With the NCAA tournament about to begin in earnest, I thought it might be enjoyable to dissect our little slice of interstate domain. Okay, so enjoyable may be the wrong word to use when it's all said and done but I think it may be worth you time anyway. The thing that I'm specifically thinking about tonight is which of the three universities along I-29 has the best athletics.
As a Bison fan to the point that it made it into the branding of the website, objectivity will be a struggle but I think I can give the bunnies and the baby birds their due. Had to get that little bit of snark out of the way first.
But now onto the breakdowns. There are some colleges and universities across the great divide that succeed at a high level in more then one sport but those are in the minority. Far more often, the best universities and colleges excel in one athletic arena. Alabama - Football, Duke - Basketball, Kansas - Basketball, Texas - Football, Minnesota - Nothing...okay maybe Hockey. But you get the point. For this trip down the Rabbit hole I'll focus on each U's best sport and go from there.
Signature Department: Hockey
The Sioux are a year removed from an appearance in the FCS playoffs but were bounced quickly and flopped this past season. They may rise to the level of the best in the Valley in a few years but for now, they have the third best Football outfit.
It's a similar story with their Basketball operation. They've managed to lure some talent out of the Twin Cities in recent years but a move into the closer proximity of the Summit will do them some good.
But when it all comes down to it, they're a Hockey school. The 2016 championship put them back on top but they never strayed too far from that in the 16 years that passed between the great win. Their 22 frozen four appearances ties them with Boston U for third place behind Boston College (25) and Michigan (24) while leaving them one ahead of rival Minnesota's 21. That's prominence and dominance that few achieve, regardless of sport or level. The asterisk that I have to put on it though is how great of an impact it is for the university. It's not a popular opinion in these parts but Hockey is a few notches down the pole of interest. Don't shoot the messenger but I think that more Lacrosse matches are aired nationally than college Hockey ones.
And as far as I'm concerned attention and interest are must in greatness being capitalized upon.
Signature Department: Football
The champions of the FCS world. It's a clear headline to all those with an affiliation to a school on that level. Thanks to NDSU, & App St. before it, ESPN is giving it more air time. But how much does the 1AA championship actually matter? As the star of the school continues to rise because of all the success, I would say that it's significance grows continually. Getting the championship game out of Frisco, along with some other changes that the NCAA could make, would also aid in the elevation of the whole subdivision, both in perception and reality. What isn't just perception is that Football at NDSU is the top dog. So when you're main sport is kind of a side show, a...novelty for those who follow the college game closely then can you really be the best? I'll leave it up to you to decide how you answer!
Signature Department: Basketball
The bunnies of South Dakota. They don't like NDSU. People who like NDSU aren't particularly fond of them. And what I'm about to say next won't help that I'm afraid.
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are about to run of out of the tunnel for their third straight NCAA tournament appearance. Unlike last year, they have a tremendous chance of finishing up the time of play with more points scored. It's gross I know but it's also reality. They went from NBA draft pick Nate Wolters to probable future NBA draft pick Mike Daum. Yep, that sucks too. Now I concede the possibility that they could lose against Ohio State. That would change the trajectory of the disparity that I think there is between SDSU and the North Dakota schools. Making it into the tournament is an accomplishment but half of the schools are one and done. It takes victories on the national stage to raise a school's flag. I'm speculating but I think that we might still have to talk about them going into the second weekend of the madness. That would mean they won twice, against national level programs. Even if they got hammered in the round of 16, that may be enough to get them a top 25 ranking to start next season - hingeing of course on the return of all their key players.
But let me double down on the frustrating parts of this. They aren't just a Basketball school. They've now managed to draw close to NDSU in terms of talent. It hasn't worked out for them in the playoffs yet, but they've beaten NDSU now and were close to a championship game appearance. Oh and they might have a guy drafted in the first round this year. As Carson Wentz has shown, that doesn't hurt a program's ability to recruit! But even with their continued shortcomings in the playoffs they aren't too far behind NDSU right now. While NDSU's Basketball program is miles behind the hoops.
Which for good measure also got a top half seed in the women's NCAA tournament. That doesn't get near the exposure or attention but that's a heck of an accomplishment as well!
So as much as I don't like to admit, SDSU has the best thing going right now as far as the I-29 U's go. There are many more sports and things that I didn't include in this exercise but I think I nailed the main points for each of the three. If you disagree, you know what to do! But it's a bit of a mind wearying thing for a Bison fan to have to think about, write about and presumably get assailed for by other fans of North Dakota's Green & Gold! So that is all, thank you & goodnight!