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Arizona vs. North Dakota: Get to know the Fighting Hawks

We ask a Big Sky expert things about UND before Thursday’s game

NCAA Basketball: North Dakota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Before the brackets were announced on Sunday, many Arizona Wildcats fans probably didn’t even know that the North Dakota Fighting Hawks existed.

So we turned to someone that has watched North Dakota and the Big Sky Conference all year long to tell us more about Arizona’s first round opponent.

Jordan Majewski from our sister site Mid Major Madness took the time to answer some of our burning questions about the Fighting Hawks, and what we can expect to see from them on Thursday night.


1. North Dakota won the regular season and conference tournament championships in the Big Sky, but were they far and away the best team in the conference?

Majewski: UND was not far and away the best team in the league. To be honest, the league as a whole suffered through a bit of a down year, and there wasn't much separation between 1-5 in the standings. That said, UND earned the top seed outright and took care of business in Reno, so they have a fair claim to "undisputed Big Sky champion".


2. Quinton Hooker seems like the player to watch in this one for Arizona fans. What does he do that will catch people's attentions on Thursday?

Majewski: Quinton Hooker is undoubtedly the senior leader and soul of the team. He's been able to gradually move more and more off the ball with the rise of Geno Crandall in the backcourt, and that has really improved his efficiency over the last two seasons. Hooker shot an absurd 46% from 3 in league play, and 91% from the free throw line. Hooker's only 6-foot, but he plays like a physical 6-foot-4 off guard and finishes around the rim like one too.


3. Outside of Hooker, who is the player or players that could step up and have a huge impact on this game?

Majewski: I mentioned Geno Crandall earlier, but the sophomore's rise as Hooker's running mate has made a huge impact on Brian Jones' team. Crandall is lightning quick, has outstanding court vision, and draws a lot of contact off the dribble. He also improved his jump shot this year and defenses are far less likely to sag off him and dare him to shoot like last year.


4. What kind of defense does UND usually play?

Majewski: Brian Jones is an aggressive man to man coach. He'll extend pressure with Crandall, Hooker, and wing Corey Baldwin. Jones likes to use his defense to attack the rim in transition and get a high percentage look before the defense is set.


5. What must North Dakota do to win this game?

Majewski: UND has to harass Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright into bad decisions and try to speed Arizona up if possible. Hooker and Crandall will try to attack early and often to try to generate some foul trouble from the Arizona front court, because UND can't compete there. If UND isn't generating turnovers and fouls they'll be in trouble early, as the three pointer isn't a significant factor in their offense and they don't grab a lot of their misses, so extending possessions isn't likely.


6. How do you see this game playing out?

Majewski: The aggressiveness and fearlessness of Hooker and Crandall might put the Arizona backcourt on their heels a little bit early, but once the Wildcats settle down and turn this into a halfcourt game, UND is likely in major trouble. UND's frontcourt can't compete with Dusan Ristic on the block and the mobility of Lauri Markkanen is quite possibly the worst individual matchup they could have drawn out of any two seed in the field. Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins also have major athleticism/length advantages at the 2 and 3. Arizona might come out a little surprised at the aggressiveness of a veteran UND team, but eventually the length and size across the board wears them down, especially in the halfcourt.

Arizona wins 80-60, pulling away early in the second half.


Thanks to Jordan for taking the time to answer our questions about North Dakota. Be sure to check out Mid Major Madness for coverage of a huge chunk of the NCAA Tournament, and follow Jordan on Twitter @jorcubsdan