Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sekou Wiggs Leaving Idaho Program

From Vandal Nation, Sekou Wiggs has announced via his instagram account that he is leaving the Idaho program.

On the court, it's a big loss for the Vandals. He could be a ball stopper at times, but he was dynamic attacking the basket, averaging 11.5 PPG. He wasn't an outside shooter (just 8/27 from three), but he was fifth in the Big Sky in the number of fouls he drew per 40 minutes, and he was even better in that category as a freshman.

He also increased his assist rate up to a very respectable 19.3, up a bunch from his freshman year. He was never going to be a great distributor, but certainly he showed enough ability in setting up others to be encouraged. With the graduation of guys like Connor Hill and Mike Scott, he would have been the center of the offense next year.

It's not hard to look at the transfer and believe it is related to an incident at the end of the year. According to reports, Wiggs was late for team breakfast the day of the Big Sky tournament game against Eastern Washington, and as a result did not play the first half, and played just 12 minutes of the game. Coach Don Verlin is big on discipline (well, sometimes), and I would think an incident like that would put him in the dog house, and give him a negative view toward the coaches.

In all, it's unfortunate, because Wiggs would have been a big part of the Vandals roster the next two years, pairing with Perrion Callandret to form a dynamic backcourt. Instead, he'll continue his career elsewhere.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Northern Arizona Will Host Kent State

In the quarterfinals of the CIT, Northern Arizona will host Kent State on Friday, March 27 as they look to extend their season. An early guess after the game was that they might have to head to Eastern Kentucky, but I am glad to report that was incorrect.

A prediction from KenPom's computer models as NAU losing 65-64, so obviously this should be a very evenly matched contest.

Northern Arizona is 21-14 on the year, while Kent State is 23-11. It should be a fine matchup, and hopefully NAU can keep things going!

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Northern Arizona Beats Sac State in CIT Second Round

Two Big Sky teams season was still going on entering Saturday night, but only one remains. Northern Arizona traveled to take on Sacramento State in the second round of the CIT, and they came away with the road victory for their 21st win of the season.

The final score was 78-73, and now Northern Arizona will advance to take on Eastern Kentucky in the next round, also on the road (according to what I have found, I have not seen this confirmed yet, as the matchups are determined after the previous round of games finishes).

Jordyn Martin was the Big Sky Defensive POY, but on this night, he was also the Jacks offensive star. He was 12/16 FG, finishing with 27 points and 6 rebounds. Quinton Upshur had 22 points himself, hitting three threes and finishing 9/11 from the line. The Jacks were 25/42 on their two-point attempts, scoring 1.20 PPP.

It is the final game in the excellent careers of Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity, who finished with 18 points each. And thus ends the best season in Hornets history. They finish 21-12, their first winning season since joining DI basketball. They won their first postseason game since 1962. They had an amazing run.

But for the Jacks, the season continues, and they move onto the quarterfinals of the CIT. They continue to lay the groundwork for the future of the program!

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Eastern Washington Falls to Georgetown

Eastern Washington came out strong, but Georgetown was just too much in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Eagles led 24-17 at one point in the first half, and it looked like it could be their night. Tyler Harvey started the game off hot, and he was getting help. Venky Jois got Georgetown center Joshua Smith into early foul trouble, and guys like Parker Kelly, Felix Van Hofe, and Bogdan Bliznyuk were all hitting threes.

Then, Georgetown scored 41 of the next 54 points, as EWU just had no answers on either end. It's oversimplifying to say this, but things seemed to go south for the Eagles after the no-call on this play -



Even after review, the refs somehow decided this was not worthy of any type of technical foul (a flagrant foul could not have been called because technically it was a dead ball foul). In a sense, EWU literally took a punch, but figuratively couldn't throw one back.

For a stretch at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, Georgetown seemed like they couldn't miss. The Hoyas drained 11 threes, effectively doing to EWU what the Eagles what they hoped to do to Georgetown. When the Hoyas did miss, they were all over the offensive glass.

The Eagles could have easily given up after the big GTown run, as the score was 65-42 at one point. However, EWU kept battling the rest of the way, making the final score 84-74. A spark was Sir Washington, who surprisingly entered the game and did some good things. More than the box score, he looked like he brought some energy back to the Eagles.

