Courtesy: Matt Schill,
Junior Geno Crandall and his Fighting Hawk teammates open the 2017-18 season in Hawai'i against Troy on Friday.
Aloha: UND set to open season at Rainbow Classic
Release: 11/09/2017
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HONOLULU -- The North Dakota men's basketball made the most of a long travel day this past Tuesday by wearing their best Hawaiian duds through multiple airports as they made their way to Honolulu for the start of the 2017-18 season. Upon arrival, it's been all business for the Fighting Hawks who will say Aloha to the campaign Friday night against a fellow 2017 NCAA Tournament team in Troy. 

Tip-off against the Trojans, who also won 22 games in a memorable 2016-17 season, is set for 8:30 p.m. CT and fans can listen to Paul Ralston's call on or 100.3 FM in Grand Forks or 104.7 in Fargo. Live stats will also be available on


• The Fighting Hawks are 6-3 in season openers at the DI level and have won two in a row.
• After leading North Dakota to the Postseason Tournament in five of the last six seasons, head coach Brian Jones took the next step and guided his program to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. For his efforts, he was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year and the NABC District 6 Coach of the Year.
• The berth in the Big Dance cemented the team’s transition from the Division II ranks to the Division I ranks that started with the 2008-09 season. Jones led the Fighting Hawks to a DI program-record 22 wins and first Big Sky regular season title.
• The 2017-18 season will be the final one for UND in the Big Sky as the program will relocated to The Summit League next year. The Fighting Hawks are 54-40 in five Big Sky seasons and have advanced to at least the Big Sky Semifinals in four of the last five seasons.
• This will be the program’s second visit to the 50th state. UND traveled to Honolulu in 2012 for Thanksgiving and dropped a 71-66 decision to the Rainbow Warriors on Nov. 20.
• This is the 53rd annual Rainbow Classic, which used to be an eight-team, bracket-style event played around Christmas. This is the eighth season of the four-team, round-robin format. UND along with Troy are making their first appearances in the event, while Arkansas-Pine Bluff is making its third trip to the island.
• This will be the seventh multi-team event UND has played in during the preseason since moving up the DI level. The Fighting Hawks own just a 4-13 record in those contests.

After the Fighting Hawks return to the contiguous United States, they will begin preparations for a road trip to Nebraska. UND will take on the Cornhuskers on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. in a game scheduled to be televised on the Big Ten Network.

The North Dakota men’s basketball team was selected to finish sixth in the Big Sky Coaches’ preseason poll and fifth in the Big Sky Media preseason poll that were released by league officials on Oct. 13. The coaches and media both selected Idaho to win the regular season title. 

The Fighting Hawks were one of four league teams to receive at least one first-place vote in the media poll and finished with 146 points, while the coaches’ ballots supplied the defending Big Sky Champions with 71 points.

UND was picked to finish third in both polls last season and won the regular season and tournament titles for the first time in program history.

North Dakota junior Geno Crandall was among six guards selected to the Preseason All-Big Sky Team by the league’s 12 head coaches. Crandall was an All-Big Sky second team selection as a sophomore.

Crandall averaged a career-high 15.5 ppg last season and upped that to 16.7 ppg in league play. His 136 assists were fourth most in the Big Sky and his 64 steals were second among league players. He averaged 16.0 ppg, 6.3 apg and 5.0 rpg in three wins in Reno last season that secured UND’s first appearance in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

The North Dakota men’s basketball program holds a 1562-1035 (.601) record all-time since Dr. George Sweetland led the first team onto the court in 1904-05. North Dakota is 944-280 (.771) all-time when it comes to defending its home court. The team played at the  UND Fieldhouse/Hyslop Sports Center before moving into its current home at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in 2004-05.

UND owns a121-55 record in the new facility, including an 11-2 mark in 2016-17.

The 112 points given up to Troy in the only previous meeting between the two teams is the most a UND team has ever given up in a regulation game. St. Cloud State scored the most by dropping 124 points on UND in a double-overtime victory in 1997.

SCOUTING THE FIELD: 53rd Annual Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic

The four teams playing in Honolulu combined for 65 wins in 2016-17 with North Dakota and Troy both advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

Troy (22-15; 2016-17 record) | Nov. 10 | 8:30 p.m. CT
• The Trojans are coming off just their second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history after posting a 22-win season a year ago, which was a 13-game improvement from the 2015-16 campaign.
• Head coach Phil Cunningham is entering his fifth season after guiding that historic turnaround (best pin program history) last year. His Trojans were picked to finish third in the Sun Belt this season.

Hawai’i (14-16; 2016-17 record) | Nov. 12 | 9 p.m. CT
• The Rainbow Warriors are 87-65 all-time in the Rainbow Classic and have won it 14 different times. The most recent title came in 2015.
• UH was picked to finish fifth in the Big West and received two first-place votes after going 8-8 in league play a year ago.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (7-25; 2016-17 record) | Nov. 13 | 8:30 p.m. CT
• Head coach George Ivory is in his 10th season leading the Golden Lions, who were picked to finish eighth in the SWAC preseason poll.
• UAPB went just 1-13 in non-conference games and will be making their third appearance in the Rainbow Classic.

