The time is now

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The last time a North Dakota State men's basketball team played in the Sioux Falls Arena, it was a No. 8 seed pulling off back-to-back upsets.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The last time a North Dakota State men's basketball team played in the Sioux Falls Arena, it was a No. 8 seed pulling off back-to-back upsets.

"There were some pretty good memories in that arena," Tom Billeter told Saul Phillips Friday afternoon.

Billeter was the coach of the 1993 Bison team that upset South Dakota State and South Dakota before falling to rival North Dakota in the finals of the North Central Conference postseason tournament held in the Sioux Falls Arena.

Phillips is the coach of this year's Bison team that is the top seed of the Summit League postseason tournament that begins today in the same Sioux Falls Arena.

Billeter, now the head coach at Augustana College, bumped into Phillips and his squad prior to NDSU's shootaround in Augustana's two-year-old practice gymnasium -- part of a $5 million addition to the Elmen Center. It's a facility equipped with two regulation-sized basketball courts and a spring-supported wood floor that Phillips would die for at NDSU.


"This is nicer than the one at Wisconsin," said Phillips, a former assistant for the Badgers.

Unlike Billeter's 1993 Bison that made an unlikely run in a Division II conference tournament, Phillips' Bison are the favorites to win the very first Division I conference tournament the program has been a part of since completing its five-year transition from Division II.

The Bison play a first-round game tonight against No. 8-seeded Centenary, winners of only eight games this season.

A No. 8 seed has never beaten the No. 1 seed in the 24 seasons of the Summit League tournament (22 seasons known as the Mid-Continent Conference). But as the Bison proved 26 years ago, a No. 8 seed is fully capable of winning in the 48-year-old Sioux Falls Arena.

"I think it helps that we just got done playing them," Bison senior point guard Ben Woodside said of Centenary. "We know their style of play. We know exactly what they are going to do."

What Centenary does is rely on three guards and one small forward in its starting lineup. Guards Nick Stallings, Chase Adams and Maxx Nakwaasah combine for 25 points per game while 6-foot-6 forward Gary Redus averages 12 points.

The lineup creates matchup problems for the Bison -- who needed a second-half spurt on Dec. 6 to claim a 68-53 win over Centenary and outlasted the Gents last week in Shreveport, La., for an 89-79 win.

"They love attacking the rim and they are good at it," Woodside said. "Really, it's a tough matchup for any team."


The smaller lineup does give the Bison an advantage on the offensive end, especially for Brett Winkelman. The 6-foot-6 senior forward has averaged 32 points in the last four games against Centenary.

"I feel I can get inside on the guards they have," Winkelman said. "But our focus for this game is defense. We didn't do a great job of defending them last time. We just need to do better at our driving line defense and not let anybody get past us. They definitely score on us more than we liked."

So as the Bison went through Friday afternoon workouts, Billeter explained what it meant to win two tournament games as a No. 8 seed during his first season at NDSU.

"I always thought that really propelled our program to better things," said Billeter, who in his five seasons at NDSU produced a 97-50 record with four NCAA Division II tournament berths.

More than a quarter-century later, the Bison are now hoping for three wins in the Sioux Falls Arena - which would propel them to even better things at the Division I level, like the NCAA Tournament.

"I can't wait," said Woodside, who Thursday was named the Summit League player of the year. "It's going to be exciting. None of us have been in a situation like this before."

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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