Hard to believe this, but we are only just a few short week away from basketball starting! Practices have been going for a little while now and soon we will be able to see the teams start to play for real.
For North Dakota, it certainly has been a long time waiting after a season to forget last year.
Recap of Last Season
Do you really want to know?
It was one of the roughest seasons in UND history. What could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Injuries to key players throughout the season, inconsistent play, players leaving, heartbreaking losses. You name it, UND basically faced it.
It lead to a 6 and 24 season and only 2 Summit League wins… and the team left out of Sioux Falls.
The One Bright Spot was the emergence of Paul Bruns, who won Freshman Player of the Year. So with some players getting healthy and getting more consisent, the future would be bright again.
Let’s get this out of the way: The good news is that the team wasn’t gutted from the portal this time. Only 4 players decided to take their talents elsewhere. However, one of those players was indeed Paul Bruns. The biggest suprise: he transferred to the rival Yotes of USD.
This certainly was a talking point during the months of March and April across the Summit League. This topic has been beaten to a pulp and it makes no sense to revisit it here. For UND, it was another blow to a team that has been snakebitten by the portal.
UND also said goodbye to another contributor in Ethan Igbanugo, who decided to take his COVID year and head out West to join up with former teammate DAE at Cal-State Northridge. Ethan provided some solid play at the guard position, espeically in the last two season for Sather.
UND also had some changes in the coaching staff. Assistant Coach Zach Horstman decided to leave the coaching world in the offseason. To replace him, they brought in a familiar face. Randall Herbst made his way back into the UND fold after spending a couple of years in Minot. The former UW-Green Bay and Omaha assistant was on the UND coaching staff from 2000-2006.
There was one piece of good news: Mitchell Sueker, who spend most of the year recoving from a lower body injury, decided to come back and use his COVID year. A big boost to the UND Frontcourt.
Head Coach: Paul Sather (4th year) 30-60 overall at UND, 17-33 Summit.
Assistants: Jamie Stevens (4th year), Randall Herbst (1st year), Steven Aldridge (2nd year), Estevan Sandoval (2nd year)
Seniors: Mitchell Sueker*, Caleb Nero, Brady Danielson
The Senior Class is represented by 3 players, two of which are looking for bouceback years after losing most of last year to injuries. The other, who put together his best year by playing his heart out.
Mitchell Sueker came back for his COVID season after seeing his year end with a bad lower body injury. Before he suffered the injury, he appeared to be ready to put together a great season down low. He was averaging around 12 points a game and looked to step into the role departed by Rebraca. More importantly, his 3 point shot was coming back after stuggling in his first year at UND. Then the injury happened, and while he tried to play, he just wasn’t the same.
A fully healthy Sueker is going to be imporatnt for UND. With several questions on the UND frontcourt, having Sueker for 31 games will help answer a lot of them. He is someone that can be on an All-Summit team with his ability to stretch it from outside. His lenght will cause issues down low and can be physical.
Caleb Nero was a similar situation. He got off to a good start in the season (look up his Montana performance), then he got injured. Before the injury he was averaging 12 points a game and appeared to be putting together a good 2nd season. After he returned, he only appeared at 5-10 minutes at a time and that really knocked down his averages.
Again, fully healthy, Nero can finally look to play off the ball with Trent carrying the point guard duties. He has been someone who can have big games but just hasn’t put it all together for a full season. Similar to what he did two years ago with Ihenacho. Could he be the next guard that puts it all together and leviates UND to another level? Marlon Stewart did something similar, could Nero find that in his game?
Brady Danielson’s MO has been giving 100% every possesion, every game. WIth some many injuries, he was asked to do a lot and set career highs in points, rebounding, taking charges, etc. Towards the end of the year, he finally was starting to hit 3 pointers at a decent clip. He also showed that he could grab rebounds at a high rate for someone at 6’4.
With a fully healthy roster, it will be interesting to see where Brady fits in this year, but we all know this. If he gets 5 minutes or 20 minutes, he will give you every single ounce of effort.
Juniors: Matt Norman, Tsotne Tsartsidze, Jalen Trent
The Junior class is lead by a continent of JUCO transferrs, with Norman and T in their 2nd years at UND while Jalen Trent joins the team.
