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Bison Hoops Weekly Check-in: Hot Start

NDSU opened up the SHAC with two twins, first over Arkansas State in a rematch of a mid-major battle from last season. The second game brought Minnesota Morris from NCAA's Division III, and an easy Bison win.

What happened?

Bison 76 Arkansas State 66

NDSU opened the Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex with a 10 point victory over Arkansas State of the Sun Belt.  The opening of NDSU's digs drew more than 5,000 fans to the new on campus arena.  Fans were welcomed by the brand new facility, a Veteran's Day tribute and a national anthem sung by North Dakota natives Tigirlily.

The Bison did not start out the game well, at one point trailing 18-8 in the first half and again by a 48-47 mark with 11 minutes to go in the game.  NDSU used a 19-0 run form that point on to effectively end the game.  Arkansas State would tighten the game late, but North Dakota State made enough free throws to maintain the assured victory.

It was unclear whether or not junior wing AJ Jacobson was going to be able to play.  Jacobson was rehabbing a UCL tear in the thumb on his non-shooting hand.  Jacobson shot 80% from the field and 75% from the free throw line, showing no ill effects or rust.  He also impacted the game on defense and on the boards at a level we haven't seen from him before.

Paul Miller led NDSU with 24 points, showcasing an increased ability to get to the rim.  Miller connected on three "traditional" three point play opportunities.

NDSU shot an unbelievable 42 free throws during the game, as Arkansas State entered the bonus with more than 9 minutes remaining in both halves.  The Bison did struggle from three-point land, shooting it just 1-11 from distance.

NDSU's starting five played a lot of minutes, as after the Thundering Herd started slow, Richman tightened up his bench.

Bison 92 Minnesota Morris 62

This was NDSU's non-D1 "counter" for the season.  It brought the University of Minnesota Morris Cougars of the UMAC to the Scheel's Center in front of a somewhat paltry crowd at 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon.

Richman was not pleased with his team's maturity and effort early on, leading to a timeout.  "Maturity and leadership starts with all of us, of our 15 guys, 5 of them are upperclassmen.  Those kids need to set an example from the pregame warmup, the tip, and all the way through" said head coach David Richman.

Jacobson continued his excellent shooting, scoring 18 points.  Deng Geu was able to post a quiet 15 points in extended minutes.

What's going to happen? 

High Point Tournament

NDSU will participate in a three game tournament this weekend at High Point University in North Carolina.  They take on Navy on Friday afternoon, followed by UNC Greensboro on Saturday and finally High Point on Sunday afternoon.  Three games in three days presents a lot of challenges.

"It starts with minutes management.  We played some guys a high level of minutes, and that's great because those guys are going to need to on specific nights.  If you're realistic as a coach you're going to have a turned ankle for a weekend, you're going to have some other guys step up.  It's important for (the young players) to get minutes, and get important minutes." said Richman. 

Navy played Ohio State tight, losing by 10 in their season opener.  Greensboro has a loss to Virginia and a win over Presbyterian on their record. High Point features a DIII win and a loss to Virginia Tech.  Of the four teams in the High Point Tournament, NDSU rank 1st in ESPN's Preseason Basketball Power Index, by quite a bit.  

Make no mistake about it, the Bison are going to try and win all three games, but they will also be looking to develop their depth.  As long as the Summit League is a one-bid conference, everything about NDSU Basketball is going to be about being the best team they can be at the Summit League tournament in March.

All three games will be streamed live on the Big South Network.  I've been told the NDSU website will provide links.

Prediction: NDSU goes 2-1, shares tournament title.

News and notes: 

- Lineup quirks: In the first media guide we were give, NDSU's probable starters included Khy Kabellis, Paul Miller, AJ Jacobson, Dexter Miller and Deng Geu (in place of Carlin Dupree).  The lineup with Geu in it would certainly be a more traditional one.  Jacobson is really a "3" playing the "4" and Deng is a very versatile player that can play any number of positions with his athleticism.

So far, Richman has decided to put his five upperclassmen together, and bring all five of his more inexperienced players off the bench.  Both Arkansas State (style of play) and UM Morris (DIII school) were smaller, so playing a three guard, one wing, one big lineup didn't really concern me.  That they might stick with that lineup is something to watch for.  

Kory Brown, who played with Miller and Kabellis last season, is a much different player than Dupree.  

- "About Us": As I mentioned earlier, where NDSU is at the mid major level of college basketball is a one-bid league situation.  If they don't qualify for the NCAA tournament by winning in Sioux Falls in March, they're not going dancing.  The Summit League has made big strides, specifically since South Dakota State and North Dakota State have joined the conference, but they're still not to the point where the regular season conference champ can make it in without a tournament title.

Until that changes, non-conference games have a different meaning for North Dakota State than they do for the University of North Carolina.  The Bison want to win every game they play in, but it's more about being the best possible team they can be in March than it is protecting some kind of "resume".  

"So much of what we do is about us.  We're going to base things on what we do.  We're gonna go in to every single game, with 90% of the focus on us, so our guys are playing basketball.  We're not bull headed enough that we won't (make adjustments), we want to stick to "doing us" over, and over and over again." explained Richman.

- Big man competition: 

Throughout the first two seasons of Richman's head coaching career, he's used a short bench.  NDSU players have been well conditioned by strength and conditioning coach Jason Miller, and for good reason.  The rotation guys play a lot.

That leads me to believe that the current 10 man rotation the Bison are using may not be long for this world. The five starters are obviously safe, they all bring the ability to score when on the floor together, and lead the offense when sprinkled in with second unit guys.  Tyson Ward is NDSU's longest and most athletic wing defender, even as a freshman.  Samuelson appears to be the best shooter on the bench and Deng Geu is probably the most talented player on the roster.

Where the Bison do have the potential to whittle the rotation down from 10 to 9 is at the second "big man" spot.  Spencer Eliason and Dylan Miller appear to be in direct competition for that spot.  Eliason has come in to both games first, followed by Miller.

During both games, to the naked eye at least, Miller still looks more comfortable.  Eliason must have showed something in the offseason, though, and I'm waiting for that to come out during games under the lights.

"Hopefully they'll continue to keep getting runs in the first half, and then we're going to base the second half on who's playing well the first half.  How they can be successful and how we can be successful." said Richman


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