Middle of the road: UND picked fifth, sixth in Big Sky men’s hoops polls

GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota wasn’t picked to win the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball race last season. But the Fighting Hawks surprised many, winning the league’s regular-season title and the postseason championship to earn the program’s first berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawks return only two starters from that 22-win team. So it’s no surprise UND isn’t picked to win the league again this season.
UND was picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky coaches’ preseason poll and fifth in the Big Sky media preseason poll that were released by league officials on Friday, Oct. 13. The coaches and media both selected Idaho to win the regular season title.
The Fighting Hawks were one of four league teams to receive at least one first-place vote in the media poll and finished with 146 points, while the coaches’ ballots had the Hawks with 72 points.
Brian Jones begins his 12th season as the UND coach and he’s optimistic.
“I’m excited about this team,” said Jones. “We have a lot of new faces and the preseason poll is just like last year where we were not picked to win it. The league is even deeper this year, than it was last year and there are a lot of upperclassmen-laden teams.
“That will be the challenge for our guys. I do think we have a talented group. We just need to continue to work together and understand what our program is all about. That will be our goal during the non-league season, so our new faces understand the rigors of Division I basketball and understand how challenging Big Sky play is going to be.”
UND’s nonconference schedule is demanding, with games against Nebraska, Creighton and Gonzaga, last year’s national runner up.
UND returns starters Geno Crandall and Connor Avants along with Big Sky reserve of the year Cortez Seales. Crandall, a junior guard, was named to the league’s preseason all-conference team on Thursday.
UND opens the 2017-18 season on Friday, Nov. 10, with a game against fellow NCAA Tournament participant Troy at the Outriggers Resort Rainbow Classic in Honolulu.