The newly-appointed North Dakota Fighting Hawks are coming off a season where they made their fifth appearance in the CIT in the last six seasons. An opening round loss to the UC Irvine Anteaters brought an end to their 2015-16 campaign.
With several star players returning in 2016-17, including senior guard Quinton Hooker, who is the reigning CCR Player of the Year, there is a heightened level of optimism around the program. The team has their sights set on the NCAA Tournament, and they have the talent and personnel to achieve their goals.
On Wednesday, the Fighting Hawks released their full schedule for the 2016-17 season. Head coach Brian Jones assembled a tough non-conference slate that should have the team more than ready for the grind of Big Sky play come late-December.
Teams who appeared in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, as well as three straight home games inside ‘The Betty’ to kick off the year, highlight the non-conference slate.
North Dakota will open up the 2016-17 season with three straight home games. The season kicks off on November 11th against Crown College, before Mayville State visits Grand Forks, ND on November 15th.
On November 20th, the Fighting Hawks open up the Wright State MTE tournament with a home date against Presentation College. From there, North Dakota will head to Dayton, OH for three games in three days in the event.
Over the three day event, North Dakota will take on three teams who appeared in the post-season in 2015-16. On the 25th, the Fighting Hawks will take on the North Florida Ospreys, who appeared in the NIT after winning their second straight Atlantic Sun regular season title.
A date against the host Wright State Raiders follows, before the Fighting Hawks close out the event against the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners. The Roadrunners won the 2016 WAC tournament title on a buzzer-beater from Dedrick Basile, and fell to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Second Round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
After returning from Ohio, the Fighting Hawks kick off a home-and-home series with their instate rival, the North Dakota State Bison on December 7th in Fargo. The return game is on December 16th in Grand Forks.
In between the two games against the Bison, North Dakota will travel to Cedar Falls, IA for a date against the Northern Iowa Panthers, a team who shocked the Texas Longhorns in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament on a buzzer-beater from Paul Jesperson.
Non-conference play will come to an end with another road game in Iowa, this time against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on December 20th.
North Dakota will have plenty of opportunities to notch a program-defining win or two as the season progresses. Taking on three non-Division I opponents to open the season will allow the team to build momentum as they head to Dayton for the Wright State MTE event over Thanksgiving.
Playing three games in three days is a tough challenge for any team, but when they’re against teams who all appeared in a post-season tournament a year ago and all won at least 22 games, it gets a lot tougher. A winning record in the event would be a huge boost for the Fighting Hawks as they enter a gruelling December.
If North Dakota can find a way to knock off either Iowa or Northern Iowa on the road, they will vault themselves to top contender status in the Big Sky Conference. With their returning talent, the Fighting Hawks are already a legitimate threat to be cutting down the nets in Reno on March 11th. A win over the Hawkeyes and/or the Panthers would make them the team to beat in the conference.
Big Sky play opens up on December 29th for the Fighting Hawks, who drew the Portland State Vikings in their opener. North Dakota will face the Weber State Wildcats, the reigning Big Sky champions, on January 19th in Grand Forks.
2016-17 Schedule: By the Numbers
4: Three teams appeared in the 2016 NCAA Tournament (Northern Iowa, Cal State Bakersfield, Iowa, Weber State)
4: Non-conference home games
.652: Combined winning percentage in 2015-16 of all Division I non-conference opponents (133-71)
28: Total games on the 2016-17 schedule (*Coach Jones stated he’s looking to add home game on Dec. 2)
– T. Bennett