The guy that impressed me the most was Venky Jois, who was all over the floor on both ends. He finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks, but even more than that, he gave a full effort at all times. If you only watched him, you wouldn't know the score of the game, and that's a true complement.

Tyler Harvey finished with 27 points, but it was a tough night. He was guarded often by Jabril Trawick (who, by the way, is a very easy guy to not like), and with Trawick's size, Harvey had trouble getting separation for his shot.

In the end, the Eagles finish the season 26-9, and they should have a great chance of playing NCAA Tournament basketball again next year. They lose two seniors (one of them being Drew Brandon, an important guy), but they arguably bring back their three most talented guys (Harvey, Jois, and Bogdan Bliznyuk). It was a great season for the Eagles, and it ended with a night in the Big Dance where they didn't have their best day, but they never stopped fighting.

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Northern Arizona and Sacramento State Will Meet in the CIT

And you thought Big Sky play was over!

On Wednesday in the CIT, both Northern Arizona and Sacramento State advanced to the next round... For the next round, NAU will travel to take on Sacramento State, who will host the game at their home gym.

Northern Arizona beat Grand Canyon, shutting down former Lumberjack DeWayne Russell (3 points on 1/10 FG) in the process. Aaseem Dixon had 21 points to lead the way, while Jordyn Martin contributed 10 points and 14 rebounds. The win makes it a 20 win season for the Lumberjacks, their first since 2008.

Meanwhile, Sac State went on the road and beat Portland 73-66, getting their first postseason win since 1962! Dylan Garrity led the way with 17 points, while Mikh McKinney was right behind with 16. That gives the Hornets 21 wins on the season.

On Tuesday night, Montana saw their season end in the NIT, as they were taken down by Texas A&M, 81-64. The Grizzlies rallied in the second half, but they weren't able to sustain their momentum. Their season ends at 20-13. Jordan Gregory had 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists to wrap up a great Montana career.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Eastern Washington Can Beat Georgetown

As I wrote on Monday, beating Georgetown is not going to be easy. While a lot of pundits are picking the Eagles for the upset, there is a reason that the Hoyas are favored by something like 8.5 points. There are some real concerns - namely, how is Eastern Washington going to stop the Hoyas?

However, it's definitely still possible for the Eagles to make good on this Jim Hayford promise:



Let's look at some of the keys for the Eagles if they want to win this game and move on to the Round of 32.

- Hit threes - This one may seem obvious, but it doesn't make it any less true - the Eagles have to be hitting from the outside. Defensively, Georgetown is very difficult to score against in the paint. Their defense is anchored by Mikael Hopkins, and he erases shots down low. Opponents shoot just 42.7% on two-pointers against the Hoyas, the 21st lowest mark in the country.

On the other hand, they are susceptible to getting beat from deep. 35.1% of opponents shots come from three-point range, which makes GTown below average in stopping those attempts. For what it's worth (some question whether defenses really have control over this stat), teams have shot 35.9% on threes against the Hoyas, a bottom 100 mark in the NCAA.

That should suit EWU just fine... 37.7% of their shots are from three (16th highest rate in the NCAA), and they are in the top 15 nationally percentage-wise. So the Eagles certainly have the personnel to get this done, but the shots still need to fall.

- Avoid foul trouble for the big men - Georgetown center Joshua Smith is very tough to handle, because he's bigger than just about anyone in college basketball, but he's nimble, and has great touch around the basket. This is him on defense, but watch his ability to move with some quickness in a short area:


Venky Jois and Ognen Miljkovic (and Bogdan Bliznyuk) all struggled with foul trouble in the Big Sky championship game, but they need to do better in this one. It won't be easy - Smith draws as many fouls as just about anyone in all of college basketball.

- A secondary player needs to have a big game - It's going to take a lot of points to win this game, possibly as many as 80. Tyler Harvey should get his, and Venky Jois usually does too, but the Eagles could use a big game from someone else. Felix Van Hofe was that guy in the Big Sky semis, when he was 7/8 from downtown. In this game, the two most likely guys are Bogdan Bliznyuk and Drew Brandon. Bliznyuk showed in the Big Sky tournament that he is not intimidated by the big stage, even as a freshman, and he has the most diverse offensive skillset outside of Harvey. Brandon, meanwhile, seems to get a lot of good shots, because teams don't respect his range as much as some of the other guys. The Eagles could use one of those guys to go for 20+ in this one.

