FARGO — The intensity meter for the North Dakota State men’s basketball team is expected to take another step forward Saturday afternoon. The University of North Dakota comes to town for the first conference matchup between the two schools since 2004.
Make no mistake, Bison head coach Dave Richman said, anytime NDSU and UND hook up it’s a bigger game. It’s the type of game that is normally made for senior leaders.
Problem for the Bison is they have no seniors.
It’s why junior college transfer Vinnie Shahid is all the more valuable in his first year playing at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex. He was voted a team captain despite being a first-year player in the program.
“I was surprised a little bit,” Shahid said, “but I knew coming in this is what they expected of me. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life is leading — in high school, during college and now here.”
Shahid was a Minnesota all-state player at Hopkins leading the Royals to a 31-1 record and a 2016 state title. He played two years at Western Nebraska Community College averaging 18.4 points and 4.8 assists as a sophomore.
Slowly over the years, NDSU lost players who would have been seniors this year. Center Spencer Eliason chose to enter medical school and forward Dylan Miller left the team after last season. Guard Khy Kabellis transferred two years ago.
NDSU is one of nine teams in Division I basketball that doesn’t have a senior.
“We’re definitely a pretty young group and it shows at times,” Shahid said. “Definitely there is some leadership that needs to be taken place with this group.”
For instance, the Bison led Denver by six point at halftime on Wednesday on the road. The Pioneers blitzed NDSU in the second half to win going away.
The 8-11 Bison are 7-1 at home, 0-7 away and 1-3 on a neutral court.
It makes the UND game all the more important. The Hawks also come in 8-11 and are 2-4 in the Summit League to NDSU’s 2-3. The Bison have four straight road games after Saturday.
“It comes down to being mentally tougher than our opponent and on the road we tend to lack that a little bit more than we do at home,” Shahid said.
UND comes in with a similar resume with a 2-7 road record. On the other hand, the visiting team in this series has won the last five games. All were non-conference games, however.
The Bison welcomed back a pair of injured players recently in guard Cameron Hunter and guard-forward Sam Griesel, who has started the last two games. Hunter is normally one of the first guards off the bench.
“We’re not quite as far along as I had hoped because of two key injuries,” Richman said. “That said, I do feel like we’re seeing progress and moving in the right direction.”
Shahid made reference to a lake in January as to how far is away from taking another step.
“If there’s a piece of ice that is right ‘here,’” he said, using his hand to simulate a sheet of ice, “I would say we’re right under the ice on where we want to be. We’re getting that mental tough version of ourselves to break through that ice to get to where we want to be.”