Brian Shawn breaks down the differences between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 Bison men’s basketball teams with a little help from a Bison coaching legend, Erv Inniger.
Watching the North Dakota State men’s basketball team over the last two years has been a treat. What is most impressive to me is how well the Bison play to their strengths, shadow what might be perceived as weaknesses and adjust their style of play. The 2013-14 Bison and 2014-15 Bison both made the NCAA tournament, both won the Summit League regular season and tournament championships, but did it in very different ways. So just what are the differences?
NDSU had Marshall Bjorklund and Jordan Aaberg last season and both are traditional post players that can play with their back to the basket and consistently score inside. This year’s Bison squad was challenged from that perspective. They really didn’t have a “true” back-to-the-basket player. However, what Chris Kading and Dexter Werner provided was the ability to handle the basketball, use the dribble to create space and hit the occasional outside jumper. Most importantly, the Bison were able to defend the post as well as anyone. It took some creativity from the coaching staff, but it was a critical piece to the puzzle.
NDSU has won 25-straight home games and did not lose at Scheels Arena once the entire year. The Bison got to practice on their home floor nine times. NINE. The Bison Sports Arena was no treat, but it was a home with a locker room that provided consistency for the coaching staff. Dave Richman’s team practiced in five different facilities. Seriously.
The Bison played the season with seven players, two of whom did not play in a college basketball game prior to the season and two others that played sparingly. Last year’s squad had more bodies to go to and experienced seniors prepared for the rigors of league play. At some point, you had to wonder if this year’s Bison were going to be able to maintain a high level of play with so many guys having to play so many minutes. Give credit to their strength coach Jason Miller for helping develop a lot of young guys and keep up their conditioning throughout the season. Richman was also careful in how he managed practices. The Bison would go hard in shot-spurts to stay sharp, but he was careful and it showed. The Bison never looked like a team struggling late in games physically and would often play their best stretch in the last 10 minutes. Kory Brown, AJ Jacobson and Paul Miller all missed games with various ailments, injuries and sickness at different points of the season. It was never an excuse nor did it matter.
Richman would be the first to tell you that this year’s squad was “challenged offensively at times.” That is a contrast to last year’s team, which was as efficient as any team in the country, shooting over 50 percent from the field (that still blows me away). NDSU had to rely more on one or two players to shoulder the offensive load, which often meant tough shots with the shot clock winding down. Lawrence Alexander was over 42 percent from three-point range, taking some difficult long-range bombs from 25 feet. Richman turned the reigns loose on LA this season because he knew that was his best chance of winning games. It paid off. Hustle plays, scrappy plays and various contributions from Jacobson, Miller and Brown also played a huge role.