When the brackets were announced Sunday night, there was no mid-major team that I felt more confident in than North Dakota State. Here was a senior laden team, one that is good both inside and out, and that will face up against a younger team that relies heavily on good shooting nights.
And so I let that sink in, and the more and more I think about it, the more confident I have become in the Bison. All of this could be a bad sign.
There is a chance that North Dakota State will get picked apart by the shooters of Oklahoma. What if Buddy Hield has a fabulous afternoon shooting the three? What if Taylor Braun has 30 minutes like he did against IPFW in the Summit League Championship Game? What if this team forgets what they have worked for over the past four years?
You could play what if forever. That is what March is all about. That is what we fill out our brackets for in the first place, and this year, why we could win one billion dollars.
But here is what we know as fact:
1. Taylor Braun can be unstoppable. The senior guard has the ability to do everything on the basketball court, and were he flashy like Nate Wolters, and if he put up a ridiculous point total every other night, the whole country would know about it. The difference is that he doesn't need to do it alone. He has help and that makes him better. He will have the ball in his hands a lot, and he will do a lot of the work for this team, but he won't need to do it all.
2. People will forget about Marshall Bjorklund. Because the Bison don't have a guy that towers over everyone, people will forget that they have a very good one that matches up perfectly with what Oklahoma has to offer inside. Bjorklund is a tough scorer, and if he can avoid getting himself into foul trouble because he feels overmatched, he will more than capable of handling the post. He is one of the most efficient scorers in the country when he gets the ball, and he gets the ball with really good spacing because of how he moves, and dribbles.
3. North Dakota State wouldn't be here without TrayVonn Wright. The lanky Wright is emphatically awesome and provides a tough matchup for Oklahoma. The Sooner bigs are just that: big. They don't have the agility or the quickness to play with Wright who can extend the floor all the way to the 3-point line from the power forward spot. That isn't normal. It is going to open up the middle of the floor for the Bison, and I am sure that we will see him finish one of his monster jams with flair at some point in the evening. If you thought Dunk City was impressive, wait until you catch Wright.
Yes, this is confidence that is probably going to get me in trouble, because almost every single "this feels like a sure thing" pick last season went to crap in the final minutes of every game. And this year's field is tougher than last year for pulling out the team that can end up winning those upsets.
But this North Dakota State team feels different and plays different, and has the ability to battle with Oklahoma and get to Saturday.
No. 12 North Dakota State vs. No. 5 Oklahoma
Where: Spokane, Wash.
When: 7:27 p.m., Thursday