Bison Fever! North Dakota State Marches to Minneapolis!

Greetings from Fargo!Bison Nation is coming to Minneapolis to play a little basketball.  Basketball?  They don’t play basketball in North Dakota.  Do they? 

The Bison have been to Minneapolis before.  They were here to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers in football for both the 2006 and 2007 seasons.  That last game, on October 20, 2007, worked out pretty well actually.  They beat the Gophers 27-21 sending all of  Fargo into a frenzy and Gophers fans into therapy.  But . . . basketball? 

Let’s get right to the meat of the matter (no offense to Bison):  Prior to this past weekend, there were four states that had never sent a team to the NCAA basketball tournament . . . as in, THE tournament.  Division 1.  March Madness.  The states – Maine, Alaska, South Dakota and North Dakota.  That list is now down to three. 

In what is an annual rite of passage, there are always one or two teams that get into the Big Dance in remarkable fashion.  One might have a sub-.500 record but went on a tear in their conference tournament to get the automatic bid.  And the other, well that’s the team with a story that captures your imagination in a way demanding your attention.

That team this year has to be the boys in the green and gold from North Dakota State University.

Generally speaking, when a team wearing green and gold comes to the Twin Cities, the level of vitriol goes up while “Minnesota Nice” is universally stuffed down ice fishing holes on Lake Minnetonka.  But unlike Green Bay Packers visits, it’s a safe bet nearly every fan from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area heading to the Metrodome this week will catch green and gold Bison Fever.

And the Bison will need all of that and more considering their opponent:  The defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks.  But we’ll worry about that small detail in a moment. 

North Dakota State plays in the Summit League.  In basketball terms, the only thing I think about when I hear the word “Summit” is Pat Summitt, legendary coach of the eight-time national champion Tennessee Lady Vols.  Never heard of the Summit League?  Neither had I.  I was familiar with NDSU but I didn’t know they were even in a league.  Clearly I need to be Bison-slapped.

The Summit League consists of Oral Roberts, Southern Utah, Western Illinois, Oakland, Centenary, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, IPFW, IUPUI and UMKC.  If you’re scoring at home we can do a little grouping.  We have one religious-based school, two directional schools, Oakland which is in Detroit, Centenary which is in New Jersey, two “State” schools and three schools that might be unions.

This is one wacky league both in school names and geography.  But if you want to talk basketball, they’re as passionate, competitive  and intense as any other league in America.

When top-seeded NDSU defeated Oakland 66-64 on a Ben Woodside jumper with three seconds left, the Bison not only won the Summit League championship, they became the first school to make the NCAA tournament in their first year of eligibility since Louisiana Lafayette did it in 1972.  The game was played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and broadcast on ESPN2 which made the game the first sporting event ever broadcast live on national television from South Dakota.

Can we just shut down both North and South Dakota right now for an extended holiday?

CBS had a special feature on NDSU prior to Sunday’s SEC championship game, ESPN and ESPNRadio gave them great coverage, Fox Sports talked them up – you wonder if the BBC, CTV and Russian Television had correspondents in the area as well. 

Would you blame them?  You can talk about No. 1 seeds UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh and North Carolina all you want.  For my money, they’re not nearly as interesting as the Bison from Fargo.

And what of Fargo?  Most people around the country know next to nothing about this friendly little city of approximately 100,000 residents except for the movie Fargo . . . which has about as much to to do with Fargo as Hoosiers has to do with hockey.

So, here are two things you need to know about Fargo:  The Historic Fargo Theatre is one of the most gorgeous structures you could ever want to visit.  And folks there are in love with their Bison the same way any other college basketball towns with names like Durham, Chapel Hill and Lawrence are with their teams.

And while the joy of NDSU fans making their first NCAA tournament appearance far outweighs the reality of playing Kansas, stranger things have happened.

It was back on March 22, 1992 in the Midwest Regional’s second round that No. 9 seed UTEP took on No. 1 seed Kansas at Dayton’s UD Arena.  Kansas was thought to be a near lock to get to the Final Four and conventional wisdom said the Jayhawks would easily dispose of UTEP.  Conventional wisdom went out the window as UTEP upset the Jayhawks 66-60.  And just one week ago, although seeded No. 1 in the Big 12 Conference tournament, Kansas was upset by Baylor 71-64.

Conventional wisdom and college basketball rarely walk hand-in-hand in March.

Then again, it’s probably a safe bet in the KU-NDSU game, right?  This one has conventional wisdom winning out, no questions asked.  Maybe Kansas isn’t as good as last year’s championship team but they’re still Kansas.  26-6 NDSU may be a good team but honestly – North Dakota State University?  Beating Kansas?  Come on.  Oh sure, Bison Nation will be out in force but this is Rock Chalk Jayhawk, Phog Allen, Dr. James Naismeth, defending national champions . . .

