Over all the years of NDSU as a division one basketball team they have faced a dozen high major programs. Four in the NCAA tournament and the rest in various early season matchups. During the early years they faced and defeated teams ranked in the top 15 and above. Those teams, which eventually were the first to reach the tournament are still the foundation of the program. A foundation that has been built upon well in the near decade since.
After the losses of the 2014 team, it was thought that the team would take a step back. Yet Lawrence Alexander powered them to a second straight tournament appearance. He graduated and the team of a season ago lost some of it's identity with him. Yet they still managed to compete for a march madness slot. But that's the history. Last night was the present.
Two nights after falling to Missouri State, in Springfield they were in Cincinnati to take on the Xavier Musketeers. Xavier is the latest highly ranked team for the Bison to take on. With the reigning coach of the year and a potential All - American it was a tall task from the moment the game was announced. To their credit, the Bison competed for both halves. The Musketeers were noticeably less ferocious on the defensive end in the second half, while they were nursing a 20 point lead. Even with the toned down effort level they won that half by another nine points.
The outcome of the game only matters with respect to how it translates through the rest of the season or seasons, for those not in their final year. Each and every one of NDSU's games this year is as preparation for the next run in Sioux Falls. Taking a litmus test against a top ten team, win or lose, is mostly about the experience that it offers.
If there's a secondary benefit, it is the pursuit that all mid majors should have. To become the next Gonzaga, Wichita State or VCU. It takes years. The right coach, every time. And post season success. None are a given but playing, even in a loss, a team such as Xavier can be an incremental step towards that.
Last word on the game itself, Deng Geu was the lone bright spot for the Bison. Him being able to show up in such a big spot bodes well for the next three years of the team.
If he can continue to perform up to a high percentage of what he did last night for the rest of the season, then the Summit League Tournament will be another fun ride. As long as the rest of the team can round into shape. That's on them and on the coaches. What's certain is that the competition the rest of the way will not be nearly what it was last night, which is the best possible news today!