The thing that makes the NCAA tournament great is its unpredictability and what makes it so unpredictable comes down to one thing: no one can possibly know what you would need to know about 64 teams. You obviously can’t know a lot about their emotional state, who’s ready to break out, what unknown players has the stones for the moment.
On a more basic level, it’s hard to know a whole lot about a school like North Dakota State and that’s no slight on the Bison. They play in the Summit League which is made up of teams like Denver, Nebraska-Omaha, Purdue University Fort Wayne and Oral Roberts.
There’s no Summit League Network or heavy media saturation.
The reality is that guys in that league sit around and watch ESPN’s Zionathon and probably feel a good ways away from it.
And that’s not unreasonable. NDSU is in Fargo, on the high plains, just barely outside of Minnesota and the hub of a cross-state metropolitan area of about a quarter of a million people. It is on the banks of the Red River and prone to flooding and tornadoes.
Not exactly prime basketball country.
NDSU had to win the Summit tournament to make the field and were just 15-15 going into it.
Still, when we looked at their roster we were surprised. It’s not a mid-major roster at least not physically.
Coach David Richman has recruited regionally for the most part, with only one player not from the Midwest or the Plains.
The Bison are pretty big. Jordan Meidinger is 7-0 and 240, Rocky Kreuser 6-10 and 260 and Odell Wilson is a rough matchup for Zion Williamson, at least physically: he’s 6-6 and 255 (his dad played football at Penn State) but didn't play against NCCU and ESPN doesn’t list him at all. Richardson has seven guys between 6-5 and 6-8.
There’s a familiar name on the coaching staff by the way and he’s probably pretty popular right about now: Will Veasley.
Recognize the name?
He was a starting guard for Butler in 2010 and knows as much about Duke as anyone Duke will face this month other than possibly Johnny Dawkins if UCF advances.
He’s a very valuable asset for Friday.
It would be kind of cool for NDSU to take on two straight teams from Durham and beat them both. Could they? Well, the odds are long and not in their favor.
However, this team only had six turnovers and that is indicative of solid coaching.
This team also has a clear leader: Vinnie Shahid.
The team elected him captain just six weeks after he arrived. His coach says “[h]e has an infectious personality in the locker room. He’s why you coach. He’s been an absolute pleasure and a breath of fresh air for me. He’s what’s right about the game.”
The one non-midwesterner on the roster, Tyson Ward (from Tampa) had 23 points against Central and is obviously a solid player. He’ll have to be dealt with just as Shahid will.
North Dakota State will have to deal with a lot. Most of Duke’s reserves would probably start for the Bison and Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett are going to be a load. Then there’s Zion Williamson.
According to the link above, Kreuser will probably guard Williamson but to an extent that seems like a red herring.
We’d expect NDSU to try a zone or double teams or some junk defense. Kreuser was solid against NCCU and had one beautiful and important block but Williamson is a different level in every sense.
NDSU’s best bet is to pack the lane and dare Duke to shoot threes but that has had limited success and Duke will certainly pressure them defensively, starting with Tre Jones.
What they haven’t seen and can’t fully anticipate is how predatory Duke is on defense and that’s where we expect this game to turn. If Duke disrupts the Bison and gets in transition, the game will end early and with lots of highlights.
If on the other hand, NDSU can limit turnovers as effectively as they did against NCCU, and they can slow the game down and limit Duke’s possessions, they have a chance.
On more thing to overcome: this weekend is the only time that Williamson will play in his home state. There are going to be a lot of people there from Spartanburg - friends, family, coaches and former teammates.
For him, it’s a home game. And that makes life a bit more difficult for the Bison.
You never say never, and those guys watched the UMBC earthquake last spring, but a lot would have to go right for North Dakota State to win Friday.
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