NDSU Men’s Basketball Preview
Published: Monday, October 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013 14:10
The NDSU men’s basketball team was one game short of reaching the NCAA Tournament last season. This year, they are picked to be the team to beat in order to make The Big Dance.
The Bison were voted the preseason favorites to win the Summit League. And with five returning starters and the top eight scorers back from a 24-10 record, NDSU received its highest ever mid-major ranking at No. 7 in the preseason polls.
“Expectations are high,” NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said in the Summit League teleconference. “But there isn’t a coach out there in the conference that doesn’t have pretty lofty expectations. We’ll deal with all that and we’re excited to start the season.”
NDSU lost to South Dakota State last year in the Summit League championship game. The Bison bring back virtually every member of that squad and added motivation could be felt in the offseason.
“We were definitely upset after the loss, but we knew we had another opportunity this year,” conference preseason Player of the Year, Taylor Braun, said. “Dwelling on it doesn’t benefit you and if anything, we’ve used it to fuel us to get back up there and start working hard again.”
Braun leads a group of players that have been playing together for several years. The 6-foot-7-inch forward and fellow seniors Marshall Bjorklund, TrayVonn Wright and Mike Felt have all been contributors since their freshman years. The wins have grown steadily along with their years.
The continuity of the team can be attributed to that.
“The team chemistry is great,” Braun said. “We’ve known each other 4-5 years. We’re very comfortable with each other and nobody is afraid to call another player out if they’re not giving their best effort. We know where each other is going to be and what everyone is comfortable doing. It makes it a lot easier.”
The stable of scorers makes a deep and dangerous roster for the Bison. Four players averaged ten points or more last season. Braun (15.4 PPG) is joined on the Summit League preseason First Team with the 6-foot-8-inch forward Bjorklund (11.5 PPG) and junior guard Lawrence Alexander (10.8 PPG). Wright, a forward, made a case last year as a premier scorer and shot blocker with 61 blocks and 10.2 PPG.
“It’s a humble, hard-working group,” Phillips said. “They know what got them to 24 wins last year. They know what’s in front of them. All the preseason stuff that comes along is a reflection of potential, but potential doesn’t do it. We need to live up to that.”
All the preseason accolades haven’t dented the veteran groups’ focus. The Bison came within seven points of the ultimate goal in reaching the NCAA Tournament, something only the 2008-09 Bison team has done.
Phillips and his team know the long haul of a basketball season and the amount of work that needs to be put into a championship season.
“We have a group of guys that are focused on what they think they can accomplish,” Phillips said. “The accolades have been wonderful, but they’re not lining the walls of our players’ dorm room walls, I can promise you that.”
Braun said distractions are to no concern for the Bison.
“I think we all look at it, but to be honest, we don’t really care,” Braun said. “It doesn’t do you any good to look at that stuff in the preseason. It is nice to see us get recognized because we do work really hard and make a lot of sacrifices to be successful. But as far as messing with our heads or anything, it’s nothing.”
The Bison’s anticipated season begins with a scrimmage against Concordia Moorhead Wednesday. What follows is the toughest nonconference schedule the group has seen. NDSU has dates with power-conference opponents Ohio State and Notre Dame along with games against mid-major heavyweights Southern Mississippi and Towson.
The tough preseason prepares the Bison for another competitive year in the Summit League. Conference newcomer Denver was voted to finished second with three first-place votes and SDSU looks to remain competitive with a third place standing in the preseason votes.
But the frontrunner for the championship and a NCAA Tournament berth are the Bison. And that’s just what they expect themselves to do.
“That’s been our goal every year,” Braun said. “We have so many seniors this year and this is our last chance to do it. It would be extremely disappointing if we didn’t reach that goal. We’ve worked hard and we’re going to take the season one game at a time, but I don’t think anybody has a doubt that we can’t achieve that goal.”