Over the next few days, you will fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket, and because NCAA Tournament brackets have to have upsets in them, you will pick somebody with a double-digit seed over somebody with a single-digit seed. Will you pick randomly? Will you pick based on mascot? Or will you pick smart? We're going to profile five low-majors that deserve more credit than Random Directional State University, and although we won't guarantee the upset -- or even a close first round game -- these are the no-names whose names you should know.
Up first: 12th-seeded North Dakota State Bison
The Bison! I wrote an ode to how awesome NDSU football is this October when they hosted College GameDay in the midst of their third straight FCS championship season. So I am officially SB Nation's North Dakota State person, and proud of it, I suppose. Read that post up there for all the nitty-gritty you know you need about NDSU, some of which will be repeated here.
But for now, let's start thinking about the Bison, the big, slow, hairy cows filled with surprisingly heart-healthy meat, and how they can avoid extinction in the very real battle against westward-bound Sooners:
How good are they?
Ken Pomeroy puts the Bison at No. 55 in his rankings, one below Georgetown and one above Illinois. Pomeroy gives the Bison a 37 percent chance of beating Oklahoma, which isn't horrific.
They wreaked havoc on the Summit League, going 12-2 with eight double-digit wins. The Bison had a then-impressive win over Notre Dame before Jerian Grant left the Irish for the season, but nobody cares in retrospect. They went 1-1 against tourney teams, destroying 13th-seeded Delaware 85-66 and in turn getting crushed by Ohio State, 79-62.
What are they good at
Simply put: these dudes know how to score. The Bison bully the ball into the basket, recording the NCAA's highest field goal percentage, 50.9 percent. They also get blocked less frequently than any team in the nation, with only 5.0 percent of their shots resulting in blocks for the opposition.
They aren't particularly good at shooting threes, but they know their strengths -- namely, their strength -- and don't try to score from deep often.
Who they got?
The seniors come heavy on this team, and they're led by Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun. The 6'7, 210-pound forward is a do-everything guy -- he led the team with 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists, one of the rare guys to lead their team in all three categories. He's got touch out to the three-point arc, shooting 44.1 percent, the play-making and passing ability to run the offense, and the moves and finishing ability to get buckets. He sealed the Summit League Championship with a circus shot flung over his right shoulder while getting fouled, the and-one with 12 seconds left providing the decisive three points in a 60-57 win.
My personal favorite player on the squad is Marshall Bjorklund, the 6'8, 250-pounder who can best be described as "farm strong." Coach Saul Phillips is a really really really big fan of discussing Bjorklund's background as a pig farmer -- he brought it up on our Selection Sunday live show, after beating Notre Dame, after playing Minnesota in 2012, and surely thousands of other times. And if any player in college basketball history has ever played like a pig farmer, it's Bjorklund: he shot 63 percent from the field this year, almost all eight feet and in. He had 26 points on 14 shots to beat Notre Dame, and if he gets to slopping, its hard to get him stopping.
Also noteworthy is Summit League second-teamer TrayVonn Wright, who plays a more traditional swingman role -- the 6'7 senior can dunk harder than anybody in North Dakota should be allowed to dunk, and took more threes than anybody else on the team.
Why should I love NDSU?
Listen to coach Saul Phillips' interview with our Dan Rubenstein and Nick Fasulo:
Is Oklahoma a good matchup?
I'm actually pretty fascinated to see how Bjorklund matches up against Oklahoma center Ryan Spangler. They're both 6'8 brawny dudes who just wanna aggressively collide their bodies into other people, except one has a pig farm and the other has a tribal tat. The appropriate noise for this showdown is **HORRIBLE MACHINERY GOING SCREEEEEEEEEAAARCH**
Despite the cataclysmic implications of Bjorklund-Spangler, I'm not particularly worried about North Dakota State's ability to score -- that seems to be there, even in their six losses, and Oklahoma isn't a great defensive team. Even if Bjorklund is stopped, Braun will get his. It's a question of whether they can stop Oklahoma.
The Sooners shoot 22.6 threes per game, and hit 37.9 percent of them. Besides Spangler, every rotation player has taken at least 50 threes. They're also the 17th-fastest team in the nation, playing 71.3 possessions per game, while NDSU is 278th. They'll get up and down the court and gun, and the Bison might not be quick or talented enough to stop them.
