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NCAA Tournament: North Dakota’s backcourt ‘as good of a tandem’ Arizona has faced

North Dakota has two high-scoring, efficient guards

NCAA Basketball: North Dakota at Wisconsin
Geno Crandall
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats have faced several premier guards this season — Markelle Fultz of Washington, Lonzo Ball of UCLA, and Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga, to name a few — but Sean Miller isn’t sure if they have faced a pair of guards better than those they’ll face in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament.

The North Dakota Fighting Hawks have two guards in Quinton Hooker and Geno Crandall that were named to the All-Big-Sky team, with the former being a unanimous First Team selection.

“I think their guards are as good of a tandem as we've faced, especially when you look at their production,” Miller said. “They combine for about 35 points per game.”

Hooker, a 6-foot senior, averages 19.1 points per game this season, shooting 47 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3, and 88 percent from the charity stripe. He also averages 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Crandall, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, is posting 15.6 points and a team-high 4.3 assists and 2.1 steals per content. He shoots 50 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3.

“They do it both on defense and offense,” Miller said. “If you look at their steals, they really disrupt the other team. I think they combine for about five steals a game. But they're pesky, they set the tone for their defense.

“And on offense they can both score and make others better. And they're always using ball screens. They can shoot the 3-point shot, especially Hooker. And in transition both guys thrive. When they're coming at the basket, a lot like Allonzo [Trier], Kadeem [Allen], Parker [Jackson-Cartwright] on our end, a lot of bad things happen for the other team. Getting back in transition, taking care of the ball, and really understanding how good they are as players.”

And don’t overlook North Dakota’s guards just because they play in the Big Sky.

“A lot of times the difference maybe from one conference to the next isn't at the guard position,” Miller said. “It's maybe the overall size or depth of size, from maybe a conference like the Big Ten and some others. The guards, if you add them up, you really can't tell the difference. And I look at those two guys as two guards who are really terrific players.”

The Fighting Hawks have a third guard that averages double figures in the scoring column in Corey Baldwin, who shoots 42 percent from 3, and they play an uptempo style of basketball.

North Dakota is 34th in the country in adjusted tempo and averages over 80 points per game.

“They run some really, really difficult to guard offense,” Miller said. “They're fast into what they do. They have a lot of movement, a lot of different ball screens. ... Everybody on their team seems to know their role very well. And they score 80 points per game.

“So we're really going to be challenged in defending them. And I think that's been a big focus the last couple of days on defense, predominantly a man-to-man team. They get their hands on a lot of of balls. They get steals. They deflect. Turn you over. They use their defense to get out in transition. We have to really be smart and take care of the ball when we have it on offense.

“But [North Dakota is a] very well coached, tough team. When you win your regular season, which we did, and then you win your conference tournament, I think it says a lot about kind of your heart. And I think they're a team that has a big heart. And it's going to be a tough game.”

Thursday’s game between Arizona and North Dakota in Salt Lake City is set for 6:50 p.m. and it will be televised on TBS.

It is the Fighting Hawks’ first time in the NCAA Tournament as a Division I team.

“They're a very talented team, but we've been playing against talented guards all year,” Arizona guard Kadeem Allen said. “It's not new to us. We come in with a perspective and the details of the game how we've been doing all year, just come ready to battle and have fun out there.”


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