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Bison don't have much familiarity with Sooners

FARGO – North Dakota State learned its opponent in the NCAA tournament on Sunday. There wasn’t much familiarity with the University of Oklahoma, however.

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The two schools have never played in men’s basketball and perhaps have never been on each other’s radar as far as even scheduling a non-conference game. The Sooners are 23-9 after losing its first game in the Big 12 Conference tournament.

“They’re an extremely efficient offensive and defensive team that mirrors us a little bit,” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips, before heading off for a late-night scouting session on OU. “They played in a conference that was as good as any in the nation this year and they have a head coach who will probably be a Hall of Famer.”

That would be Lon Kruger, who has more than 500 career victories and has taken five different programs to the NCAA tournament. He’s in his third year at Oklahoma with a 58-37 record at a program that was 27-36 the prior two years before he got there.

He’s also coached at UNLV, Illinois, Florida and Kansas State.

“He’s done a terrific job at every stop he’s been,” Phillips said. “You don’t meet people in this profession who don’t respect Lon. He does it the right way. He has a lot of admirers including myself.”

The Sooners are making their second straight NCAA appearance after missing it the prior three years. They finished second in the Big 12 regular season with a 12-6 record.

“We don’t know a whole lot to be honest with you,” said Bison center Marshall Bjorklund. “We’ll start watching film on them tomorrow and find out a little bit more.”

The Sooners are led by 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Buddy Hield who averages 16.8 points a game. OU has four players who average in double figures on a team that is seventh in the country in scoring at 82.2 points per game.

“It will be a big challenge for us,” said Bison guard Taylor Braun. “But like I’ve said all year, we’re extremely confident in what we’re capable of doing. This is a position we earned and we’ll go in there, the coaches will give us a great game plan on how to stop them and we’ll do the best we can to execute it.”

Certainly, OU has the tradition advantage. It’s been in the NCAA tournament 24 times in the last 30 years – the second-most in the Big 12 behind Kansas. Kruger is making his 15th trip to the NCAA tourney and has a career record of 14-14.

Phillips is 0-1.

“We accomplished one goal – now let’s move on,” Phillips said. “We made the tournament. Great. How let’s refocus and see what we can do. I know we have guys that believe they can win against anybody.”

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.