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Basketball Season Preview: Pessimism Abounds

October 24, 2014

After North Dakota made the conference tournament championship game last year, optimism that UND were a game from the  NCAA tournament was quickly replaced by the reality that all five starters off last year’s team are gone, and they’ll again have to build up their talent base.

As an alum of both the University of North Dakota and the University of Kansas, I get both sides of the college basketball spectrum. Kansas lost two of the top three picks in this past NBA Draft, but were able to reload with a pair of consensus top 10 recruits, as well as a fast rising point guard just because. North Dakota, meanwhile, did not lose anyone nearly as good as those two, but who they lost was arguably more valuable. Troy Huff was 18th in usage rate and 22nd in shots taken. Nationally. He was also relatively efficient in taking that many shots, which combined with the fact that UND can’t pull in elite recruits, means that losing Huff is a low blow to the Sioux.

The lone bit of good news for UND fans is that Jaron Nash was granted another year of eligibility. He shot 57% from two last year and was a very good rebounder. He’s also a power 5 type athlete playing at a Big Sky school, which is always cause for optimism.

That’s about where it ends, however. One quick and dirty way to see what everyone has returning is to plot a four quadrant graph of a team’s returning minutes compared to how good they were last year. This doesn’t measure impactful recruiting, but in a league where the level of recruits is fairly even across the board, this is less important.

Big Sky Minutes Returning vs. 2013-14 Quality | Create Infographics

(note: there has been some trouble with embedding the chart, so if you cannot see it, click here)

Normally in these charts you want to be in the top right, but because the better your team the lower your KenPom rank, the bottom right is where you want to be.

UND ends up about where we’d expect. They retain among the fewest amount of minutes in the Big Sky from a middle of the pack team, KenPom wise. It’s a recipe for a down year.

But looking at the chart, a pretty obvious (to me) favorite emerged. While Weber State was picked by both the coaches and the media to win the league, I think Eastern Washington is set up to take the title. My friend Jon Reed had them pegged to finish 5th in the league in his early rankings, and told me he would probably have them fourth in his final rankings. (you can read his Big Sky preview at ESPN here)

Eastern Washington was not much worse than Montana or Weber State last year, return everybody, and has the early favorite for Big Sky player of the year in Junior Tyler Harvey, who played more minutes than all but 5 people in the country, and shot very efficiently. They’ll have to grab some bench minutes from somewhere, but this looks like the best team in the league to me, barring any injuries.

Back to North Dakota. They get a pair of interesting transfers in Carson Shanks, a transfer from Utah State who will be eligible once the fall semester ends, and Terrel de Rouen, a transfer from New Mexico State who will be, I believe, eligible immediately.

De Rouen struggled a bit for New Mexico St as a Freshman in 2012-13, playing under 20 minutes per  game, shooting just 43% from two, and posting a higher turnover rate than assist rate. He also had some off the court problems and injury problems. He’s a pretty high risk transfer, but UND will be very thin in the backcourt so it makes a bit of sense.

Shanks, meanwhile, posted decent numbers as a high schooler in Minnesota, and left Utah State after just a semester to be closer to home.

UND also has a pair of recruits this year. Geno Crandall is a 6’2″ point guard out of Minneapolis who won a 3A state title this year. He reportedly passes the ball well and has a high basketball IQ, so it’s a possibility he can see some big minutes right away at point guard. Bryce Cashman helped tiny West Platte HS become one of the best high school programs in Missouri. I’m also intrigued by walk on Kraig Shields, who was named first team all district in high school in Kyle, Texas.

This year will likely be a building year for UND. There isn’t enough talent returning to Grand Forks to make a serious run at a Big Sky title or tournament title, but the good news is that they look to be setting up for another run at a NCAA tournament berth in a couple years.

Nebraska-Omaha Preview

March 18, 2014

For the third straight year, North Dakota will take part in the Collegeinsiders.com Tournament (CIT) and, while it will still be a bit of an uphill battle, this is their most winnable game in postseason play.

UND’s opponent, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, finished sixth in the Summit League but could not take part in the conference tournament due to having just moved up to Division 1. The Mavericks are favored by 9 and have a 76% chance to win according to KenPom, but hopefully fans won’t be turning out much for the CIT, which would lessen the home court advantage a bit. Read more…

North Dakota Wins Its First Big Sky Game – And It’s a Road Game!

January 4, 2013

UND went to Pocatello last night and took down Idaho State in what would normally be a fairly nondescript conference win. However, this one was big for two reasons: first, UND actually won a road game and second, it was their first ever Big Sky win.

Idaho State is the worst team in the league, so take all stats with a grain of salt, but they did allow Idaho State to score only .84 points per possession. However, that is a bit of fools gold as Idaho State shot 56% from two and only turned it over on 14% of their possessions. Their problems stemmed from taking too many threes, and making just 2 of them. Because teams who shoot a lot of threes tend to have a problem with offensive rebounds, Idaho State only rebounded 9% of their misses. That allowed UND to withstand Idaho State’s excellent shooting day inside.

Offensively, UND benefitted most from grabbing 40% of their misses. They have been a terrible offensive rebounding team (mostly because they send everyone back on defense to slow the pace down) in every year they’ve been a D1 program, so this was more of a one game anomaly helped by the fact that Idaho State ranks 325th nationally in defensive rebounding. I wouldn’t expect it to continue, so it’s imperative that they hit a few more shots, especially from three where they have been disappointing this year.

Individually UND got a big boost from Troy Huff. I’ve been critical of Huff in his time at UND because of his terrible efficiency, but he was 5-9 from two last night and has to take a lot of tough shots. If he did that every night we would see UND’s offense start to look a lot better. Speaking of looking better, Aaron Anderson was 3-6 from three last night, raising his season percentage to 37.7%. Given how he has shot it from beyond the arc so far in his college career, he needs to shoot it every time he gets an open look.

