As part of its preview of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. For more teams, click here.
Record: 25-6, 12-2 in Summit League
Adjusted offense / Adjusted defense: 114.7 (20th) / 103.2 (140th)
Seed: No. 12 in West
Impact player: Taylor Braun, senior guard. 18.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.6 spg
The Case For:
Cinderellas tend to have experience on their side, and few tourney teams check that box as emphatically as the Bison. They rank 23rd nationally in the category according to KenPom.com, thanks to a starting lineup of three seniors, a junior and a sophomore, and a bench where two seniors are among their top three reserves. But more compelling than these players simply having played together is that they play together well. Thanks to long, grinding possessions, the Bison work their way toward high-percentage shots, making 56.2 percent of their two-pointers (second best in the country) while managing to have the nation’s lowest percentage of such attempts blocked. Combined with strong free-throw shooting (75.4%), adequacy from outside (34.9%) and a low turnover rate (15.5%, 25th nationally), the effect is a highly efficient if not flashy offense that seems perfectly suited to slow down a higher seed.
The 6-foot-7 Braun leads the team in points, assists, rebounds and steals. Yet it’s not as if the Bison are overly dependent on Braun: In their most impressive win of the season, at a full-strength Notre Dame team on Dec. 11, Braun had just 13 points while forward Marshall Bjorklund went off for 26 on 11-of-14 shooting and junior guard Lawrence Alexander racked up 16 points and 14 rebounds. If multiple Bison are clicking, watch out.
The Case Against:
The Bison were a strong defensive team in Summit League play, ranking second in adjusted efficiency per KenPom, but their season-long metrics are only middle-of-the-pack nationally. They are a strong rebounding team, but they don’t force many turnovers (their 17.4% ranks 234th), and they let opponents shoot an undesirable 37.5 percent on three-pointers. While their pace of play should suppress the number of possessions, those numbers mean opponents’ possessions are going to end with shots, potentially of the most deadly variety. And if North Dakota State isn’t able to control the pace, it may struggle to play faster; it’s no coincidence that the team's somewhat surprising loss at uptempo rival North Dakota in November featured the Bison's highest number of possessions this season. Their overall efficiencies are nice -- KenPom ranks them 54th in the country, in the same range as teams like Colorado, Providence and Dayton -- but other than Notre Dame, the Bison’s most impressive wins are Delaware at home and at South Dakota State. Their loss at Ohio State was never especially close, they lost at home to Southern Miss, and even the win against the Fighting Irish fell in stature as the wheels came off Notre Dame's season. For North Dakota State to win a game or go on any kind of upset run, it will need to pass its highest caliber tests yet.
SI Prediction: Beat Oklahoma in second round, lose to San Diego State in third roundView complete bracket predictions from SI.com’s panel of experts