But the neat thing about threes is they're basketballs thrown into basketball hoops from over 20 feet away -- a bad shooting day can happen. If the Sooners shoot well, NDSU will be in trouble. If they're not hitting, NDSU can score well enough around the hoop to pull the upset.
Let's establish what a Sooner is.
From Yahoo: "The name "Sooners" actually comes from the history books. The Oklahoma Land Run took place on April 22, 1889. This was the official opening of Oklahoma Territory to homesteaders wanting to claim a tract of 160 acres of land as their own. However, not everyone waited for the starting signals at noon, and those who went early became known as Sooners."
So, basically, impatient cheating cheaters.
Did Bison ever live in Oklahoma?
Yes, I think so.
and, if so
did they get murdered by Oklahoman settlers?
Does it matter that the Sooner mascot is a sleazy looking horse?
A horse complicit in the land-grab cheating, I might add.
This is the rare mascot battle that has we have categorical evidence has actually taken place and was won decisively
The West is the "humans are assholes" bracket, which I guess is fitting.
What do we need to know about NDSU to become bandwagonners?
From: Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, prepare your woodchipper-related photoshops if they win.
Conference: The Summit League! This league was known as the Mid-Continent League, which isn't as catchy, until 2007, when it gave itself a new name and a logo featuring a horn protruding awkwardly from the word "Summit." It hasn't had a ton of tourney success -- the league hasn't had a non-play-in tourney win since 1998, when now-Horizon League member Valparaiso made the Sweet 16 -- but it also hasn't often had teams like NDSU. At No. 55 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, the Bison are the highest-ranked Summit/Mid-Con team since he began keeping track in 2003, and the league hasn't had a 12-seed since 1997 (also Valpo.)
Meet the North Carolina Central Eagles
•SBNation.comNorth Carolina Central has never been to the NCAA Tournament, and they don't come from a great conference. However, the Eagles dominated their competition so hard we think they have a shot at a "W" in their first ever tourney game against Iowa State.
FOOOOTBAAAAAAAAWLL: The Bison have won three straight national championships on the FCS level. This past year, they got to host College GameDay, so, like I said, I done wrote about them. It's an awesome program -- from the hype atmosphere inside the stadium, the Fargodome, which I propose be known as "The Woodchipper," to the school's passion for playing "THUNDERSTRUCK" because they also go by the Thundering Herd -- so remember it's kinda weird we're talking NDSU basketball at all.
NDSU hoops does not play in the Fargodome -- they play in the nearby Bison Sports Arena.
Mascot info: Sadly, there's no live bison like Colorado has. Just THUNDAR, a guy in a bison suit. By the way, it's "buys-in," not "bye-son."
Hoops history: NDSU has only been Division I for a few years, but this is already their second tourney trip: In 2009, they became the first team to make the tourney in their first year of eligibility since Louisiana-Lafayette in 1972. They put 10,000 fans in the Metrodome for a matchup against third-seeded Kansas and were within six late thanks to 37 points from Ben Woodside, but fell, 84-74. Spokane is a loooooooottttt farther away from North Dakota than Minneapolis, so, they won't have quite the home court advantage this time around.
Peeps who went there: Bob Backlund was a star wrestler at NDSU before going into the WWE, with suspenders, a bow tie, and a preposterous passion for the idea of WRASSLIN. Also of note: Alf Clausen, who did not write the Simpsons theme song, but did write all the in-show music -- "The Monorail Song," "Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart," "Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z."
Hate hate hate: We almost had a double Dakota situation, as North Dakota made the finals of the Big Sky conference. I feel this, from my earlier NDSU piece, is noteworthy:
Let us take a moment to clarify the difference between North Dakota and North Dakota State. It is a distinction that needs clarification, seeing as the NCAA accidentally sent the 2011 FCS championship banner to the wrong school. North Dakota State's teams are the Bison. North Dakota's teams are the ___________, as their "Fighting Sioux" nickname was dropped in 2012 after threats of postseason bans by the NCAA led to a referendum in which over two-thirds of voters elected to drop the nickname. (YOU SEE, RICK REILLY?!?!?) North Dakota can't have a new nickname until 2015. The two schools used to play annually for the Nickel Trophy. However, when NDSU moved up to the FCS in 2004, it left behind the __________. The __________ too moved up in 2008, but the teams have not played since.