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SPOKANE, Wash. — Workers were busy hammering out the final NCAA tournament details at the Spokane Arena on Tuesday afternoon. The facility is celebrating its 20th birthday this summer, although it already gave itself one present a couple of years ago: black seats – 12,500 of them.

North Dakota State isn’t going to care if they are 12,500 pink seats when the Bison face Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament’s second-round matchup on Thursday. The best part for the Bison is they’re getting a rare chance to play a team from a high-major conference on a neutral floor.

“It just has more of an even feel to it,” said Bison guard Taylor Braun. “I think it will give us a better chance.”

It’s one of the reasons upsets happen in the NCAA tournament. NDSU is a No. 12 seed and the Sooners are fifth.

“If we hosted Big Ten or Big 12 teams on a regular basis, you might see a few more top-20 or top-50 wins out of us,” said NDSU head coach Saul Phillips. “But that’s not the way the world works. Life on the food chain dictates the way it is, but now we finally have a chance on a neutral floor.”

NDSU has played three high-majors at home, including a 70-69 loss this season to Southern Mississippi. The Bison had Kansas State in 2006 and Colorado State in 2007, with NDSU beating CSU 83-69, but losing 83-81 to K-State in a game that went down to the final seconds. The K-State and CSU contracts were each a two-for-one, with the Bison traveling for the first two games.

“I think you would see more upsets if high-majors came to schools like ours,” Braun said. “But they have the dollars, and that’s where we go. It’s nice being here. Different scenery. Change of pace. Different environment. It’s more suitable to us, so it’s exciting.”

The Bison (25-6) are 1-1 against high-majors on the road this year, with a win at Notre Dame and a loss at Ohio State. The Sooners hosted mid-major programs North Texas, Idaho, Arkansas-Little Rock, Mercer, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. They lost to Tech and winning the other five.

“Of course, I’d rather be playing them at home,” OU head coach Lon Kruger said of the Bison. “The neutral court is not as appealing, but that’s the NCAA. They’re a good team, and we know we have to play well.”

NDSU is well-versed in teams good enough to make a postseason tournament: Ten of its 23 opponents qualified for the NCAA, the NIT, the Tournament or the College Basketball Invitational.

Making the NCAAs are Delaware, Ohio State and Western Michigan. Saint Mary’s (Calif.) and Southern Mississippi were selected to the NIT, Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, Towson University (Md.), North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha will play in the CIT and South Dakota State was picked for the CBI.

That list doesn’t include Notre Dame, which folded late in the year and finished 15-17. The Fighting Irish were 9-2 when NDSU beat them 73-69 in South Bend, Ind. A good finish and the Bison would have had an even better RPI than their current No. 35.

“You go back and look at our schedule, it looks pretty good now,” Phillips said. “It was hard. We have an element of being battle tested. This group has that cumulative experience over four or five years and by the end of their fifth year with us they are pretty mature guys.”

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.