Monday, March 16, 2009

A Tourney Upset Special

Looking for a first-round underdog to pick in this year’s NCAA Tournament? Go west!

No. 14 North Dakota State will play defending champ Kansas in the early game Friday in Minneapolis and the Bison are primed to pull off a tourney upset in their first-ever NCAA tourney. N.D. State, which just finished transitioning from D-II, also became the first team ever to reach the NCAA tourney in its initial year of eligibility.

The team’s senior stars—guards Ben Woodside and Mike Nelson and forward Brett Winkelman—have already posted upsets during their careers, beating 8th-ranked Marquette in the 2006-07 season, and 13th-ranked Wisconsin in 2005-06.

They also had close defeats to power-conference teams Kansas State and Texas Tech in past seasons and a 61-57 loss to Pac-10 champ USC this year, so a game against Big 12 regular-season champ Kansas shouldn’t be intimidating.

Woodside averages 23 points and 6.4 assists, while Winkelman averages 18.8 and 7.3 rebounds. Second-year coach Saul Phillips’ team is undersized, but dangerous from the outside. As a team, they hit 41% of their threes, with Woodside, who scored 60 points against Stephen F. Austin earlier this year, hitting at a 43.7% clip.

The Jayhawks, on the other hand, lost every starter from last year’s champs and don’t have a senior starter. In coach Bill Self’s five past NCAA tourneys, the Jayhawks have reached at least the Elite Eight three times. However, Kansas has twice lost first-round upsets in 2005 (Bucknell) and 2006 (Bradley).

Bucknell, Bradley, and now the Bison: sorry, Kansas, but it looks like an attack of the Killer Bs.

(This note isn't exactly Philly-based, but I'll get to that with more tourney picks and info in the days ahead.)

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