« NDSU Bison

Who They Wanted

by Dan Gunderson

The North Dakota State University men’s basketball team was hoping to get paired with one of three teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. They got one of those three in the University of Oklahoma Sooners. The Bison, a 12-seed, will play Thursday, March 20, in Spokane, Washington at approximately 6:27 CT.

The Sooners grabbed the 5-seed out of the West Region (Anaheim) after finishing in second place in the Big 12 this season. The other teams NDSU would have liked to been paired up with were Connecticut and North Carolina.

Even without knowing much about the Sooners, something both NDSU coaches and players admitted to after the announcement on Sunday, doesn’t prevent them from having strong optimism about their opening game.

Looking at the roster for the Sooners, I understand why the Bison would relish this game. The Sooners are not an overly tall team and gave up the most points per game in the Big 12 this season.

The Sooners are led in scoring by sophomore guard Buddy Hield. Hield averages 16.8 points per game and is the team leader in three-pointers taken and made this season. Their second leading scorer is senior guard Cameron Clark. Clark averages 15.3 points per game.

These two shouldn’t scare Bison fans because size wise, they are exactly like NDSU’s Taylor Braun and Kory Brown. Hield is 6’4” and Clark is 6’7”. Brown is 6’4” and Braun is 6’7”. Even the weight is eerily similar with Brown and Hield listed at 200 and 208 respectively, while Braun and Clark weigh in at 210 and 211 respectively.

Braun and Clark have a similar type of game as well. Both are efficient shooters, Braun shooting 49 percent from the floor, Clark shooting 46 percent, and tend to get to the basket rather than settle for jump shots. This is made evident by the fact Braun leads the team in free throw attempts with 224 and Clark is tied for second on the team with 119 free throw attempts.

In the post, it will be a match-up between NDSU’s Marshall Bjorklund and OU’s sophomore forward Ryan Spangler. Both are similar in size, Bjorklund is 6’8” 250 pounds, Spangler is 6’8” and 232 pounds, and both are efficient shooters, Bjorklund shooting at 64 percent while Spangler comes in shooting 59 percent.

Bjorklund holds an advantage in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per game while Spangler is the better rebounder, averaging 9 rebounds per game.

The point guard match-up will be a fun one to watch between NDSU’s junior Lawrence Alexander and OU’s freshman Jordan Woodward. Woodward is not afraid to drive the lane and create contact, as evident by his team-leading 181 free throw attempts this season.

Alexander was one of the best rebounding guards in the Summit League this season, averaging 4.3 rebounds per game. He was also the most dependable player for NDSU this season, averaging a team leading 33.9 minutes per game.

NDSU’s x-factor on offense all season has been TrayVonn Wright. The 6’7” forward can be an issue for defenses because he can shoot from the outside and rise up and score in the post. He is a streaky shooter but when he is on, it is tough to defend NDSU. This is an advantage for the Bison because OU does not have a starter to match up with Wright.

They may put their 6’4” sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins on him just because Wright plays more like a guard on offense but it will be interesting to see what happens.

The biggest questions off the bench for both teams will be their three-point shooting specialist. NDSU’s Mike Felt will have an opportunity to knock down some shots against a team that is weak defensively but do not count out OU’s Frank Booker knocking down a couple threes of his own.

Both of these two come off the bench for one reason; make three-pointers. Which one has the hot hand will go a long way in determining what bench will have a better game.

Your biggest concern has a mid-major going against a high-major is athleticism and size. In the size department, NDSU might actually have a slight advantage. In the athleticism department, we all know how well NDSU can play above the rim. That might be a wash as well.

NDSU has more experience than OU, a better defense than OU and less to lose. Despite the favorable reviews from several national pundits, the Bison are still viewed as heavy underdogs by the public. And that is just fine with Bison head coach Saul Phillips.

“I know our guys at the beginning of the year have had big plans. Bigger than anything we have accomplished so far,” said Phillips. “We have guys that believe they can win against anybody and that’s good place to be.”

You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.