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Home loss to North Dakota State doesn’t help Notre Dame’s meager resume

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With the preseason favorites to win the Summit League visiting South Bend, tonight’s game against North Dakota State was no gimme for Notre Dame. And that’s exactly how it played out, as Marshall Bjorklund and his experienced teammates proved to be too much for the Fighting Irish to handle. Bjorklund scored 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting and as a team North Dakota State shot 50.9% from the field as they won 73-69.

Bjorklund may be a new name for some fans, but the fact of the matter is that he’s one of the better big men around. He entered Wednesday’s game shooting 69.7% from the field with all of his field goal attempts coming inside of the arc, and that percentage should go up based upon his performance at Notre Dame. The Irish didn’t have an answer for the senior until he fouled out, attempting the switch from man-to-man (Garrick Sherman got the assignment for much of the night) and zone to no avail.

Joining Bjorklund in double figures were Lawrence Alexander (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Taylor Braun (13 points). To say the least, it wasn’t difficult to see why Saul Phillips’ team is expected by many to win the Summit League and make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

In addition to their defensive issues Notre Dame also struggled offensively, as they shot 34.6% from the field with leading scorer Jerian Grant (nine points) missing all five of his attempts (9-for-11 FT). While Notre Dame’s performed well offensively this season, entering the game ranked 16th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, they’ve done so with their seven wins coming against teams with a combined record of 18-44. Against Indiana State and North Dakota State Notre Dame failed to shoot at least 40% in either game (they shot 51.5% at Iowa).

With the offensive options at Mike Brey’s disposal it may be safe to say that they’ll figure things out on that end of the floor, especially when it comes to Pat Connaughton attempting 20 shots while Grant and Eric Atkins combine for 12 field goal attempts. That will likely work itself out and it isn’t as if Connaughton isn’t a capable scorer, but in order for the Irish to be at their best they need Grant and Atkins to have a greater impact than they did on Wednesday night.

For North Dakota State this is a good for both themselves and the Summit League, while for Notre Dame Saturday’s game against Indiana takes on added importance. Their “best” win to date was a five-point win over Delaware, and with the now three defeats on their resume the Irish are in need of a resume-building win. Sure they’re once again in a very strong league, but no team wants to enter conference play without a non-conference victory of note.

Indiana and Ohio State (December 21) represent opportunities for Notre Dame, and due to their start to the season those contests have become even more important.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.