North Dakota (2-6) at Southern Utah (2-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Monday, December 17, 9:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Centrum Arena (5,300) -- Cedar City, Utah. Television: None. Home Record: North Dakota 2-1, Southern Utah 2-1. Away Record: North Dakota 0-5, Southern Utah 0-3. Neutral Record: North Dakota 0-0, Southern Utah 0-2. Conference Record: North Dakota 0-0, Southern Utah 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAMES NOTES: Big Sky Conference play opens on Monday night when the Southern Utah Thunderbirds host North Dakota at Centrum Arena.
It has been a dismal year thus far for North Dakota which comes into this matchup with just a 2-6 overall record. The team's only wins this season have come against the likes of Crown College (87-51) and Presentation College (74-32) which are both Division III programs. North Dakota has been competitive in most of its contests though with three of its six losses coming by single digits. North Dakota plays two straight home games to close out the calendar year, beginning with Northern Colorado next Friday.
Southern Utah is also siting at 2-6 overall this season after dropping a 67-53 decision to San Diego in the second game of the current three-contest homestand. The Thunderbirds' two wins have also come against lower level competition with the victories against NAIA foes Carroll College (68-58) and San Diego Christian (95-65). Southern Utah has been less fortunate in games against opponents at the Division I level with only one loss by single digits. Southern Utah travels to Denver to face the Pioneers next.
This is the first season for Southern Utah in the Big Sky Conference and will mark its first matchup with a number of its new conference rivals, including North Dakota.
North Dakota had more than twice as many field goals as Presentation College and shot at a 54.7 percent clip overall. The team also outscored Presentation 33-12 from beyond the arc and forced 24 turnovers, while blocking 11 shots. All 10 players that got time on the court scored, with Alonzo Traylor leading the way with 17 points off the bench.
As the poor record for North Dakota might indicate, the team has been one of the weaker offensive squads in the Big Sky. North Dakota is scoring 64.8 points per game, which is the ninth best mark in the conference. North Dakota connects on only 42.9 percent of its shots from the field and ranks eighth in the conference in assists per game (12.0). The poor offensive showings have largely outweighed solid defensive efforts, as North Dakota has suffered from just a (-1.1) scoring margin, while limiting teams to 40.9 percent shooting. Aaron Anderson (11.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.2 apg) is connecting on only 34.7 percent of his field goal attempts but remains as the top scorer on the team. Josh Schuler (10.0 ppg) is the only other player averaging in double figures but has failed to do so in each of the last two games. Jamal Webb (8.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.3 spg) has played the most minutes per game and leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals.
Southern Utah really struggled to find its shot, especially from beyond the arc in the loss to San Diego. The Thunderbirds hit just 35.1 percent of their shots from the field including a 3-of-21 effort from 3-point distance en route to the 14-point loss. Southern Utah did manage to control the boards (43-31) but was doubled up on points from the free-throw line (20-10). Damon Heuir had a strong game with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Thunderbirds have made losing by double digits a habit this season with the team being outscored by nearly 12 points per game. The biggest issue is on the defensive end where Southern Utah is being lit up for 76.4 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting. Partially to blame for the large point totals is how loose the Thunderbirds have been with the ball as they are turning it over more than any team in the Big Sky (19.0 pg). Southern Utah also gives opponents plenty of opportunities from the free-throw line by committing the third most fouls per game (23.1) in the nation. The team's own offensive showings are rather weak (64.6 ppg, .429 FG percentage) but the Thunderbirds are the top rebounding team in the Big Sky (38.0 pg). Heuir (14.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is the top scorer. The 6-foot-2 guard had a slow start but has scored in double figures in six straight games. Jackson Stevenett (13.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is also scoring in double figures and is the top rebounder.
As it stands right now, neither of these teams figure to be in the hunt for a conference title. Although Southern Utah has the advantage of playing at home, North Dakota has been coming up just short in a number of contests, while the Thunderbirds have been routed more often than not. North Dakota won't run away with this contest but should have enough to pull out a much needed win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Dakota 67, Southern Utah 63
12/17 10:39:45 ET