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Golden Gophers vs. North Dakota State Bison

7:00 pm CT at Williams Arena

Radio: WCCO Radio 830 AM

TV: ESPN3.com

The Gophers head back home after a hugely successful stint in Puerto Rico where they took down then top-10 North Carolina and the underrated West Virginia Mountaineers en route to the Tip-Off Tournament title and subsequent top-25 national ranking – a spot the team hasn’t found itself in since about one year ago before a sub-par showing a the 76 Classic.

In Puerto Rico, Minnesota showcased top-to-bottom roster talent; from Al Nolen running a spectacular point and wreaking havoc on defense to Ralph Sampson III unleashing his sky hook and Trevor Mbakwe bullying opponents on both sides of the ball.  The Gophers showed a completeness and drive to finish off opponents that hasn’t been seen in a long time.

Having faced five straight NCAA Tournament-caliber squads, Minnesota now opens up the softest part of their schedule that leads them into the conference season.  The first team to try to stand in their way is the Bison from North Dakota State, who make their nearly-annual pilgrimage to Williams Arena to attempt their best David impression.

Gone are the days of Ben Woodside and the Bison team that nearly dispatched the Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament two years ago.  In fact, NDSU had a severe hangover from that season last year, finishing a disappointing sixth in the Summit League behind an 11-18 record.  Last year’s season was derailed by injuries and graduation, yes, but the Bison just weren’t as talented as the 26-win, 2008 squad.

This season the Bison own a 3-1 record, having taken down UC-Santa Barbara, Denver and NAIA-level Mayville State.  In their season opener at the BTI Invitational, NDSU gave Oregon a scare before falling in overtime 97-92.

The NDSU squad coming to Williams Arena on Wednesday night has few ties to the 2008 team that had so much success and field a very young team.  What’s more, the Bison come into Minneapolis without a player taller than 6’9″ on their roster and no one over 6’7″ that sees significant playing time.  Matching Minnesota’s level of physicality will be the biggest challenge for NDSU, as they will have their hands full trying to score and compete for rebounds with Colton Iverson, Sampson and Mbakwe living under the basket.

The biggest concern for Minnesota could be the letdown they experience having just beaten two nationally-recognized teams in UNC and West Virginia.  NDSU has already shown that they can hang with a school like Oregon who, granted, isn’t of the highest caliber, but provides an idea of what the Bison are capable of.  With NDSU fans likely packing The Barn, it’ll be important for the Gophers to stick to their size and talent advantage and just take care of business.

Who to watch for the Gophers: The offense will revolve around getting people like Iverson, Sampson and Mbakwe the ball.  The Bison have no inside answer for either of the three and a performance like Ralph’s against Western Kentucky is not out of the question.  If NDSU is forced to double down inside, look for Blake Hoffarber to have open shots all night as well.

What to watch for the Gophers: Minnesota’s overall talent advantage should frustrate the Bison all night especially when NDSU has the ball.  They will likely be forced to air it out from the perimeter, much like WKU and Siena were, which should provide ample opportunities for the Gopher bigs to own the boards and bang down low.  When all is said and done, it wouldn’t be surprising to see two or three double-doubles show up in the box score for Minnesota.

Who to watch for the Bison: The team doesn’t have a Woodside-type anymore, and their best player is Michael Tveidt, the only rostered senior.  Tveidt led the team in scoring and steals last year and picked up right where he left off, dropping 27 points in the team’s season-opening loss to Oregon while averaging 16 ppg so far.  If anyone is going to cause problems for Minnesota, it will be Tveidt.  Down low, the Bison presence belongs to Eric Carlson from Shakopee.  Carlson is the second-leading scorer on the team at 13 ppg and put up 21 during a win against Denver.  However, Carlson likely will have trouble getting anything going down low.

What to watch for the Bison: Will the Bison feed off the Fargo contingent that will likely make the trip to Minneapolis?  If so, that could be a factor that sparks the team into playing the Gophers tough.  However, being disadvantaged at almost every position will likely be too much for NDSU to overcome.  Expect the Bison to try to air it out and get hot from behind the three-point line.  If Tveidt finds his shot, the Gophers could find themselves in a close game,  but he’ll also likely find himself acquainted with Al Nolen.

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