MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND picked to finish ninth in the league
Two seasons ago, UND made a surprising run at a Big Sky Conference men's basketball postseason championship. Last season, UND lost to Weber State in the league postseason title game. This season, UND is picked to finish ninth in the league. "It's...
Two seasons ago, UND made a surprising run at a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball postseason championship. Last season, UND lost to Weber State in the league postseason title game.
This season, UND is picked to finish ninth in the league.
“It’s definitely hard to accept being one game away from the (NCAA) tournament last season to being picked ninth this season,” said UND guard Quinton Hooker during the program’s annual media day Wednesday. “But that’s what happens when you lose a lot of seniors who played a big role. We’re accepting that and ready to get after it.
“The guys we have on our team have had the underdog mentality their whole lives. We’re used to it and ready to prove people wrong.”
UND lost a lot from last season’s runner-up Big Sky team. North Dakota lost five of its top six scorers and three of those seniors were 1,000-point scorers, including Troy Huff - one of the more electrifying UND players in recent history.
The ninth-place ranking in both the Big Sky coaches’ and media poll didn’t surprise ninth-year UND coach Brian Jones.
“Looking at it on paper, there is a little merit to that,” said Jones. “But as coaches and players, we know what we have in the locker room.
“Can we earn that respect back? What price are they willing to pay to earn that notoriety? With a bunch of new faces and new roles this season, they need to understand how hard it is to be good and consistent.”
UND lost Huff, four-year starter Aaron Anderson, Jamal Webb and Josh Schuler to graduation. That group was the foundation of UND’s early success in the Big Sky.
Looking for characters
The identity of this season’s team, which makes its debut Nov. 15 at Northern Iowa, has yet to surface.
“We’re still finding our identity,” said senior forward Jaron Nash. “From practices, it’s our toughness. In practice, guys are really getting after it.”
Hooker and Nash are the likely candidates to surface as this season’s team leaders. They both played significant minutes last season.
And Hooker is expected to run the show from the point.
“Quinton has it in him,” said Jones. “He’s a natural leader. He has the will and drive to do it. And he learned well under Aaron and Jamal. Now it’s his time; his and Jaron’s.”
This season’s team features nine players with UND experience and eight that have yet to play for the program. Nash is the team’s top returning scorer (10.8 ppg).
In two Big Sky seasons, UND has made some noise. But the program now has a new look and has lost considerable scoring.
Jones said this group could be more of a blue-collar group, one that may be more physical than past UND teams.
“We have to be more physical,” said Jones. “That’s the nature of this league. Look at Montana and Weber State, the teams that are mainstays in this league. The teams that are mainstays are physical, from guards to forwards to post play.
“Year in and year out, we want to be in the same conversation as teams like Montana and Weber State.”