- Find a way to slow D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera - DSR averaged more than 16 PPG, and has a diverse offensive skill set. He is a very good shooter from the outside, and also has the handles to get inside and either finish or dish. If the Eagles play man defense, Drew Brandon will likely get the assignment, and that will be huge for the Eagles. They need to do what they can to limit him, because he can really make the Hoyas offense go.

- Push the pace - Georgetown is not necessarily a slow team, but the Eagles played at a much faster pace throughout the season. It's hard to say if it will matter, but the game is starting at about 7:47 pm mountain time (and likely a little bit later than that), which would be about 10pm in local Georgetown time, as the game will be played on the west coast. If there is any type of tiredness on the Hoyas part, it could be an advantage EWU can exploit by pushing the pace and speeding the game up.

Eastern Washington will have a chance in this game, especially if these things happen. I think the Eagles will be able to score even on a good Georgetown defense, because they'll push the pace and get some looks from downtown. The key will be how EWU handles the Hoyas on the other end of the court, because Georgetown is absolutely capable of putting up a big number of points themselves.

What are your thoughts on the Eagles chances?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Interview With Casual Hoya About Georgetown

With Eastern Washington taking on Georgetown on Thursday, I thought it'd be a good idea to get to know a little bit about the enemy, from someone who knows a lot about them. So I sent Andrew from the blog Casual Hoya some questions (some about the game, some about other stuff), and he was gracious enough to answer them (and I answered some EWU questions for him, which you should be able to find up on that site by the time you read this - and here it is).

1. Obviously the media has been all over the Georgetown upset train, in large part it seems because of past first round Georgetown losses. First question related to that - Do you think there is a particular reason why the Hoyas have been the victim of upsets in the past? Second, do you think the current players pay even a speck of attention to that talk, with the standard college basketball roster turnover?

Upset train, nice one! Yes, there is a particular reason why the Hoyas have been the victim of upsets in the past and I think the coaching staff has done a great job in addressing those issues; mainly, recruiting athletes with size that can play both the Georgetown offense as we all push the tempo if need be. Moreover, there's more balance in this squad, as half a dozen different kids have led the team in scoring in various games this season. Georgetown teams in the past were more dependent on a lone individual to carry the team (i.e Otto Porter), and once the team fell behind and the wheels started to come off it was a tough hole to climb out from. This team more resembles in 2007 Final Four squad than later varietals that were upset victims in that there are more weapons on the floor.

As far as whether the team is paying attention to the upset talk, absolutely. Over at Casual Hoya we've had a number of compilation containing the national media's jumping on the Eastern Washington bandwagon, and I've noticed a few of the players posting similar things on social media. The seniors on this team were part of the disappointing NCAA efforts in 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2012-13, so there's definitely that motivation factor as well.

At least I hope there is.

2. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is obviously the Hoyas best player... Can you tell us a little about his game? Also, please tell me that I can just call him DSR so I don't have to continually type D'Vauntes...

Hey, DSR works for us so feel free!

DSR was the Big East Preseason Player of the Year and with good reason, he can score from the perimeter, get into the lane, and has been Georgetown's best and most consistent player all season. You might as well get used to tweeting the following throughout the game: "Hey, is anyone going to guard this DSR guy? He's killing us!"

3. Teams have had tough sledding going into the paint against Georgetown... Obviously that's likely due to many factors, but is it more defensive philosophy or more having shot blockers like Mikael Hopkins on the back line?

It's a bit of both, but the presence of Hopkins, Josh Smith and Isaac Copeland in the paint is certainly disruptive. Hopkins is an excellent help defender and shot blocker, and though he and Smith are a bit foul prone, I don't expect the Eagles to much success inside. If you're going to beat us, it's going to be from behind the arc.

4. I think a lot of the EWU fans are optimistic in part due to the fact that they can't see Joshua Smith out on the perimeter chasing some of EWU's shooters. Does that worry you at all or is that something JTIII can easily scheme around?