Congrats to UND for their first ever Big Sky win last night, and any road win is a good road win, but given how bad Idaho State was and how (relatively) well they were able to stop UND I still have the same questions I did heading into Big Sky play.

Rocco Grimaldi Tallies Assist in 8-0 US Win over Germany

December 27, 2012

The United States took its first step towards redemption today after a disappointing 7th place finish in 2012 with an 8-0 demolition of Germany.

Rocco Grimaldi didn’t have a goal in the win but he did assist on Union College defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere’s power play snipe in the second period.

Backhand Shelf writer Justin Bourne wasn’t terribly impressed with Grimaldi:

Bourne went even further later in the game:

I’m certainly not going to hammer Bourne here. Offensively, Grimaldi didn’t have a great game. However, he was probably the Americans’ best forward in the one pre-tournament game he played, and he played well defensively in this one, stopping a Germany breakaway with a fantastic backcheck. Also, it seems like this is the first time Bourne watched Grimaldi, and while first impressions are important and tend to stick with people, they’re often wrong, or at least give people a stronger opinion than they should have.

Nonetheless, Grimaldi will have more chances to prove people wrong, starting tomorrow morning as the US takes on Russia.

What Happened to Jamal Webb

December 27, 2012

UND point guard Jamal Webb didn’t set the world on fire as a freshman, but there was plenty there to suggest that he would be a good player going forward. His offensive rating was a tick below average, but a lot of that was due to him (understandably for a Freshman) having a high turnover rate. He also had an assist rate just under 30%, which was a top 100 rate in the entire country. Webb was also a good shooter, with an eFG of around 52%. His numbers held steady as a Sophomore, with an eFG just under 52% and though his assist rate fell, so did his turnover rate.

But this season, Webb has been a totally different player. His eFG has plummeted to an abysmal 40.8% and his assist rate has dropped to 20%. Never one to take care of the ball, he’s now turning it over at a 35% clip.

What happened? While it is too early to say, UND’s non conference slate is tougher than it has been in the past couple of years, so Webb has struggled against the better athletes he’s seen so far. Will that continue into Big Sky play? They have played just two conference games so far, and Webb was awful: he shot 2-9 (0-3 from three) and had 0 assists and 5 turnovers against Southern Utah and shot 3-8 (1-4 from three) and had 3 assists and 3 turnovers against Northern Colorado.

Keep in mind that those two teams are a combined 6-13 on the season so far, and are two of the worse teams in the Big Sky. If Webb struggles against those teams, there’s no telling how he will perform against the better schools.

If UND wants to make a run at the NCAA tournament though, he will have to. Southern Utah and Northern Colorado are two schools where UND should expect wins (even though Southern was on the road, they are terrible and should have been a win). They’ve given away two wins so far, making it even tougher for them to finish in the top 4 of the league. There’s obviously not going to be an at large bid this year for the Big Sky, so it won’t really matter, but they’re not doing themselves any favors in terms of giving them better matchups in the conference tournament.

UND gets back at it on January 3rd against Idaho State and we should all be watching Jamal Webb. If he improves, UND will be in good shape to maybe make a surprise run in the conference tournament. If he doesn’t, he might be spending his senior year watching someone else running the team.

Can North Dakota Win The Big Sky?

November 5, 2012

With UND coming off back to back Great West tournament titles and with a win over Montana last season, a lot of UND fans should be optimistic for how things will go in their first Big Sky season. So it was only natural when the preseason polls were released and we found out that the coaches had UND pegged as the 4th best team in the league and the media has them picked to finish 6th.
Contrast this with the more statistically inclined predictions from Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner:

Here is how Pomeroy (a very worthwhile site to subscribe to by the way) had the Big Sky shaking down (overall rank in parentheses):

1. Montana (103)

2. Northern Colorado (170)

3. Weber State (187)

4. North Dakota (203)

5. Southern Utah (263)

6. Sacramento State (271)

7. Eastern Washington (278)

8. Portland State (279)

9. Montana State (311)

10. Northern Arizona (325)

11. Idaho State (328)

Going by KenPom, there is a pretty clear top four before the bottom tends to fall out a bit (really probably a top 3 but more on that in a bit).

Hanner, meanwhile, published his preseason projections at Basketball Prospectus, and they were quite the undertaking (for more, read this link):

1. Montana (140)

2. Weber State (179)

3. Northern Colorado (187)

4. North Dakota (195)

5. Southern Utah (221)

6. Montana State (256)

7. Eastern Washington (283)

8. Sacramento State (289)

9. Idaho State (299)

10. Portland State (313)

11. Northern Arizona (316)
There’s a little more bunching at the top here in Hanner’s predictions, but the end result is similar for North Dakota fans: a top 4 finish should be a fairly straight forward proposition, and there are a couple reasons to believe it could be even better: Read more…

Game 3: Bradley Recap

November 21, 2011

The Sioux suffered their first loss of the season to MVC foe Bradley in a game that was even more defensive than it looked just by looking at the scoreline. The Sioux held Bradley under a point per possession but managed just .86 PPP themselves in what hopefully will be their worst offensive output of the season.

The Sioux defense probably wasn’t as good as the PPP data indicates as they allowed Bradley to shoot 57% from inside the arc and were benefited by the Braves shooting just 21% from three. They also kept Bradley off the glass well, allowing only 19.4% of the rebounds to be snagged, another great effort by this team on the glass.

Offensively the Sioux took care of the ball well, turning it over at just a 16.3% clip, but couldn’t put the ball in the whole, shooting 40% from two and just 6-25 from three. They also shot 13 fewer free throws than Bradley, a pretty poor effort inside.

Read more…

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