A couple of modest winning streaks clash at the Edmund Joyce Center Wednesday evening when North Dakota State visits South Bend to take on Notre Dame. The visiting Bison come in riding a four game winning streak while the Fighting Irish is winners of two consecutive. After a heavy schedule of marquee matchups Tuesday, this one may be overlooked as a great game between two experienced teams with dancing aspirations. Notre Dame opens as an 8.5-point home favorite.
Let’s start with the Bison. Understand that North Dakota State would have played in the NCAA Tournament last year if it weren’t for Nate Wolters playing for the other Dakota’s in-state equivalent. Wolters is the type of player the Summit Conference sees every decade plus. Now, he is gone and NDSU is left with an extremely veteran basketball team hungry to play on the biggest stage. With the exception of Dexter Werner – a freshman who’s played in just one game this season – North Dakota State’s four leading scorers are all seniors and were all integral parts of last year’s squad. Taylor Braun plays like the type of guy many imagine when they think of a Notre Dame basketball player. A 6’7″ big that stretches the floor, Braun has range all the way out to the three-point line where he shoots over 40 percent this season. Marshall Bjorklund is the Bison’s banger and TrayVonn Wright plays a very similar game to Braun to round out the front court. The three senior forwards lead the Bison in scoring and another senior, Mike Felt, controls the pace. North Dakota State is a quality basketball team with shooters all over the floor. It’s also still looking for a resume win after failing at Saint Mary’s and at home to Southern Miss earlier this season.
Notre Dame doesn’t play very differently than what we’ve been accustomed to in the past. A terrific passing team with above-average shooting and some decent size, Notre Dame won’t overwhelm NDSU with athleticism but will make it tough on their defense with a combination of size and quickness the Bison just don’t see on a game-to-game basis. What the Irish does do very well is acquire overlooked talent in sibling combos. Notre Dame is a few years removed from the Ben Hansbrough era but Jerian Grant is quietly having a phenomenal season a year before his younger brother, Jerami will truly shine at Syracuse. Grant is nearly averaging 20 points per game. With a huge wingspan and a ton of athleticism and a quiet demeanor that loves to fit in with a team, think Luol Deng.
Notre Dame hasn’t necessarily impressed as of late. Its last two wins were relatively narrow against Delaware and Bryant (it didn’t cover either). Secondly, NDSU plays a style similar to Indiana State, which beat Notre Dame on its home floor less than a month ago. This isn’t a great matchup at all for Notre Dame to win in style. There isn’t anything, besides being a quality team, that makes me think NDSU will spring the upset but it should be a legitimately competitive game between two teams that play similarly. Look for Grant’s athleticism to be the difference against the slower forwards of North Dakota State. It won’t be enough to win by double-digits, though. Buy this one up to +9 for ten cents and bet on NDSU keeping it single-digits.
Free Pick: North Dakota State +9 (-120)