Tough schedule awaits UND men’s hoops
GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota men’s basketball schedule in 2013-14 was regarded as one of the toughest in program history.
The 2014-15 schedule, released Tuesday, may have just taken over the top spot.
“It’s the toughest since I’ve been here,” said UND coach Brian Jones, who will enter his ninth season in charge of the program.
UND’s nonconference schedule is highlighted by trips to Minnesota and Marquette – both games coming in December.
And North Dakota also will play – on the road – Northern Iowa, North Dakota State, Drake, South Dakota State and Utah.
Then, there is the case to be made for an 18-game Big Sky Conference schedule, one that looks to be even more competitive than last season, according to Jones.
UND will play at Minnesota on Dec. 8. The teams haven’t met since 1983. On Dec. 22, UND will play at Marquette of the Big East Conference. The last time UND played Marquette was in 1963.
UND finished second in last season’s Big Sky Conference postseason tournament. But the bulk of that team graduated, leaving an inexperienced team to play 10 games against eight postseason teams from 2013-14.
“Our schedule in November and December is extremely difficult because of the talent we’ll face and where we play,” said Jones. “All but two of those games will be on the road. We’ll definitely be ready for the Big Sky. With a lot of questions we face, we want to see where we’re at.”
UND’s only two nonconference home games in November and December are against Mayville State (Nov. 18) and Dickinson State (Dec. 19).
UND tried to land more home nonconference games, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to bring teams to Grand Forks, said Jones.
“It’s always been difficult for us to get home games,” said Jones. “It’s all based on your location. With our scenario, it’s difficult because of our location and the cost of getting here.
“We lost a lot of (home games) because of that. It was cheaper for some teams to fly to California from the Midwest than it was to fly here.
“That’s the battle we face. The Dakota schools in general, I think, have a tough time getting (nonconference) home games.”
In the 2015-16 season, however, UND will host North Dakota State and Northern Iowa in return games.
The road schedule, however, does allow for UND alumni in the Midwest to drive to some games, especially the marquee matchups at Minnesota and Marquette.
UND also is playing three games at a University of Utah tournament over Thanksgiving. UND will play Utah of the Pac-12 on Nov. 28.
UND begins Big Sky play on New Year’s Day at Montana State.
By then, UND should have an idea of what to expect from a relatively inexperienced team.
“I want to learn about our team,” said Jones. “I want to learn where we’re headed and that will definitely happen in November and December.”
Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald