UND begins their 3rd Year in the Summit League and their 2nd year under head coach Paul Sather, hoping to build off of their successful run in the Summit League Tournament
Review of Last Year
Year 1 of the Sather Era certainly had its ups and downs during the regular season. They certainly had some major accomplishments, such as the first win over a Power 5 School when they beat Nebraska in December. There was also the exciting buzzing beating win at home over NDSU. There also was the struggles against the I-29/NCC Schools that have plagued the Hawks since they joined the conference and the struggle to develop any depth behind a solid starting lineup. They did improved in their overall record and their conference record in their 2nd year in the league. It was when they got to Sioux Falls for the Summit Tournament where they made the most noise, stunning USD in the first round, then taking out IPFW for the semis before running out of steam in the finals against the in-state rival, NDSU. Of course, the full force of COVID hit the very next day on the sport world. (I remember that morning hearing that the UND WBB Head coach was fired and thinking that would have been the big story in Grand Forks. Little did I know….)
The offseason was a whirlwind of changes as you would expect with a new coaching staff. In addition to losing 3 players to graduation, 5 players decided to transfer out of the program. In order to fill the holes, Sather struck both the transfer and the high school route to fill the gaps. Expectations are certainly there to build off of their success in Sioux Falls to finish above .500 and finish in the top half of the conference, so Year 2 of the Sather project will be certainly exciting to watch!
The Coaching Staff
Head Coach: Paul Sather. 2nd Year at UND (16th year overall as a head coach). 15-18 record at UND, 7-9 record in Summit, 297-169 overall in coaching career (Black Hills State (D2), Northern State (D2), UND)
Assistant Coach: Jamie Stevens (2nd Year at UND)
Assistant Coach: Zach Horstman (2nd Year at UND)
Assistant Coach: Danijel Mihailovic (3rd Year at UND)
Marlon Stewart (Guard)
Kienan Walter (Forward)
Billy Brown (Guard)
The big loss in this group is Stewart, who was their do everything point guard. The 1st team All-Summit player put together his best season as a Hawk, averaging 18.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 5.1 apg. He definitely had a flair for the dramatic, with his game winners against NDSU and the dagger jumper against USD in the first round of the Summit Tournament. Walter and Brown were solid starters for UND. Walter also produced his best season as a Hawk, significantly improving his free throw percentage in his last year and shot just above 38% from 3. Brown didn’t duplicate his 3 point shooting from 2018-19, but was still was solid in his role and provided some punch during the Summit League Tournament.
Davids Atelbauers (Guard) -> Transferred to Mary (D2)
Aanen Moody (Guard) -> Transferred to Southern Utah
Marko Coudreau (Forward) -> Transferred to Sioux Falls (D2)
Elijah Hazekamp (Forward) -> Transferred to Truman (D2)
Zac Saddler (Forward) -> Left Team (not sure where he transferred to)
As typical with new staff, there is usually some roster turnover and last year wasn’t any different with 5 players going to new homes. Most of these players didn’t get much time in the rotation. The biggest loss from this group is Moody, who transferred out to Southern Utah. He was instant offense from the bench but a injury derailed most of his season. Good luck to these former UND athletes in their new homes and hope for their continued success on the hardwood.
Filip Rebraca (Forward, 6’9 222 lb) JR Sombor, Serbia
The big man from Serbia took a big step forward in his sophomore year. He certainly thrived in Sather’s “attack the heart of the paint” philosophy in offense. His numbers improved across the board, averaging 14.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 57.9% from the field. He led the league in double-doubles with 13, and was top 5 in rebounding in the league. There was stretches where he was dominant on both ends of the floor and was rejecting shots at will. He improved his free throw percentage but that’s still an area that he can improve upon. He didn’t show as much range from 3 as he did in his freshman year, but he is certainly capable of shooting that 12-15 foot short corner jumper. He needs to work through double teams better as he struggled with turnovers when he got doubled. Would it be surprising if he averaged a double-double next year? Not really. He is one of the better big men in the conference and I cannot wait to see what he can bring to the table this year.
De’Sean Allen-Eikens (Guard, 6’6 219 lb) Redshirt So Williston N.D.
DAE certainly lived up to expectations as he gave UND the best performance from a freshman since Troy Huff in 2010. Averaged 13.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 47% FG 32% from 3 He actually broke Huff’s scoring record as a freshman (454 points). I personally think he was robbed of a spot on the All-Newcomer team. He was a solid second/third option behind Rebraca and Stewart depending what UND needed. He uses his athleticism to attack the basket last year, which worked well for him for the most part, it did get him into trouble with turnovers/charges. Did okay from 3, got better as the year got along but definitely an area to improve on. He will take on more responsibility as a primary scoring option this year. If he can get stronger with the ball and improve his shot from 3, he should be on some All-Summit Team at the end of the year. The sky is absolutely the limit for this kid and he could be a future Summit POY candidate as soon as next year. I think he will end up very high on the UND all time scoring list when it is all said and done.
