The North Dakota State University men’s basketball team has some high expectations to meet for the 2013-14 season. The Bison return their entire starting five from last year and have the Summit League pre-season Player of the Year in senior Taylor Braun.
They also have senior Marshall Bjorklund and junior Lawarence Alexander joining Braun on the pre-season All-Summit League First Team. They are ranked as the seventh best mid-major team in the nation by NBCSports.com and CollegeInsider.com.
Most importantly, they are picked to represent the Summit League in the NCAA tournament for the second time under head coach Saul Phillips. To hear about his thoughts on his team, make sure and check out his interview with the White Shadow and I on the 017 podcast this week.
For my men’s basketball preview, I have put forth five questions that will have to be answered by this team if they look to meet the lofty goals set not only by themselves but the fans for this 2013-14 season.
What is this team’s identity?
Back in the 2008-09 season we were all treated to some unbelievable offensive performances from the likes of Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman and Mike Nelson. That team’s identity was their offensive prowess. This version of Bison basketball will be the defense.
Braun and sophomore Kory Brown are the two best on ball defenders this team has. Bjorklund is sold with his post defense because of his good footwork and senior TrayVonn Wright is the best shot blocker in the league.
NDSU had the ninth best scoring defense in the nation last season. If they can match this type of defense, they will be in every game this season regardless of how the offense is doing.
Does Taylor Braun have to be Mr. Everything?
The answer here should be no, but the fear is that the answer will be yes. Every good team needs that one player to take over games offensively when things are not clicking. Braun has that ability but this team is so balanced that Braun should be able to allow the offense to come to him and not force it.
However, we saw at times last season when he had no choice but to push. Last year’s Summit League tournament comes to mind where he got to the line 14 times in the second half against Kansas City and was the only Bison scoring in double figures against South Dakota State University in the championship game.
Even last year Nate Wolters had help from his Jacks teammates. Braun and the Bison need one more consistent scorer and a deep shot threat in order to keep from Braun having to try and do it all offensively.
Will their non-conference schedule kill them?
This is a very good question that we won’t have an answer to until league play starts in January. Since I am in the business of giving my opinion, I am going to say no for a couple reasons. The first is that this team is veteran enough to handle a couple setbacks.
They know that this non-conference schedule is no cake walk and they want it that way. Playing Notre Dame and Ohio State in back-to-back games is no easy task regardless of what school is playing them. This team realizes they can learn from these contests, but the ultimate goal is a Summit League title.
The second is a little bit more luck but it is staying healthy. You don’t run a higher risk of injury because you play a tougher schedule. Injuries just happen. From all accounts, the Bison are a little beat up already but not so much that it will hurt them long term. Again, final answer here is no. They will be okay even with a tough non-conference schedule.
Does it matter how deep the bench is?
Yes it does matter. This starting line-up does not have a true three-point threat and it only possess one true back-to-basket player. Players like senior Jordan Aaberg, Mike Felt and sophomore Chris Kading can help relieve these issues.
Felt is a deadly shooter from three albeit a tad streaky. He stretches the defense when he comes in but is somewhat of a liability on defense himself. Aaberg, who according to coach Phillips is the healthiest he has been since coming to NDSU, needs to provide interior defense and a little interior offense.
Kading is the wildcard in this whole thing. Kading, who is listed at 6’8”, can step out and knock down a three. He can essential be brought in to play any position from center to small forward. How valuable he is to the team depends on how much he has improved on both sides of the ball.
How good is Denver University?
We really don’t know. We can look at the stats and see that the Pioneers were a better team when it came to scoring defense but were not as efficient as NDSU offensively. We also see they return three starters, including their top two scorers from last season.
It about stops there because last season Denver played in the Western Athletic Conference and frankly NDSU didn’t care how they did. I even sense that the Summit League doesn’t really know how good they are when they NDSU received 25 out of 28 possible first place votes in the Summit League pre-season rankings.
What I can tell you about Denver is that they are not going to make this run at the Summit League title anything but a walk in the park. Also, remember the name Chris Udofia. He is the Pioneers’ version of Taylor Braun.
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.