So in the past I have made reference to my initial lack of enthusiasm toward NDSU basketball. However, as my love of the sport grew, so did my affection of the Green and Gold’s basketball team. In any event I am particularly excited about this year’s senior laden squad, and their chances to make a run at the NCAA tournament. First thing’s first, I was irrationally excited for last year’s team as well. Marshall Bjorklund was perhaps my favorite player in college basketball coming into the season (admittedly, this was at least 87% due to his amazing name) and I was fully convinced he would make them leap as a Junior to lead the Summit League in rebounding followed by much drinking of mead and vingly-ly celebrations.
But alas… last year was not to be… Although the Bison finished a solid 24-9 last year, and were ranked #71 in the nation by Ken Pomeroy’s metric, they fell in the Summit Title game to hated rival and adorable animal the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The mighty Bison… noble master of the plains… felled by Nate Wolters, a squirly kid from St. Cloud Minnesota who perpetually looks like he is either in dire need of sleep or has been bludgeoned in the eye (perhaps by a viking warrior of the Bjorklund clan??)
Why so sleepy nate? Need a helpful visit from the Ambien Walrus?
Doesn’t look too good buddy… I really think you should get some sleep
Or perhaps seek medical attention?
Yeah… yeah you should consult a doctor… theres something wrong with your eyes…
But in any event last season’s NCAA dreams went down like a viking funeral pyre and there was no mead drinking to be had.
Who am I kidding… there was probably plenty of mead drinking. Marshall Bjorklund would never let me down.
However, all is not lost! This year I am not alone on the NDSU bandwagon as CBS and the Summit League coaches themselves have picked NDSU to win the league and Dan Hanner and ESPN highlighted star Senior Forward Taylor Braun and the Bison in his college basketball preview, picking the Bison to be the 37th best team in college basketball this season. So with 6 seniors coming back and all 5 starters from last year returning, along with the departure of Wolters crippling the SDSU program and Oakland leaving the Summit League in the whirlwind of conference realignment, NDSU should be set to take the league title and make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009’s equally senior laden, veteran team. Moreover, while that team ended in a heartbreaking loss after hanging tough with traditional power Kansas all game, this year’s team stands to be even more talented and capable of competing.
It all starts with Braun who has worked his way into being one of the two best players in the Summit. Bjorklund and TrayVonn Wright continuing to be a force on the glass. Moreover, the veteran backcourt duo of Lawrence Alexander and Mike Felt will surely make their presence known if the Bison are able to make it to the big dance (where gaurd play is consistently spotlighted and can make your break a potential Cinderella). By all accounts this is a quality, hard working team that will have every opportunity to win their depleted league and maybe make a sweet 16 run if the get a soft bracket spot a la last year’s Davidson team. Now, that team lost in the 1st round by one point, but should have won that game if they hadn’t gone cold right at the end of the game. However, that Davidson team could have easily dispatched Butler in the round of 32, making it to the sweet 16 before ultimately falling to Miami. They got a tough matchup playing against what might have been the best team in their region in the opening round, and played them better than anyone in the tournament until Syracuse knocked Marquette out in the Elite 8.
(Taylor Braun is really good at basketball. Also, this picture is all over the internet on ESPN, CBS Sports, NDSU’s own site and about a billion other places so I figured I should probably include it… LOOK AT MY BOY BJORKLUND ON THE RIGHT THERE! RUN WITH THE SPEED OF ODIN’S LIGHTNING YOUNG WAR CHIEF!!!)
In any event I see no reason why NDSU couldn’t win the Summit. Grab a 14 seed just like they did in 2009, and then with a little luck to end up in a bracket like last year’s East Regional, maybe make a run at the Sweet 16.
However, there is one large monkey wrench in this plan in the form of Summit League newcomer and Conference Realignment refugee… the Denver Pioneers. Denver is kindof a big unknown coming over this year from the mutilated WAC, but the one thing we do know is Denver has steadily built a solid basketball program, and Chris Udofia is pretty damn good at basketball. I mentioned Braun is probably one of the 2 best players in the Summit, but Udofia is probably the best, and if is athleticism is everything its supposed to be its probably not even close.
A lot of the praise being lifted on NDSU comes from the fact that they are a senior laden team, and at this point the senior contender remaining in the Summit. With SDSU taking a step back and Oakland bailing, the coaches seem to have been left with a de facto choice of NDSU as the league’s best. However, the Summit league still stands to be good this year with NDSU and Denver both landing in the top 10 Mid Major teams ranking. However, NDSU is #7 to Denver’s #9 leading me to believe (or hope) that regardless of Udofia’s superior athletic ability, NDSU’s team will prove superior.
Udofia is ranked # 56 on DraftExpress’s best available senior players (Braun is unranked) but he’s nowhere to be seen on the top 100 overall. So he very well might be the best player in the Summit next year. He very well may bring a whole new class of athleticism to the Summit and rip into it like a Tree Ent tearing down Isengard, but we’ll have to wait and see. I feel that regardless of regular season standing I’m going to be terrified of Udofia and Denver in the Summit tournament so we’ll have to hope that Bjorklund can fall upon him like the hammer of Thor. You can do it Mjölnir! Bring us to the promised land!
In any event, I can’t wait for college basketball to come back. And everyone else can just get the fuck off the road, cuz Bison don’t fuck around.