Bison face 7-foot shot blocker on national TVFARGO — There are a couple of sheriffs in the mid-major basketball town meeting tonight. When North Dakota State plays at the University of Akron (Ohio), ESPN2 may invoke martial law.
By: Jeff Kolpack , Forum News Service
FARGO — There are a couple of sheriffs in the mid-major basketball town meeting at 5 p.m. today. When North Dakota State plays at the University of Akron (Ohio), ESPN2 may invoke martial law.
Or, make that Marshall law.
The ESPN BracketBuster matchup features two centers that rank near the top in NCAA Division I field-goal percentage. NDSU’s Marshall Bjorklund has dropped slightly to No. 2 at 69 percent, but Akron has all-everything center Zeke Marshall, who would be third at 66 percent, but he does not have enough attempts to qualify.
Here’s the other problem for NDSU: Zeke Marshall is 7 feet tall.
Facing a shot-blocking obstacle hasn’t been kind to the Bison this year, who saw 7-foot Indiana center Cody Zeller be a force in the second half, dealt with Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe and are 0-2 against Western Illinois and its post presence of Terrell Parks.
“They’re similar, they’re both long guys,” Bjorklund said. “Zeke is a really good shot blocker, and obviously we have to try and find a way around that. We’ve had a little difficulty with teams with long shot-blocking centers so it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”
Marshall was the first Rivals.com top 100 recruit to sign at a Mid-American Conference school, and he hasn’t disappointed. He has 333 career blocked shots and is a major reason the Zips, 21-4 overall and 12-0 in the MAC, have the nation’s longest active Division I winning streak at 17 games.
Still, NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said he’ll stack his Marshall up against anybody. At 6-8, Bjorklund is not as long as some other centers, Phillips said, but the junior makes up for it with an array of low-post moves.
“When you look at Marshall this year, he’s had Zeller, Mbakwe and Parks — really good matchups,” he said. “And he’s held his own in every one of them.”
The Zips will be NDSU’s third ESPN BracketBuster matchup, but the first on national television. Bjorklund said that adds some flavor to the game heading into it, but once the ball is tipped, it doesn’t matter.
“It’s big for our program. We’re trying to make steps to move to the next level, and we’re on pace to do that,” he said. “We’ve been the highest ranked at NDSU since we’ve been Division I, and obviously Akron is up there. It’s almost like a conference game.”
NDSU leading scorer Taylor Braun will miss his 10th straight game after breaking his foot in January. His status for the remainder of the season will be determined next week.
Meanwhile, it’s Marshall law for the Bison (20-7) in Akron tonight.
“We look at this as a reward,” Phillips said. “Nobody gave it to us. We earned it. We earned our way onto television. We made it almost impossible for them not to take us on the TV game, and we’re going to enjoy it.”