Matt Norman was okay in his first season at UND. He was brought in as someone who can stretch the floor with his 3 point shooting. He only shot the ball at 35% from 3 but you could see that when he was on, he could really fill it up from 3 (his 27 point performance against Western and his 21 point performance against UST come to mind). He also showed that he wasn’t afraid to take it to the rack from time to time. The hope is that in year 2 is that Norman can have more consistent shooting nights and can take the next step on the defensive side.
You could say the same about Tstone Tsartsidze. He also was okay in trying to be the Rebraca replacement. He flashed on both ends of the floor but just wasn’t able to put it all together for a full season. He showed his best against NDSU in Fargo against Rocky and Grant (18 points, 7 rebounds). If he can also put it together on both ends of the floor, that would be a huge boost for the UND frontcourt.
Jalen Trent is the lasted JUCO transfer from Arizona. The 6’4 guard is someone who can do a little bit of everything but there is one thing he can really hold his hat on: his defense. For a team that despretely needs someone to step up and be a stopper on that end of the floor, it appears that Trent could be that guy on the perimeter. He averaged 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists last year at Cochise College.
Sophomores: Reid Grant, Brian Mathews
The Sophomore class has shrunk a little bit, but still has two players that got minutes that should help their development for this year.
Brian Mathews battled a bad back for most of the season, but still showed why UND fans should be excited to see him play for the next 3 years. While he only average 13 minutes a game, he was able to show what he could do with that time, averaging around 4 pps and 3.6 rpg. He was decent at the free throw line, shooting it at 76% from the line. With a healthy back, the hope is that he can take a nice step forward from last year.
Reid Grant was someone who wasn’t expected to play but injuries to the guards allowed Grant to step in. He was someone that could run the point guard position with smart decision making. While only playing 15 minutes a game, he was 2nd on the team in assists and had a respectable 1.6 assist to turnover ratio. He does need to step it up in the scoring department as he struggled to put the ball into the hoop. Being able to do that will allow him to take a nice step forward and make him an even more dangerous guard.
Freshman: A’Jahni Levias, Elijah Brooks, Daniel Hong, B.J. Omot, Brady Nicholson, Treysen Eaglestaff
The big reason to be excited for UND is who they brought in for their freshman class. The player that appears to be getting the most buzz is B.J Omot. The 6’8 forward from Mankato East has been mentioned as one of the better players UND has brought on campus in the last 5-10 years. He is explosive, lanky, and plays both ends of the basketball. Exactly the type of player that UND needs and hopefully can mold into a great two way player in the Summit League.
The other big named recruit was an in-state legacy kid: Treysen Eaglestaff from Bismarck. His uncle, Robert Eaglestaff played at UND from 1974-1976. The 6’6 guard is going to be counted on to deliever on the offensive side of the basketball, especially from outside.
Elijah Brooks was a late addition to the incoming class but is highly decorated as Mr. Basketball from the state of Kansas. It will be interesting to see where he fits into the rotation given the bevy of guards that UND has right now, but his athleticsm and his ability to play defense will be a big help for UND.
A’Jahni Levias redshirted last year due to a serious leg injury. He was someone who was going to be counted on for significant minutes last year. He is another JUCO transfer who put up big numbers in his one season. He will be expected to play multiple positions and hopefully his scoring and rebounding can translate to the D1 level.
UND has two walk ons in Daniel Hong and Brady Nicholson. Hong is a guard from Illinois who looks like he can shoot it a little bit. Given the depth at guard, would be surprised to see him get much for minutes. Nicholson on the other hand, could find his way into the rotation. The 6’9 freshman from Chaska can really shoot the ball and that is very valuable to have. He is someone that will really benefit from a full year of college development. Could be an under the radar pickup for UND.
Key Dates on the Schedule:
November 7th: Incarate Word
First game of the year! UND needs to start the year off on the right foot with a trip to Texas
November 20th: Montana State
Huge game against an old BSC rival who has big expectations once again. A win against them will be a big boon for the program and give the Summit League an important non-conference win
November 25th and 27th: North Dakota Invitational
UND is hosting a Thanksgiving Tournament! They are taking on CS-Fullerton, who made the NCAAs last year, and Utah Tech, who they have played the last two years. Another chance to get two non-confernece wins for UND and exact some revenge on Utah Tech.
