The No. 2 seeded North Dakota State men’s basketball team will travel south to Sioux Falls, S.D. this weekend, with aspirations for winning the Summit League tournament. The winner of the conference tournament clinches an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
In spite of a blistering 7-1 start to conference play and leading the standings for virtually the entire season, the Bison slipped to No. 2 in their final game. Losing a close contest to the University of Omaha cost the Bison a shot at the regular season conference title. The loss dropped the Bison to 11-5 and allowed the 12-4 South Dakota Coyotes to usurp them at the top.
As the second seed, the Bison will face Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in the quarterfinals. The Herd split the season series with the Jaguars, edging them at home in January and falling in overtime on the road in February.
Offensively, both teams are evenly matched, with NDSU and IUPUI ranking fifth and sixth in Summit League in points per game. The Bison’s 80.3 points per game mark beat IUPUI by just a half of a point per game. The two sides are even in field goal percentage, shooting 45.6 percent. The Jaguars hold a slight advantage over NDSU in three-point shooting percentage.
IUPUI guard Darell Combs and forward Matt O’Leary both rank in the top fifteen in the Summit League in scoring, averaging a combined 31 points per game. Bison junior Paul Miller is ninth in the conference with 16.4 points per game.
Defensively, the Bison gain separation from the Jaguars. The Bison allow just 76.2 points per game, ranking second in the conference just behind South Dakota. Conceding 82.2 points per game, IUPUI is fifth in the Summit League.
The Herd’s defensive superiority is even more defined in field goal percentage allowed. NDSU’s smothering defense held their conference foes to 43.9 percent from the field. Meanwhile, surrendering a 51 percent field goal percentage, the Herd’s quarterfinal opponents rank last in the conference. The Jaguars are the only team in the Summit League to allow their opponents to make more than half of their shots.
With scorers like Miller, A.J. Jacobson, Carlin Dupree, Khy Kabellis, and Dexter Werner all capable of racking up points, this is an area in which the Bison can exploit IUPUI. Werner’s 61.4 percent field goal percentage is second best in the conference.
Should the Bison advance past IUPUI, they will face either Omaha or Fort Wayne in the semifinals. NDSU recorded home victories against these two teams but lost on the road to both.
Fort Wayne, the preseason favorites, underachieved throughout conference play, landing them the No. 6 seed. However, the Mastodons pace the Summit League in points per game and field goal percentage. Omaha, the No. 3 seed, also boasts a flashy offense, trailing Fort Wayne in scoring.
Like IUPUI, though, both of NDSU’s potential semifinal opponents can be beaten on the defensive end. Omaha and Fort Wayne both allow the most points per game in conference play. In both their victories, the Bison were able to score north of 80 points.
With six players having scored at least 20 points in a game, the Bison are able to contend with the high scoring offenses these two teams possess. Miller himself has ten games with at least 20 points.
On the opposite side of the bracket, South Dakota are the favorites to reach the finals. The Coyotes have been able to stifle NDSU this year, most notably when they took a 15 point lead into halftime against the Bison at the Scheels Center.
Should South Dakota reach the semifinals, they will likely face South Dakota State in a Mount Rushmore State grudge match. The Jackrabbits, winners of their last three contests, will face a Denver side in the quarterfinals that have lost five of their last eight games. The two state rivals both prevailed at home against the other.
Paul Miller headlines the Bison, but Dexter Werner is truly the heart and soul of the squad. The North Dakota-born senior is an invaluable asset for NDSU, in equal parts because of his leadership and playing ability. He and fellow senior Carlin Dupree will steady the Herd with their wealth of postseason experience.
Beyond the familiar faces, freshman Tyson Ward is poised for a breakout in this year’s tournament. The 6’6” dynamo from Tampa, Fla. has quickly blossomed into a secret weapon for head coach Dave Richman. Ward burst onto the scene in the Herd’s overtime loss to IUPUI, leading the Bison with 22 points.
Ward averages 19.3 minutes per game, although recently his production has been dampened due to foul trouble. Coach Richman has described Ward as a player who dazzles him with his court acumen but still needs to develop and mature as a player. If Tyson Ward can avoid the foul troubles which have plagued him lately, he could be a game-changer for Richman coming off the bench.
Given their propensity for scoring outbursts coupled with a stingy defense, the Bison are well equipped to emerge victorious in the Summit League tournament. The road to March Madness is paved with three more conference triumphs.