up the conference tournament for anyone in the league to win it.
That fact should not take away from what the Bison did. They played great basketball in Sioux Falls, team basketball. Head coach Dave Richman spread out his minutes among his young team and it paid off.
It was a different player each night being the hero. Tyson Ward was in the quarterfinals, scoring 25 points in the win over Oral Roberts. Monday it was true freshman Sam Griesel, who switched his commitment from South Dakota to NDSU in late May after Craig Smith left for Utah State, scoring 20 points in the win over Western Illinois.
Tuesday night it was Shahid, who transferred to NDSU from Western Nebraska Community College last year. Shahid comes from basketball powerhouse Hopkins in the Twin Cities, and was a tower of strength scoring 22 points in the title game.
Now NDSU will return to the NCAA Tournament for a fourth time and this one is the most improbable. NDSU was 2-7 in early December, Richman benched Ward against Eastern Washington in an effort to re-calibrate his team. It worked.
The Bison have no seniors on this team, which led to my thinking and many others agreed that next year would be the season when NDSU would return to the postseason. This year’s group is ahead of schedule and will certainly be the Summit League favorites next year.
As for the fans, it may be hard to accept for the hardcore football fans, but NDSU could win 15 FCS championships and it will never match the amount of exposure the Bison are going to receive the next 10 days. If the Bison are placed in the First Four games, the entire nation gets to watch them play when there are no other games are going on. If they win that, then it’s a matchup with a blue blood like Gonzaga or Kentucky. No FCS Championship is going to match that. Saul Phillips took his time in the spotlight and used that to help him get the job at Ohio.
Soak it in Bison fans. Because believe it or not, you’ve got a pretty talented mid-major basketball team on your hands. And they’re only going to get better.