School: North Dakota
Nickname: Fighting Sioux (for today only!)
Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Undergraduates: 11, 139
Famous alumni: Phil Jackson (former Bulls and Lakers head coach), Dave Christian (member of 1980 Miracle on Ice team), Sally Smith (CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings), Chuck Klosterman (writer), Steve Fetch (international casanova)
It's impossible to talk about North Dakota without bringing up the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy. The nickname was given as a gift to the school by the Spirit Lake tribe of North Dakota, but when the NCAA passed the rule banning American Indian nicknames unless the schools received tribal approval. North Dakota received overwhelming approval from the people of the Spirit Lake tribe, but the council of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe denied their people the chance to even vote on the referendum. They even denied a petition containing over 1,000 signatures requesting a vote. Pursuant to that puzzling decision, the State Board of Higher Ed voted to retire the nickname permanently no later than October 1, 2010.
If you're any good at math, you realize that it is later than October 1, 2010 and the Fighting Sioux nickname still exists. That is because the North Dakota state legislature passed a law saying that the University should forever remain the Fighting Sioux forever. This law was repealed after they realized they wouldn't be allowed to host any NCAA championship events or use their logos/jerseys at NCAA events, and several schools threatened not to play the Sioux over the nickname. Their admittance into the Big Sky Conference was also jeopardized. As such, the nickname's final day is December 31, 2011 and the School will have no nickname or logo, which should be awesome, until 2015 at the earlest.
But wait, there's more! Remember the Spirit Lake tribe? They have sued the NCAA because they did not accept their referendum, requiring both to approve. Bensa can probably analyze the merits of the lawsuit better than I could, but the big thing for me to take out of this is that along with the lawsuit there is a ballot initiative that, if passed (and it will, because it needs 13,500 signatures and I wouldn't be shocked if it didn't have 5x that many), could result in requiring both tribes to vote on the nickname, which would settle this bad boy once and for all. Thank God.
For the record, my stance on the nickname, boiled down to its simplest form is this: I'm not sure whether it is racist or not. I'm white. I never had to deal with anything that any American Indian had to. The only people who should be able to say whether it is racist or not are the people. The NCAA doesn't need to look out for these people and tell them they should be offended. Professors at UND don't need to condescend to them and basically say they're too stupid to realize they should be offended. It should go to a vote and if a certain percentage of people (not a majority vote obviously, because 49% of people being offended is too many) say the nickname should be retired then retire it. If not then keep it. I'll say this though: regardless of if it gets retired I'll always refer to myself as a Sioux. I've read a lot about them both in school and on my free time and I could not be more proud to be associated with a group of people, both the past and present versions.
Who wants to talk about some actual basketball? Good. After the jump, a very special interview.
For the pregame interview I'm going to interview, well, me. I run a UND blog called, appropriately, Siouxblog. (boy that could get awkward in a hurry). So let's learn a little more about our final opponent of 2011.
Q: UND won the Great West tournament last year, with 5 Freshmen, and with you guys moving to the Big Sky next year how within reach is an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament?
A: Right now I'd say they would be a mid pack Big Sky team or so. After a good start they've really struggled so their KenPom rank has fallen off quite a bit. They're ranked 289 right now, which would put them 6th in the what would be a 10 team Big Sky. But remember this is with 5 Sophomores getting most of the minutes. In two years they could very well be one of the Big Sky favorites.
Q: Troy Huff gets a lot of publicity, was 2nd team all Great West and on the all tournament team last year, but this year has been worse. Why?
A: I think Huff thinks he's better than he really is. For example, he's taken 46 threes this year but made only 17% of them. Last year he had an eFG of 49.1%, which was fine because he was really the only guy who could get his own shot consistently, but this year it has plummeted to 40.8%, suggesting to me he's taking tougher shots (his shot% is virtually the same). I would bet he will try to come into Allen Fieldhouse and put on a show, but to be fair to him he can do that: last year at Wisconsin he had 21 points and got to the line a lot. He also has improved other areas of his game, upping his defensive rebounding rate to 20%, which is impressive for a guard, and raising his assist rate while lowering his TO rate. So it's not all bad, he should just maybe shoot less.
Q: If he should shoot less, who should take his shots?
A: The pretty easy answer to this is Aaron Anderson. He once had the 2nd best eFG in the country. It's fallen off a bit, but still is at a robust 61% on the year, including 54% from three. He has just a 19% shot rate and plays more minutes than anyone on the team (kudos to Coach Jones for realizing how good he is and upping his minutes), so if he shot more he could put up some really solid per game numbers and maybe get some conference POY pub. Sidenote: holy was I wrong about him.
Q: Compare any one Sioux to a player on this Jayhawks team.
A: The answer here is pretty easy: Jamaal Webb is Tyshawn Taylor. Webb has a 27% assist rate (and had a nearly 30% rate last year) but turns it over nearly as often (24.2%). He's shooting 55% from two, which is better than Tyshawn, but also shooting worse from three (though a still very good 38%). About the only major difference is Webb doesn't get to the line as well as Tyshawn. He also has a pretty darn good 3.4% steal rate.
Q: Obviously Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey are a pretty good 1-2 punch inside. Does UND have anything to counter that?
A: Not really. Their tallest player is 6'11 Mitch Wilmer, but he plays just 10 minutes or so a game. 6'8" Patrick Mitchell is their tallest regular player, but he's more of a perimeter guy on offense: He shot 38% from three as a Sophomore, 37% last year and is at 36% this year.
The other big I have high hopes for is Sophomore Brandon Brekke. He is shooting 70.5% from the field (all from two) this year, and is a very good offensive rebounder (14.1%) and capable defensive rebounder. The problem is he commits over 7 fouls per 40 minutes, leading to him playing in just over a third of the team's minutes this year.
Q: Lastly, give us a prediction and who will you be cheering for?
A: Fortunately it doesn't really matter who I would cheer for because this is going to be a blood bath. If I weren't on winter break and at the game I'd definitely be rocking the Sioux gear, but I'll probably stay neutral for this one. I'll take Kansas to win 80-50 and hopefully a lot of complimentary things will be said about my home state.