EWU fans might want to find another reason to be optimistic, because in no way shape or form will Josh Smith be chasing anyone around the perimeter. In fact, there is a better chance Smith chases you down after these questions than there is of him running after some Eagles gunner running around the three point line. Smith will stay where he needs to be, and Georgetown will probably deploy some sort of zone against your beloved Tyler Harvey to stifle whatever dreams you have of reaching the Round of 32.

5. At their best, GTown obviously has shown they can beat anyone. However, when they are at their worst, what do they struggle with the most?

Georgetown has lost all three games to Xavier this season, and that's the type of team that causes us problems - size down low to avoid having to double Smith and good perimeter shooters that can take advantage of perimeter rotations. Size up front generally has been a prerequisite to success against the Hoyas this season - do y'all have that?

6. What makes this Georgetown team fun to watch and root for?

I'm biased of course, but each student athlete on this team is genuinely a good kid. That, plus the classy way the school and program carries itself under John Thompson III makes Georgetown very difficult to actually hate, unless you are a Syracuse fan that is fat, pasty and also BANNED from the postseason.

7. How did you become a Georgetown fan? And how does one become a writer on the biggest Georgetown blog on the internet?

I've been a Georgetown fan since growing up in the heyday of the Big East, and attending Georgetown in the Iverson-era didn't exactly do anything to detract from that. The next time you're in the Georgetown area, shoot me a tweet or something, we'll meet up, I'll show you campus, will drink beers and toast the end of your season.

As far as being the head of the biggest Georgetown blog on the internet, well, that's probably more a product of the lack of other competition than anything impressive that I've done, but thanks, I'll take it. If you want to submit your resume for review, I'm more than happy to check it out since we're always looking for new talent!

8. Be honest - could you have named the Eastern Washington mascot before it was announced they would be Georgetown's opponent? Did you know anything about the team?'

Absolutely. We here at Casual Hoya have been compiling a list of possible Hoyas opponents for weeks, and EWU was on that list of teams that we didn't really want to face because of the whole, "these guys can get hot from 3 and kill us" issue. The thing is, we feared the same when we played Belmont in the first round of the Dance in 2012 and the Hoyas won that game by 15.

9. During my formative years, my favorite player was Allen Iverson... he converted me to become a Philadelphia 76ers fan all by himself. For your money, has there ever been a more exciting Hoya than him?

No, and it's not even close. I was a freshman at Georgetown when Iverson was a sophomore, so he holds a special place in my cold, dark heart. You can make an argument that Iverson was one of the single-most "era" defining players of all-time, as he ushered what I guess some people might refer to as the "hip-hop era" into the NBA which has shaped how the game has been played and who it has been marketed to ever since. When Iverson came back to Georgetown's campus a few months ago for the groundbreaking of Georgetown's new athletics facility called, appropriately, The Thompson Center, it was really really really awesome and quite casual.

10. Gun to your head (held by someone else - I promise to never do that to you), if the over/under for Georgetown tourney wins is set at 1.5, what side do you take? What if it's set at 2.5?

OVER. After we dispense of you guys I think we can take it to either Utah or Stephen F. Austin, and then it's on to Houston for a likely date with Duke. Georgetown has had pretty good success against Duke in the past, so I'll go once again with OVER 2.5! This is great! We're Indianapolis bound! I need a drink.

11. Last, what is your official game prediction?

I'd love to pump a bunch more air into your already-inflated balloons of joy, but I really think this Hoyas team is different and that the Eagles are going to feel the wrath of one of the best team's in the Big East coming out with a chip on its shoulder. The Eagles have a terrible defense (I'm not trying to insult you, it's simply true), and the only team that Georgetown played this season with a remotely comparable defense was Towson. The Hoyas won that game by 32 points. Call it Hoyas 78 - Eagles 62, friendo.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

A Final Word on Montana/Northern Arizona Finish

As you no doubt know, there were some controversial happenings at the end of the Big Sky semifinal game between Montana and Northern Arizona, when Montana player (who is sitting out the year) Jermaine Edmonds ran onto the court with 0.4 seconds left, before sprinting back and diving to the sideline. I wrote a few of my thoughts on my recap post after the game, and have sprinkled in some comments on twitter throughout the past week.

However, it was such a big story, that I wanted to expand on my thoughts a little bit, and walk through why I feel what I feel. First off, in case you somehow missed it, here is the video:



According to what I have heard, the official explanation given to NAU is that no technical foul was called because there was no interference on the play.

