Most people think about the ultra-competitive football program when talking about North Dakota State. Their basketball program is nothing to write off though.
Saul Phillips, now the Ohio University head coach, led the school to their first ever NCAA Tournament win last year. The Bison knocked off 5-seed Oklahoma in overtime, which led to Phillips doing this (aka one of the best coach celebrations ever).
Phillips won 134 games at the school as they transitioned into the Division 1 ranks. In his last season, the Bison tied a school record with 26 wins, something Phillips' 2008-2009 team also recorded.
Now that Phillips and other key players from last year have moved on, North Dakota State is starting to rebuild a little. David Richman, who had been the associate head coach for seven years, is the new head man. They Bison are 5-4 on the year with wins over North Dakota, Montana State, Kennesaw State and Hampton and losses to Texas, Iowa, Montana and Southern Miss.
The Bison are led by Lawrence Alexander, who was the leading scorer in NDSU's win over Oklahoma last season. Alexander plays nearly every minute and leads the team in scoring at seventeen points per game. The 6-foot-3 senior guard is also tied for third on the team in rebounds and shoots a fantastic 46% from beyond the arc.
The only thing that may be holding back the Bison is their limited bench. NDSU goes just seven players deep, which isn't ideal against a deep team like Akron. Four of the seven regulars are freshmen or sophomores, so the young guys have had to grow up fast.
The Bison are also not particularly large. Their tallest regular player, Chris Kading, stands 6-foot-8 but scores the least out of the players with the highest minutes. The rest of the starters stand between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-6, which gives Akron a large advantage inside.
The Zips were supposed to have a large size advantage over Middle Tennessee as well, but failed to get the ball inside enough to make a difference. Pat Forsythe and Isaiah Johnson will both need to have solid games in order for the Zips to pick up a tough road win in Fargo.