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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 20 2009

Gaining experience: Self says NDSU squad's seasoning reminds him of last season's Kansas squad

MINNEAPOLIS – Bill Self waxed some basketball philosophy Thursday.

“They say the longer you play the game, the slower the game becomes,” the Kansas men’s basketball coach said during an NCAA tournament news conference in the Metrodome. “And I think North Dakota State is a prime example of that.”

Self, who has a 167-39 record with one national championship during his six years at Kansas, was referring to the experience his team will face today when it plays NDSU in an NCAA tournament opening-round game.

Already documented nationwide, the Bison enter their first NCAA tournament with four fifth-year seniors in Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann. That group will go against the defending national champions – but a team with only one senior in the lineup and the bulk of its scoring coming from two juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.

Historically in this tournament when a mid-major team like NDSU upsets a high-major like Kansas, it is a senior-dominated lineup that can cause problems for a more talented, but younger team.

“I think there’s more pressure on the bigger school,” Woodside said. “I don’t think there is much pressure on us at all.”

“The top seed is expected to win,” Winkelman said. “We’re not.”

“As far as pressure goes, no, that’s long gone,” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips. “But, there is zero chance that a team coached as well as Kansas is going to overlook us in any way, it’s just not happening. We’re going to have to play very, very well.”

While the Bison have 15 of their 16 games at the mid-major level, Kansas has lost two of its last three games – including an 84-65 loss at Texas Tech. That’s a team that runs a motion offense very similar to NDSU’s offense that is averaging 81 points a game.

“We have been working hard on defending, since we didn’t do a good job on the motion versus Texas Tech,” Self said. “They (the Bison) really are a hard team to scout because their movement is dictated by what the defense does as opposed to what they have pre-set in their head to do. And that’s much harder to do with a young team than it is with a veteran team.”

Self is the first to admit that experience is a big reason his team was able to win last year’s national title. And he is well aware that a loss would make Kansas 6-4 as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament – including what Self described as two first-round “flameouts” three and four years ago.

But he also knows he has one of the best point guards in the country in junior Sherron Collins and a sophomore center in Cole Aldrich, who has many projecting him to leave college early for the NBA draft.

Aldrich believes Collins is the reason the Jayhawks were able to win the Big 12 Conference regular-season title. Collins thinks differently.

“The young fellas that came in,” Collins said. “They made my transition easier because they wanted to learn and get better.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com