Brady Danielson (Guard, 6’4 200 lb) So. York, NE
Brady was asked to play a lot of minutes on a squad that was lacking depth. One thing that you cannot say about Brady is that he lacks effort, as he gives 100% on the court at all times. He can find a way to do all the little things that you need to win games and uses his physicality to his advantage. The USD game in Sioux Falls comes to mind when in the final minutes, he drew a charge, got a key rebound, and calmly knocked down two free throws to seal the win. Averaged 3.1 ppg and 2.6 rpg. Sather has a reputation of getting the most out of his players and with a motor like Brady, it will be interesting to see what type of player he ends up being as a senior. One area that could use developing is his outside shot, where he only shot 23.6% from 3. If he can develop that, he will be a very good bench player for UND.
Gertautas Urbonavicius (Forward 6’7 227) SO Vilnius, Lithuania
Big G was a late snag by the team last year and was another international player that coach Mihailovic has brought in. It was a trial by fire for G his freshman year and he got better as the year went along. He didn’t get a lot of minutes off of the bench, only 8 minutes per game, but led UND reserved with 3.2 ppg. This of course showed how barren UNDs bench was last year. When G did get a start against ORU, he held his own with a 10 point, 8 rebound performance against Oral Roberts. While undersized, G is not afraid to battle down low and does have some range from 3. Reminds me a lot of Conner Avants, with a little more range. With another year under his belt, it will be interesting to see how much he jumps from Year 1 to Year 2. He should play a similar role as last year, backing up Rebraca and Sueker as the first big off of the bench.
Bentiu Panoam (Guard 6’2 168 lbs) SR Anchorage, AK.
The lone senior on this squad, Panoam found himself in and out of the rotation last year, which was similar to his role the year before under coach Jones. Perhaps having another year under the same system will be beneficial. I think he will still find some minutes as the backup point guard given the matchups.
Ethan Igbanugo (Guard 6’3 191 lbs) Jr Lakeville, MN
Like Panoam, Igbanugo found himself in and out of the rotation as well, finding more time towards the end of the year and the Summit League Tourment, where he had some moments (nailed 6 straight free throws against Fort Wayne in the semis). He is a bigger guard that can use his physicality and like most walk-ons, will work hard at whatever the team needs him to do. I see a similar role for him this year, his minutes dictated on the matchup.
Carlos Ramsey Jr. (Guard 6’5 190 lbs) Redshirt FR. Milwaukee Wis.
Ramsey reshirted last year and it will be interesting to see where he fits in the rotation this year. He was regarded for his defense and given his size and length could be a good change of pace in the rotation. We will see how much his shooting has improve since he stepped on campus.
Caleb Nero (6’2 176 lb Redshirt So) Tulsa, OK Transfer from Weber State.
If UND was looking for an answer to the Stewart void at guard, then Nero might be the answer. He started his career out at Weber and as a reserve guard his freshman year did pretty well. He hit the transfer market where he landed at UND and the NCAA was gracious enough to let him play immediately (still haven’t made up for Jaron Nash.) From the clips I saw from Weber he can drive, shoot from deep, and hit from the midrange. Weber fans were sad to see him leave. If he can knock off the rust and can shoot a little better from 3, UND will be in excellent shape at the point guard spot.
Seybian Sims (6’7 200 lb Junior) Iowa City, IA Kirkwood CC
The JUCO transfer from Iowa certainly fits the mold of what coach Sather is looking for. In a fan forum talk this spring, Sather described Sims as a person who can guard all 5 positions on the court and has great intangibles. He can also shoot a little bit from outside and can play above the rim. Will be interesting to see how he translates over from JUCO. Does he start at the 3 spot in the lineup and slide DAE over to the 2? Given his unique skillset, it could give Sather lots of options to put out on the court.
Mitchell Sueker (6’9 220 lb Junior) Marshall, MN SD School of Mines
So this is a unique transfer. Sueker comes in as a grad transfer with two years left of eligibility! He played his first two years at SD School of Mines, which is a D2 school, and played quite well: earning freshman of the year honors and then 2nd team All-RMAC the year after. He was offered by Sather when he was still the coach and Northern and when he got a 2nd chance he didn’t pass it up. When looking at Sueker’s game, it is not hard to see a lot of Kienan Walter in him with the outside shot, but he brings a little more size to the 4 spot in the lineup and his length will cause some problems. He is a great person to pair up with Rebraca in the backcourt. Also, given that he is from my hometown, it will be awesome to watch him once again.