Players To Watch:
• Troy’s Jordan Varnado (No. 23; 16.5 ppg) is the team’s top returning scorer and was named to the All-Sun Belt First Team, while teammate Wesley Person (No. 3) was an All-Sun Belt Third Team honoree and named the Sun Belt Tournament MVP after averaging 14.8 ppg as a junior. Both players rank among the top 10 scorers in Troy history entering the season. Person’s father, Wesley, Sr., was the 23rd overall pick by the Phoenix Suns in the 1994 NBA Draft out of Auburn University.
• Hawai’i’s Gibson Johnson (No. 21) is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 11.4 ppg en route to Big West honorable mention honors. The 6-foot-8 senior has been a captain both of his seasons with the Rainbow Warriors and is the second oldest player in the NCAA (25).
• UAPB’s Trent Steen (No. 15) returns for his senior season after leading the Golden Lions in scoring (9.3 ppg) and rebounding (4.4 rpg) last year.

• Jones’ 2017-18 lineup will feature three new starters after the departures of Corey Baldwin, Drick Bernstine and Quinton Hooker. Hooker’s hole will be the biggest to fill after he garnered Lou Henson All-America honors for the second-consecutive season after averaging 19.1 ppg and earning Big Sky Tournament MVP honors.
• Baldwin graduated after putting together his best season at UND when he averaged 10.4 ppg and shot 42.3 percent from 3-point range. Bernstine left the program with a year of eligibility remaining and is using the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule to play at Washington State this season. He averaged 8.3 ppg and a team-best 7.5 rpg in 2016-17.
• Classmate Carson Shanks also opted to exercise the same clause and will play his final collegiate season at Loyola-Chicago. He averaged 5.3 ppg and 2.2 rpg in 31 games last season.
• Juniors Conner Avants (9.5 ppg and 4.8 rpg) and Geno Crandall (15.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg and 4.4 apg) are the two returning starters for the Fighting Hawks. Both had solid sophomore seasons, shooting better than 50 percent on field goals and starting 30 or more games.
• Crandall was also one of the premier defenders in the Big Sky, racking up 64 steals and 10 blocks from his point guard position. The 64 steals left him just outside UND’s career Top 10 list with 113 total and were second most in the Big Sky a season ago. He was named to the All-Big Sky Second Team for his efforts and elected to the Preseason All-Big Sky Team in October.
• Classmate Cortez Seales was named the Big Sky Reserve of the Year and shift into a starting position as an upperclassmen. Seales averaged 8.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg off the bench a season ago.
• Also returning for Jones are sophomores Billy Brown and Kienan Walter, who saw limited action off the bench during their respective true freshman seasons. Brown played in 23 contests and averaged 2.0 ppg, while Walter added 2.5 ppg in 18 contests.
• Two players expected to make an impact this season that sat out the 2016-17 season are guards Jafar Kinsey and Marlon Stewart. Kinsey redshirted after transferring from Des Moines Area Community College prior to last season. He is a 6-foot-2 guard that started his career at Robert Morris before averaging 17.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg at the JUCO level.
• Stewart sat out due to NCAA transfer rules after spending his first collegiate season at Creighton. Stewart and Seales were high school teammates at North Scott, leading the Lancers to their first state title in 2015.
• Jones also welcomes seven newcomers to the roster and replaced Bernstine and Shanks with his own graduate transfer in Dale Jones from Iowa. A Waterloo, Iowa native, Jones spent the past two seasons with the Hawkeyes where he was limited to just 11 games due to a various injuries. He also lost a season of play at Tyler Junior College and has been granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA. His best game as a Hawkeye was a 16-point, 7-rebound outing against Coppin State in the 2015-16 season.
• Jones is one of three new transfers on the roster. Jaqwan McCauley also spent time at Tyler where he averaged 8.4 ppg as a freshman and upped that to 12.1 ppg and 5.1 rpg as a sophomore. He prepped in North Carolina and averaged double figures in all three of his varsity seasons.
Carter Brooks also joined the program after spending his first collegiate season at Concordia-St. Paul. He averaged 3.1 ppg in 10 starts and 29 appearances as a freshman for the Bears. Brooks, who has to redshirt this season due to NCAA transfer rules, will be joined by former Lakeville North teammate Ethan Igbanugo. He’s the latest add to the roster after agreeing to walk-on this past summer.
• Igbanugo joined a trio of true freshmen Tray Buchanan, Garrett Franken and Aanen Moody, who all signed NLI’s to play for the Fighting Hawks in November of 2016. Buchanan, a 6-foot-1 guard, was a two-time, all-state performer in Illinois after being named to the Associated Press First Team as a junior and AP Second Team as a senior for United Township in East Moline, Ill.
• Franken, a 6-foot-7 forward, was named to the Des Moines Register Class 3A All-Iowa First Team last season after averaging 23.8 ppg, which was second among Class 3A players. He added 8.9 rpg, 3.6 apg and 2.2 spg to go with 1.9 bpg and finished his prep career as Atlantic’s all-time leading scorer with 1,543 points.
• Moody, a 6-foot-3 guard, wrapped up his prep career as North Dakota’s Class A all-time leading scorer with 2,192 points and was named North Dakota’s Mr. Basketball in 2017. The Dickinson native averaged more than 30.0 ppg as both a junior and senior en route to earning Class A All-State honors and North Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year accolades after each season.can stretch the floor with his shooting ability. He earned Washington Class 1A all-state honors as a junior and senior. Walter led all Class 1A in scoring as a junior (23.6 ppg) and added 22.0 ppg as a senior en route to Trico League MVP honors.Class 1A in scoring as a junior (23.6 ppg) and added 22.0 ppg as a senior en route to Trico League MVP honors.
• Junior Josh Collins announced his decision to leave the program during the week leading up to the start of the regular season. He appeared in 30 games, averaging 11.1 mpg, 2.3 ppg and 1.5 rpg as a sophomore.

-- UND --

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