Category archive: North Dakota St Bison

Enough madness to go around

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
2:21
PM ET
Some quick hitters after nearly five hours of our coverage of Midnight Madness on Friday night on ESPNU:

• The Kentucky event was unprecedented. I'm not sure I've ever seen an entrance like John Calipari's at Kentucky. It was part Bono at a U2 concert and part President Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. The hype over the Wildcats and their coach is something we've never seen before in college basketball. Calipari can handle the attention and is embracing it, but he also has said to me many times that his team will be young and inexperienced. So, we'll see how the populace handles some expected growing pains this season. I still think the Wildcats can make the Final Four, but there will definitely be losses in a rugged SEC East.

• I saw it Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium and then again during Duke's Midnight Madness event: Hall of Fame and Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski is in as good a space as I've seen him in 20 years of covering the game.

• Cameron Indoor Stadium will have a different look this season with the graduate students taking hold of the end zones and the big boosters moving to more cushioned seats on the side. Duke has learned that the grad students are its most loyal student base and wanted to take care of them. Keep in mind these folks will also ultimately be the most influential as they move on to critical careers. Also, the fire marshal will be pleased with mandatory aisles that were being created with a coat of gray paint. In the past, if you were on the side bleachers, you had no shot to go to the bathroom during the game once you were sandwiched into the long rows of seats.

• Michigan State's Tom Izzo has figured everything out. He enjoys life, is intense with his job, but doesn't take himself too seriously. Last year, he wore a '70s outfit to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the 1979 national title. This year, he came out in an Indy car because the Final Four is in Indianapolis. The Breslin Center had to close its doors at one point, as fans overcrowded the joint. The Michigan State fan base doesn't get enough credit for its annual passion for this program.

• The FedExForum had to shut its doors for Memphis' event, a first for the school and a celebration of first-year coach Josh Pastner. Pastner said he was overwhelmed with the interest. He has the hardest job of any first-year head coach this season, replacing Calipari. But the manner in which Calipari departed, by taking a number of the players, and with the vacated Final Four (pending Memphis' appeal) may give Pastner a longer leash in the short term.

Pastner is recruiting with the top programs in the country. If he can stay in the top three in Conference USA with some combination of upstarts Tulsa, UTEP and Houston, he should be even more celebrated on the court. Pastner said he had no issue easing into a more observational role during the double session of practice Saturday. He had been one of the grunt assistant coaches at Arizona and Memphis running stations. Now he was in charge, moving between both ends of the floor as his assistants handled the drills.

• North Carolina's John Henson is so slender but he continues to rise above the rest of his teammates. If Larry Drew II can pitch ahead the basketball as Roy Williams says, this team will be exceptionally difficult to defend on the break. If Drew can just get the ball near the basket, Henson, Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller -- the four big men who will likely get the most time -- can certainly snatch it and finish.

• Connecticut's event was festive Friday before tragedy struck early Sunday morning on campus with the fatal stabbing of football player Jasper Howard at a university-sponsored dance. The men's basketball team, like everyone else on campus, was stunned with the news. Many of the players, according to assistant coach Patrick Sellers, knew Howard. Sadness has covered the campus.

• UConn freshman forward Ater Majok suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia and is out of practice for a few weeks. Majok isn't eligible to compete until mid-December.

• Oregon State coach Craig Robinson has been waiting for freshman guard Roberto Nelson to be cleared to practice, but it didn't happen by the time practice started Friday. Getting paperwork has been a slow process, and while there doesn't seem to be a concern that Nelson won't be eligible, the process is certainly time consuming as documents get sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center.

• Georgetown coach John Thompson III is certainly changing the mood of the Hoyas. JT3 has lightened things considerably. He was a self-proclaimed huge Michael Jackson fan and didn't hesitate to don a white glove in honor of the King of Pop during the Hoyas' event Friday night.

• North Dakota State's Saul Phillips may never leave Fargo. The city and the school just give him too much material. He said the Bison were going to bring out during its madness event the famed wood chipper from the movie "Fargo" but they couldn't get anyone to go into it.

• Two teams I would have loved to watch their scrimmages but didn't get much of a glimpse of were Washington and Kansas. Both could play deep into March.

• Clemson's Oliver Purnell repelled down from the rafters at the Tigers' event. Purnell has settled in quite nicely at Clemson, producing a consistent winner. He is at ease in his surroundings at Clemson and continues to be a solid citizen in leading that program. Like Izzo, he has learned to not take himself too seriously.

• Give Roy Williams credit: It doesn't matter what occurred the previous spring because he'll dance with his Tar Heel players. Williams' ability to let loose allows him to connect with today's players.

Maybe no team needed a summer trip more than Davidson, as the Wildcats attempt to get through a season without Stephen Curry.

Taking the trip to Italy and Slovenia in August allowed the Wildcats to learn to play without their former All-American. So when Davidson convened for the first team practice last week, there was no reason for introductions of new roles.

"We got a taste of what it was going to be like," coach Bob McKillop said. "We needed that then, rather than find that out in November. The timing of having to understand how to play without Stephen was good."

