With the conference tournament this week, we'll take an extended look at each game, and give a little preview. Let's start with the second seed North Dakota taking on the seventh seed Sacramento State.
First Meeting in Grand Forks - North Dakota won 82-71
Second Meeting in Sacramento - Sac State won 71-65
Why North Dakota Can Win:
For starters, they have been here before and have a lot of positive experiences in conference tournaments. In 2011 and 2012, they won the Great West tournament. Last year, they led Weber State for much of the game before falling in the semifinals matchup. They have a ton of seniors, and so the stage will not be too big. Contrasting that are the Hornets, making their first trip to the Big Sky Tournament in a while.
North Dakota should be able to attack the Hornets offensively, and be able to get into the lane and score. Teams are shooting 52.8% on two-pointers against Sac State this year (316th best in the country for the Hornets, while North Dakota is 58th in the nation shooting 51.5%. They should be able to get some easy buckets. In the teams' first meeting, UND shot 22/30 on twos and got to the free throw line 31 times... if those numbers are close to duplicated, they will win going away.
On that note, North Dakota has been effective at drawing fouls and getting to the line, while the Hornets have struggled to keep opponents away from the charity stripe. UND has the chance to get easy points there. If Troy Huff makes seven of more trips to the foul line, that is a key indicator on if UND is being aggressive going to the rim, in which case their offense is likely very effective. If they are forcing threes, they will likely lose.
Why Sacramento State Can Win:
North Dakota's defense is at its best when it is speeding teams up and forcing turnovers, as UND's turnover rate forced of 21.2% is in the top 30 nationally. When North Dakota is not forcing turnovers, their defense is not very good. That could be good news for the Hornets, who have two excellent ballhandlers in Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney, and have generally been good at taking care of the ball this year.
Once they break UND's pressure, it should be easy buckets galore. Teams this year have shot 55.1% on twos and 37.5% on threes against UND this year, and the Hornets are above average offensively in both phases. They are especially good from behind the arc, making 36.7% of their shots this year. Guys like Garrity, McKinney, and Zach Mills will have some open looks from outside, and if they are falling, the Hornets should have no trouble scoring.
As mentioned in the North Dakota section, the Hornets need to do whatever they can to pack the paint and force UND to take outside shots. In the first meeting, UND was 4/15 from behind the arc, but was so good inside it and at the foul line that they still won. In Sacramento, the Hornets held them to 6/21 from outside while doing better work at not fouling and contesting shots. The Hornets need to force UND to beat them from outside at any costs. If guys like Huff and Jaron Nash starting hitting threes, you have to live with that.
This game should be excellent because both teams will be able to attack the other offensively. They will both have opportunities to score, and be scored on, and the game will come down to whoever can get the other out of their normal offensive gameplan. When in doubt, I'll go with the team that has plenty of big game experience throughout their careers, and that is North Dakota. I think they'll be a little better in this game, but the Hornets should take solace in the fact that they will be back even better next season. North Dakota 77, Sacramento State 72.
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