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Monday, March 16, 2009

Bison’s decision paying off

North Dakota State basketball players, from left, Lucas Moormann, Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson sign autographs for fans Sunday in Fargo, N.D., before the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced.

North Dakota State basketball players, from left, Lucas Moormann, Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson sign autographs for fans Sunday in Fargo, N.D., before the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced.

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2009 KU Selection Sunday

The success or failure of a college basketball team sometimes can hinge on a single decision, and in months leading up to the 2004-05 season, a group of North Dakota State coaches made one that eventually would prove to be as important as any other in the program’s history.

At the time, the program was in the process of jumping from Div. II to Div. I, meaning that, due to NCAA rules, the Bison would be unable to compete in postseason play until the 2008-09 season. For the team’s in-coming freshmen that year — a talented group of guards Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson and post players Lucas Moormann and Brett Winkelman — that meant no chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament during their collegiate careers.

So the members of the coaching staff proposed an idea that, five years later, would pave the way for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in school history: They suggested that all of those incoming freshmen spend the season as red shirts.

“We thought that 23-year-olds obviously play better basketball than 18-year-olds,” says current head coach Saul Phillips, then an assistant for the Bison. “Think of that city-league team that every year beats the younger, more athletic team, just because they have experience.”

The players pondered the idea. Many came from small towns in Minnesota and North Dakota. None had warranted a Div. I scholarship to any school outside of the Dakotas. All figured that a chance to play on college basketball’s grandest stage — even if it was a slim chance, and even if it wouldn’t come for five years — was about as good as anyone could hope for.

So it was decided: Each of the team’s four freshmen would red-shirt his first season, the hope being that, with four years of experience to fall back on, they would be in the best possible position to take advantage of their sliver of opportunity in 2009.

As Woodside, a 5-foot-11 guard out of Albert Lea, Minn., put it, “We put a lot of our eggs in one basket.”

The ensuing four years weren’t easy. Because of the classification switch, the program faced a number of hurdles. For the first three years of the players’ career, the Bison didn’t have a conference, playing three straight seasons of what ultimately amounted to exhibition games. The next year, Phillips took over as head coach, the team joined the Summit League, and the Bison finished 18-13 — a solid record, to be sure, but not exactly one that inspired visions of NCAA Tournament glory.

Then came the start of the 2008-09 season, and a funny thing happened: The team’s seniors, whose frames had been molded by an extra year of weight training and conditioning, shone. Woodside, Winkelman and Nelson each averaged double figures in scoring. Moormann was third on the team in rebounds and second in blocks.

The Bison closed the regular season on an 15-1 run, and, following a victory over Oral Roberts in the regular-season finale, they entered the Summit League tournament as the No. 1 seed and knocked off their first two opponents — Centenary and Southern Utah.

One more hurdle to go.

They were in the championship game — down 14 points late in the first half to Oakland, struggling, watching five years of work quickly slip away.

Somehow, though, they managed to close the gap to 62-57 with five minutes remaining. Somehow, they managed to take a 64-62 lead two minutes later. And somehow, after an Oakland field goal with 11 seconds to go tied the game, Woodside got off a 17-foot jumpshot.

And now it was all even more unthinkable. Five years whittled down to four seconds, down to one shot. Woodside — whose efforts have been so tightly intertwined with the success of the program during the past four seasons — rose and released and, with nothing less than his and his teammates’ careers on the line, watched as the ball fell through the net.

North Dakota State, in its first postseason competition in five years, had earned a conference title, and, along with it, a guaranteed berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Bison returned home to Fargo, N.D., and a few days later, there they were, gathered together to watch the announcement of the NCAA Tournament pairings, going wild as the selection committee tapped them as the 14th seed in the Midwest Region.

“It’s just completely fulfilling,” Nelson said. ”There was no guarantees that we were going to make it this far. And now that it’s actually happened and it’s panned out this way, it’s just unbelievable.”

