OGDEN, Utah – The North Dakota men’s basketball team has yet to play a game as a Big Sky member, but the 10 opposing coaches and media members both picked the league newcomer to finish in the top half of standings in the preseason coaches’ and media polls released on Thursday.
Head coach Brian Jones is entering his seventh season at the helm of the program and his new peers pegged his veteran squad to finish fourth, while the league’s media members had UND sixth in its poll.
“I think it is obviously nice that we are getting respect from our colleagues being a new member of the Big Sky Conference,” Jones said. “Most coaches will tell you that preseason polls don’t matter, so our focus is on where we want to be at the end of the season.
“And, our goals are to come right in and compete for the Big Sky title and postseason play. We know where we are viewed, but we also know there is a lot of work to do between now and March.”
Montana and Weber State were picked to finish one-two, respectively, in both polls, which is exactly where the two teams finished a season ago. UND defeated the Griz 88-81 in overtime in a non-conference game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center and finished the season 2-2 against its future conference foes after splitting a home-and-home series with Idaho State and losing on the road at Sacramento State.
“I’m just excited that we are finally here in the Big Sky,” Jones added. “We have played some of these teams and we know how far we have to go, but I also feel we can compete in this league and be a contender with the experience we have coming back.”
Jones has four starters back from a squad that finished 17-15 and won its second consecutive Great West Conference Tournament title in 2011-12. That quartet accounted for over 62 percent of the team’s offense, including junior Troy Huff (Milwaukee, Wis.), who has led the team in scoring in each of the past two seasons and has a career average of 13.1 ppg.
Huff, guards Jamal Webb (9.5 ppg; Buffalo, N.Y.) and Aaron Anderson (11.0 ppg; Brooklyn Park, Minn.) and forward Brandon Brekke (9.2 ppg, East Grand Forks, Minn.) all averaged over nine points and 20 minutes a game a season ago.
UND will open its 2012-13 season on the road at Kansas State on Nov. 9. The team’s Big Sky debut is on Dec. 17 at fellow league newcomer Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds were picked to finish 10th in both polls as the league expanded to 11 members and a 20-game conference schedule for all schools.
2012-13 Preseason Men’s Basketball Polls
|2.||Weber State (8)||318|
— Go UND —