Kentucky will be back in Rupp Arena tonight for its second home game of the season and they’ll look to pick up consecutive victories for the first time this season. It’ll be another late tip at 9:00 pm with the SEC Network in the house. Friend of KSR Tom Hart and Jon Sundvold will be on the call.
After a tough matchup with Southern Illinois, the schedule will lighten up for John Calipari’s squad the rest of November. Per KenPom, the Wildcats will not face a top 100 opponent until UNC Greensboro comes to Lexington on the first weekend in December. Now is the time to grow for this young roster and to get some players that have gotten off to a rocky start some confidence.
Nuts and Bolts
Brian Jones is in his 13th season in Grand Forks and this program has come a long way under his watch. The Fighting Hawks were in Division II when Jones arrived for the 2006-07 season and he helped this program make the transition to Divison I. Under him they’ve seen a fair share of success.
UND has been to the postseason in six of the last eight seasons highlighted by a Big Sky title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017. Brian Jones worked for Steve Alford for nearly a decade at Iowa and they do not play slow. Look for the Fighting Hawks to not be afraid to push the pace. UND has some real rebounding inefficiencies so they will hardly ever crash the offensive glass. Kentucky will have plenty of second chance points opportunities.
This will be the first ever meeting between the two programs and will be UND’s first ever game against a current SEC opponent. This past Saturday, UND picked up a nice non-conference road win over Milwaukee. After spending the last few years in the Big Sky, 2017-18 will be UND’s first season in the Summit League. In the preseason, the Fighting Hawks were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference after a 12-20 run last season.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is currently a 27-point favorite with a total of 152. That’s a projected final score of 89.5-62.5. On the season, Kentucky is 0-2 against the spread while North Dakota is 0-1 against the number.
To look for UND’s go-to player all you have to do is look at the wing. Cortez Seales is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound senior from Iowa who emerged as a scoring threat last season for the Fighting Hawks. Through two games this season, Seales leads the team in points and shot attempts. The former sixth man of the year as in the Big Sky does most of his damage slashing towards the basket. Look for UND to invert the offense and give the southpaw some touches on the block.
Joining Cortez Seales in the backcourt will be junior Billy Brown at the point guard spot. After a reserve role last season, the upperclassmen has seen starter’s minutes to start the year. However, UND’s best returning player was point guard Marlon Stewart and he has yet to play this season. The former Creighton Blue Jay gives this offense a nice scoring combo with Seales and without him it’s taking away a lot of firepower.
Without the volume shooting of Marlon Stewart, UND has been playing two freshmen a lot in Davids Atelbauers and Aanen Moody. Both of these guys can stretch the floor and hit from deep.
The Fighting Hawks have some questions about perimeter depth, but they really don’t have those issues in the post. UND has gotten some very productive minutes from their bigs to start the season.
After averaging 11.6 points and six rebounds in a full-time starting role last season, senior Conner Avants is back for his senior season and he is UND’s best scoring option in the paint. The undersized 6-foot-7 and 235-pound low block scorer is very efficient with the basketball. He shot .569 from the field last season and has hit 10-of-13 shots to start this year. He is this team’s only proven rebounder and if you keep him off the glass it’s going to be a long day in the paint for this frontline. He may be this squad’s best passer.
Joining Conner Avants in the post will be junior Kienan Walter who is the floor spacer. The 6-foot-9 lanky big is a threat to hit from deep. Joining him in this role will be freshman Elijah Hazekamp who has provided instant scoring off of the bench.
UND has athletic deficiencies in the paint, but they are efficient with the basketball and space the floor. This will make Kentucky’s half-court defense communicate and move.
Keys to Victory
- In the win over Southern Illinois, we may have seen Kentucky establish an early identity for the season. In that win, the Wildcats dominated the glass and guarded a perimeter oriented offense without fouling. Against North Dakota, they should continue to do the same. UK must create extra possessions via the offensive glass and not give UND any cheap buckets. Set the tone early and this one will get out of hand quickly.
- In the win over SIU, we saw the emergence of Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards after very poor performances against Duke. Now some of UK’s other players need to begin turning the corner. The Wildcats desperately need Tyler Herro to bust out of this early season shooting slump and for P.J. Washington to be a consistent scorer in the half-court. Look for UK to get them both early touches on designed sets.
- Anytime you’re playing an inferior opponent, the biggest thing you should worry about is matching their intensity. Kentucky will handle their business as long as they give effort while playing. Due to what seems like early season confidence issues, we have not seen that version of this Kentucky squad for extended minutes since the Bahamas trip. Can Kentucky hit shots and get stops early to get some swagger back? Even if they don’t, the young guys must learn to consistently play hard when things aren’t going well.
For years, North Dakota was known as the ‘Fighting Sioux’ but that changed nearly two decades ago. Along with many other NCAA teams in the early 2000s, UND changed their name due to their original mascot being considered derogatory to Native Americans.
In 2oo5, the NCAA declared North Dakota and 18 other schools have “hostile and abusive” mascots or images in related to Native Americans. If these schools would not change the logos, they would be facing NCAA sanctions that would limit the school’s postseason participation. Since then, schools such as UND, Syracuse and Marquette have changed their nicknames.
However, that decision wasn’t made without controversy. After the school decided to change its name they made the decision to keep ownership of the “Fighting Sioux” trademark. But with that there is one big catch. UND must still sell items with the logo and name to prove that they have ownership.
So, nearly two decades later, this controversy still brews on with the school itself selling merchandise that is prohibited by the NCAA.