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'The time is now' for North Dakota State

Eight billboards in Fargo-Moorhead will underscore what North Dakota State's men's basketball program has been building for during the last five years of its transition to Division I.

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Eight billboards in Fargo-Moorhead will underscore what North Dakota State's men's basketball program has been building for during the last five years of its transition to Division I.

"The time is now," screams the slogan positioned next to a profile of five Bison seniors.

"It does make sense ... this is the season we have been pointing to for the last few years," said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. "I think it does reflect the feeling a lot of people have about our program right now."

As the Bison officially open practice today with everyone back from last year's 16-13 team, the feeling is that the Bison have a good shot of reaching the NCAA tournament.

It's the first season in which the Bison are eligible to qualify for the Summit League's postseason tournament. The tournament champion - to be crowned March 10 in Sioux Falls, S.D., - receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

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It's something the Bison have been aiming for ever since they redshirted freshmen Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann for the 2004-05 season.

"It's now or never," Woodside said. "We can't wait to get going. But to exceed these expectations, we know we're going to have to stay focused and work hard every day in practice."

Woodside and Winkelman are returning all Summit League selections. Nelson is one of the league's top 3-point shooters. And Moormann is NDSU's returning post player.

"It won't be this way every year ... I understand that and everybody else understands that," said Phillips, who begins his second year as NDSU's head coach. "There is an air of excitement. I can't deny that. But we know there is a lot of work to do between now and March."

Like improving upon last year's 5-4 road record in the Summit League or improving a No. 6 ranking in scoring defense.

The Bison are also counting on more production from returners like Freddy Coleman, Lorenzo Riley, Austin Pennick, Michael Tveidt, Josh Vaughan and Sam Sussenguth.

And they are hoping for good things from redshirt freshman Eric Carlson and junior college transfer Dejuan Flowers.

"For the first time since our transition, we have 12 guys who expect to play," Phillips said. "We'll have guys who will be pushed for the first time in practice since we've been here.

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"We are focused on today and not worrying about that big prize, because we know nothing is handed to you. We just can't get distracted with that final goal."

Even when it's plastered on eight billboards around town.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com

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