North Dakota State held off a surging IPFW team in Tuesday night's Summit League championship game, winning out 60-57 after Taylor Braun sank a bonkers, acrobatic layup while getting fouled. That gave NDSU some separation, and IPFW couldn't hit its shots in the closing seconds to make it get to overtime.
North Dakota State plays in the same league as South Dakota State, which for the past two years represented the Summit. But now this team has a star in Braun and four other seniors who will make it hell on the team's first opponent next week.
NDSU can score, it can pass, and it makes winning look tough yet easy. A well-built veteran team that's highly unlikely to lose by double digits in the NCAAs. Want to pick 'em to win? You could do a lot worse. Keep an eye out. Saul Phillips' team has been flying under the radar all season for a group that so clearly was the best this conference had to offer.
Player to know: Taylor Braun. I know this next sentence is going to feel like it could apply to about 30 guys, but judging this team off the game I watched Tuesday night -- and what little I've seen of Braun in online Synergy video -- he seems like arguably the most valuable player to his team in the country. Maybe Shabazz Napier or Russ Smith comes close. But the senior forward (18.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.9 APG) ranks in the top percentile in 14 KenPom.com categories. And he's a joy to watch. He committed back when NDSU made its first run to the NCAAs, and now he and his fellow seniors finally get to live out that dream. That's pretty sweet.
Win or lose, I hope the guy goes for 20/8/5 in the Round of 64. He's an efficient scorer that takes smart shots, doesn't give away the ball often and makes opportunities for himself and his team often on defense -- both near and away from the rim.
- Record: 25-6 overall, 12-2 in the Summit League
- Most recent tournament appearance: 2009 (lost to Kansas in Round of 64 as 14 seed)
- Jerry Palm predicts: 12 seed
- RPI: 37
- KenPom ranking: 56
- Sagarin ranking: 64
- Best wins: vs. Delaware, at Notre Dame, at Western Michigan
- Worst losses: at North Dakota, at IPFW
- Notable stat: The Bison do not get blocked. The team sees only 4.8 of its shots swatted away by foes. That's the lowest block rate in the country. NDSU is made even more dangerous by the fact it shoots 56.4 percent from 2-point range, second in the nation to Belmont.
- Closing quip: It'll be interesting to see how much run NDSU gets as a chic Cinderella pick. The team has shown it definitely could be a candidate. The Bison have beaten some OK teams but also done a little RPI rigging in the process as well. Offensively, the team appears to be legit and it's got a very good offense that will be a tough scout for a quick turnaround for whatever No. 5 or No. 4 seed gets paired with 'em in the Round of 64.