It was four years ago, Doug Oliver's last as Idaho State head coach, but the first season for a bunch of precocious redshirt freshmen who were strutting their stuff for North Dakota State, a newly-minted D-1 basketball program. Oliver warned everyone within earshot that the Bison team that was coming to Reed Gym for the first of a two-game, home-and-home series that season was not the easy mark that many new D-1 teams are. The Bison had recruited a nice collection of talent, and redshirted many of those kids with the idea that by the time North Dakota State got eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2009, they would have the talent to get them there.
Leader of that pack was Ben Woodside (above), a 6-3 guard from neighboring Minnesota. Woodside's name rolls off the tongue of every network talking head these days, after he put up 37 points in a losing first-round game against defending NCAA champion Kansas last week. But Bengal fans got a good look at his multiple talents four years ago in Reed Gym, and could not have come away unimpressed.
The Bengals won the first of two games with the Bison in a thoroughly entertaining game that saw ISU come back from a 21-point halftime deficit. The Bengals recovered from a 24 percent shooting performance in the first half, hitting 54 percent in the second, to send the game into overtime. ISU then outscored the Bison 14-10 in overtime, to post a 91-87 win. Four Bengals scored in double figures, led by Slim Millien, who had a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and David Schroeder, who put up 20.
Woodside, meanwhile, more than got ISU's attention with 32 points, including 3 of 4 shooting from 3-point range. Forward Andre Smith matched Slim's double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.Later that season the Bison won the rematch in Fargo rather handily, 86-69, as Woodside put up 29 points, 20 in the first half, and six assists. In the three subsequent seasons, North Dakota State has lost a head coach to Colorado State, posted two 20-win seasons and, in this, their first year of eligibility for the NCAA tournament, won the Summit League championship to earn that first-round matchup with the Jayhawks. The Bison and Woodside gave Kansas a tough run throughout the contest, before losing 84-74.
Rather than thinking hoops dreams today, the Bison student body has been excused from classes and many are busy filling sandbags with the Red River expected to reach flood stage in Fargo by Thursday of this week. ISU students won't be in class this week, either, but they're on spring break and, last I heard, the Portneuf is nowhere near flood stage yet.
Tough Post-Season for Big Sky Teams
While Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton has been exhorting conference teams to play tougher non-conference hoops schedules, and has even threatened to levy a fine on teams that fail to upgrade theirs, the results in post-season have been less than encouraging -- particularly this year.
The two Big Sky men's teams that made the post-season, Weber State and Portland State, were dismissed with little more than a whimper. Regular season champ Weber was spanked by NIT top-seed San Diego State, 65-49, in the first round of that tournament. Xavier dismissed conference tournament champion Portland State, 77-59, in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Boise.
Montana, meanwhile, was left on the outside looking in, despite the fact that a fourth post-season tournament geared specifically for teams from conferences like the Big Sky was created this season. Instead of taking a 17-12 Montana team that tied for second in the conference during the regular season, the CollegeInsider.com tourney took an Idaho team that was one game over .500 and had lost in the first round of the WAC tournament. The Vandals coughed up $28,000 for the right to host a first-round game in antiquated Memorial Gym, which holds 1,500 fans, because the Kibbie Dome is undergoing renovations. At least Idaho held up their end of the deal, beating Drake, 69-67, before a "full house."
On the women's side, at least Portland State got one post-season win for the conference, a 57-51 decision over the University of Portland in the Women's NIT, before falling to Oregon State, 59-47, in the second round. Conference champion Montana was routed, 64-35, by Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a stinging loss that is not going to be conducive to good seeds for the league anytime in the near future.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.