Friday, December 13, 2013

North Dakota's Continued Defensive Struggles

Back in November, when North Dakota beat North Dakota State, it looked like they might be the best team in the Big Sky. Three weeks and five losses later, they don't look right now like they are a top 4 team in the Big Sky.

While they are having some offensive issues (namely with ball movement and outside shooting), I think the biggest concern has to be with their interior defense. While they have been able to pressure guards and force some turnovers (12.0 steal percentage, 25th in the nation), once offenses get past that first line of defense, things have just been too easy.

Against DI opponents, teams playing North Dakota are shooting 58.4% on two-point attempts, which is 346th in the nation. UND does not have anyone that can challenge shots down low, as they have a 4.5 block percentage, 333rd in the country. They have 17 blocked shots through eight games, so opponents know that if they take it to the rim, they are not going to meet a challenge from UND.

A lot of this is partially due to the fact that they play a lot of small ball. Of the five guys leading them in minutes played, only Jaron Nash (6'8'') and Troy Huff (6'5'') are taller than 6'1''. While that small lineup makes them hard to match up against because of all the quickness they can put on the floor, they are obviously having a hard time matching up against opponents.

What is the answer? I am sure Brian Jones and staff are hard at work figuring that out. It seems as though they need to find at least one of their big men that they can trust - among Alonzo Traylor, Chad Calcaterra, and Ryan Salmonsen - and give them more minutes. Of the three, Calcaterra has played the most, but that has been about 1/3 of the team's minutes. Perhaps they will need to scale back the attacking style as well - they have played at the ninth fastest pace in the country so far.

North Dakota has played a tough schedule, the fact that they sit at 2-6 is not really the issue here. The issue is that they haven't even been all that close to winning a game in the last few weeks, and that their defense resembles a sieve at the moment. That can change - they literally have the talent to win the Big Sky - but they need to find some answers before the start of conference play.

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  1. They did beat NDSU, who just beat Norte Dame on the road.

    Nevertheless, we all know who's winning the Big Sky this year: conference MVP Derrick Barden and the UNC Bears!

  2. Even with ND's late struggles, I still see them and UNC as the top two teams in the Big Sky. UND has played some tough teams. I think they are looking forward to conference play so they can start getting some wins.

  3. You're absolutely right about the inside defense. The bigs have to step into the lane and demand control of the paint. If that happens this can be a very good team as I see the most balance and depth of any UND team in many years. Another challenge is being able to finish at the rim. We have guys who can get there but sometimes they fool around with the ball and don't shoot the ball. They want to throw it at the hoop. Fancy doesn't equal effective.