Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball: Five things to know about North Dakota

Five things to know about Kentucky’s opponent on Wednesday, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks:

1. The University of North Dakota is in Grand Forks

UND is a public research university that was established six years before the establishment of the state of North Dakota. It has an enrollment of nearly 15,000 students.

Its president, Mark Kennedy, is a former U.S. Representative from Minnesota. In 2006, he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate to Democrat Amy Klobuchar. Kennedy was head of the George Washington Graduate School of Political Management before accepting the position of UND.

Grand Forks in the third-largest city in North Dakota behind Fargo and Bismarck. It has an estimated population of 57,056 and ranks as the 662nd largest city in the U.S. It is located on the banks of the Red River of the North.

As a state, North Dakota has an estimated population of 755,393, which ranks 47th out of the 50 United States.

2. The University of North Dakota is in the Summit League

The Summit is a nine-team lead consisting of Denver, North Dakota, Omaha, Oral Roberts, Fort Wayne, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Western Illinois.

Last year, North Dakota was in the Big Sky Conference, which was won by Montana. The Hawks were just 12-20 last season, including 6-12 in the conference. After starting 4-11, they did go 8-9 the rest of the season.

North Dakota moved into the Summit League in basketball and Missouri Valley Conference in football to cut down travel and renew rivalries, according to the Billings Gazette.

“This is an important move for UND athletics and for our fans,” Kennedy said in a statement. “We have appreciated our time in the Big Sky Conference and we thank our friends in that conference for their hospitality and the opportunity to have competed against some excellent teams.

“But we are excited to renew long-treasured rivalries in joining many of our former conference companions in the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference.”

South Dakota State won the Summit League last year with a 13-1 conference record. The Jackrabbits went 28-7 overall and as a No. 12 seed lost to No. 5 seed Ohio State 81-73 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

In preseason voting, North Dakota was picked to finish seventh in the league.

3. North Dakota is off to a 2-0 start in 2018-19

The Hawks opened last Tuesday with a 104-48 romp over Northland College. Then on Saturday, North Dakota traveled to Milwaukee and beat the Panthers 63-60.

UND led Milwaukee 30-17 at the half before holding off the Panthers in the second half. Conner Avants, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, led North Dakota with 14 points and seven rebounds. Cortez Seales, a 6-4 senior guard, added 12 points.

The Hawks held Milwaukee to 32.8 percent shooting from the field. The Panthers were just 8-of-26 from three-point range for 30.8 percent. North Dakota missed 13 of its 18 three-point attempts, but the Hawks shot 41.4 percent overall. They outrebounded Milwaukee 43-40.

4. North Dakota’s longtime coach is Brian Jones

The 37-year-old Jones has been UND’s coach since the 2006-07 season. His overall record at the school is 180-197. His best season was 2016-17 when the Hawks went 22-10 and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time. No. 2 seed Arizona defeated No. 15 North Dakota 100-82 in the first round.

A native of Rock Island, Illinois, Jones played at Northern Iowa from 1990-84. He was an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha from 1996 to 1998 before joining Steve Alford’s staff at Southwest Missouri State in 1998. Jones followed Alford to Iowa in 1999 before getting the UND job in 2006.

Jones guided the program’s move from Division II to Division I in 2008-09. It joined the Great West Conference in 2009-10 before moving to the Big Sky.

5. Cortez Seales and Conner Avants lead the Hawks

A native of Eldridge, Iowa, Seales averaged 10.7 points per game last season, reaching double figures in 15 games. He scored 20-or-more points in five games. He scored 23 points in UND’s overtime loss to Gonzaga last season. He was voted the Big Sky Reserve of the Year as a sophomore in 2016-17.

Avants averaged 11.6 points and six rebounds per game last season. He shot 56.9 percent from the floor and reached double figures in 21 games. He scored a career-high 26 points against Sacramento State last season. Avants has posted three career double-doubles.

Kentucky vs. North Dakota

When: Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 9 p.m.

Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington

Television: SEC Network with Tom Hart and Jon Sundvold

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader