Conference: Big Sky (Auto Bid)
Record: 22-9 (14-4)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 15 (West)
How they got to the Big Dance
North Dakota won the Big Sky regular season title, giving them the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. After starting the season 5-6, the Fighting Hawks went 17-3 over the rest of the season, winning 10 of the last 11 games.
The Fighting Hawks of North Dakota are going dancing for the first time in school history. North Dakota’s tournament ticket was punched after a comeback, overtime win against Weber State in the Big Sky tournament final.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
It is March Madness, so anything is possible. This North Dakota team will be representing the university for the first time in the NCAA tournament. What do they have to lose?
North Dakota averages 80.5 points per game, which ranks near the top of the Division I team scoring list. With seven players averaging over five points per game, offense can come from anywhere. This scoring combined with leading scorers Quinton Hooker and Ceno Grandall playing well could have North Dakota pulling off one of the upsets of the tournament.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
North Dakota has not played a team in the RPI top-50 all season. The only RPI top-100 win they boast is against Cal State Bakersfield in November. In the NCAA tournament, North Dakota will see better competition than they have seen all season
Also, the Fighting Hawks average only 35.9 rebounds per game. If they were not dominant on the glass in the Big Sky conference, imagine how they would fare against a big power conference team.
Player to watch: Guard Quinton Hooker
The 6-foot, 205-pound senior guard leads North Dakota, scoring 19.1 points per contest. Hooker is also third on the team in rebounds and second in assists. The Brooklyn Park, Minnesota native shoots 44 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and a healthy 88 percent from the free throw line. He also shows his efficiency through his assist-to-turnover ratio, which sits at 2 to 1. Hooker’s ability to affect all facets of the game will be difficult for opponents to defend.