Tonight's contest between the K-State Wildcats and North Dakota
Sioux Fighting Hawks is, on the surface, not much more than a scrimmage. North Dakota has had a rough season so far, and the boys in purple are favored by A Whole Lot. So the absence of your normal game preview isn't that much of a loss; there's really not a great deal of trenchant analysis to be put forward from the Wildcat perspective.
North Dakota is ranked 293 in KenPom, and their adjusted offense is ranked 328. Defensively they're more toward the middle of the pack, but that horrible offense facing the #27 defense in adjusted defensive efficiency is, well, not a good sign for the visitors.
So rather than try and give you a bunch of keys to the game ("Show up and take the game seriously" should suffice), we're going to take a different angle this afternoon: we reached out to an old friend to talk about the Hawks, their history, and the nickname. You probably recognize Fetch as a contributor over at Rock Chalk Talk, but his association with the Jayhawks is as a post-grad. He got his bachelors degree from North Dakota, and covers them extensively at UND Hoops, which you should check out because I asked nice and everything.
Jon: North Dakota had some periodic success back in the sadly defunct North Central Conference, but a long run of dominance dried up in the mid-nineties. The (then) Sioux did grab a couple of pieces of Great West hardware after moving to Division I, but with no automatic bid that didn't really give UND much exposure. How would you grade the transition so far?
Fetch: I think it's been going fairly well. We won back to back Great West Conference titles, which was nice, but like you said that only got us an auto bid to the CIT so it was tough to get our name out there a bit. Our coach, Brian Jones, is a pretty good recruiter and has nabbed a couple guys who probably should be playing at a higher level -- most notably freshman guard Geno Crandall who looks like a future all Big Sky type player -- but some of the stuff he runs is just awful. At this level I think it's more important to have a guy who can get the most out of his guys and be good at Xs and Os rather than one who recruits well, so I think this might be his last year.
(Ed. Note: This is Jones's 10th year at UND; he oversaw their transition to Division I and has been there ever since. So if Fetch is right, it will be a bittersweet separation.)
Jon: How are things going this season, in your estimation? What have been the highs and lows?
Fetch: It's been pretty awful. I was cautiously optimistic with Quinton Hooker and Crandall that we'd have one of the Big Sky's better backcourts, and maybe our front court would develop to the point where we could finish middle of the pack in the Big Sky and have an outside shot at the autobid (especially with the conference tourney moved to a neutral site, I think we will see more lower seeded teams in the title game than in years past).
Sadly, it hasn't really worked out that way. The offense is just horrific. They don't get many good looks, and then can't make those looks, so I have a hard time seeing them being really competitive without being able to score. I will say they played decently in stretches against Wisconsin, but now it looks like that was more false hope than anything.
Jon: Quinton Hooker seems to be finding the hoop quite a bit. What sort of offense do the Hawks run to enable him, and is there anything particularly exploitable about their scheme?
Fetch: What offense do they run indeed. If you figure it out, let me know. Hooker is really good though. He's been hampered by a leg injury so he hasn't been at full strength, but when he has been, he's been good. He's efficient inside, just good enough outside to make you respect his shot (though he's not shooting it well this season) and he refuses to turn the ball over. I imagine K-State will want the ball out of his hands as much as possible.
As for exploitable things about the scheme, just let them shoot jumpers. Problem solved.
Jon: What can we expect from the UND defense? More importantly, are they adept at playing the zone? (Because if so, they have a chance...)
Fetch: We'll maybe play some zone, but it's mostly a man to man with as much perimeter pressure as we can handle. One thing the team does excel at is defensive rebounding, so if K-State has an off shooting night I am hopeful we can make them go one and done enough to where it is a decently close game.
Jon: Finally, because you just can't do a North Dakota Q&A without asking: just how mad are you about the new nickname?
Fetch: As for the nickname, I have spilled much internet ink on this but my take is basically this: I grew up a Sioux and graduated a Sioux, so obviously I have some attachment to the name. That said, if the members of the Sioux tribe think it's offensive I have no problem changing it. I don't think colleges should be in the business of discriminating and making people feel unwelcome.
That said, I wish it had been members of the tribe pushing that movement rather than the NCAA or white people from UND. The notion that the Native Americans need benevolent white people to tell them when to be offended rubs me the wrong way. My biggest complaint, though, is that we went with the most boring uninspiring nickname ever, probably mostly because it had Fighting in front of it. Out of the final five choices I wanted Roughriders, but a return to Flickertails would have been fine with me, or a number of other original choices.
Instead we are now like every other team that changed its name from a Native American one. For a place that likes to tout how unique we are, that missed the mark pretty badly.
Big thanks to Fetch for pitching in on very short notice, and again please do go give him some traffic at UND Hoops.