I got a chance to chat one-on-one today with North Dakota State's Taylor Braun. He seems miffed the media keep bringing up the Bison football team when asking questions about the basketball team. He's not upset with the football team -- he and the basketball players are friends with several of the football players -- it's more about the media's insistence on making connections that aren't there.
"Somehow, I don't know how this happens, but we win a game in the NCAA basketball tournament and they still keep bringing up something with the football team," Braun said. "God forbid we just have a moment for the basketball team. But, whatever."
"It definitely gets old with the media trying to match us with the football team. What the football team did was great, but let them have their time and let us have ours."
Fisher praises Bison
Veteran San Diego State coach Steve Fisher had nothing but nice things to say about the Bison.
"This is not a team doing it with smoke and mirrors. They're talented. They're good. They can score in the post, they can score when you double them, they can make open shots, they can attack you off the bounce when you run at them," he said. "They haven't had as much national TV exposure as a lot of teams, but you watch them one time and you say, 'They can play.' Play shirts and skins and they could be on any team in the country."
Fisher has an impressive resume. Seems hard to believe but Fisher has been at San Diego State since 1999, where he's led the Aztecs to six NCAA appearances. Prior to San Diego, Fisher coached Michigan to a national title in 1989 and two runner-up appearances during the Fab Five era. He's won 495 games at Michigan and San Diego State.
This is a little thicker resume than NDSU's Saul Phillips, whose made two NCAA appearances and won one game in the tournament. In fairness, Fisher has been around 23 seasons as a head coach. Phillips is in his seventh season as a head coach.
So in NDSU's two games this year, Phillips will have squared off against Lon Kruger and Fisher.
"He gets to recruit to San Diego. OK. Beaches, weather, it's just not fair," Phillips said. "I mean, they should spot us 10 points. We're in Fargo. We have got beaches, but the lake's frozen over the whole time so it doesn't make any difference."
In NDSU's first tournament appearance in 2009, the Bison played Bill Self-coached Kansas.
"If I stopped and actually thought about some of the guys I've coached against, I would probably get sick to my stomach," Phillips said. "I don't know how this all worked out, but it's awfully fun."
Florida Gulf Coast comparisons
Phillips made jokes all season about the Bison being called "Dunk Township" because of some of the high-flying slams by TrayVonn Wright. It was a take-off of Florida Gulf Coast's "Dunk City" theme last year when the Eagles made an unexpected run to the Sweet 16.
Now, the comparisons are getting more serious. Guess what team FGCU beat last year to get to the Sweet 16 and become America's darling as a 15 seed? Yes, San Diego State.
"In my eyes, it's like last year all over again," said San Diego State's Winston Shepard. "We beat a good team in the first round, had a tough game, and we are playing a team that not a lot of people have heard of. But if you look at the stats, they're a great team."
Fisher was having none of it, though.
"It's a fact. We got beat by Florida Gulf Coast last year. They were the better team. They played better than we did," he said. "And if we lost tomorrow, it won't be because the ghosts of Florida Gulf Coast were in our heads, it will be because North Dakota State beat us."
Putting Fargo on the map
Phillips was asked if the attention the Bison are receiving might help recruit athletes who might otherwise not have a positive opinion of Fargo.
"That's a great question. I would like to point out we have two scholarships available. I'm looking for a 6-7, lanky ... no. Can I advertise for recruits?
"It will help. It will help. We had to smash some perceptions about Fargo. We do. A lot of people in this room haven't been there. Moments like last night help. Fargo's actually a really cool place. ... It is. Now, it's cold. Bring a jacket. You can take the jacket off when you get inside."
Cinderella (sort of) of the tournament
Until Mercer beat Duke Friday, the Bison were the Cinderella pick of the tournament. Still, a team from North Dakota is going to get its share of love from the national media.
"It feels good to get some attention that we felt like we deserved for most of the season," Marshall Bjorklund said. "So for a mid-major team to get some attention, you need to win some big games. One you do that, you get some attention. It's kind of nice. But then again, that only takes you so far. We have our work cut out for us tomorrow."
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