It’s also Weber State, Hampton, Coppin State, Santa Clara and Richmond.  These were No. 14 and 15 seeds that rocked the tournament with first round upsets. 

Did I mention NDSU is a No. 14 seed?

Photo credit dacotahsgirl

Filed Under: College BasketballFargo

About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.

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  1. Bison slapped… hmmm… has a certain ring to it.

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  2. territerri says:

    Go BISON! I don’t normally get too worked up about any sports team, but I make an exception for the Bison. My son goes to school at NDSU, so therefore, I am a fan. (Make sure you pronounce it properly. It’s “Bye-zuhn.” This was my first NDSU sports lesson last year.) And I do believe they are capable of pulling off an upset. I watched their football team do it in a game last year. They were way behind with seconds left to go in the game. Half the crowd left early and I’m sure were kicking themselves to find out later the Bison had won and won big.

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  3. Chris Gade says:

    ok so why does everyone hate on NDSU/North Dakota…seriously ….what the crap dude ….where do the get off dissing us all the time …..we are just as competitive as any other school….we played Florida to open the season last year and yes we lost but played very close with them most of the game ….and as i recall they won there second national title in as many years …..so we can and do play with the best of the best…..instead of bashing us all the time …let our game on fri speak for itself

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  4. CGabriel says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by. A question for you: Did you actually read what I wrote? Which part of this post, specifically, did you believe I bashed NDSU the most? Was it where I said the Summit League was “as passionate, competitive and intense as any other league in America.” Or was it near the end when I set up the scenario of how conventional wisdom usually goes out the window in the NCAA tournament thereby making a very clear implication that I believed NDSU had a real shot at winning? I mean, what the crap dude?

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  5. Mitch says:

    I’m an NDSU alum, graduated in 1993 and now work at a Big 10 university (Hawkeyes). It was wonderful to see NDSU make the NCAA tournament.

    There are a couple other NDSU alumni who are working here and we’ll be cheering you on come Friday.

    Congrats to the BBall team and Coach. WELL DONE!!

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  6. CGabriel says:

    Hi Mitch, great to have you stop by. I’d love to see your Bison from NDSU beat Kansas this week. And I have nothing against Kansas – actually, I’ve always had great admiration and fondness for their program with respect to how they run it and how they stay-put in legendary Allen Fieldhouse instead of going to the more generic and antiseptic palaces colleges (and pro teams) feel compelled to build. Two weeks from now, we’ll be talking about teams like Pitt, UNC or Louisville…….but for my money, it’s the NDSU’s that make March so special.

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  7. CGabriel says:

    Now let me get this straight: You live in a great sports town blessed to have four pro teams and a Big Ten program…..and you normally don’t get too worked up over most sports teams? We need to have a talk about this. 🙂

    Glad to hear you’ve embrace your son’s Bison as your own!! And good for you that you didn’t leave that football game early. I never leave any game early for the very reason you detailed. You never know when a great comeback is going to happen…those are the special moments that make sports great theatre.

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  8. Mike says:

    Ahh… the NCAA dicussion is on! In spite of the pearls of wisdom you dispensed to me and the rest of the gang a while back, I let my girlfriend talk me into filling out a bracket. I made no bones about the fact that I have little to no knowledge of college sports, so everything in it was purely a guess. You never know… maybe I’ll have beginner’s luck.

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  9. CGabriel says:

    Mike, this concerns me a great deal. Your girlfriend – she seems like trouble. Trouble, as in “HOOPS RINGER!” My first thought was an intervention but clearly, it’s too late. Please get back to me on Monday after the first and second rounds are complete. I just want to make sure you’re still ok. “Beginner’s luck?” You’ve heard of ICBM’s, correct? That girlfrirend of yours, she’s an IGBM: Ingenious Great Basketball Mind. She’s looking to take you down, and take you down hard.

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  10. Cara Cambridge says:

    If you are visiting Minneapolis for the games this weekend you need to know the best place to park when attending the games at the Metrodome. Downtown East Parking Ramp! The MOST convenient underground parking is across the street from the Metrodome and easy to find! Go to 4th Street and Park Avenue with the entrance off Park and we will have the famous “Parking Girls” out in full force the entire weekend!
    Call (612) 338-2778 for more details. Travel Safe and hope to see you this weekend!

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  11. CGabriel says:

    Cara, I need to point out at no time does Blog Harbor endorse one parking ramp over another. Although Blog Harbor is based in Minneapolis, we believe all parking ramps are created equal . . . even when one is further away from the Metrodome than another. And I’ll admit I’m not familiar with the “Parking Girls.” The only people I’ve seen promoting parking around the Metrodome were elderly Norweigian men with Vikings horns. Still, anything Blog Harbor can do to promote “Minnesota Nice” is heartily endorsed.

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