It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.
What They Lost: North Dakota made the Big Sky championship game in their second season, but unfortunately it will be tough to build on that success right away, as they lost most of the key pieces from that team.
Troy Huff was one of the elite performers in the conference, and athletic matchup nightmare that caused a lot of turnovers, and could score 25 points or grab 10 rebounds any night. He dominated possessions for them at a fairly efficient rate, and will be impossible to replace. Another guy that may have been just as valuable was Aaron Anderson, a perennially underrated guard. Anderson was a great shooter and driver who got to the line often. He also took care of the ball and had a solid assist rate.
Jamal Webb was a guy that had his strengths and weaknesses, but he was a good defender in the backcourt that could distribute the ball. Josh Schuler missed some time with injuries, but at his best he was a good third or fourth scorer and glue guy. Alonzo Traylor was a surprisingly good big man that shot 61% from the floor and rebounded well. I would also be remiss not to mention Brandon Brekke, who missed all of last season due to injury was an integral part of building the program with his steady work down low. Simply put, nobody is even close to losing as much production as UND has lost.
Who Returns: The best news of the offseason came when the NCAA announced that Jaron Nash would be eligible to play another season. At 6'8'', Nash had major conference athleticism, even though he showcased some inconsistency at times. At his best, he is a capable inside scorer (57% on two-pointers), and a good enough three-point shooter to keep teams honest (20/59 last year). He also made just 33% of free throws. He plays the four spot, but doesn't necessarily have the bulk to play that position defensively. However, he can be a difference maker, and UND will call on him often.
Another big returnee is guard Quinton Hooker, who started many games last year as a true freshman. He did not necessarily showcase himself to be a great scorer (41.9% EFG) or distributor (17.5 ARate compared to 22.4 TO Rate), but he was steady, and I expect the experience will be a big plus for him. Also in the backcourt, Cole Stefan got some time in his first year as a junior, and should have an expanded role. He profiles as a shooting specialist, having made 21 threes. Lenny Antwi is a senior, but it's still unclear if he can be an average guard off the bench. He was an amazing 3/20 from inside the arc last year (not a misprint). Shane Benton is also back, and despite a fair amount of PT his first two years, he also has struggled to make an impact.
Upfront, Chad Calcaterra and Ryan Salmonsen return for their senior years. Both guys had their moments last year and potentially average scoring threats, but will be called on to do much more. Dustin Hobaugh played in nine games last year and played well, but it was in a too small sample of 71 minutes.
Newcomers: Estan Tyler could have the biggest impact right away, as he sat out last season after transferring from Kansas City. He averaged 11.4 PPG as a sophomore and looks to be a very good outside shooter. He should be a solid addition to the backcourt for his final two seasons. Carson Shanks is a redshirt freshman big man who will be eligible in the second semester after transferring from Utah State. He should get plenty of chances to play once he is eligible.
Depending on how ready he is physically, Kraig Shields could get immediate playing time right away after averaging a double double as a senior in high school in Texas. Bryce Cashman is another freshman big man. Josiah Coleman is at UND after two years at Iowa Western CC, but he averaged just 7 and 4 last season. Geno Crandall is a nice prospect in the backcourt after a nice high school career in Minneapolis, but I'm not sure how much run he'll get right away in a crowded backcourt. Finally, Terrel de Rouen is a transfer from New Mexico State who is eligible to play right away. He should add to a strong backcourt, and it would not be a surprise to see UND run a lot of three and even four guard lineups out there.
General Outlook: After a nice year last season, UND will likely take a big step back just because of the sheer amount of talent that graduated. Their defensive identity will likely change, and it's unclear where their offense will come from with the departures of Huff and Anderson. If they are going to compete for a tournament spot, they need Jaron Nash to be a star for them, and guys like Hooker, Stefan, and Estan to morph into an above average backcourt. These things are not out of the question, but I wouldn't bet on it either. I would expect UND to be in the bottom four this year, but to get a lot of young guys good experience.
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