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March 20, 2013

Game Preview & Predictions: North Dakota State

Game Preview

The Western Michigan Broncos (20-12) will host North Dakota State (24-9) in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Postseason Tournament at University Arena tonight. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m.

Both teams finished the regular season third in their respective conferences. The Broncos lost to the Ohio Bobcats 74-63 in the MAC tournament semifinals, while the Bison finished runner-up in the Summit League tournament finals against the regular season champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

This will be the Broncos fourth post-season appearance under current head coach Steve Hawkins (NCAA - 2004, NIT - 2005, CIT - 2011, CBI - 2013). Western Michigan is 2-3 overall in postseason tournaments under Hawkins. WMU is 1-1 all-time against North Dakota State, including an 86-73 loss in Fargo last season.

Each of North Dakota State's nine losses this season -- Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota St. (2), Akron, Western Illinois (2), Oakland, Green Bay -- came to opponents participating in postseason tournaments.

The Bison are led by 2011-2012 Summit League Newcomer of the Year and CollegeInsider.com Freshman All-American guard Lawrence Alexander, who averages 10.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.0 steals per game.

Junior forwards Taylor Braun, TrayVonn Wright, and Marshall Bjorklund round out NDSU's expected starting lineup and primary threats both offensively and defensively. Braun is the scorer of the bunch as he puts up close to 16 points per contest, and has especially had the hot hand lately averaging 21.5 points per game over his last four games.

The 6-foot-8 center Bjorklund averages 11.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game game, and boasts an impressive .673% from the floor. Bjorklund has led both the Bison and the Summit League overall two straight seasons in field goal percentage.

Freshman guard Kory Brown is expected to complete the NDSU starting unit, while junior shooting guard Mike Felt will likely be the long-range scoring threat coming off the Bison bench.

The winner of tonight's contest will travel to Laramie, Wyoming for a second round match-up against the Wyoming Cowboys out of the Mountain West Conference. The Cowboys (20-13) won in dramatic fashion last night on a buzzer-beater as time expired to defeat Lehigh (21-10) 67-66 in their first-round CBI match-up at home.


Game Predictions

Brian Persky: North Dakota State is a very good, well-rounded and balanced team. Last year's Bronco squad experienced that last year as they went into Fargo and got beat up pretty bad on the road. That being said, the Broncos are a completely different team this year. But the real kicker here for me is all of the experience NDSU brings back -- this isn't their first rodeo.

North Dakota St. remembers what it was like last year losing in a similar scenario in the first round of the CBI on the road at Wyoming. Don't think for a second NDSU head coach Saul Phillips and his players aren't using this game as an opportunity for growth and momentum heading into next season where the Bison are likely be the heavy Summit League favorites.

I think this will be a closely contested game throughout. But with heavy legs and a long season (when you factor in the Europe trip), I'm not sure WMU has much more left in the tank this season. It's a great opportunity for both teams to get much needed postseason experience heading into the 2013-2014 season, but I think NDSU comes into University Arena wanting this one a little bit more.

Score Prediction: North Dakota St. 78, Western Michigan 71

David James: This is not going to be an easy match-up for WMU. Both the Broncos and the Bison of North Dakota State finished third in their respective conferences, but NDSU put together a 12-4 record in the Summit League, which is slotted just one spot below the MAC in the conference RPI rankings.

Shayne Whittington and Darius Paul could well have their way down low against a slightly undersized Bison front line, but NDSU is a primarily guard-driven team, which has certainly given WMU its share of problems this season. In the end, I'll have to go the way I've gone for much of the year, and that's giving the edge to the home team in a close match-up.

Score Prediction: Western Michigan 68, North Dakota St. 64

D.J. Duckett: NDSU is a quality opponent for this squad and they are steamed they didn't receive a bid to the NIT. I think that home field advantage will be huge in this match-up. Look for seniors Nate Hutcheson and Brandon Pokley to step up, as they get one more game in University Arena. I see WMU getting the win here. Not easily, but grinding it out and getting the job done.

Score Prediction: Western Michigan 77, North Dakota St. 74

Brandon Fitzsimons: The Bison aren't a bad team at all. They held their own against NCAA teams Minnesota, Akron, and South Dakota St and narrowly missed the big dance themselves. WMU may be at home, but this should be all Bison most of the game.

Score Prediction: North Dakota State 74, Western Michigan 56

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