In our "Contender Countdown" look at North Dakota State, we noted that the team was being undervalued in preseason polls for two main reasons: 1) players make the biggest jump in productivity from their freshman to sophomore years, and NDSU has the most returning sophomores of any team in the conference, and 2) the Bison had the second-best defense in league play last year, and it was getting even better throughout the last month of the year. Knowing this, it is not a surprise that the team went 3-0 at last weekend's multi-team event. The Bison sophomores were impressive, and the defense was incredibly staunch as they held three opponents to an average of 0.854 points per possession.
What was surprising, however, was how much efficiency they had on the offensive side of the ball. NDSU averaged 1.07 points per trip on the offensive end, which includes a not-so-righteous performance against San Francisco (they averaged 1.14 in the other two contests). So what is different for the Bison this year? Well, they might have finally found a point guard in Lawrence Alexander who can generate offense for his teammates. Though he is a true freshman, the Illinois native played 82 percent of minutes last weekend and finished the tournament with an assist rate of 39 percent. To put this mark in perspective, that's a Reggie Hamilton/Nate Wolters kind of rate. Perhaps most importantly, Alexander was able to ignite the fastbreak to help his team benefit from all the stops it makes on the defensive end. Here are two examples.
In the above clip Alexander is leading a fastbreak and connects with a streaking Taylor Braun for a quick two points.
In this clip we see Alexander once again pushing the ball up the court before the San Francisco defense can get set. He is able to hit TrayVonn Wright for a two-point attempt. Wright misses, but it wasn't for a lack of a good set-up.
Alexander has instantly given Coach Saul Phillips the playmaker at the point guard position that has been missing in Fargo for the past few seasons. When you pair the speedy Alexander alongside athletic players like Braun and Wright, it makes for an exciting brand of basketball. The freshman point guard will likely have some growing pains this year, but so far he has been a great help for the Bison while on the court.