It wasn’t only the scoring load that was top-heavy for the North Dakota State men’s basketball team last season, but how guard Vinnie Shahid and forward Tyson Ward went about it. When the game was on the line, those two had the ball almost all of the time.
And when things really got down to it, Shahid was a one-man victory show with his 88 percent free throw accuracy and the ability to take any defender to the basket. The sure-fire formula worked to the tune of a 25-8 record, a Summit League tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament that never happened because of COVID-19.
The pandemic hasn’t gone away, although Shahid and Ward have. Also gone are guards Jared Samuelson and Chris Quayle.
Some things won’t change, said head coach Dave Richman, like toughness, defense, grit and rebounding when the Bison open their season Wednesday in a 2:30 p.m. game against Nevada as part of a tournament at the University of Nebraska.
“We have new personnel so to ultimately play the same way we want, we’ll have to tweak some things,” he said. “You’re not going to see 94 feet of a team pressing or 40 minutes of a team playing zone.”
Shahid averaged 18.4 points and Ward 16.9 The other double-digit scorer, 6-10 forward Rocky Kreuser at 10.0 points per game, is back as one of two seniors. The NCAA has declared this season as a non-counter eligibility-wise, so Kreuser and senior center Tyler Witz could play another season.
If there is one silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that NDSU is going through it with a young team that will be trying to maintain its status as two-time Summit tourney champions.
“If there is some hindsight to 2020, this is the ultimate year to develop,” Richman said. “Everybody is growing and getting stronger, yet still at the end of the year hoping to compete for the ultimate prize.”
If the Bison are to make it a threepeat, and assuming the season happens as scheduled, they’ll need some collective contributions from several players, if not most of the roster. Junior college transfer Donald Carter III was recruited as a potential replacement for Shahid, but he’s out for at least another month after breaking his leg last spring.
“It was a traumatic injury,” Richman said.
Freshman Dezmond McKinney from Raytown, Mo., was recruited as a point guard. But look for junior Sam Griesel to see time at the position.
“Maybe quite a bit,” Richman said.
Guard Tyree Eady, who made valuable contributions down the stretch last year, is back for his fourth year in the program. He could play point, too. Guard Jaxon Knotek is in his third year and sophomore guard Jarius Cook is back in the mix after redshirting last season.
A potential wild card is 6-7 guard Maleeck Harden-Hayes from Moorhead.
“We’re really excited for the opportunities for him,” Richman said. “Finally, in just the last couple of practices, he’s found his rhythm again.”
The Bison will have plenty of chances to see what they have in the next week. After Wednesday's opener, they’ll remain in Lincoln and play Nebraska Saturday at 11 a.m.
NDSU will bus to Minneapolis and play Loyola Marymount (Calif.) on Sunday and the University of Minnesota on Monday.
“I expect more balance,” Richman said. “Maybe we won’t have two 20-point scorers but a bunch of guys hanging around that double-figure mark.”