Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
The North Dakota State men’s basketball team will take the court at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls as a far different team from the one who fought their way through a brutal non-conference schedule before the new year.
No, this version of the Bison is much, much better.
Just a month ago, North Dakota State fans were filled with mixed emotions. With the team struggling through a rough stretch, the Bison were seemingly on their way to their second consecutive season below .500. However, within the last half of conference games, the Bison have completely rewritten the course of their season. As of writing this, the Bison have won five of their last six — all against Summit League foes – and a half-court shot away from six straight wins. North Dakota State seems to be peaking at just the right time before the Summit League tournament. But what, exactly, has transpired to get to this point?
Embracing the 3-point revolution
Hosting a high volume of three-point attempts has become the name of the game in basketball today. With advanced analytics, we know that attempting a three-pointer is, in the long run, simply a better idea than attempting most mid-to-long range two-point jump shots. Players don’t see a huge increase in accuracy when shooting, say, a 16 or 18-foot jump shot when compared to a three-pointer (approximately 21 feet from the basket) -certainly not enough to merit taking that shot considering that the slightly longer shot is worth 50 percent more points when made.
It follows, then, that taking a bunch of long two-point shots is generally an ineffective strategy unless you can make them at a rate of at least 50 percent higher than you can make threes. On paper, shooting 33 percent from deep is more beneficial than shooting 50 percent from two. Also, for the most part, anyone who is good at hitting shots from 16 feet is going to be good at hitting them from 21 feet, so the logical approach to offense is to shoot more threes than long twos.
Looking at North Dakota State’s roster, Dave Richman has assembled a group built around maximizing the three-point shot. In past seasons, fans — including myself — grew tired of the weave-centric offense the Bison would run that resulted in contested threes late in the shot clock far too often. This year, those types of offensive possessions have started to decrease and a much more entertaining pace-and-space style has been installed. This has forced opponents to spread out, extending their defense all the way to the three-point line instead of packing the paint, leaving the Bison with more open space for their plethora of sharpshooters.
The Bison rank second, behind Purdue Fort Wayne (28.7 attempts), in the Summit averaging 26.4 three-point attempts per game. That’s a high in the Richman era, and at a respectable 36 percent clip. Generally, if a player hits 37 percent or higher from deep, that player is considered to be a three-point marksman. Well, the Bison have three of those. Jared Samuelson, a former walk-on and one of Richman’s most reliable players, has been unconscious from deep, drilling threes at a 46.4 percent clip on four attempts per game. In addition, Rocky Kreuser shoots 38 percent, while Tyree Eady is at 40 percent. Point guards Vinnie Shahid (35.3 percent) and Cameron Hunter (35.2 percent) have been dependable threats from deep as well.
While this has been a more entertaining brand to watch, it’s also led to a very respectable 72.9 points per game in conference play.
Their young talent has blossomed
For the first time since being named head coach of the men’s basketball team in 2014, Richman has fielded a youth-heavy squad. With nine underclassmen and zero seniors, the Bison are young by anyone’s standards. Looking back, it’s fair to suggest the youthful bunch has benefitted from a brutal non-conference schedule that included road games at Gonzaga and Iowa State as well as a trip to the Bahamas, leaving them without a home game for nearly a full month.
We knew, with such a young group, the record may not be pretty heading into conference play. What was more important was their development, and how they would potentially respond to adversity. Some two months later, it’s safe to say “the youth movement” in Fargo was expedited in the process. A look at some of my player observations, straight from my Bison Illustrated notebook:
- Junior college transfer Vinnie Shahid has developed into one of the best scoring guards in the conference.
- Tyson Ward continues to attack the rim and provide good size and length on defense.
- Jared Samuelson shoots lights out from deep while generally being a pest on the opposite end.
- Rocky Kreuser does a fine job protecting the rim while providing dead-eye shooting.
- Deng Geu has looked like the best player on the court in at least five games this season.
- Cameron Hunter is seemingly always in control of the game.
- Sam Griesel is a do-it-all future star and the best Bison freshman since Paul Miller.
- Tyree Eady continues to provide instant offense and size at the wing off the bench.
In addition to finding themselves offensively, they’ve also shown signs of improvement on the defensive end. In a recent six-game stretch, one that saw NDSU go 5-1, the Bison allowed 70.8 points per game. On the season, that would rank third-best in the Summit League. Now, the Bison only faced one top four Summit League offense during that stretch, so they absolutely have more to prove. It is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, however, and clamping down on defense when an offensive drought ensues will increase their chances of making noise in Sioux Falls.
It’s cliché, and I hate cliché, but anything can happen come tournament time. For the Summit, which has been very unpredictable this season, this couldn’t be more accurate. This includes Oral Roberts defeating Omaha on the road, South Dakota handling Fort Wayne by 14, NDSU losing to SDSU by 18 on January 24, and then a month later on a 40-foot shot.
One thing is for sure, if the Bison continue their commitment on the defensive end and sacrificing personal statistics for the betterment of the team, they have the talent and possibility of reaching the goals set forth at the beginning of the season. And for Dave Richman, that means nothing less than a conference title and a trip to the Big Dance.
I’m Dan Slaubaugh and this is your Slaubaugh Scoop.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful March. Go Bison.
*All statistics are accurate as of March 5, 2019