Latest in our series of looks at a Summit League team’s offseason. Today, North Dakota State
F Grant Nelson to Alabama
G Luke Yoder to Illinois Wesleyan (Division 2)
G Dezmond McKinney to Bellarmine
When it comes to losses it really all comes down to Nelson. Coach Dave Richman has be excited to be returning the majority of the core outside of Nelson but there is no denying that losing Nelson is a huge loss for the Bison. Last season Nelson received All-Summit 1st team, All defense, and All-Summit Tournament honors. Nicknamed the Unicorn because of his unique skill set seldom seen in the Summit for a player of his size. If you spoke with a North Dakota State fan at the end of last season they were hopeful that Nelson would return but his loss seemed inevitable. Nelson declared for the NBA draft, got feedback, and returned to college entering the transfer portal. Nelson had interest from many Power 5 teams, including national powers. In the end, Nelson chose Alabama, a program that often reloads through the portal and is a traditional top 15 program.
Yoder was brought in from the Division 3 ranks and the Bison were hoping he could help their backcourt. Yoder had a few moments but it never seemed like he really belonged at this level. Yoder transferred to a lower level which is probably a better fit. Coming into last season there was some thought that McKinney may be able to carve out a bigger role after some losses in the backcourt. However, McKinney was lost due to injury in the offseason and never played. He moved on to Bellarmine for another chance at division one success.
F Jeremiah Burke from Iowa Lakes (JUCO)
G Eli Bradley Freshman
G Darik Dissette Freshman
F Mark Nickolich-Wilson Freshman
It generally takes some time for freshmen to break into a Dave Richman rotation. Combine that with the amount of returning contributors and it seems likely that Bradley, Dissette, and Nickolich-Wilson will spend more time learning than playing this season. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of available minutes for Bradley and Dissette, especially given the returning backcourt. The same may not be said for the frontcourt.
Burke was his conference player of the year and a JUCO All-American last season. Burke averaged 14.8 pts and 9.9 rebounds last year, while also shooting 40% from behind the arc. Burke has an inside-outside game that seems ready to contribute early this season. No one replaces what is lost with Nelson transferring but it seems Burke may soften the blow. There’s a decent chance Burke is a starter early next season. Have a small hunch he surprises many this season, although it’s rare a player’s first year with the Bison is a big one.
Todd’s First Thought
Had Nelson returned to Fargo I would have had the Bison as the runaway favorites in the Summit League this season. That said even without Nelson they are in the conversation as the favorite to win the league. With Oral Roberts going through a coaching change and South Dakota State graduating some veteran presence, the window to the top may be as open as it has been in a couple of years.
There are a couple of reasons for optimism for Bison fans. The first is forward Andrew Morgan. Morgan is a classic back-to-the-basket big man and this is his chance to shine. Morgan will likely see a big increase in production this season. Burke is more of an outside shooter and slasher and that should open up the paint for Morgan. Another veteran is guard Boden Skunberg. Skunberg took a huge step forward in his junior campaign and is a likely preseason all-conference and maybe even player-of-the-year candidate. Skunberg jumped from 6 points per game two years ago to 15 last year. Add in the return of young guards Tajavis Miller, Jacari White, Damari Wheeler-Thomas, and Lance Waddles. All were slow to start last year but continued to grow throughout the year. Miller has the look of a future Summit League star and all 4 are legitimate Summit League talents. While losing Nelson hurts badly with the growth of the others on the roster, this year’s team will likely be better at the start of the season than last year’s team was to start last season. It remains to be seen if they are better at the end of this season.