Summit League tourney seeding comes down to final weekend
In the midst of a winter storm plastering the Midwest, the Bison men’s basketball team is scheduled for two pivotal matchups against the St. Thomas Tommies and Western Illinois Leathernecks on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon at the Scheels Center. With just two games left in the season, each of these games has big postseason implications. The Bison and Tommies are currently tied for 3rd in the Summit League with 9-7 records, while WIU sits just behind them at 8-8.
In the initial stages of the conference season, in a game also burdened with weather issues, the Tommies beat the Bison on their home floor 78-68. Despite shooting 60% from the field in the second half, the Bison’s meager 8-16 effort from the free throw line held them back. St. Thomas, the highest free throw shooting team in the Summit League at 80%, hit 18 of their 22 shots from the line.
The Tommies have been dominant at home all season, possessing a 12-2 record on their home floor this season. However, St. Thomas Head Coach John Tauer and the Tommies are just 4-9 on the road this season and come to the Scheels Center where the Bison have won three straight.
St. Thomas is led by freshman guard Andrew Rohde and senior forward Parker Bjorklund. For the season, Rohde is averaging 17.7 PPG, 4.0 APG and 1.4 SPG in league play on 33.9 minutes per game, all of which rank top 10 in the league. Bjorklund, the Chaska, Minn. native, has been impressive himself as he ranks 10th in the league in points per game at 16.1, third in field goal percentage at 53% and leads the team in rebounds at 5.3 per game.
Bjorklund had his way with the Herd last time as he put up 19 points and 6 rebounds. He will be a key contributor to the Tommies, who look to beat the Bison in their own building for the second straight season after a 77-56 squashing last season.
Facing off against Bjorklund is likely to be 6’11” forward Grant Nelson. Nelson, who was recently named Summit League Peak Performer of the Week, is leading the league in rebounds with 10.1 boards per contest. Nelson will be a tough matchup against a St. Thomas team that ranks last in the conference in rebounds per game.
The Devils Lake, N.D. native has been a tear recently, recording a double-double in each of his last six games. During that stretch, Nelson is averaging lines of 19.7/13.0/3.7/1.2/1.8. Along with Boden Skunberg and Andrew Morgan combining to average over 25 points and 10 rebounds a game, Nelson and the Bison have a strong core to lead them through the end of the season.
Following Thursday’s game, the Bison will turn around to face the Western Illinois Leathernecks on Saturday afternoon. North Dakota State has owned WIU since David Richman took over as the Bison head coach in 2014-15 as he possesses a 15-3 record against the Leathernecks. However, one of those losses came earlier this season in the conference opener as Rob Jeter’s team crushed the Herd on their home floor 79-60.
Leatherneck guard Trenton Massner had his way with the Herd on that day back in December, posting a 24-point, 11-rebound day along with 7 assists and 3 steals. Massner is currently third in the Summit League in points per game behind Max Abmas and Zeke Mayo at 20.7 points per game and first in assists at 5.1.
His partner in crime is senior guard Alec Rosner. Rosner also had a solid day against the Herd in the last matchup with 19 points while going 5-8 from three. Rosner and Massner have been workhorses all season, as they hold the top two spots in minutes per game at 39.3 and 38.7, respectively.
Challenged with defending Nelson last time around for Western Illinois was Jesiah West. West, who is second behind Nelson in rebounds per game at 7.9, could not contain the lengthy big man. On 14-23 shooting, Nelson totaled 35 points and 16 rebounds. Other than Nelson and Skunberg, who combined for 45 points on 19-33 shooting, the rest of the Bison struggled as they accumulated just 15 points total.
The Bison will look to take advantage of a Western Illinois team who has also struggled on the road, winning just 4 of 12 games away from home. Massner, who scored 31 in Fargo last year, sets up a tough matchup for the Bison which should make for a great show for those in attendance.
The Bison’s fight for the #3 seed on Thursday will begin at the Scheels Center at 7 p.m. against St. Thomas and will be broadcasted statewide on WDAY as well as ESPN+. On Saturday, the Bison and Leathernecks will tip off for the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. and will be broadcasted on WDAY Xtra and ESPN+. Both games can also be found on the radio at 107.9 The Fox. Student tickets are available at GoBison.com/Students.