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Pinto's Preview: NDSU vs. Fort Wayne (Summit League Tournament Edition)

by Dan Gunderson

The North Dakota State University men’s basketball team moved on to the Summit League tournament championship game with an 83-48 victory over the University of Denver last night in Sioux Falls, S.D.

I could write a sentence, paragraph, story, etc… about how dominate the win was. Go on for lines full of superlatives about Taylor Braun and his unreal performance but what is there left to say other than the Bison took care of the first of two jobs down in Sioux Falls. The second one comes tonight against the number two seed in the Summit League, the Fort Wayne Mastodons.

The Bison and the Mastodons split the season series, with NDSU losing the Summit League opener in Fort Wayne 82-71 and beating Fort Wayne at the Bison Sports Arena on February 8, 69-58.

As impressive as NDSU’s dominate win over Denver was last night, Fort Wayne pulled off an equally impressive 64-60 victory over South Dakota State University in the second semi-final of the evening. This the first time in school history the Mastodons have made it past the semi-finals of the Summit League. Which brings me to…

Why NDSU Will Beat Fort Wayne

The Bison are full of experience. It showed in last night’s victory. There is a lot to be said in college basketball when it comes to the “been there; done that” thought process. The Bison returned all five starters from last year’s team that lost in the Summit League title game to SDSU.

Last year, Braun promised that they would win the Summit League and did his best to make sure of that with a 28 point performance on seven for nine shooting from the field against the Pioneers. There is no tomorrow, next week or next year for this team. There is only right now.

As I said, this is the first time Fort Wayne has ever gotten this far in the Summit League tournament. The 24 wins this season is also a program first for the Mastodons. This is all very new and sometimes that can tend to be a little overwhelming. When there is nothing in the past to draw from, you have to make decisions on the fly and that doesn’t always work.

NDSU is use to the spotlight, use to the target on their backs and are fully aware as to what is at stake. If there was any doubt that NDSU may not be up to the pressure, the Bison took care of that with a 35 point victory last night. The Bison’s experience is the reason they will beat Fort Wayne.

Why Fort Wayne Will Beat NDSU

Fort Wayne was never supposed to be here. It was supposed to be Denver or the Jacks or, at the very least, Western Illinois. The Mastodons were never given a chance. Picked to finish sixth in the league and with only one player showing up on the pre-season radar in senior Luis Jacobo. 

So what if this is new to them? They were supposed to be out by the first round of this thing! I still don't think anybody is really treating Fort Wayne as a real threat still. Outside of the small contingent, 37 I believe, that traveled with the team from Fort Wayne to Sioux Falls, the Mastodons are still seen as nice surprise and little else.

Fact is that Fort Wayne has played with little fanfare all season and been just fine. If no one believes that they are the team to beat NDSU, that is just fine. They will continue to prove people wrong because that is what they have done all season.

All the motivation that Fort Wayne has needed is no one believes in you. Now, that chip on their shoulder has carried them all the way to the brink of dancing on a national stage. I think at that point, Fort Wayne will have garnered some respect. The Mastodons' chip on their shoulder is the reason they will beat NDSU.

Prediction: NDSU 85 Fort Wayne 73

Stats and trends are all well and good but at this point, teams are pretty similar. That is the case with Fort Wayne and NDSU. NDSU is better at scoring average, limiting turnovers and free throw shooting. Fort Wayne is better at sharing the basketball, shooting the three and rebounding. And the margins in those categories are slim in their differences. 

Searching for a small, little known stat, that may help determine why I choose NDSU over Fort Wayne could take days. Call it a gut feeling or call it a feeling that NDSU is on a destined path to the NCAA tournament. However you want to couch it, NDSU has my pick.

Oh. And Taylor Braun. Braun is really good and after last night, I'm assuming the hoop at the Sioux Falls Arena looks like the size of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oregon.

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.