FARGO — The last time North Dakota State played a men’s basketball game that counted, the center was Zion Williamson. Add to that Duke’s lineup of NBA prospects and the Bison were beaten in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March.
It was the second time the Bison played a team ranked No. 1 last year. They played at Gonzaga during the regular season when the Bulldogs were at the top of the polls.
The season opener on Tuesday night will be another team from a Power 5 conference, albeit Kansas State did not get any votes in the two principle preseason top 25 polls. It doesn’t mean the Wildcats won’t put a high-major talented team on the court against the Bison in the 7 p.m. tipoff at Bramlage Coliseum. The game will be aired on ESPN-Plus.
Kansas State went 25-9 last year and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I think a key is your mindset going into it,” said Bison head coach Dave Richman. “Just a belief, a want, an expectation and I think you can rely on past experiences. Last time we were out was in an environment like the NCAA tournament against a team like Duke so we should be better mentally prepared for a high-major.”
The Bison return most of their roster from a year ago that saw them win the Summit League tournament and an NCAA tournament “First Four” game against North Carolina Central. NDSU also played at Iowa State during the regular season.
Leading scorers Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward are seniors. They’ll be joined in the starting lineup by senior Jared Samuelson, junior Rocky Kreuser and sophomore Sam Griesel. All are guards with the exception of the 6-foot-10 Kreuser.
All have plenty of experience along with backup guards Tyree Eady, Cameron Hunter and Chris Quayle. NDSU set a school season record with 332 made 3-pointers last year averaging 9.5 per game. The Bison also set a school record for free throw accuracy making 77.7 percent of their foul shots.
Individually, Shahid and Kreuser were the first Bison players in history to start 35 games in a season.
“We have to make sure more than anything it’s the little things we’re concentrating on because this group walks around with a better expectation going into any game,” Richman said.
For Richman, it will be a reunion of sorts with the man who hired him as the Bison head coach. Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor held the same position at NDSU.
“Just tremendous people and you can see the impact they’re already having at K-State athletics,” Richman said. "But for 40 minutes, we're going down there to try and kick their tails."
Former Bison head football coach Chris Klieman has the Wildcats unexpectedly at 6-2.
“I just think that culture permeates throughout everybody,” Richman said.
NDSU is no stranger to Kansas State in the Bison’s Division I era. Former Bison head coach Tim Miles was able to schedule a 2-for-1 deal with NDSU traveling to Manhattan, Kan., twice in 2003-04 and 2004-05 and the Wildcats returning a game in Fargo in the 2006-07 season.
Kansas State escaped with an 83-81 win.