January 5th and February 4th: South Dakota.
These might be the two most important dates on the schedule. With what happened with Bruns, you know that UND is going to get up for this game. January 5th will be in GF, the return match will be in Vermillion. USD is hyped to be a contender with lots of talented pieces, but can they live up to the hype?
January 21st: Oral Roberts
Last chance to check out Max Abmas, who will go down as one of the best players in Summit League history. He is a very fun player to watch and if you like basketball, check this team out. They have very high expecations to get back to the dance this year.
December 30th and January 27th: North Dakota State
It would be very hard for a UND fan to say that these game take a backseat, but this year… the USD games will be bigger. Neverthless, the two in-state matchups will be important. UND almost knocked them off in Fargo but didn’t carry that over in the matchup in GF. Time to get back to beating the Bison, who will be stacked once again in the frontcourt, but questions in the backcourt will be the key to how high they will go.
- Can UND figure it out on the defensive end?
- Are the freshman ready to make an impact day 1?
- Is Nero and Sueker ready to take jumps in their senior years?
Write These Down:
- UND will be better on the defensive side of the ball: It can’t be too hard to be any worse defensively. Improvement on this side of the ball will go a long way in determining how much UND improves this year. Trent will be a major part of the defense revamp. The hope is that his intensity can spead to the rest of the team.
- UND will NOT have a freshman win Freshman POY: While I think Treysen and BJ will play well for UND, I think the competition will be tough this year. I think Lee from UST will be a heavy favorite to take home the award.
- UND will beat NDSU. UND will find a way to take down the in-state rivals.
The team clicks right out the gate and UND makes an early statement by taking down Montana State at home. The defense is a night and day difference on the floor and Omot is as advertised. T and Norman are much improved, Sueker and Nero are playing their best ball of their careers. Eaglestaff and Levias pick up the slack on the offensive side of the ball, while Mathews is a hoover on the other end of the floor. UND wins 8 games in non-conference. UND starts the conference season strong, with wins against USD and NDSU at home being apart of a 4-1 start to the conference. UND finishes in the top half of the conference with an 11-7 conference record and wins two games in Sioux Falls before tapping out in the semi-finals. UND finishes with a 21-13 record. They go to a post-season tournament. USD and NDSU get bounced in the Quarterfinals.
Most importanly… no one leaves and a solid team returns for 23-24.
With a young team, there are growing pains. The team takes quite a while to gel, which causes the team to get off to a rough start. UND only wins 3 games in non-conference as the defense continues to struggle. UND gets inconsisent play from their freshman. Injury bug rears its ugly head once again. Conference season is rough again as they get swept by the other 3 Dakota schools and they finish near the bottom of the league again. They get bounced in the Thursday games in Sioux Falls. Team finishes 8 and 24.
Then the bottom falls out again: The team loses several players to the portal again. Worse, USD takes down NDSU in the Summit League Finals as Bruns wins MOP to go with his Summit League POY award. The grumbling start getting louder in Grand Forks.
What I think will go down:
There appears to be a narrative being pushed that UND is a bottom feeder in the Summit League. To me, far too much is being put into last year. Progress was being made from Year 1 to Year 2 and the program was making improvements. Last year was a result of everything going wrong and shouldn’t be used against UND. If you want the template, look to the women from last year. They jumped from 2 wins to 15 wins and now look to take a bigger jump this year.
For the men, the defense will be much improved by Trent and company. The freshman show flashes of great play and can replicate what was lost. The team is more efficient on the offensive side of the ball. A healthy Nero, Sueker, Mathews, and Levias will help to improve the squad. The team starts to really click in January and become a team that no one wants to play in March. The team finished around .500 in the non-conference schedule and finish around .500 in conference play. They avoid the Thursday games but they will get bounced on Friday for a 16-16 record overall.
A step in the right direction after a 6 and 24 record.
Oh… and while there are a few defections, no one important will leave.