Last year, North Dakota State finished 2nd in the Summit League, and missed out on a Tournament berth by just a six point loss in the Summit Championship Game against South Dakota State. They were ranked 152nd by KenPom, not bad at all by Summit League standards, and were a dangerous three point shooting team, though they failed to notch any wins against the KenPom Top 150. Though not dominant last year, it appears they’ve taken a step further down, ranked 204th by KenPom and coming of a season-opening loss to Arkansas, 76-58.
Part of their issue is an increasingly-common sight among lower league D1 schools, which is the loss of their top players. 2 time All-Summit center Rocky Kreuser graduated, and their top scorer, 6’6 forward Sam Grisel, left for Nebraska in the offseason. That left them without a single senior in their starting lineup to start the 2022-23 campaign, and without any real proven commodities. In their loss to Arkansas, they did have two 17 point scorers in juniors Boden Skunberg and Grant Nelson, but got no more than 6 points out of any other player.
It’s tough to make definitive statements about a mid-major team only one game into their season, but the data they did give us against Arkansas doesn’t paint the prettiest picture. They shot just 5-21 (23.8%) as a team from deep, hit only 65% of their free throws, and grabbed just 17% of their own misses on the offensive glass. On the positive side, they were dominant on the defensive boards, grabbing 82% of those available. Plus they beat the spread. That counts for something, right?
Arkansas only shot 10 threes Monday night against NDSU because, frankly, they were scoring just fine without them. Arkansas hit 51.1% of their twos while taking 23 shots from the free throw line and hitting 70% of them. They didn’t turn Arkansas over much, and frankly, aside from the defensive boards, it’s hard to find positives from what was, to be fair, a very difficult matchup to start the year.
Thursday’s game won’t get any easier as NDSU has to try their luck in Allen Fieldhouse. The one thing they have going for them that most early season mid-major opponents lack, is size. They start 6’10 Andrew Morgan and 6’11 Grant Nelson, so their performance on the boards may be no accident. It’s just tough to find anything else they may be able to put to use against KU’s superior athletes. No one shot well Monday from three, and no one on the roster has hit any better than 33.9% from deep for their career. Any team can catch fire at any time, but NDSU is not the type of mid major that tries to even the playing field by loading up with under-recruited shooters. At this early juncture, it’s pretty hard to tell what will even be their strength this year, at least until they start playing competition closer to their own level.
I’m as capable as anyone of finding ways to scare myself when previewing a Kansas opponent, but there just isn’t much to see here. Yes, NDSU will have more height on the floor in their frontcourt than Kansas, but one of those near-7-footers is going to have to chase Jalen Wilson or Gradey Dick around the court. It’s hard to see how that would turn out well. The Jayhawks just have too much athleticism and skill for this NDSU team to hang with them, barring a huge shooting abnormality.
Kansas 87, North Dakota State 65