With the first half of conference play concluded, the Bison men’s basketball team sits atop the Summit League standings with a 6-1 record in conference play.
The Bison have torn up conference play, with their lone defeat suffered against Denver in the Mile High City. The Bison hold a two game lead over both Denver and University of South Dakota in the conference.
NDSU has eight more games this season, including four home games — USD, South Dakota State, Denver and Western Illinois will come to Fargo. The furthest the Bison will have to roam is Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they will take on Oral Roberts. The lighter travel schedule is a stark contrast to their ambitious ventures from the first half of the season. The Bison trekked to Missouri, Cincinnati, Arkansas and twice went to North Carolina between November and December. Less traveling will greatly benefit the Herd as they aim to win their fourth Summit League title.
In their eight remaining games, the Bison will play each of their conference foes one more time. NDSU will like their chances in each contest, although they will face stiff competition from those chasing the top seed.
Only three teams beside the Bison have winning percentages above .500, but their records do not tell the full story. IUPUI, USD and Fort Wayne all narrowly lost to the Bison, so the Bison will need to raise their game to stay at the top. The top half of the standings is tight, but the bottom half is up for grabs. All teams will be rounding into form to make a push down the home stretch. Even 2-5 SDSU will try to make a run at the tournament following a disappointing start to conference play.
The Bison have shown they are capable of winning shootouts against high-octane offenses. To really distinguish themselves from the pack, NDSU must look to get back to their defensive ways. Strong defense is the surest means for the Bison to stay on top. In a close, high-scoring game, the difference between victory and defeat can be a not-so-fortuitous bounce off the rim or a late, momentum-killing turnover.
The Bison defense has conceded an average of 73.7 points per game since conference play began. Head coach Dave Richman has expressed desire to improve on this number, though. NDSU surrendered 89 points to the Jaguars, 79 to the Pioneers and 83 to the Mastodons. The Herd cannot continue to surrender this many points and expect to dominate like they have. To stay atop the standings, improvements must be made on the defensive end of the court.
It is not always flashy or exciting, but a stout defense is always a reliable way to win.
Richman praised Fort Wayne’s offense, saying, “Fort Wayne is as good an offensive team as I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Winning a high scoring game is a toss-up, and against a team like he described, NDSU would be best served with a revamped defense. Attempting to beat a good shooting team at their own game is a tall order, and one the Bison narrowly accomplished against IPFW and IUPUI.
Offensively, the Bison are flying high, led by Paul Miller’s hot shooting. Miller, for his 33-point outing against IPFW, was named Summit League Player of the Week. Beyond Miller, the Bison have great depth with their offensive weapons. Khy Kabellis, AJ Jacobson and Dexter Werner are all capable of taking over a game, leaving opponents with many threats to contend with.
Having so many scoring options is, as Kabellis explained, “A luxury to say the least. We have a really balanced squad and on any given night one of us can lead the team in points.”
Miller, Kabellis, Jacobson, Werner, Carlin Dupree and Deng Geu have each scored at least 18 points in a game once this season.
If the Bison’s scoring keeps up its pace, and the defense makes some necessary adjustments, expect them to come out on top in a contentious Summit League. A berth in the Big Dance is no guarantee, but the Bison have the skills to represent the conference once the NCAA tournament comes around.