This Monday in March began with the news that Maren Walseth and North Dakota State were parting ways. The day ended with an unlikely Bison victory and a win away from going to the biggest event in American sports, the NCAA basketball tournament.
The news that Walseth was out as Bison basketball coach is not surprising to anyone who follows NDSU closely and who reads this blog. The women’s basketball program has been a stain on an athletic program that is shining in almost every other area. Walseth was hired partly because of her D-1 pedigree, as a former player and coach at Penn State. Her Minnesota roots helped, presumably to get into the Twin Cities recruiting hotbed. Neither of those factors materialized.
NDSU got two players out of the Twin Cities during Walseth’s time and neither were impact players. Her inability to recruit was her biggest hindrance in my opinion.
So what’s next? If Matt Entz was the biggest hire that Matt Larsen will have, this will be number two. I agree with what Larsen told me earlier on Monday, this is a good job. It is a good job. It needs a talented, high energy coach with the ability to recruit to come in. NDSU has all the advantages you could ask for, good facility, cost of attendance and resources to put a good product on the floor.
A coach with previous head coaching experience is a must for me. Carolyn DeHoff and Walseth were both high profile assistants from FBS programs, Utah and Penn State. Going that route has not worked and should be avoided at all costs. If I’m Larsen, I call SDSU’s and USD’s top assistants. See if they’re interested in being a head coach. It’s a good place to start by pilfering the best in the league.
This is not going to take ten years to turn around. In the Summit League if you get two standout players, you could raise your team from seventh or eighth in the Summit League to third. It’s still a while to go before you catch SDSU and USD.
Monday was the first step towards a new beginning for Bison women’s basketball. The next step will be the hardest.
Meanwhile in Sioux Falls, an unexpected ride to the Summit League Championship continued for Dave Richman’s team. NDSU hung on to beat Western Illinois, 76-73 to earn a date in the league title game Tuesday night.
True freshman Sam Griesel had 20 points, league newcomer of the year Vinnie Shahid had 14 points and the Bison survived a scoreless drought of 3:30 to end the game to beat the Leathernecks.
It’s the sixth title game appearance for the Bison and their first since 2016. They have a 3-2 record in those games, winning in 2009, 2014 and 2015, losing in 2013 and 2016.
The fact that the Bison are in this game is still remarkable. Top seed and favorite South Dakota State fell to Western Saturday night in the biggest upset in the league’s tournament history.
Dave Richman’s team was 2-7 in early December, getting ripped by Gonzaga and Iowa State. They had mindnumbing losses at Denver and South Dakota and a heartbreaker to the Jacks at the buzzer.
Each week though they’ve got a bit better and we’ve seen this team, without a senior, play its best basketball at the end of the season and now have a chance to reach the tournament a year ahead of schedule.
It’s why March is fantastic. We’ll see if NDSU can add to its March history tomorrow.