MEN'S BASKETBALL: After two weeks on the road, UND returns home for games against Montana teams
UND is in its second Big Sky Conference season. And North Dakota coach Brian Jones said there still is a lot to learn about the league.
But he believes there is one constant for the new kid on the Big Sky block.
“We’ve always been the underdog, the one team that still has to prove ourselves,” said Jones. “I tell our guys: Don’t expect anything; earn everything. We’re still in that boat. And we’ll be in that boat for a couple more years.
“Even as a coach I’m still learning what this league is all about.”
UND, however, has a chance to loosen that underdog collar this week. In perhaps two of UND’s biggest games of its Big Sky era, North Dakota hosts Montana State tonight and Montana on Saturday.
UND is 7-5 in the Big Sky and 10-12 overall. UND and three other teams — including Montana — are tied for second in the league behind 10-2 Weber State. Two wins this week could help separate UND from the second-place logjam and into some clear space as the league season begins to wind down.
“It’s a big week but I don’t want to make too much of it,” said Jones. “But we constantly talk about February. It’s moving month; you’re either moving up or you’re moving down. So we just have to focus on ourselves and continue to get better.
“We’ll think small. We’ll worry about Montana State and then we’ll focus on Montana on Friday.”
UND has had success against Montana State (6-6, 11-12). North Dakota has won all three of its games against the Bobcats since it became a league member.
Montana, however, is a different story. The Grizzlies, 12-9 overall, have made life difficult on UND and the rest of the league for that matter.
However, the Griz did not have a great start to this season after winning the Big Sky last year and advancing to the NCAA tournament.
But the Griz have won four straight as they had to Northern Colorado for tonight’s league game.
“We’ve gotten better on the defensive end and on the glass,” said Montana coach Wayne Tinkle.
Montana also made some lineup changes that have helped. The Grizzlies have resorted to a smaller lineup, one led by 6-foot-5 Kareem Jamar — arguably the top player in the Big Sky.
“Jamar is a throwback player,” said Jones. “He can post you; drive on you; shoot it. But he truly allows the game to come to him and he’s patient in what he does. He’s put that team on his back. Our fans are in store for watching a special player.”
The Grizzlies’ strength this season is from the perimeter. A third of Montana’s points this season have come from beyond the arc.
“We’ve had to adjust our lineup because we haven’t had the contributions from our bigs like we were hoping for,” said Tinkle. “There is a method to our madness.”
Throughout the season, Jones said the Big Sky winner could have three, four or perhaps five losses. Tinkle shares that belief.
“It’ll be a heck of a stretch run,” he said.
UND coach Brian Jones will coach tonight’s game barefoot as he’s joining the ranks of coaches across the country who are supporting Samaritan’s Feet.
Samaritan’s Feet is an organization that puts shoes on people around the world with one of their primary fundraising platforms being “Barefoot Coaching.” Funds raised will go towards “Back To School ND 2014” to help Samaritan’s Feet reach its goal of serving at least 2,014 children in North Dakota this summer through shoe distributions at four locations across the state.
Fans can show their support for Jones by attending the game, as well as making a donation. Fans can also donate online at: http://bit.ly/BarefootJones