It is my opinion, which has been strengthened after talking to Big Sky coaches, and hearing from all types of people associated with college basketball (there was widespread commentary even from national media after the game), that a technical foul not only should have been called, but needed to be called in that situation.

My points:
1) If NAU had thrown the ball in immediately after the basket, especially toward that direction of the court, then presumably that would have necessitated that there was proper interference for a technical foul to be called. Because they didn't, the refs claim there was no interference. But what if NAU didn't throw the ball in precisely BECAUSE there was a guy in street clothes on the court with time on the clock? If you saw that, would you throw the ball in, or would you wait for things to clear? To claim there is no interference appears to be awfully arbitrary.

2) After the Gregory basket, the refs stopped the game (no timeout was called according to the play by play), presumably both to check the clock, and check the replay of the guy running onto the court. If they stopped the game even in part to look at that, that's interference right there.

3) It appears that Edmonds was noted by NAU players, and could have added to some confusion from that side, which would constitute interference. If you watch the video, it appears the player in bounding the ball looked that direction first... Did he turn away because a guy in street clothes is on the court?

4) As noted in the comments here, it is also a major player safety issue. I don't think Edmonds scoped the scene out before rushing and diving back to the bench. If a player was in the way, that's a serious knee injury waiting to happen. Not calling a technical is one heck of a precedent to set.

5) Let's take it out of context... let's say there's an NCAA Tournament game, and the ball is on one side of the court. Let's then say that on the opposite bench, someone saunters halfway on the court and does something on the opposite end of the court (it could be anything: dance, bounce a ball, try to rile up the crowd), but he gets back to the bench before the game changes ends. In theory, he has not interfered with the play, but do you think that's going to stop the refs from giving him a technical foul?

An absurd example, maybe, but under the explanation given, how do you call something like that a technical but say this isn't a technical foul?

Now, it is important to note that the non-call did not necessarily win or lose the game. Even if a technical foul is called, Montana is still likely going to win. NAU would have sent Kris Yanku to the line, an 80% FT shooter. That would make it a 65% chance he makes both free throws, which would have sent the game to OT. Let's say NAU had a 35% chance of winning the OT, being on the road - that means that if a technical foul was called, there's still only a 22% chance to win. In most scenarios, Montana still advances. But the fact that we didn't get to find out what would have happened is, frankly, embarrassing.

I understand that nobody wants to see something like that happen - a game shouldn't be decided in part because a player on the bench had an emotional reaction to a great play. Everyone hates when that helps decide games. But you can't just choose when to selectively enforce the rules.

In the days that followed, the Big Sky has issued announcements to say they were looking into the postgame scuffle (which, curiously, referred to the Montana head coach as "Travis" and NAU coach Jack Murphy as "the head coach at Northern Arizona," but that's another issue for another time), a statement to say they suspended Coach Murphy for one game, and a statement to acknowledge a clock error in the Women's Tournament, but nothing on this incident as far as I can tell. (EDIT: According to this article from the Arizona Daily Sun, the Big Sky affirmed the call as being correct. Consider me unconvinced that there was no interference, as per the rest of my article).

Having written about the league for four years, I can tell you that perception among fans exists that schools like Montana and Weber State get the most favorable calls in the league, to the point that it's not uncommon to hear suggestions that the league is rooting for and doing what they can to give Montana a better chance to win. Let me be clear, I personally do not believe that is the case. But things like this certainly won't help to change that perception.

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Georgetown Scouting Report

Georgetown finished the year 21-10, and went 12-6 in the Big East, losing to Xavier in the Big East Tournament. They are the four seed in the South region, and thus they are Eastern Washington's first round opponent. Early lines seem to have Georgetown favored by 8 points.

For the season, they scored 1.103 PPP (41st in the nation), and allowed 0.94 PPP (25th in the country). For comparison, EWU scored 1.10 PPP (46th), and allowed 1.08 PPP (279th). Georgetown played at a much slower pace than EWU, but their offensive is every bit as good as the Eagles, with their defense being quite a bit better than EWU's outfit.
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Offensively, the Hoyas excel at drawing fouls and getting easy buckets in the paint. They show 50.4% on twos this year, a top 75 rate in the country. They are also a great offensive rebounding team, finishing with a rate in the top 75 in the country there as well.

