Of fast cars and UND hoops

Men and women raring to get going at home, starting this weekend, after motoring through ‘16-‘17 campaigns

UND men's basketball team

North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ basketball was represented in the NCAA National Tournament and the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Both the men’s (above) and women’s squads are beginning the work needed to duplicate those efforts this year and beyond.

When it comes to post-season play in college basketball, there’s the Big Dance and the National Invitational Tournaments (NITs) that carry the most prestige.

North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ basketball was represented in both tournaments last year. The men captured its first Big Sky Conference championship and tournament title, securing its first-ever trip to the NCAA National Tournament, A.K.A. “The Big Dance.” The women, not to be outdone, also claimed a Big Sky Conference championship and eventual bid to the Women’s NIT.

UND’s men’s and women’s basketball squads have been in the shop early this season, tinkering with the engines that could give them another shot at those big stages – if not this year – maybe next.

At the programs’ media day recently, women’s basketball coach Travis Brewster took the car analogy full bore in a video presentation:

Horsepower to surprise

After seeing all the fast cars detailed in Coach Brew’s video, UND men’s coach Brian Jones joked about the lemons he drove as a college kid in Iowa.

“Where’s all the cool cars that we grew up with? I had the one with three hubcaps,” Jones quipped. “The young kids today have the nice rides.”

Brian Jones

Brian Jones, UND head men’s basketball coach

Jones reflected on the last year’s team successes that took his Fighting Hawks to the top of the Big Sky summit and on to the NCAA Tournament, where Quinton Hooker and a supporting cast of now-departed mates gave highly-ranked Arizona all it could handle in the first round.

Guard Geno Crandall, a 6’4” preseason First Team All Big Sky pick, and Connor Avants, 6’7” forward/center combo, is all that remains of last year’s starting lineup, with Cortez Seales, a 6’4” guard, coming off the bench to take on a starter role.

Jones, who is entering his 12th year at the helm, said, like was the case with last year’s success, UND may be looking at a two-year process to get back to the top.

“Not saying we’re going to be low (this season),” he said. “I think this team is going to be very talented, and they’re going to be together for the next two years – that’s our big-picture plan.”

That said, Jones added that his squad, picked as high as fifth in the 13-member Big Sky, has the horsepower under the hood to surprise a lot of folks this year. He’s looking forward to better back court guard play than the team possessed last season as well as bigger front-court players who can score inside and stretch the court with perimeter makes.

“We’re not going to win the Big Sky tomorrow, we’re not going to win it in November and were not going to win it in early December,” Jones said. “Our goal is to continue to grow together and as our season unfolds were going to make our stretch run.

“That’s what we’ve always done but it’s going to take some time this year just because of all the new faces.

Future dates

After coming out a four-team tournament in Hawaii 2-1, the men have their sights set on a game with the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln at 1 p.m., Sunday. After that, they’ll be back in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center for three straight home contests.

Future dates with big-time programs, Creighton and Gonzaga, a 2017 Final Four runner-up, loom ahead. UND’s men begin Big Sky play on Dec. 29, at Idaho.

UND women's basketball 2017

Front row (left to right): Faith Dooley, Megan Dailey, Jill Morton, Bailey Strand, Grace Sawatzke, Fallyn Freije, Lexi Klabo, Melissa Dailey, Mikayla Reinke, Ally Gorres. Back row: Kaila Burroughs, Melissa Leet, Director of Operations Jessica Kielpinski, Assistant Coach Adam Jacobson, Assistant Coach Mallory Bernhard, Head Coach Travis Brewster, Assistant Coach Katelin Oney, Strength and Conditioning Coach Nate Baukol, Athletic Trainer Steph Nunez, Julia Fleecs, Akealy Moton. Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

Challenging women’s slate

Brewster expounded on his current line up and this season’s outlook, talking about the strong junior class, comprising leaders such as West Fargo’s Lexi Klabo, a 6’2” forward/center combo; and Edmore, N.D., native, Fallyn Freije, (pronounced Free –Jee) a 6’0” forward. The home-state duo provided a strong 1-2 scoring punch during its sophomore campaign.

Travis Brewster

Travis Brewster, UND head women’s basketball coach

“Now they have to navigate a new role and that’s leadership — being leaders in the locker room, being leaders on the floor, being leaders in classroom and being leaders away from the floor,” Brewster said. “And they’ve embraced that role.”

Despite having only one senior on the roster and slew of new faces, the UND women were picked as high as second in the Big Sky in pre-season polls.

They’ll have to do it first by navigating through a challenging out-of-conference slate that has featured Oregon State (No. 17/18 in latest NCAA Top 25 poll) and South Dakota State (as high as No. 3 in mid-major polls).

UND lost its games against Oregon State and SDSU but not without a fight. UND was tied with Oregon State at half and only fell by 10 in the end. The Fighting Hawks also stayed with SDSU until late in the fourth quarter, when the host Jackrabbits pulled a way for a 14-point win.

The Fighting Hawks look to get on track this week, starting at 2 p.m., Sunday, with a home game against Massachusetts of the Atlantic 10 Conference.  They’ll also host a tough Northern Iowa squad on Dec. 2, and head town to Texas for a date with No. 3 Baylor on Dec. 5.

“The schedule is full of opportunities,” Brewster said. “We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves real quick.”

The Fighting Hawks women get rolling with Big Sky Conference games on Dec. 28, also at Idaho.

Quick glance

Men:

Who’s back:

Geno Crandall, Jr., guard

Connor Avants, Jr., forward/center

Cortez Seales, Jr., guard

Kienan Walter, So., forward

Billy Brown, So., guard

 Who’s new:

Marlon Stewart, Jr., guard (transfer from Creighton)

Jafar Kinsey, Jr., guard (JUCO transfer)

Dale Jones, Sr., forward (transfer from Iowa)

Tray Buchanan, Fr., guard

Jaquan McCauley, Jr., guard (JUCO transfer)

Garrett Franken, Fr., forward

Carter Brooks, So., forward (transfer from Concordia-St. Paul)

Aanen Moody, Fr., guard

Ethan Igbanugo, Fr., guard

Key losses:

Quinton Hooker

Drick Bernstine (grad transfer)

Carson Shanks (grad transfer)

Corey Baldwin

 

Women:

Who’s back:

Lexi Kabo, Jr., forward/center

Fallyn Freije, Jr., forward

Bailey Strand, Jr., guard

Grace Sawatzke, Jr., guard

Jill Morton, Jr., guard

Chastity Franklin, Sr., guard

Kaila Burroughs, Jr., guard

Who’s new:

Melissa Dailey, Jr., guard (JUCO transfer)

Megan Dailey, Jr., guard (JUCO transfer)

Faith Dooley, Sr., center (UND volleyball player)

Mikayla Reinke, Fr., guard

Julia Fleecs, Fr., forward

Akealy Moton, Fr., forward

Melissa Leet, Fr., center

Key losses:

Leah Szabla

Samantha Roscoe

Makailah Dyer