IUPUI and North Dakota State make for the most even match up for the first round, and it may not even be an entertaining game. Well, it will be entertaining from the aspect of it probably being a close game for 39 straight minutes, but not so entertaining that there will be a load of missed shots, probably some pretty bad calls by the referees. Really, what else do you expect out of a 4 versus 5 game? It’s like watching a movie where there is a good story and plot line in place, but all of the protagonists keep doing dumb mistakes to have you screaming “DON’T SHOOT THAT GUY, IT’S GOING TO CAUSE A LOT OF PROBLEMS…WHY DID YOU SHOOT THAT GUY!!!”
Both of these teams faced some injury issues in the last month. The Bison were without their leading scorer, Paul Miller*, for 6 straight games in February. The Bison lost 4 of their last 6 games, and Miller made it back for the last game of the season against Denver and went 1-of-9 from the floor in an 11 point loss.
*Miller averaged 15.9 ppg (8th in SL), 42 FG%, 41.8 3ptFG% (9th in SL), and 4.9 rpg)
The Jaguars were without their starting forward, Evan Hall**, for 7 straight games from late January to mid February. They were also missing their top guard off the bench, Jordan Pickett***, for two games against Omaha and North Dakota State in February. Pickett scored 20 points off the bench for the Jaguars and hit the game winning shot against the Bison the first time these two teams played. IUPUI lost 5 of the last 7 games, with the injuries, and the early success in conference for both of these teams, makes them both tough outs in the conference tournament.
**Hall averaged 5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 52 FG%
***Pickett averaged 9.5 ppg, 39 fg%, 83 FT% (5th in SL)
Both of these teams appear to have all of their major players back for this game, and both of these teams were healthy enough to have all of their key players in their first game; and that game ended in a three point made field goal by Pickett, and then a 75 footer that just missed by Paul Miller.
The teams seem just about even, but IUPUI should have the slight edge on North Dakota State. The Jaguars are slightly deeper, have a slightly better core of post players, and are slightly better at defense. IUPUI is 2nd in the conference in steals and are capable of disrupting the North Dakota State weave offense.
The Bison also have the worst free throw shooting in the conference, so in a close game when fouling becomes prominent at the end of the game, the Bison can lose their edge in a close game. In their first game, IUPUI’s defense was able to force North Dakota State’s inbound passes to all of the worst free throw shooters for the Bison; and then the Jaguars were able to knock down shots to make the small comeback.
North Dakota State really cannot reasonably win this game if Paul Miller is back but not actually healthy. If he’s in the game, but going 1-of-9, and not able to keep up with IUPUI’s transition offense; why wouldn’t it be better to just go with guards Kory Brown and Malik Clements more than Miller? Brown averaged 12 points 7.2 rebounds in 6 games without Miller. Clements, though, started the year off well and then really seemed to struggle as the year went on…which seems common for newcomers. Seeing him in person in Omaha, made me feel like he was either injured or just not in great shape. He appeared to struggle whenever Omaha would get out and run, and IUPUI likes to steal the ball and get out and run…maybe not as much as Omaha, but they like to play that way. It actually made me kind of happy that he never committed to the Mavericks.
Anyway, the winner of this game will face the winner of IPFW & South Dakota…which will more than likely be IPFW, but obviously not guaranteed. Both teams provide for a bad match up for IPFW in the second round, as they combined to go 3-1 over the regular season champion. North Dakota State held IPFW to 46 points in Fargo, a team that averaged a shade over 80 points per game; and IUPUI swept the ‘Dons by a total of 5 points, but they were able to keep up offensively with IPFW by scoring 84 points in the first game and 80 in the second game.