GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- The defending regular season co-champions of the Big Sky Conference begin their sixth and final campaign in the league as the North Dakota Fighting Hawks announced their full 2017-18 schedule Wednesday. The Big Sky Conference published the 18-game league slate earlier this month and the Fighting Hawks will add a grueling 11 non-conference games and a pair of exhibitions to mix with UND aiming for a fifth-straight postseason tournament berth.
"This schedule was a challenge to put together," UND head coach Travis Brewster admitted. "Our team will receive a memorable experience that offers them the opportunity for success. We are playing two teams finished in the top 10 with top-tier pedigrees in Oregon State and Baylor. OSU was a Final Four team two years ago and Baylor has a national championship pedigree and has advanced to the Elite Eight in each of the last four years. Additionally, we'll have The Summit League champion, South Dakota State, and NCAA qualifier Northern Iowa."
Two different schools that finished in the top 10 of the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) last season appear on the formidable non-conference slate. Oregon State (Nov. 10) was a 31-5 team that advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 while national power Baylor (Dec. 5), a seven-time defending Big 12 champion, highlight the non-league lineup. Three future Summit League foes dot the schedule as South Dakota State (Nov. 15) and South Dakota (Dec. 21), both of whom were WNIT qualifiers in 2016-17, join North Dakota State (Dec. 9) in key regional matchups.
"The home slate starts a new series with UMASS and our in-state rival comes 78 miles to the Betty on Dec. 9," Brewster said. "Our trip this year to University of Texas, San Antonio will be a first for our program as we play Lamar and UTSA over Thanksgiving weekend. Finally, we get shot at redemption against South Dakota."
UND will draw Lamar and host UTSA over the Thanksgiving weekend in San Antonio, Tex. All told, nearly half of North Dakota's non-conference schedule is against teams that were in the top 100 (5 of 11). Add Montana State once the league schedule gets underway and UND will have seven total games against top 100 teams and a total of 12 games against teams that made the postseason a year ago.
"The Big Sky is always a challenge and this year it will be tighter with the balance of teams returning and coaching skills," said Brewster. "The precedent for this program is to play tough competition and give the players an opportunity that would not be possible or attempted alone however it was afforded to them because they play at the University of North Dakota."
The Big Sky slate begins just before the turn of the calendar with a trip to Idaho and Eastern Washington (Dec. 28 and 30). The Montana schools make the trek to Grand Forks in January, then a trip to Idaho State and Weber State. UND has not lost in Ogden, Utah, winning all five matchups with the Wildcats in Dee Events Center.
Northern Colorado, EWU and Idaho form a three-game homestand to round out January before the return trip through Montana. After WSU and ISU travel to Grand Forks for the final time as conference foes, UND gets Southern Utah, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado all on the road in a February that sees North Dakota play three home games and five on the road. The regular season ends when Sacramento State and Portland State invade the Betty (Feb. 28 and Mar. 2). The league tournament converges on Reno, Nev., for the third straight season with all 12 conference members invited. The tourney begins Mar. 5 and wraps with the championship on Mar. 10.
North Dakota is coming off a WNIT berth last season, its fourth-straight postseason berth-- double the longest current streak of any other Big Sky school.
*12 total games vs. postseason teams from last season (5 NCAA, 2 WNIT, 5 WBI)
*7 games against Top 100 RPI and two in the Top 10 (Oregon State- 6, Baylor- 7, South Dakota State- 45, Montana State (2)- 59, Northern Iowa- 60, South Dakota- 80).
*UND's nine Division I non-conference opponents combined for a 185-105 (.638) record last season, averaging 21 wins each.
*UND is playing its sixth and final season in the Big Sky Conference before moving to The Summit League in 2018-19.
*North Dakota (4) is the only Big Sky team with an active postseason streak longer than two.
*In the last four seasons, UND has the most overall wins (78), Big Sky wins (52), league road wins (21) and tied for most Big Sky regular season titles (2).
*North Dakota is 893-376 all-time (.704) with three national championships (DII) and 17 conference championships in 43 seasons.