NAU notebook: NAU men’s basketball playing in the Bahamas this week

FLAGSTAFF – It will be a lot of sun and basketball in paradise for the Northern Arizona University men’s basketball team this week as the Lumberjacks will head to the Caribbean for a foreign tour that will feature three games against Bahamian opponents.

The three game schedule in Nassau will begin on Thursday, August 16 when the ‘Jacks play IBA Elite in a 3 p.m. MST tip. NAU will follow with a match up against Star Basketball Club on Friday, August 17 at 4:30 p.m. MST before wrapping up the set of games on Sunday, August 19 vs. Providence Storm at 2 p.m. MST.

“We are excited for this opportunity to take our team overseas to the Bahamas,” NAU head coach Jack Murphy said. “This trip will allow us to play some solid competition and for the players to enjoy some quality team bonding moments which will be a benefit as we enter the 2018-19 season.”

NAU returns a total of 10 players from last season’s squad and is joined by six newcomers, including three junior college transfers, one Division I transfer and a pair of incoming high school signees.

Fans are encouraged to stay tuned to NAUAthletics.com and to follow NAU Basketball on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for game results and behind-the-scenes coverage from the Lumberjacks’ trip to the Bahamas.

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Three NAU Football Players Named to Phil Steele FCS Preseason All-America Teams FLAGSTAFF – Three players from the Northern Arizona University football team have been named to the 2018 Phil Steele Preseason FCS All-America Teams, which were released recently.

NAU junior quarterback Case Cookus and senior wide receiver Emmanuel Butler earned third-team recognition, while senior safety Wes Sutton was honored with four-team status. The trio were part of 25 Big Sky players named to the publication’s All-America squads.

Cookus returns after starting all 12 games last season and leading the Lumberjacks’ offense to a total of 5,170 yards – which ranked as the 21st-highest total nationally. Cookus tossed for 3,413 yards (10th nationally/2nd Big Sky) and 22 touchdowns against only six interceptions in 2017.

The junior signal caller enters the 2018 season with 72 career passing touchdowns, over halfway to the FCS record of 140 currently held by Grambling State’s Bruce Eugene (2001-05). His 72 passing TDs currently rank as the third-highest total in Lumberjack history and are 22 shy of tying the program’s all-time leader Jason Murrietta’s total of 94 (2003-06).

Butler enters the 2018 campaign just 49 receptions, 501 yards and two touchdowns away from tying Northern Arizona’s career records in each of those categories. He already holds the single-season records for yards (1,208) and touchdowns (16), which he set in 2015.

Sutton leads arguably the most experienced and strongest part of the Lumberjacks’ defense entering the 2018 season which ranked first in the Big Sky Conference during 2017 (19th nationally) in passing yards allowed and 14th nationally (2nd/Big Sky) with 14 interceptions. Sutton ranked third on the squad with 72 tackles (8.0 TFLs) and posted a pair of interceptions last season.

The Lumberjacks open the 2018 season on Saturday, Sept. 1 at UTEP before hosting Eastern Washington in the home opener on Sept. 8 at the Skydome.

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NAU Football to Battle Missouri State in Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge Series FLAGSTAFF – The Northern Arizona football team will take on Missouri State as part of the eight-game Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge Series, it was announced by conference officials on Tuesday.

The Lumberjacks and Bears will meet on Saturday, Sept. 15 in a 12 p.m. MST kickoff at Robert W. Plaster Stadium in Springfield, Mo. It will mark the first-ever meetings between the programs in the sport of football.

Last year marked the inaugural year of the Big Sky-MVFC Challenge, which was won by the MVFC by a 5-3 margin. The Lumberjacks played a pair of games against MVC opponents defeating Illinois State 37-16 on Oct. 17 and dropping a 38-20 decision against Western Illinois on Sept. 9.

Over the past five seasons, institutions in the two conferences have played 44 times. The MVFC has the advantage in that span, although the Big Sky and MVFC are almost even in the past two years, with the MVFC holding a slight 9-8 advantage. This year, institutions in the two leagues will play one another eight times, including five times at MVFC sites.

Since being founded in 1985, the MVFC has an all-time edge of 55-37 in games played between their institutions, which includes 31 playoff meetings.

Notably, the Big Sky and the MVFC make up two of only three leagues to have two or more playoff teams every year since 1999. In each of the past four seasons, the MVFC and Big Sky, meanwhile, have combined to produce eight of the 24 teams in the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoff field each year.

Since the FCS playoffs began in 1978, the two leagues have combined to produce 14 national champions.

This year a total of eight teams representing the two leagues highlight the STATS FCS Top-25 Preseason rankings. All eight matchups in the 2018 Challenge Series will feature at least one team that received votes or is ranked in the STATS Preseason Top-25 poll.

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