Now, they’ll face a Kansas University team that won the regular-season Big 12 title and is still smarting from an unusually early exit from last weekend’s conference tournament.

The Bison have faced talented teams this season. They matched up against Minnesota and USC — both of which earned NCAA Tournament bids — and nearly pulled off an upset of the Trojans on Dec. 20.

Don’t expect the Bison to be intimidated by the storied Jayhawks.

After all, said Phillips, “The chain of events that has gotten us to this place is probably as remarkable as you’ll find in college basketball.”

Comments

Luke Kading 10 years, 10 months ago

Nobody can be more torn in this Tournament than I am. I've lived in Fargo my whole life and just recently graduated from NDSU, and what they've done with this program is truly amazing, and I was ecstatic to see them win the Summit League Tournament and go to the NCAA's, and I would have cheered for them like crazy no matter who they played, as long as it wasn't the Kansas Jayhawks. I've been a die-hard Kansas fan for about 7 years now, and I just cannot picture myself cheering against them. I went to just about every NDSU home game this year, and I've seen every Kansas game on TV and two in person, so I feel I know more about these two teams than possibly anybody out there.

Here's the deal, Ben Woodside is for real, and he can put up points from anywhere on the floor. However, he struggles when teams pressure him full court the whole game and throw several different guys at him because he plays so much and has to handle the ball almost all the time. I predict Morningstar will start on him, with Tyshawn Taylor also guarding him for awhile. NDSU has virtually no low post scoring, it's rare that they even give it to the big man in the post, and if they do it's gonna get kicked right back out. What they do is run a ton of ball screens for Woodside with their center Lucas Moorman. Cole needs to be ready to hedge those screens or Woodside will kill them with mid range jumpers all day. Their best low post scorer and rebounder is an undersized 4 Brett Winkleman. He can score in the low post, but usually struggles to do so when he has a bigger man on him, and I think Marcus Morris will start on him. Other than that, NDSU likes to shoot the 3. All their starters except for Moorman can step out and hit the 3 with consistency, so Kansas needs to step out on their shooters.

Kansas' main advantages will be their size, athleticism, and depth. They should be able to dominate the glass, and Cole should have a huge game. Kansas is also gonna wanna run alot. NDSU doesn't wanna run because they don't wanna wear down Woodside, so the more Kansas runs the better. Sherron needs to play well. He'll most likely have guard Mike Nelson on him, trying to hound him, because he's their best defender and they won't wanna wear down Woodside.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Minneapolis is about 3 1/2 hours from Fargo, and I guarantee that there will be a ton of Bison fans there. 2 years ago NDSU played Minnesota in football in the Metrodome and it was predicted that there were 35,000+ Bison fans at that game. This will be a similar atmosphere. This is the biggest game in NDSU history, and Bison fans know it. Kansas fans need to travel well if they can to support the Jayhawks, I already got my tickets. One thing is certain, Kansas cannot take NDSU lightly.

Rock Chalk!

dryljones 10 years, 10 months ago

FargoHawk brings out a great point. This is the biggest game in their history. Needless to say, it is NOT the biggest game in KU Basketball history. Message number one at every coaching session needs to be "Don't take this team lightly." That is what will lose the game for KU.

KU1979 10 years, 10 months ago

Hey Fargo, how did you come to be a KU fan? And...you should email your scouting report to one of the coaches. I'm half serious about that. I'm sure they will have enough tape to break down the Bison very well, but you've seen every game and seem to know what you're talking about. Funny how life works out sometimes -- this is your worst nightmare! j/k. Rock Chalk!

nocaljayhawk 10 years, 10 months ago

So these are the (blond, caucasian) faces of our future tormentors, eh?

And this is essentially a road game for a young KU team. Nice.

cre017 10 years, 10 months ago

810 whb just interviewed the ndsu coach and said they would bring about 35,000 fans. Hawk fans if you have the money or students get up there and support our Jayhawks. I bought tickets to the Sprint Center thinking for sure they would play there so I have spent my wad. Go Jayhawks!

