Despite major strides, North Dakota State Bison men's basketball player Paul Miller unsure of playing status
FARGO -- The first extensive injury in Paul Miller's basketball life wasn't so bad to handle when his North Dakota State men's basketball team was winning. Watching the two losses away from home was tough, however.This week, the Bison are back on...
FARGO - The first extensive injury in Paul Miller’s basketball life wasn’t so bad to handle when his North Dakota State men’s basketball team was winning. Watching the two losses away from home was tough, however.
This week, the Bison are back on the road and Miller may actually have a say in the outcome. It hasn’t been fully determined if he’ll play at South Dakota State today, but at least he’s back at practice and has a chance.
“I definitely feel like this week I’ve made some big strides,” Miller said.
The team’s leading scorer at 16.5 points per game injured the MCL ligament in his knee in a collision with a teammate against Oral Roberts on Feb. 4 and has spent the last nearly three weeks with one principal goal in mind: to get back to full speed for the Summit League tournament that begins on March 5.
It was the same injury teammate A.J. Jacobson endured last season and the advice from Jacobson to Miller was rather simple: “He told me not to rush it,” Miller said, “and that we need you more in the conference tournament than we do to close out the regular season. Just take my time and focus on the recovery.”
The Bison went 3-2 without him with both losses on the road and that is where any team has a tough time getting by without its top scoring threat.
NDSU shot 39 percent and was 3 of 13 from 3-point range in the defeat at South Dakota. The Bison were better at 52 percent in the loss at Nebraska-Omaha, but foul trouble made it a depth problem on the perimeter.
“I thought we played like we played a little bit all year: inconsistent,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman when asked how the team performed without Miller. “I will give our guys credit, particularly with our home games - we locked in and executed the defensive game plan. But I’m not going to hide behind anything: we’re not the most efficient offensive team without him.”
It’s a mad dash to the finish for most of the league in determining seeds for the tournament March 5-8 in Sioux Falls. The goal is to get one of the top two seeds, which means if a team makes a run to the Tuesday night title game that it wouldn’t have to play for three straight days.
The top two seeds play a first round game on Saturday. NDSU’s only chance is to sweep SDSU and Denver on the road, hope SDSU loses twice, hope South Dakota beats Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis and hope Nebraska-Omaha loses to Oral Roberts.
So, in other words, the Bison appear to be a long shot to finish in the top two, something they did in each of their three NCAA tournament seasons.
NDSU is currently tied for fourth with IUPUI at 8-6 in the league. The way the league has gone this season, it’s a good bet the tiebreaker formula will get a good workout in the conference office once the dust settles on Saturday night.
“It’s always fun to look at, look at some of the tie breaking rules and what ifs,” Richman said. “But at the same time, you really can’t concern yourself with that right now.”