News came late Thursday that UND forward Drick Bernstine plans to transfer.
That’s a pretty big blow to UND’s 2017-18 squad. Bernstine had his ups and downs as a junior, but his frame and skill set were such an advantage at times. At 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds, Bernstine became one of the best rebounders in the Big Sky Conference. Against Arizona in the NCAA tournament, Bernstine also showcased his value as a ball-handler. He had 20 points and 15 rebounds against the Wildcats.
UND is going to rely heavily next season on Conner Avants inside. Avants (9.5 ppg on a team-best 55.3 shooting percentage) put together a good 2016-17 season and was a force at times. He was also clearly undersized and sometimes struggled to finish at the rim. Avants averaged 4.8 rebounds per game last season, compared to Bernstine’s 7.5.
With Bernstine and Shanks gone from the post, UND is going to need someone to step up defensively. That could be Josh Collins, who’s 6-6, 220. He’s an impressive athlete but a bit unpolished. Another potential replacement for Bernstine is Dale Jones, a transfer from Iowa. UND hasn’t made the Dale Jones move official but I expect the school to do that within the next 10 days or so, I would guess.
UND expects a jump in production from Kienan Walter (2.5 points per game). The 6-8 freshman, though, isn’t the wide body underneath that Bernstine provided. Walter has more of a perimeter game. Whether in the post or on the wing, the Fighting Hawks are going to need Walter to emerge. The coaches have been high on his potential.
In total, UND’s core is still strong with Geno Crandall, Avants and Cortez Seales (who actually outscored Bernstine this past season), but the Fighting Hawks will probably take a bigger dip in preseason polls now and depth is a major concern. I’m curious to see if Dale Jones can shake his injury history and provide big minutes.
It’s also going to be interesting to see what kind of impact Creighton transfer Marlon Stewart can provide. It sounds like Stewart is in the Quinton Hooker mode, where he’s a thick body that likes to get into the paint. If that’s the case, he and Crandall will get to the basket quite a bit and open up shots on the outside. Who takes those shots next season? Two years ago it was Adam McDermott and last year it was Corey Baldwin. I don’t think there’s an obvious candidate for that role in 2017-18.
I’m interested in what fans are thinking next year’s squad will look like. Let me know in the comments.