Kolpack: No matter the odds, don’t bet against Bison
FARGO -- North Dakota State returned home last Wednesday from Sioux Falls, S.D., around 3 a.m., and apparently some of the players went to class not too many hours later. You win a Summit League men's basketball title, you earn a trip to the NCAA...
FARGO - North Dakota State returned home last Wednesday from Sioux Falls, S.D., around 3 a.m., and apparently some of the players went to class not too many hours later. You win a Summit League men’s basketball title, you earn a trip to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, but a champagne toast for those players 21 and older would have to wait.
Such is the life of a student-athlete. I had South Dakota State pegged as at least an eight-point favorite in the title game, and I still think if they played that game 10 times, the Jackrabbits win eight.
That being said, NDSU is in an era where you just never want to bet against it. I never would have wanted to bet against Brock Jensen and those football teams that rarely lost. Last year, I wasn’t going to bet against Bison men’s basketball player Taylor Braun, especially after his first comment the year before at the postgame news conference following the title game loss to SDSU was “we’re going to win it.”
This year, I suppose I should have known better: Don’t bet against Lawrence Alexander. The young man did it all year in the late going, although his missed bonus free throw with 7.9 seconds left opened the door for a possible Jacks game winner. Alexander went 6 of 9 from 3-point range in one of the most clutch big-game performances in the history of the program.
The coaches and administrators keep talking about the “culture of Bison athletics” and although it’s hard to turn that into tangible evidence, there is no arguing that intangible. NDSU is winning football and basketball titles these days because they have found a group of guys who believe in their teammates and coaches.
One colleague asked me if NDSU has a sports psychologist on staff because it is seemingly always winning the close game. To steal a thought from a column by Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune newspaper last week, most basketball games are generally close games, and the teams that win generally have winners, and the teams that consistently lose can always point to a play here or there, but ultimately they are losers (his reference to the Gophers).
This Bison lost two players who are playing professionally in Europe in Braun and TrayVonn Wright and one of the program’s best centers ever in Marshall Bjorklund. NDSU probably had the worst depth in the Summit and have two freshmen playing prominent roles. This team had no business repeating its NCAA tournament berth. But this team also did not lose that hard-to-explain intangible called culture.
Was culture a reason the NDSU football team drove 78 yards in 61 seconds to beat Illinois State 29-27 in the FCS title game? Did culture contribute to Carson Wentz throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to R.J. Urzendowski with 54 seconds left to beat SDSU in the second round?
“The culture in Bison athletics is that we win,” said athletic director Matt Larsen. “There was not a guy in front of 9,000 Jackrabbits fans who said we were not going to win this game. That was the difference. It helps carry the day in football, softball, wrestling. Sport by sport, there is a culture of winning. Sometimes, that transcends talent.”
Culture is the new buzz in business, too. It’s a major emphasis here at Forum Communications, where in the past you came to work, did your job and went home. That can no longer be the model in an age where newspapers are folding at an alarming rate.
If we’re going to move forward in the journalism business and survive in the coming decades, you need all guns firing. For instance, the culture of the sports department needs to bond with that of advertising, online, video and whatever the technology world has in store for us.
When I win my Pulitzer, I’m going to find the nearest microphone and proclaim the No. 1 reason why: culture.