Name: North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Sciences
Location: Fargo, North Dakota
Well, Technically: NDSU owns and maintains over 18,000 acres of agricultural research centers across the state. Given that Fargo is essentially in Minnesota (it’s right on the state line), it must be a hoot and a half to get from campus to the research center in Williston. It’s 391 miles away and, for the purposes of our conversation here, essentially in Montana.
Founded: 1890, although classes did not start until the 1891-92 school year.
The Will Of The People: NDSU was founded as North Dakota Agricultural College as the finale to seven years of plans to begin the college in the Dakota Territory. However the move to a university did not happen until 1960, when a statewide referendum vote made it happen. It’s rare that you see that happen as a result of a popular vote, as it’s usually a certification process or merely the addition of multiple courses of study. Their own History & Traditions page on their own website refers to it as “a four-decade struggle to change its name.”
Enrollment: 13,650 in 2018
Why “Bison?” Bison is apparently NDSU’s third athletic nickname, going from Farmers to Aggies before making the change to Bison in 1922. It’s a simple reason for the move, as laid out on GoBison.com:
It was developed by head coach and director of athletics Stan Borleske because he and members of the football team didn’t like being known as the Aggies. Borleske wanted a strong and fierce mascot. The “Bison” nickname was adopted in March 1922.
The Bison was a logical choice. The great animals once roamed the North Dakota prairie in vast numbers, and over the years Bison athletic teams also became known as the “Thundering Herd.”
Notable Alumni: Television and film composer Alf Clausen, best known for his work on The Simpsons; Former WWE Champion Bob Backlund; Loren D. Hagen, US Army Green Beret and Medal of Honor recipient; Congresswoman Ilhan Omar; and NFL quarterback Carson Wentz.
Last Season: 19-16 overall, with a record of 9-7 in the Summit League. That got them the #4 seed in the conference tournament, and they knocked off #5, #8, and #2 on their way to winning the whole shebang. They ended up in the First Four in Dayton, where they beat North Carolina Central, and then got wrecked by #1 seed Duke two days later.
Final 2018-19 KenPom.com Ranking: #202
This Season: 8-4, with one win coming against a non-Division 1 opponent. Marquette will be the best opponent they’ve seen this season, after losing to KenPom #80 Kansas State on the road in their opener and beating #69 East Tennessee State at home on December 7th. They are currently projected to finish in a tie for second in the Summit League, one game back from projected champion Oral Roberts.
Current KenPom.com Ranking: #150, up from #164 to start the season and up from #188, their low point of the year after losing to Indiana State in Terre Haute.
Points: Vinnie Shahid, 15.7 ppg
Rebounds: Tyson Ward, 7.6 rpg
Assists: Tyson Ward, 2.8 apg
Wait, what? Yes, their leading rebounder is also the team leader in assists. Tyson Ward is listed on the roster as a 6’6”, 195 pound guard, but based on the way they play, KenPom.com identifies Ward as NDSU’s starting 4. 2.8 assists per game isn’t all that much, and Shahid is right behind him at 2.4/game.
Shooters? As a team, North Dakota State is not a good shooting team, connecting on 32.5% of their three-pointers, which ranks #188 in the country per KenPom. As Steve Spurrier once said, “not very good, but there was some worse.” The primary reason for this is probably the fact that Vinnie Shahid (5’11”, 190 lb) is leading the team in attempts at 78, or about 7 a game, and he’s only hitting 32%. There’s other guys to watch out for, though. Cameron Hunter (6’3”, 180 lb.) is the most reliable regular shooter this year at 42% on 36 attempts. Jared Samuelson connects on 34% on 47 attempts this season, but he missed their last game due to injury.
In terms of outside shooting, the biggest question that Marquette is going to have to answer in this one is what to do about Rocky Kreuser. The 6’10”, 250 pound junior from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, shoots four three-pointers a game and hits 38% of them. At that size, he’s almost exactly the same physical size as Theo John, so the methodology as to how Marquette defends him is going to depend pretty much on what kind of action the Bison use to get Kreuser those outside shots.
Bigs? In terms of general Large Human Beings, we’re looking at Rocky Kreuser and Tyler Witz here. Witz is mostly the same size as Kreuser, coming in at 6’9” and 250 pounds. Kreuser’s 54% of the minutes is a little misleading, as he averages 25 per game and has missed two contests this season. Witz is only appearing in about 23% of their minutes, but has appeared in every game and has started twice, the two that Kreuser missed. With that said, Witz has the better rebounding rate numbers than Kreuser, but the minutes allocation may have something to do with that. Still, it’s a combination win for Witz, as he has a double digit rate on both ends, while Kreuser only gets there on defense. However, when you’re a top 130 defensive rebounder on the best defensive rebounding team in the country, you’ll take the trade off on the other end.
While Kreuser will wander around the court on offense, he’s a quality rim protector, ranking just inside the top 500 in the country per KenPom in block rate. He’s also not foul prone, which is a quality thing to see in a big man. Kreuser doesn’t draw fouls particularly well, but the outside shooting probably has a lot to do with that. Weirdly for a good long range shooter, Kreuser is an atrocious free throw shooter, shooting just 68% this season. He did hit 80% of his freebies a year ago, so either A) these first few games are a fluke or B) Last year was a fluke, as he hit just 64% as a freshman.
At 6’6” and 190 pounds, Tyson Ward isn’t what you would usually call a big on the floor, but he plays that role for NDSU. He’s a legitimately great rebounder on both ends, with his KenPom rates in the top 300 for both. Part of that may have to do with Kreuser’s play in general. Between Ward playing a few more minutes per game and Kreuser wandering outside enough to attempt twice as many threes as Ward, that gives Ward a lot more opportunity to grab missed shots on both ends.
A Turnover Note: This is rapidly becoming a major issue for Marquette this season, so we’d better highlight what NDSU does here.
First of all, Marquette’s inability to force turnovers this year will not be that big of a deal against the Bison. North Dakota State currently ranks #7 in the country in offensive turnover rate. They’re one of the most surehanded teams in the country, and I’m sure their bottom 40 tempo per KenPom helps that out, too.
On the other end, if Marquette has problems holding onto the ball, it is going to be 100% their fault. While the Bison are one of the best teams in the turnover department on offense, they’re one of the worst on defense. Opponents are turning it over just 16.6% of the time against NDSU, which ranks #314 in the country and more than a full percentage point worse than MU’s own defense. There is absolutely no reason other than their own self-inflicted wounds to explain why the Golden Eagles will have problems maintaining possession in this game.
Head Coach: Dave Richman, in his sixth season at North Dakota State and sixth season overall as a head coach. He has never worked in Division 1 anywhere else, going from graduate assistant for two years to full time assistant for nine years to head coach. He has a record of 104-71, and has been to the NCAA tournament twice, including last season.
All Time Series: Marquette leads the series, 3-1, however it’s NDSU that comes in with the most recent victory. That was back in December 2006, with the Bison taking the 64-60 win in Milwaukee. That was Marquette’s first loss of the season that year, and came about 10 days after MU beat #9 Duke, and thus the Golden Eagles were ranked #8 themselves at the time.