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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.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. scout permalink
    October 25, 2014 4:50 pm

    Kraig Shields probably not a walk on ….UND adds Texas prep forward to 2014 signing class
    University of North Dakota head men’s basketball coach Brian Jones announced on Tuesday that Texas prep forward Kraig Shields has signed a National Letter of Intent to play for his program beginning with the 2014-15 season.
    http://WWW.UNDSPORTS.COM. Walk on do not sign a LOI.

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