North Dakota Fighting Hawks Preview
Date: Saturday, December 21st
Time: 5:00 pm CST/6:00 pm EST
Location: Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, NE
2018-19 Record: 12-18 (6-10 7th in Summit League)
2019-20 Record: 5-7
All-Time Series Record: 3-1 overall, with the Huskers on a three game win streak. The first game between these teams was a 50-22 loss at North Dakota in December 1933. The following year in Lincoln the Huskers returned the favor in December of ‘34 with a 34-21 win. 2011 saw a Nebraska blowout win 77-46, and 2017 a 92-70 win with both games in Lincoln.
Mascot: The Fighting Hawks (Formerly the Fighting Sioux)
Head Coach: Paul Sather (1st season)
Odds: Nebraska (-10)
How To Watch: BTN+ ($)
Last season was the Fighting Hawks first season in the Summit League.
ND ranked 295th in RPI last season and had a SOS ranked 267th. They had bad losses to Idaho, twice in their conference series in fact (344th RPI and it was not even close in their home match up, losing 54-67), at Oral Roberts by 11 points (302nd), but they did manage a home court win over my dad’s Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, prevailing in overtime 86-81 (this is not actually noteworthy outside of my own personal interest as NAU finished 297th in RPI).
The Fighting Hawks lost their second and third scorers on the roster, Cortez Seales and his 14 points a game, and Conner Avants and his 11.8.
The Fighting Hawks are struggling so far under first year head coach Paul Sather. Their best performances so far are is a 12 point neutral court win over Georgia Southern (169th in KenPom) and a 7 point home loss to Montana (197th in KenPom). North Dakota themselves are 243rd in RPI and 253rd in KenPom. They rank 225th in adjusted offense, 260th in adjusted defense, and 149th in adjusted tempo. Their strength of schedule is 74th, however, so they’ve faced some tough competition comparatively (our Huskers are 83rd for comparison).
While we’re on advanced stats still for a moment here, let’s compare some of the opponents more. North Dakota beat Georgia Southern on a neutral court 80-68, and Georgia Southern Eagles rank 154th in offense, but are 16th in adjusted tempo. Bear in mind the Huskers rank 133rd in offense, and they’re 24th in tempo, all per KenPom. Also of note is the Hawks’ 98-82 loss to the Eastern Washington Eagles. Bear in mind this came on the road on a Sunday after a road loss that same weekend Friday night to the Montana Grizzlies. However, the 16 point loss was to a team that is 108th in offense and 3rd in tempo. So these factors are definitely something to keep in mind for when they come to town and play the Huskers tomorrow.
Coach Sather emphasizes playing inside out through his big men. And the two bigs to keep an eye on are sophomore Filip Rebraca, 6’9” and 220 lbs., and senior Kienan Walter, 6’9” and 205 lbs. Rebraca is averaging 29.3 minutes per game and leads the team in rebounding with 9 and blocks at 1.7 per game. He is also the second leading scorer with 14.2 points, shooting 64% from the field. Walter meanwhile is third in assists with 1.7 per game, averages 10.3 points per game, and plays 24.3 minutes a game.
Coach Sather also emphasizes playing away from the ball and at a fast pace. To that end he relies the most on his senior guard Marlon Stewart. Stewart leads the team in minutes, points, assists, and three point percentage. Stewart is averaging 14.5 points and 4.9 assists in 30.1 minutes per game, while shooting 42% from three on 50 attempts so far this season.
After Stewart, freshman guard De’Sean Allen-Eikens is third on the teams in average minutes played at 28.2, and third in scoring with 13.6 points. Allen-Eikens is also second in rebounds with 5.2 a game. Filling out the back-court, Aanen Moody is the other guard to watch as he is fifth in scoring with 6.6 points per game, but is averaging 37.5% from three point range on 49 attempts so far this season.
While the Huskers have had almost a week off, that didn’t matter last Friday at Indiana. Given the momentum from their two big games last weekend, I think any cobwebs they collected over the week off get cleaned up quickly in this one. Expect this to be a game with lots of pushing the tempo for quick buckets. I think the Huskers, despite the roster issues of late, build a good lead margin going into the half and wear the Hawks down in the second-half for a comfortable margin win in the end. Let’s call it:
Huskers 86-Fighting Hawks 72