I am currently finding the NDSU Bison a very intriguing team. Why, you would ask? Who cares about yet another Dakota team from the Summit League, a League whose best team (So Dak State) just got pounded like Bree Olson by the Gophers (yes without their best player but still)? Well, it's because the results this season say one thing, but kenpom's advanced statistical metrics say something else. I am intrigued beyond intriguement.
Looking at the results NDSU hasn't done anything terrible, but they haven't done anything good either. Their record is 8-2 with the losses coming at Indiana (by 16) and at Green Bay (by 15). The loss to GB is a bit sketchy, but they aren't a horrible team this year and it was on the road so I'll give them a bit of a pass. The 8 wins containing nothing at all special with two of them coming versus non Division 1 teams and the best of the lot probably being their win over Youngstown in overtime. Basically the resume of your typical non-horrendous cupcake, the type of team the Gophers have been by 25 with ease this year.
Kenpom's results, however, are considerably different and rank NDSU as the 57th best team in the country, in the same general vicinity as St. Louis, Temple, St. Mary's, and Virginia Tech - quite a different animal. What's the discrepancy? In general, NDSU's statistical profile fits the cupcake type team you'd expect, except NDSU does three things exceptionally well - defend shooters, block shots, and knock down 3s.
I'll start with knocking down 3s because frankly it's what scares me the most. The Bison have hit 41.3% of their 3-point attempts this year (8th in the country) and get 33% of their total points from behind the line - it's a major weapon, even if they aren't totally dependent on it, which makes it even scarier because their regular offense can help set up open looks for shooters. As these teams usually go they have a do everything type of guy in 6-7 swingman Taylor Braun who leads the team in scoring (15.9 ppg), rebounding (6.4 rpg), assists (3.5 apg), and steals (1.6 spg) AND he's a major 3-point threat as well, hitting 43% this year and he hit 7 against Omaha. Braun isn't even the main threat to go off from three. That would be shooting guard Mike Felt who comes off the bench but is the team's designated shooter and has hit at 46% this year. There are others who are decent shooters, but Braun and Felt are the main two the Gophers will need to limit to try to keep NDSU from making this a game.
Defensively, the Bison use a solid interior defense (25th in the country in block percentage) to limit opponents on 2-pointers (opponents shoot 41% on 2s - 35th in the country) without giving up much on the perimeter (opponents shoot 30% from 3 - 90th in the country) resulting in a very solid overall defensive footprint - overall 58th in the country in defensive efficiency. It would be easy to say that this defense has benefited from a soft overall schedule (and they did get pretty well schooled by Indiana) but I'm inclined to think they play some pretty good defense. Marshall Bjorklund is the team's second leading scorer (11.4 ppg) and third leading rebounder (5.3 rpg) and he's a big (6-8), strong (240 lbs.) kid who's going to make things tough down in the paint even though he doesn't really block shots (0.5 per game). He leaves that to TrayVonn Wright (1.7 bpg + 5.9 rebs), a crazy athlete in the Rodney Williams mold, and Chris Kading (1.3 bpg). NDSU has the size to make things difficult for a lot of teams, particularly mid-majors, but the Gophers aren't a mid-major - in case you hadn't noticed.
NDSU has been a solid team against poor competition this year, and look to be good enough to at least challenge SDSU in the Summit for the league's lone NCAA bid and it wouldn't surprise me to see them get it and maybe even put a scare into somebody. Disciplined teams (check) with the size to not get run over by high major teams (check), play solid defense (check), and can knock down a whole bunch of 3-pointers in a hurry (check) can't be taken lightly, and when that team also has do everything type of player like NDSU has in Braun they become a legitimate threat to upset someone. In year's past, this game would have terrified me.
But not this year. Not this team. They're just too good this year. The Hollins-Hollins-Coleman backcourt is going to shred NDSU, and the Bison have size but not the kind that can stand up to Mbakwe, Elliason, Walker, and Ingram thrown at them constantly. TrayVonn Wright might be the best athlete in the Summit, but Rodney Williams is one of the best athletes in the world. I can see NDSU hanging around for a while, making a game of it in the first half for a bit, but this Gopher team is on a different plane, and teams like that don't let teams like this hang around forever.
Minnesota 77, NDSU 50