After a few down years, especially on the women's side, NDSU Basketball may be making a welcome return to success. That's kind of an obvious statement considering that the men won the league championship last March, got a win in the tournament and return all but one of their key players.
On the other side, it's a much different story. Under new head coach Jory Collins, the Basketball team has moved swiftly to restock the roster after several of last year's players moved on. They showed some creativity by extending an invitation for male Basketball players to join a scrimmage squad.
It's a single example but is the sort of thinking that may expedite their return to the sort of effectiveness that they had under Amy Ruley. I'm not saying that they'll be ready to supplant the South Dakota U's this season but I don't know how thinking outside the box could hurt.
It starts with the talent that each team has but a close second is the effectiveness of the coaches doing the instructing. With only one senior on the women's roster, whatever success they have this season would be a bonus. It would be nice if it ended with them finally getting a win in Sioux Falls but in the mold of how the guys have operated in past years, it's about trying to build to a one-season climax. March of 2021 is the target but how they go about this season will be really interesting to monitor.
Maybe they can find a way to do what the guys did last March and succeed ahead of schedule. They'll be without Tyrah Spencer, who decided not to endure another year of physical pain & the graduated Marina Fernadez, both of whom contributed a lot of minutes played last season. Key returning players this year include Emily Dietz. Michelle Gaislerova, Rylee Nudell & Sofia Zivaljevic. That's a good amount of continuity and the familiarity extends beyond those four so it will be up to coach Collins to figure out how to put them in the best spots while teaching them how he wants the game played. One advantage that he will have that the previous head woman wasn't able to manage is depth on the roster. After going through last season with 11 players, this year's squad has 14. That may not seem like much but when something happens that prevents one or two of the starters from going, it will be easier to avoid a drop-off. Even when everyone is healthy & available it will allow for the women to remain at their best for longer stretches, both in games and over the course of the season.
But questions remain. More questions than answers at this time.
High among them is how they'll handle all the bigger schools that they're set to face this year. Trips to Northern Iowa and Creighton accompany visits by Northern Illinois, Wyoming, Iowa State & Wisconsin. All due respect to what the guys will go up against this year, and I'll get to that in a minute, but that's a much tougher schedule in my opinion. And I didn't include the conference teams which won't be easy either. As I said, this year is meant to be a builder to something better next Winter.
Now back to the men's team.
There's very little that has to be proven this year. Well, except for how they handle being the hunted instead of the hunter. From January on they won 13 of 20 contests, concluding with a first half for the ages against Duke.
They have a great chance of being even better this season. Coach Richman & the ops didn't give them a cupcake schedule because they know that it's going to take more to last beyond the round of 64. So they'll travel to Kansas State and Marquette with many other stops in-between & beyond as they prepare for conference action. Now that John Konchar & Mike Daum are onto the rest of their lives, the path to a second straight title is much easier to map.
Not surprisingly, NDSU has the majority vote by the coaches as the best team in the conference but the familiar foes will look to wreck that every time they play. In place of Deng Geu the Bison will have JUCO junior transfer Tyler Witz. In addition to Tyson Ward, Cam Hunter, Jared Samuelson, Sam Griesel & Vinnie Shahid they added a couple local boys who probably shouldn't have to do too much this year but maybe they can prove they're ready for a few minutes a game. I won't be holding my breathe on that this season though. It means that the team has youth who may be ready to step in after the changing of the guard. It's a well put together group of upper and under classmen.
They also got the benefit of time abroad this Summer to take their skills to that much higher of a level before their first workouts of the school year happened. For Griesel it was a few weeks playing with the German national team while the rest played three in Puerto Rico.
It's going to be an interesting season at the SHAC for both these teams. One has plenty yet to be shown and could surprise. The other would only surprise me if they don't win in the low to mid 20's & make it two tournaments in a row.
All things considered, a 10 win season would be decent for the women. For the guys, 20 wins should be the floor of expectation with a few more than that well within reason. Who knows, maybe they can get the better of K-State or a potentially ranked Marquette team on national tv. Either way, it should be a good time at the gym this winter!