NDSU Hopes To Buffalo KU

Kansas entered the NCAA tournament last year as a No. 1 seed and everyone's pick to make the Final Four. Now, the Jayhawks begin the Big Dance today as a No. 3 seed and maybe the biggest question mark of any team in the tournament.

Heck, some observers believe KU could get knocked out in the first round when the ‘Hawks open play in the Midwest Regional against No. 14 seeded North Dakota State at 11:30 a.m. at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. The Wall Street Journal actually has KU as the No. 3 seed most likely to be upset in the opening round.

President Obama, for one, predicts Kansas losing to Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

"That doesn't disappoint me at all," KU coach Bill Self said. "We're a little bit unknown ourselves. We have a good seed in being a (No.) 3, but there is still some unknown out there about us because we are so young."

The Jayhawks (25-7, 14-2 Big 12) will be facing the unknown but experienced North Dakota State Bison (26-6, 16-2 Summit League), who became eligible for the NCAA tournament this season for the first time after a five-year reclassification from Division II.

The Bison, who won the Summit League regular-season championship and postseason tournament, start four fifth-year seniors and enter the tournament winning seven straight.

North Dakota State is a high-scoring three-point shooting team, ranking ninth nationally in scoring at 80.8 points per game (while allowing 68.6 ppg) and fifth in the nation in three-point percentage (41.2).

The Bison are led by magnificent 5-11 guard Ben Woodside. He scored 60 points against Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 12 and paces the team at 22.8 points (No. 9 nationally) and 6.3 assists per game. He also has a team-best 64 three-pointers and ranks first on the squad with an 84.2 free throw percentage.

Senior forward Brett Winkelman is the other Bison big gun, averaging 18.7 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Senior guard Mike Nelson is next in scoring at 11.9 points per game while adding 4.2 rebounds, 81 assists and 57 three-pointers.

Sophomore forward Michael Tveidt averages 9.7 points (team-best 20 blocks and 45.8 percent beyond the arc), followed by senior center Lucas Moormann (4.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 19 blocks), junior forward Dejuan Flowers (3.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg), freshman forward Eric Carlson (2.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg), junior guard Josh Vaughan (2.8 ppg) and sophomore guard Freddy Coleman (2.5 ppg).

Self has great respect for the veteran Bison.

"We've watched quite a bit of tape," Self said. "They all say the longer you play the game the slower the game becomes. I think they're a prime example on both ends, but probably more so offensively. They don't panic, they understand where the shots are coming from, and they know how to move without the ball.

"They really are a hard team to scout because their movement is dictated by what the defense does as opposed to what they have pre-set in their head to do."

Self and the Jayhawks are obviously concerned with Woodside.

"He would be the type of guy that every coach would want on his basketball team," Self said. "He gives the appearance to me of being their leader without question. But he does it in a way where it looks like to me everybody respects him so much because they know he makes all them better.

"(He's) very unselfish for a guy to average 23 points a game. He's got different gears. I think he does a terrific job of playing at three or four different speeds and really utilizes that to his advantage. He does a good job of keeping his defender off balance."

KU junior guard Sherron Collins is a true believer in Woodside as well.

"He has a good game," Collins said. "He knows how to use screens real well and does a lot of different things for the team. It will be a tough matchup, but I think playing against a lot of guards all season, that's prepared me for this moment."

Self likens North Dakota State to Texas Tech with its motion offense and "ability to get shots off the catch."

"I think that North Dakota State does that probably better than anybody we played this year," Self said.

The Bison are certainly ready for this moment. The four fifth-year seniors (Woodside, Winkelman, Nelson and Moormann) have dreamed of making the Big Dance since first redshirting back in 2004.

"We all knew that opportunity would be there waiting for us," Woodside told bisonzone.com in 2007.

And now they're faced with the challenge of upsetting the defending national champs. To beat KU, North Dakota State will have to contain Collins, who was named second-team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

"Ironically, the guy he reminds me of the most that we have been around this year is Woodside," Bison head coach Saul Phillips said. "They do have similar games in a lot of ways.

"It has been a real thrill watching Kansas tape over the course of the year to watch him evolve and take control of this team. He is the leader. He's the guy that is going to make the play when it matters. We have to have more than just one guy ready to guard him individually, we also have to have other people on the court ready to help. He is a difference-maker. He is a big-time guard."

So it's Collins and the unheralded Jayhawks versus Woodside and the unknown Bison.

And the winner is?

Collins scores 21 points as KU wins 84-77 and advances to a second-round game on Sunday between the winner of No. 6-seeded West Virginia and No. 11 Dayton

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