Andrew Bergan (6’8 180 Fr.) Aberdeen, SD
Sather returned to his old stomping grounds to land this individual. A 4 years started for Aberdeen Center, Bergan is another player in the Walter mold that can shoot it from outside. Certainly needs to bulk up and get stronger but has a very high ceiling. Held his own against good competition at the AAU level and in the ESD conference. With Sims, Sueker, G, and Rebraca getting time, this will be a year where he spends adapting to the D1 game. However, given the uncertainly with COVID and with everyone getting a “Free” year to play, it wouldn’t shock me if he did see some time.
Tyree Ihenacho (Guard 6’4 192) Fr Prior Lake, MN
If you are looking for a sleeper in this incoming freshman class, take a look at Tyree. Played for some really good Prior Lake squads and ran the show at point guard for them. He can definitely push the pace and has great size for the position. He also can shoot it a little bit as well. With not many options behind Nero at the point, it could be Ihenacho that take the role as the reserve guard.
Nate Shockey (Guard 6’3 193) Fr Elmhusrt, IL
UND fans were pretty excited to get this guard from Illinois. He is described as a winner and is the ultimate competitor. He is a guy that can not only finish at the rim but can shoot it as well. He could play both guard spots and I expect him to play lots of minutes as a reserve.
Key Questions For the Year
1) Who will knock down 3’s for UND?
This is an important question for UND to answer this year. Last year, they went 259/762 from 3 as a team (34.0). They lost about 73% of their production from 3 through graduation and transfer. They need a mix of new and experienced players to fill this void. Danielson and DAE need to improve their numbers from 3. Nero, Shockey and Sueker need to be able to hit shots from downtown.
2) Who gets the minutes at the guard spots?
UND has been lucky to have some talented guards who played the 1 and 2 spot in the lineup* their D1 inception: Jamal Webb, Aaron Anderson, Quniton Hooker, Geno Crandall, and Marlon Stewart. So it is rare for UND to come in with a lot of unknowns in those positions (its odd to say that their strength is actually with their bigs!) and how UND answers this question will go along way to determining how high they climb in the Summit Standings. It is clear that Nero will get the nod in one of the spots, but how does UND handle the other? Do they trust one of the freshman to start? Do they slide DAE to the 2 and put Sims at the 3?
*Before I get read the riot act by UND fans: Huff was technically a Guard/Forward and played the 3 spot in the lineup. Same with Seales
3) How fast will this team gel given the shorten season?
With the turnover from last year, there is new pieces to integrate in this starting lineup and new roles for returning players. In a normal year, you have the non-conference to figure out some of these kinks so that when January rolls along, you are ready for the conference season. Well, clearly we are not in normal times. They will have less time to figure things out before conference season starts. If the pieces come together, this will be a very good team. If they don’t, they will struggle with consistency.
4) Will UND improve their records against the the I-29 schools?
In the two years that UND has been in the Summit League, their overall conference record is 15-21 (13-19 regular season, 2-2 in Tournament). Breaking down this record further, UND has gone 13-4 against DU, Fort Wayne, WIU, and ORU. Great right? Well against the I-29/NCC schools, UND has gone an abysmal 2-17. Breaking this down even further below, you can see where the struggles have been
vs NDSU 1-4 (0-2 in Fargo, 1-1 in Grand Forks)
vs SDSU 0-4 (0-2 in Brookings, 0-2 in Grand Forks)
vs USD 1-4 (0-2 in Vermillion, 0-2 in Grand Forks, 1-0 in Sioux Falls)
vs Omaha 0-5 (0-2 in Omaha, 0-2 in Grand Forks, 0-1 in Sioux Falls)
This has been on the minds of UND fans and this cannot continue if UND wanted to start ascending the Summit (no pun intended). While SDSU might be a tall task this year, there is no reason why UND can’t get more than 2 wins against the likes of NDSU, USD and Omaha.
Rebraca and DAE take the next step into superstardom. Nero is the real deal right out of the gate with Sims and Sueker giving UND a very solid starting lineup. Most important, UND finally has some solid bench depth with Brady and G taking steps in their sophomore years and Shockey and Ihrenacho contributing immediately. They finish 3rd in the league and make another appearance in the finals in Sioux Falls before bowing to SDSU. With all 7 key pieces coming back the next year would give UND their best chance to win the conference since 2016-17, when they were in the Big Sky.
The team doesn’t really gel right away, the transfers do well but aren’t the immediate impact players right away. Rebraca and DAE don’t take the next step to superstardom. Depth continues to be an issue. The freshman play like freshman and are inconsistent. They struggle again with the I-29 schools and finish with a similar record as last year and this time, they go out in the first round. NDSU stuns SDSU and wins their 3rd Summit Title in a row.
Of course with COVID running around, nothing seems to be guaranteed.