Bison Men’s Offense a Pleasant Surprise
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 19:01
NDSU head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips says this year’s team isn’t the best shooting team he’s coached. But the stats say otherwise. In fact, according to the stat sheet, this is currently the best shooting team in the nation in terms of field goal percentage.
NDSU is right where they are expected to be at this time in the season. The Bison have a nonconference record that’s produced more than 10 wins and are now battling atop the Summit League standings fresh into the conference schedule. What has been a pleasant surprise, though, is the performance of the offense this season.
Phillips’ team came into the season with a defensive-minded reputation. The 2012-13 Bison allowed 56.1 points per game while scoring 67.1. NDSU’s defense has been menacing again this year. Last Thursday’s opponent Omaha, which led the Summit League in scoring with 83.3 points per game, were held to 69 points.
NDSU poured in 91 points that game. They are averaging 79.5 points a game this year. While this isn’t Phillips’ most explosive offense in his coaching tenure in Fargo, the Bison have improved their shooting percentage from .468 last year to .514 this year. That number leads the nation.
Leading the way is center Marshall Bjorklund with a .659 shooting percentage. His inside game and footwork like that of a 250-pound ballet dancer make for high percentage shots. But a big reason for the nation-leading field goal percentage is the efficient shot selection the Bison take.
“I’ve had much better teams playing HORSE,” Phillips said after Thursday’s game. “It doesn’t mean we’re the best shooting team we’ve ever had. It means this team has figured out how to get better shots.”
That efficiency can be attributed to the balance of scoring. Thursday’s game saw six players with double digit scoring.
“As a team, we’re really balanced and we don’t have to rely on anybody,” senior center Jordan Aaberg said. “Sometimes, if someone gets hot, we’ll go to them. But, I mean, it’s really nice that night in and night out you can count on everybody on the team to contribute.”
Last year, leading scorer Taylor Braun missed a large chunk of the conference schedule. His absence resulted in a stagnant offense that struggled with consistency. This season, excluding a horrific offensive performance in Grand Forks, the Bison offense is proving to be tough to stop. And with the defense still defending well, despite being slow to the new hand check fouls, this Bison team is the most balanced Phillips has coached in years.
Balance on both ends of the court is what NDSU needs to continue in order to reach No. 1 in the standings. A No. 1 seed is extremely crucial come tournament time. With Omaha ineligible for the conference tournament, the top seed gets a first round bye.
The Bison, picked to win the conference, have yet to show nerves on the big stage. An upset over Notre Dame proves that. And when the big stage of the conference tournament in Sioux Falls arrives, an efficient offense may be the final factor in sending this team dancing.