The UND Men's Basketball Team gets the season started tonight and I am legitmately excited about the possibilities this year.
I'm so excited that I'm making the call right now... So everyone can see it. UND will win the Big Sky this year. Yeah... I'm Bold!!!
I've been watching this Senior class since they were freshmen and they have been special since they were freshmen.
Senior: Troy Huff is a serious candidate for Big Sky player of the year.
Senior: Jamal Webb is an experienced, smart, talented floor general at the point.
Senior: Aaron Anderson is as quick as anybody in the conference and capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor.
Senior: Josh Schuler is a veteran with outside shooting ability.
Senior: Brandon Brekke is a hard nosed guy in the post with some decent post moves. Hopefully Brandon's concussion issues don't impede him.
This group has been together and successful since they were freshmen and they have been a treat to watch play over the past 3 years. The 4th year is going to be awesome.
In addition to that group... Alonzo Traylor and Jaron Nash are also seniors and by all reports... very solid basketball players. We saw Alonzo for a month or so last year before he was shut down and he showed me enough that it's OK to assume that he will be a solid contributor this year. Jaron Nash is a transfer from Texas Tech and his eligibility to play for UND has been much anticipated. The coaches and players know what Nash can do and they have been waiting patiently for Jaron to be eligible... He's eligible now.
In addition to those 7 Seniors... That's right 7 talented Seniors who know that they are Seniors and this is the last chance. So... That's 7 talented and motivated Seniors... In addition to those 7 seniors... Lenni Antwi and Shane Benton return and both have the ability to play solid supporting roles on this team.
In addition to that... Two 6-9 JUCO Transfers have been added in Chad Calcaterra and Ryan Salmonson. I haven't seen them play but size was a need and having a couple of bigs could allow Coach Jones to tailor the matchups when facing other teams with size. At the very least... they should be able to provide a difficulty for opposing teams trying to work the ball down low.
In addition to that... Quinton Hooker. Quinton is a true freshmen from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. He was one of the top Basketball players in the state of Minnesota last year. By all reports... He was a gem of a recruit... Quinton is the real deal and I'm sure Coach Jones is having a hard time deciding between redshirting Hooker or putting him on the floor immediately because... by all reports... Quinton has shown the ability to play with this group from the get go.
If UND Doesn't win the Big Sky conference... In my mind... There will be two reasons that they won't.
1. Weber State... Weber State is very good... Very Good and they just keep reloading.
2. Free Throws... They improved at the line last year but I'll be honest... Free Throws haven't been a strong point and Free Throws a lot of the time is the difference between Wins and Losses.
I think points 1 and 2 can be overcome. 7 talented motivated Seniors one on squad is something very few teams have. This team has enough depth to overcome the injuries that will happen over the course of a season... whatever they may be. The lineup is large enough to be flexible to play any type of game and play it well and the athleticism of this team is off the charts. Huff and Anderson are athletes. They are quick... They can run... They can jump.
If the team understands that it's a team game and that their teammates can help them. The Sky is the Limit... or should I say the Big Sky is not the limit. The NCAA Tourney is a very real possibility. I hope they are able to take that offensive energy that they have and maintain it while growing it into a constant defensive energy as well. If the team takes pride in making defensive stops against a challenging schedule... This is going to be a great year.
The schedule is also perfect in my mind. In addition to what will always be a challenging Big Sky schedule. UND will play Wisconsin, Oregon, Butler and Bowling Green on the road while hosting South Dakota State and NDSU at home. That's 6 quality non-conference opponents that win or lose will provide elevated competition that will only make the team stronger as the year goes on. Wisconsin, Oregon and Butler not only compete in the Big Ten, Pac 12 and Big East respectively but they are considered to be near the top of those conferences. NDSU and SDSU have both participated in March Madness over the past few years and I think UND has the potential to pull off an upset over Wisconsin, Oregon or Butler and I think they can beat Bowling Green, SDSU and... and... NDSU.
Winning the Big Sky is a bold statement so I ask for a little wiggle room. The Wiggle Room I ask for is this. UND will either win the regular season conference title or the Big Sky Tourney Title or both. Either title will count toward my prediction.
As UND fans... It doesn't matter the sport... we've been looking for a team that has the pieces and the potential for everything to fall into place. This team is that exactly. Don't miss watching this team play this year. Fill the Betty for home games... it's going to be a special year. This team is entertaining to watch. Be a part of it. I know I'm excited... Can you tell?