Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
There are plenty of things working against North Carolina Central heading into their First Four game against the Bison tomorrow in Dayton. North Dakota State plays a completely different brand of basketball compared to the Eagles, one that is a little more up-tempo and favors the long-range shot. Neither of those adjectives is within North Carolina Central’s skillset as a team. While they feature some phenomenal athletes and a really good, physical post in Raasean Davis, they play a rough and tumble type of basketball.
Both teams are coming off unlikely runs through their conference tournaments, so the Eagles surely have some momentum. However, based on how the Bison played in Sioux Falls a week ago, it’s hard to bet against them. Especially considering that North Carolina Central did not play their best game against Norfolk State in the MEAC Tournament Championship. They only scored 50 points in the win on 36 percent shooting from the floor and an abysmal 14 percent from three (3 of 21). Granted, Norfolk State was only able to put up 47 points on 34 percent shooting in that game. Whether you chalk that up to good defense or just an off day from Norfolk State (on the season, they shot 44 percent as a team), may depend on your allegiances.
Either way, I think it’s clear that North Dakota State has an advantage in this game. They are miles ahead of North Carolina Central in the now ever-important NET rankings. They also play a style of basketball that does not fit into the Eagles style. Let’s dig a little deeper with some notes from our Bison Illustrated notebook.
The Eagles avoid the long-range shot.
This is really the most important statistic heading into this contest, in my view. It was mentioned earlier that North Carolina Central took 21 threes in their conference championship game and only made three of those attempts. That amounts to a depressing 14 percent from three-point range. On the year, the Eagles shot 32 percent from deep (compare that to NDSU’s 37 percent mark). Not only that, the Eagles just don’t attempt as many threes as the Bison do. They only feature one player that has taken more than 100 three-point attempts this season (Reggie Gardner Jr.). The Bison have three in Vinnie Shahid, Jared Samuelson and Rocky Kreuser.
As an entire team, North Dakota State has attempted a staggering 861 three-pointers this season, they have made 315, which is a school record and good for 21st in the entire NCAA. On the other hand, North Carolina Central has attempted just 672 total threes and made 212. From a per game standpoint, the Bison shoot six more threes per game compared to the Eagles and shoot it at a higher percentage. That is a recipe for disaster for a team like North Carolina Central.
Even if you play the percentage and sheer numbers game, North Dakota State can still have an “off” shooting game. We’ve seen it before this season. However, the Bison offer up more lethal shooters compared to the Eagles. Looking at the blanket team percentage tells one story, but looking at this disparity from an individual perspective blows the doors off. North Carolina Central has one player that shoots over 40 percent from deep, Nicolas Fennell, who has attempted only 12 threes this year and plays eight minutes a game. The next highest percentage on the roster is 31.3, shared between Gardner Jr. and Julian Walters. Gardner Jr. is the only one of those two that plays more than 13 minutes per game.
The Bison have three players shooting over 40 percent from deep. Jared Samuelson shoots 46 percent, Cameron Hunter shoots 42 percent and Tyree Eady shoots 41 percent. All of those players average 18 or more minutes per game for North Dakota State.
Statistics rarely ever lie and this discrepancy from long range between North Carolina Central and North Dakota State is a major problem for the Eagles.
If the Bison neutralize the bigs, they neutralize their offense.
Raasean Davis is the engine that makes North Carolina Central go. The redshirt senior has played in each of the last two First Four games for the Eagles. Not only that, he is one of the two players on the roster averaging double figures. Posting roughly 15 points and nine rebounds per game, Davis collects a lot of his baskets around the rim, shooting an efficient 65 percent from the field. Rocky Kreuser is able to hold his own against a back to the basket post like Davis, he proved that throughout the Summit League Tournament.
However, the worrisome part for Dave Richman has to be on the glass. The Eagles average six more rebounds per game compared to the Bison. We have seen rebounding become an issue for North Dakota State this season. Yet, it is something they have vastly improved upon over the course of the season.
Davis collects almost four offensive rebounds per game. If the Bison hope to control the pace of this game, they cannot allow North Carolina Central to have second chances offensively. For me, I’d take Rocky Kreuser aside and tell him “I don’t care if you score a single point in this game, you need to box out and grab rebounds”. Kreuser is a master of knowing his role on a game to game basis and I’m sure he won’t go the entire game without scoring, but he has to be focused on the glass, Deng Geu does too.
Offensively, Dave Richman has done a masterful job of knowing when to utilize the pick and roll with Kreuser and Vinnie Shahid. North Carolina Central will likely switch all screens thanks to NDSU’s ability to shoot the ball. You want Kreuser setting those high ball screens for Shahid to get Davis matched up with him. Shahid can take the slower Davis and get into the lane with ease. From there, it’s elementary, Shahid for a lay-up/foul or a kick out for an open three as the defense collapses inward. If that is successful and Vinnie Shahid can get into the lane, the game is over. Shahid can also draw some early fouls on Davis at the rim, which could take the Eagles out early.
Whatever happens on that front, expect Kreuser to stay away from the rim on offense, much like the Bison did with Brandon Gilbeck of Western Illinois.
North Carolina Central has a tendency to play sloppy.
North Carolina Central is a veteran-laden roster with seven seniors. However, they do have a tendency to play sloppy and undisciplined basketball. They average 15 turnovers a game and have turned the ball over 507 times this season which is 13th most in the NCAA. They almost lost the MEAC Championship down the stretch because of turnovers. The Eagles turned the ball over 17 times in that game against Norfolk State.
Compare that to North Dakota State, who only turned the ball over 11 times per game this season. During the Summit League Tournament, the Bison did a stellar job of taking care of the basketball. North Dakota State turned the ball over 21 times in three games, which equals out to seven turnovers a game. The Eagles turned the ball over 43 times in three games at the MEAC Tournament. If the Bison are pesky defensively, which they have been this season, there is no reason to believe they won’t turn North Carolina Central over 20 or more times.
Combine that with their other advantages and the Bison are poised to be moving on to Columbia, South Carolina, with Duke waiting for them.