Greg Lux 10 years, 10 months ago

cre017... Hey bud .. sell and rebuy .. I am sure there are plenty of OU fans looking for tickets ..

Rock Chalk

Danny Hernandez 10 years, 10 months ago

FargoHawk...are you a coach? if not, you sure could be....great scouting report Thanks

jaybate 10 years, 10 months ago

The Hawks needed this: a chance to avenge the B jinx vs. Bison.

Skin the Bison.

Mount the horns.

Grill the steaks.

Do your duties, Hawks.

Remove the stain on The Legacy.

All of Crimson and Blue are with you!

Rock Chalk!!

Jonathan Allison 10 years, 10 months ago

The B jinx will not be avenged until Kansas beats Butler or Binghampton or someone who actually starts with a B. If NDSU wins everyone blames the jinx, if KU wins everyone says it was because North Dakota State doesn't start with a B.

Dirk Medema 10 years, 10 months ago

Hopefully, the 35,000 fans will be in-town and rocking the place days in advance as well. It should help us wake up for the start. I wonder what the chance is of starting out in a box & 1? My guess is they'll go to it at some point, but would be hard to switch to anything else if that didn't work to start the game. Sounds like maybe we just need to switch a lot on screens, and play intense.

Hopefully, Cole and all have learned from TT & Baylor, b/c it sounds likely that they will sag on the low post and try to force outside shots. It is fine if we make them, but hopefully we aren't laying all our eggs in the basket of long range J's.

kansasYEA 10 years, 10 months ago

ha, im totally with you plasticJayhawk on the B jinx.

Luke Kading 10 years, 10 months ago

Hey KU1979...I actually started to watch Kansas when an North Dakota product Jeff Boschee started playing there. Boschee played high school ball in Valley City, ND, which is about an hour away from Fargo, and he was the biggest thing to come out of ND in a long time. So I started watching KU to see how he was doing, and the more I watched the more I fell in love. By the time he was a Jr, I was pretty much a die-hard fan, and now I've ordered the ESPN Full Court package each of the last three years and I haven't missed a Kansas game except for 1 or 2 in the past three years.

I feel like I could write about this game for days, and I know both teams really well, so if you guys would like I could break it down some more.

Rock Chalk!

keith horinek 10 years, 10 months ago

so many similariites between 3 years ago and this year. a young talented team, a higher than expected seed in the tournament and a virtually unknown team to start out with................hmmm.

Lance Hobson 10 years, 10 months ago

Remember when Boschee and the Jayhawks went up to ND a few years ago? They packed their fabulous hockey stadium in what ended up being the biggest crowd for a sporting event in ND history. They have some serious fans up there, and they looked more pumped than any other school at the selection show.

We should win but we need to come out strong to stem some of this momentum.

Ryan Martin 10 years, 10 months ago

If the Jayhawks can't get pumped for the NCAA Tournament than I don't know what will. They sure didn't at the Big 12 tourney. It takes toughness and heart to shut teams down to win a tourney. The Championship game is never a given. Let's show awesome support for these young jayhawks.

Has anyone heard the latest news on recruits John Wall and Lance Stephenson? I can't find anything.

cklarock 10 years, 10 months ago

@FargoHawk: Great story, and I feel your pain! Either way, you get a W, but either way, you get an L. I do think it's a great story for the four redshirt seniors, and the whole ND State program. I'd root for them against anyone but the Jayhawks.

Please do write more; most of us haven't had a chance to watch ND St., and it's going to be a loooong week waiting for Thursday. They sound like they have all the ingredients to be a giant-killing underdog, and I would imagine the Jayhawk Nation is not looking past this game.

Rock Chalk!

Steve Brown 10 years, 10 months ago

for you flying to MNSPL be aware that SWest Air has started service there via Midway in Chicago. Also, anyone know where we can dump our Sprint Center tix for this week....

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