Introducing Cinderella: North Dakota Fighting Hawks going to first NCAA Tournament


Conference: Big Sky

Coach: Brian Jones

Record: 21-9 (14-4 Big Sky)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 177
RPI: 153
AP/USA Today: N/A

Seeding: North Dakota’s first NCAA Tournament appearance could take place in the First Four in Dayton. However, NBC Sports most recent bracket projection have the Fighting Hawks as a No. 16 seed, avoiding the play-in game.

Names you need to know: Quinton Hooker is averaging 18.8 points per game. That’s good even when you consider his scoring is down from a season ago. That’s because the Fighting Hawks are more than just Hooker, as evident by five other players scoring in double figures in a 93-89 overtime win over Weber State in the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game.

Stats you need to know: 48 percent: The Fighting Hawks shoot 48 percent from the field. Only 12 teams in the projected NCAA Tournament field shoot the ball at a higher clip. North Dakota also can score that ball, averaging 80 points per game.

Big wins, bad losses: In late November, North Dakota beat CSU Bakersfield, the Big West regular season champion, at the buzzer, 57-55, for a neutral floor win. The Fighting Hawks have nine losses on the season. The best loss was at Iowa, the worst was a one-point road loss to 9-23 Northern Arizona.

How’d they get here?: The Fighting Hawks won the regular season title and entered the tournament as a the top seed. After rolling through Portland State, they got a test from Idaho. That only served as a warm-up for the title game against Weber State. The Hawks were able to force overtime with the Wildcats by scoring four points in the final forty seconds, while also blocking Weber State’s potential game-winning shot. In overtime, they trailed again, but took the lead for good midway through the extra frame with free throws by Quinton Hooker followed by a jumper from Geno Crandall.

Outlook: North Dakota can shoot and put points up in a hurry. But given its projected seed, North Dakota will need that offense to do something that has never been done before.

How do I know you?: It’s Phil Jackson’s alma mater.