It's here. It's really here. Today the ribbon is going to be cut to announce the opening of the Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex. While that title might be a mouthful, it is a monumental step for Bison Basketball. The "SHAC" as it is more commonly referred to is something that coaches like Tim Miles and Saul Phillips used to sell to recruits before Coach Richman.
The Bison finished last season by appearing in their fourth consecutive Summit League championship game. NDSU ultimately fell short, losing to South Dakota State. This year's Bison return five of their top six scorers from a season ago and appear prime to contend in the Summit League yet again. NDSU checks in at #19 in the Mid-Major top 25. They were not ranked heading in to last season.
NDSU will have to again decide which young player to let in to Coach Dave Richman's tight rotation. Over the course of the last two seasons, NDSU has played seven, eight at the most players in tight games. Expected to be in that rotation this season would be returners Paul Miller, Dexter Werner, Carlin Dupree, AJ Jacobson, and Khy Kabellis. I would anticipate redshirt freshman Deng Geu to be a big, big part of things as well.
Dylan Miller, who started last season as a true freshman for a number of games to preserve Werner's role as an impact player off the bench, is in a battle for his spot this season. Sophomore Spencer Eliason had a big offseason developing his offensive game and "basketball skills" and is pushing for that position. "Make no mistake, for us it begins and probably ends with Dexter at the five." said Coach David Richman.
There's certainly a possibility that the Bison will go back to bringing Werner off the bench. His offense is appreciated with the second unit. With Miller, Jacobson and Geu slated to start, it's not like the staring unit needs a big scoring boost. For now, though, I believe he'll start. Werner in the starting lineup will provide NDSU with a balance unlike any other they've ever had. All five Bison would be able to score as a part of the dribble-weave four-around-one offense.
NDSU has a strong group of incoming freshmen for the 2016-2017 season, and I expect at least two of them to play. Point guards Cameron Hunter and Jared Samuelson bring separate skill sets to the table. Hunter has the same length and athleticism that NDSU has been recruiting at the guard position for the past few seasons. Samuelson is a stone cold shooter. He was Mr. Basketball in the state of Nebraska. Tyson Ward is a long athletic wing who needs to assimilate to the college game quickly, because he's going to play right away.
I expect Ward and probably Samuelson to play immediately. The 2017 recruiting class has three players, but they're all wings or bigger. It seems as if NDSU will break up the two point guards from this class. The Bison have plenty of athleticism on the team and after Seth Coatta left the squad before the season they might be a little light on shooting. Samuelson is more important to this year's squad and like last season with Deng Geu, Hunter might be more important to the future.
Ward will likely be the primary wing off the bench with Malik Clements sitting out this season. I anticipate him being a steady part of the rotation all season long, even when Jacobson fully returns from his thumb injury. "They've been great. Jared, I don't know if he's missed a three pointer in practice, Tyson is an athletic freak, and Cam is a great point guard. Sees the floor well. They've been fantastic for freshmen in their first few weeks." said Paul Miller.
Miller himself was a source of angst towards the end of last season. His knee injury left the Bison short handed during a key part of the conference season. His effectiveness was limited when he came back. Miller scored 20 total points in three games after his return. He sat out a Summit Tournament semifinal game for a violation of team rules.
Miller is a first team Summit League preseason selection, and his success will mirror NDSU's. While this Bison team is as balanced and as deep as any I remember, Miller is their star. He needed to come back from his injury and come back from his issues with the coaching staff in a big way. All signs point to a big season coming up for the junior guard.
"Paul's been phenomenal to be frank. I've been very pleased with him. His attitutde, and from a teammate perspective, the energy he's bringing, he's starting to remind me of some guys that have been here. He's a gamer. He's trying to win every drill. He's a very competitive kid. I've been very very pleased with the progress that Paul has made. A lot of our guys have seen that and looking up to him, and we just need to keep moving forward." said Richman.
North Dakota natives AJ Jacobson and Dexter Werner will (with Miller) assume more of a leadership role moving forward. The two fan favorites are going to contribute a lot on both ends of the floor. Jacobson is dealing with an offseason thumb injury that may or may not sideline him for the opening game against Arkansas State.
They'll be joined in their leadership roles by senior guard Carlin Dupree. Dupree, who briefly left the team a season ago, has rejoined the team and re-established his role as a staple of the program. The athletic combo guard led the Bison in scoring in the Summit League tournament a season ago, and will more than likely come off the bench and operate the second team offense. He and sophomore guard Khy Kabellis will handle the point guard duties. Kabellis and Dupree offer length at that position that most Summit League teams do not possess.
The biggest source of excitement for the program that isn't a shiny new arena is redshirt freshman Deng Geu. Geu, who played high school ball in Sioux Falls but grew up in Fargo has potential that hasn't been seen in Fargo in a long time. His athleticism isn't something the Summit League sees from someone with his height, and his outside shooting game is further along than most could have hoped.
Most 6'8" or 6'9" players in mid major basketball are destined to bang in the post. Geu can play out on the wing with no issue. He can also put defenders on a poster and has the obvious talent to defend and protect the rim at an elite level. Geu started playing basketball in 7th grade, much later than most Division I players. His basketball IQ and his ability to assimilate to the D1 game might take time, but there is high-major potential in Deng.
Projections for this particular Bison team are all over the place. The coaches and media picked them third. Behind defending league champ and preseason player of the year Mike Daum and the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State and behind Fort Wayne. SDSU is getting bye on the respect that everyone has for Daum. Fort Wayne because of some transfers.
There are those who believe the Bison will come out of the league. Dick Vitale of ESPN, USA Today and a few other tournament prognosticators have NDSU in their pre-season brackets. It's certainly not a strange take, considering how many consecutive seasons the Bison have been in the conference tournament championship and how many contributors are returning this season.
"It has no effect, preseason polls. Where our league is right now, a lot of teams have gone the transfer route. In a little bit of a transient league, there's three or four transient teams in our league right now. If we start focusing on this or that and don't get better today and tomorow, we're going to lose." said Richman.
I expect Omaha to join the group of Fort Wayne, South Dakota State and NDSU at the top of the league. I would anticipate the University of South Dakota potentially surprise and be a contender as well. Coach Smith is a good coach. In the end NDSU's newfound depth and newfound home court advantage will lead them to a regular season Summit League championship. They'll meet the winner of SDSU and Fort Wayne in the championship game and they will go dancing for the fourth time in nine seasons of eligibility.
Head Coach: David Richman (3rd season, 43-23)
Key Additions: G Cameron Hunter, G/F Tyson Ward, G Jared Samuelson
Key Losses: F Chris Kading, G Kory Brown, G Malik Clements (injury, will return next season)
Projected Starting Lineup:
- Dexter Werner
- Deng Geu
- AJ Jacobson
- Paul Miller
- Khy Kabellis
- Spencer Eliason
- Carlin Dupree
- Tyson Ward
- Dylan Miller
- Jared Samuelson
- vs. Arkansas State 11/11/2016 (season opener, SHAC opener)
- vs. Navy @ High Point, NC 11/18/2016
- @ Missouri State Bears 11/27/2016
- @ Xavier 11/29/2016
- vs. North Dakota 12/7/2016
- @ Arkansas 12/20/2016
- @ South Dakota State 12/28/2016
- vs. Omaha 12/31/2016 (conference home opener)
- vs. Fort Wayne 1/19/2017
- vs. South Dakota State 2/8/2017
- @ Fort Wayne 2/15/2017