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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 06 2009

Bison wear target: Woodside, Phillips understand what’s at stake

North Dakota State’s men’s basketball players are well aware that a top seed does not guarantee a ticket to the dance.

“We understand what’s at stake here,” said Bison senior point guard Ben Woodside.

What’s at stake is an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament – known as “The Big Dance,” the World Series of college basketball.

In their first year of postseason eligibility at the Division I level, the Bison are three wins away from the dance. It all starts Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D., when the Bison face Centenary in a Summit League tournament quarterfinal game.

It ends next Tuesday night – when the tournament champion starts dancing.

“You’ve got eight teams out there that are playing for their lives,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “And what you get is some of the best theater and some of the best drama in sports.

“It’s a blast to be a part of that as opposed to last year when we beat Oral Roberts, put the balls away and waited until October to start up again.”

While the Bison are hoping to make history in becoming the first NDSU team to reach the NCAA tournament, history shows it won’t be easy.

In the 24 seasons the Summit League has held a postseason tournament (23 as the Mid-Continent Conference), the top seed has won 14 times. Five times, the top seed has failed to reach the championship game.

Four times, the No. 2 seed has won it all. The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds have each won it twice. The No. 5 seed won it once.

And in perhaps the most amazing tournament run, No. 7-seeded Oakland won the 2005 postseason tournament – knocking off top-seeded Oral Roberts 61-60 on a last-second 3-pointer in the championship game.

“You can’t beat the emotion and the experience of all that,” said Oakland coach Greg Kampe, whose team this year enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed. “Every time someone wins, it’s the greatest thing in the world. Every time somebody loses, it’s death. It really is our NCAA tournament. Because there is no way a team from our league will make it to the Final Four.”

Just getting to “The Dance” is the goal. And NDSU, which clinched a regular-season championship with last Saturday’s 75-72 win at four-time defending champion Oral Roberts, is the heavy favorite to reach the championship game.

Oral Roberts and Oakland are expected to duke it out in the semifinals.

“I would be surprised if somebody besides those three teams would win the tournament,” said Oral Roberts head coach Scott Sutton.

But stranger things have happened. Just look at Kampe’s 2005 Oakland team. Just look at No. 5 seed Southern Utah – the only team to beat NDSU at the Bison Sports Arena this year.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I thought we played pretty well in that game and it wasn’t enough to beat them at home,” Phillips said of the 74-69 Valentine’s Day loss. “There is a reason they call it March Madness.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be

found at www.areavoices.com