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UND (4-7) vs Idaho (8-4) 12/29 7 PM

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UND nearly... nearly pulled off one of the biggest victories in UND athletics history.  Alas, they came up just short against the #12 ranked Zags.  After the lay-off during the holidays, its time for the 2nd part of the season to start.  Conference Play! UND gets a tough matchup right out of the shoot, taking on league favorite Idaho. UND is also looking to turn around a 1-4 record in conference openers. 

About Idaho: Last year, Idaho was considered one of the 4 teams most likely to battle for the Big Sky crown, alongside UND, Weber, and Montana.  After all, they bowed out in the BSC Semis against the Griz and had several players coming back.  That projection took a hit when Perrion Callandret tore his ACL and was out for the season.  A rough start in conference play was corrected and the Vandals stormed back and ended up in the exact same spot as the year before. They can UND all they could handle before losing. With Victor Sanders leading several returning starters and contributors, including Callandret who got another crack at his senior year, the Vandals have the goods to be chosen as the pre-season favorite. 

Key Player: Victor Sanders (19.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.0 apr, .477 fg %, .427 3 pt %)

The senior guard has been one of the top players in the Big Sky for the past two years and this year continues to prove himself.  He can do everything at 6'5 and will be in the running at the end of the year for Big Sky POY.  

All Time Records:  Since starting Big Sky play, UND holds a 3-2 advantage, with a 1-1 record in Grand Forks

Big Sky Action

Weber/ISU/PSU/SAC all play their protected rivals on Saturday so they are excluded from this preview: (See the Sunday Game thread against EWU once it is up)

Thursday Games:

MSU (7-6) @ SUU (6-5): A straight look at the preseason polls would indicate a total mismatch with the T-Birds battling for the basement and MSU fighting for the title.  Not quite.  The T-Birds have exceed expectations already and have notched a big non-conference win against CMU.  Already they have matched their win total from last year.  A beavy of transfers have helped to improve their situation from a year ago. Plus they have one more joining in the spring.  So how far can they truly climb?  They get the Bobcats to start, who have big expectation this year, have a solid 1-2 punch of Hall and H. Frey.  No big wins (but if we are applying the transitive property, they got hammered by the same CMU team that SUU beat).  Any team that has championship aspirations needs to beat the teams they should beat on the road.  This will be the better of the two matchups on Thursday because...

Griz (7-5) @ NAU (3-10) The Griz are looking the part of being a challenger for the Big Sky crown.  Led by Rorie and Oguine, they have pulled a few impressive wins so far this season, including a win at Pitt.  They almost pulled one out against U Dub the other night.  The Lumberjacks.... not so much.  How soon have we forgotten a 19 win season and a deep run in the CIT for NAU, now replaced with losses to an NAIA school in Arizona.  They do have 1 decent win against CSB, but not a lot has gone right for a team that will probably finish in the basement.  The Griz should have no issues in this one, unless they totally sleepwalk

Friday Games:

EWU (5-8) @ UNC (9-4)

Last year was a lost year for the Bears due to a postseason ban put on by the school.  With that now gone, they have responded with a vengeance.  transfer Andre Spight has teamed up with veteran Jordan Davis to give the Bears a lethal 1-2 pairing.  A decent win against Wyoming amongst several have made the coaches look pretty bright on picking the Bears 4th in the conference pre-season polls.  Its time for the rubber to meet the road with EWU coming in, who is adjusting to life this year without Wiley and coach Hayford.  The Big Ukrainian Bliznyuk has been a one man crew for the Eagles, but if they are going to move up the food chain they are going to need more.  

Keys to the game:

1) 3 pointer

This is a matchup of teams that based on stats they both shoot as a team around 45% from the field.  Now looking at the 3 point percentages of both teams and it is not even close.  UND is dead last in the league at 27%, Idaho is at the top with 41%.  UND is going to have to find a way to start shooting the ball better from beyond the arc and play excellent perimeter defense to make those 3s as contested as possible.  

2) Rebounding

Idaho is one of the better rebounding clubs in the conference, with senior Brayon Blake nearly getting 10 rebounds a game (9.5 to go with his 14.1 ppg). UND is going to need battle hard on the boards to limit their advantage they have.  Blake vs Avants/Jones for the boards will be a fun little battle. 

3) Geno vs Victor

This will be a fun matchup between two of the very best guards in the conference.  Both guards can fill it up on the score sheet and will probably both have big games.  Victor will want revenge after last years game where he had a clunker of a game.  Geno will look to establish himself as a Big Sky POY and send a message that the defending champs are still a threat. 

The Call:

You know what the beauty of conference play is?  Everybody starts at 0-0.  You can make a lot of issues of non-conference go away if you get off to a hot start in conference play.  UND's road of getting off to a good start in the first 1/3 of conference play will be tough.  Yes, 4 out of 6 are at home, but league favorite Idaho, Weber amongst the 4 and the Montana road swing which has been a house of horrors for UND.  Nevertheless, these games have been close in this series and I expect this to be the same.  One thing to note, UND will have been off for almost two weeks since the Zags game, so they will be rested and have a chance to heal up and work on things, but could rust be a issue?   I think UND has a shot, especially if they can build off of their game against the Zags, but my concerns about UNDs bench and a Vandals team on a mission will be enough to push the visitors to an win.

Vandals 81-77

Other games:

I'll take Griz, Cats, and UNC in the other three. 

 

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Marlon Stewart

4-5 from the field

1-2 from 3

6-7 from the line

Rest of the team

1-13 from the field

0-7 from 3

1-1 from the line

14 turnovers.

Worst offensive half I have seen from UND in a long, long time

 

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