In Europe, Will Archambault led the Wildcats with 18.5 points a game, with Bryant Barr scoring 15, Aaron Bond 14.3 and Brendan McKillop 12.1.

"We learned we're going to have to have an equal opportunity offense," McKillop said. "We can't have guys stand around waiting for Steph to shoot it. They all have to swing the bat."

McKillop originally was slated to coach the Under-19 USA Basketball team in the FIBA World Championship in New Zealand. He coached the U.S. to a silver medal in Argentina the previous summer. But McKillop opted to stay home once Curry declared for the NBA draft. He needed to figure out how his team was going to respond without its superstar.

Steve Rossiter, who will be the team captain, averaged 7.8 points and nine rebounds a game on the trip, and his leadership was noted by McKillop. Rossiter was a classic role player to Curry a year ago and didn't hesitate to take over the more vocal aspects of being a team captain this summer.

"He was a valuable role player on the [2008] Elite Eight team and has experience winning games," McKillop said.

A number of players on this squad were a part of the Elite Eight team and have been consistent winners in the program. That shouldn't change, although Davidson won't be picked to win the league with College of Charleston being the likely favorite.

McKillop, who is a proponent of taking a foreign trip every four seasons and has the full backing of the administration on these trips, said the Wildcats might never have another star like Curry.

"But we never had that in my 20 years at Davidson outside of Stephen," McKillop said. "We have tremendous balance and we will have experience and now we have six games under our belt [the Wildcats went 4-2]. We have an understanding of what it takes."

McKillop isn't slinking back into things with the schedule, either. Davidson isn't a marquee squad without Curry, but there is still interest. Davidson is in the Charleston Classic with teams such as Miami and Penn State, is in the Holiday Festival with St. John's, is playing Gonzaga in Seattle, travels to Butler, and plays host to UMass and Rhode Island.

"It's an aggressive schedule," McKillop said.

The hope is that Frank Ben-Eze, who played in 22 games and averaged 7.6 minutes and 1.3 points, will be cleared for practice on Oct. 16. He didn't make the trip to Europe because of a knee injury. The Wildcats need Ben-Eze to be a vital part of the board work inside.

Easing the pain of losing Curry for McKillop is how much the team has become his family, with son Brendan expected to be a major player for the Wildcats in his junior season, and son Matt on the bench as a full-time assistant coach.

"I've got one on the bench, one on the court," McKillop said of his sons. "I'm pretty lucky to have this opportunity to share it with my boys."

• North Dakota State will unfurl its NCAA tournament banner and hand out its NCAA rings at its Midnight Madness ceremony Oct. 16. The Bison were a classic March Madness story last season, earning their bid in the first season they were eligible. NDSU coach Saul Phillips and former coach Tim Miles had the plan to redshirt a class, knowing that in the seniors' fifth season of eligibility they would be primed for a Summit League title run. Senior Ben Woodside was the key member of this class, averaging 23.2 points a game.

"We graduated the No. 1, 2 and 7 all-time scorers, but we've still got four seniors left on the roster and we're still thinking of redshirting players again," Phillips said.

Oakland will be picked as the favorite to win the league, but the Grizzlies and Bison have different approaches to scheduling. Oakland plays a crazy slate of games at Wisconsin, Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, Oregon and Syracuse in a 30-day period. Meanwhile, the Bison play a much more manageable slate with road games at Utah Valley, UC Davis, Fresno State, Wichita State and Iowa State. They might not win more than two of those, but this team shouldn't lose any confidence. Phillips is doing a solid job of getting some home games, too, with improving Idaho of the WAC and Horizon League teams Green Bay and Milwaukee making the trip to Fargo, N.D.

• The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., put out the good word from Gonzaga and the Zags' staff confirmed Tuesday that Canadian Bol Kong is enrolled on campus and eligible for this season. The Zags have anxiously awaited Kong's arrival since the former Sudanese national had visa issues going from Canada to the United States. Kong, a 6-7 forward, is expected to be a talent for the Zags, but his role will be a complementary one. Meanwhile, the bigger get is that German Elias Harris, who is expected on campus this week, is eligible, as well. Harris, who was playing with the German national team, could be a starter this season. Harris, a 6-7 forward, is the talk among the staff. He is a scorer who won't steal the headlines from Matt Bouldin or Steven Gray but is expected to be a major contributor from the opening tip. Kong had to be on campus and enrolled in class by this past Friday to make the deadline to be eligible this semester (12 class days after the semester starts). Harris received an exemption because he was playing on his national team.

• Blue Ribbon put out its Missouri Valley predictions, and if Wichita State is the seventh-best team in the Valley, it could be another banner season for the league. The rankings were hard to argue against at the top with Northern Iowa, Illinois State, Creighton and Southern Illinois as the top four. Indiana State and Bradley were five and six before the Shockers at No. 7. Drake, Evansville and Missouri State wrapped up the bottom three. WSU coach Gregg Marshall has the Shockers on the verge of being quite a pest this season, and they could cause some havoc in the CBE Classic when they play Pitt in the semifinals in Kansas City, Mo. Don't be surprised if Iowa, not Wichita State, is the team that leaves the event winless. Texas plays the Hawkeyes in the other semifinal.