In the post, a lot of those efforts are centered on Joshua Smith, who many may remember from the start of his career at UCLA. He is a behemoth of a man with great touch around the basket, and great rebounding instincts, especially on the offensive glass. Smith shot 63% this year, and had an offensive rebounding rate of 15.4%, which was 14th in the nation (he is no slouch on the defensive glass, but especially excels offensively). Safe to say that EWU hasn't faced anyone quite like him, if only because there aren't many guys like him.

As good as Smith is, the Hoyas best player is junior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who can hurt you in different ways. He excels at getting to the foul line, as he took almost five FTs per game, making 88% of his attempts. He can also hurt you from long range, where he shot 40%. In terms of ball distribution, he is their best shot creator for other, with a 20.0 Assist Rate compared to a 11.6 TO Rate. Simply out, there isn't a lot he can't do.

There are other weapons too. Jabril Trawick can score inside or out, and shot 55% on two-point attempts this year. Freshman Isaac Copeland is a future pro. Aaron Bowen shoots 60% on twos and comes off the bench. They are going to be tough to cover. Everyone knows about the Princeton offense, and EWU will need to be very disciplined defensively.

For as good as Georgetown can be offensively, they are even better on the defensive end of the court. They simply don't give you anything inside - teams shoot 42.7% inside the arc, the 21st best defensive mark in the nation. They force turnovers, and they block a lot of shots. They have been susceptible at times to three-point shooting teams, as opponents have shot 35.9% from downtown against them. This could play into EWU's hands, but we'll get into that later in the week. The Hoyas have also had a tendency to put their opponents on the foul line, though that is something that EWU will have a harder time to naturally take advantage of in their offense.

The anchor for Georgetown's defense is 6'9'' senior Michael Hopkins. He is 60th in the NCAA in block rate, and can get some steals as well. He is solid on the defensive glass as well. He is a big part of the reason why the lane can be a tough place to do much against Georgetown.

That's a quick look at the Hoyas... later in the week we'll come back with some ways that Eastern Washington might attack them, and what might be needed for an upset to occur.

After the brackets were unveiled, a lot of people pointed to the Hoyas being overseeded, and this being one of the most picked upsets. But make no mistake - This is a really good Georgetown team, and upset will still be an uphill battle.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Montana, Northern Arizona, and Sac State in Postseason Tournaments

Eastern Washington is not the only team that will be dancing, as Montana, Northern Arizona, and Sac State also received invites to postseason tournaments.

Montana, by virtue of being the Big Sky regular season champion, got an automatic berth into the NIT. They will take on Texas A&M in the opening round, with their game on Tuesday night on ESPNU.

Meanwhile, Sac State will travel to Portland to take on the Pilots on Wednesday night in the CIT. In the same tournament, Northern Arizona will travel to take on Grand Canyon, also on Wednesday night.

Hopefully both will be able to extend their seasons and get a few more basketball games in!

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Eastern Washington a 13 Seed, Will Face Georgetown

After much speculation throughout the year that the Big Sky winner may be relegated to the play-in game, the conference got a little break from a seeding standpoint when Eastern Washington, who had the best non-conference resume of anyone in the conference, won the tournament and got the auto bid.

The projections I saw had them around a 15 seed, but they wind up getting a 13 seed, and they will take on the #4 seed Georgetown in the first round of the Big Dance.

Already, many people are calling them a potential upset, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they are one of the most picked upset teams in the tournament. For one, they have shown they can win big games, like when they beat Indiana and San Francisco on the road earlier this season. Two, a lot of people feel that Georgetown got over-seeded, as they finished the year 21-10, losing in the Big East tournament to Xavier. To that end, it's probably the best possible draw that EWU could have hoped for.

However, it's still going to be an uphill battle, as Georgetown is still a very good team and will be heavily favored. On KenPom's ratings, they are the 22nd best team in the country, and his system projects a 80-69 Georgetown win. We will talk a lot more about them as the week goes on, but it will be a battle.

The good news is that the Eagles have shown a lot of resiliency this year, and they'll have the ability to score a lot of points on the Hoyas. It will be a fun one.

The game is the last one on Thursday night, with a scheduled tip of 7:57 mountain time on TruTV, which is good news for those of us with day jobs! Check back here throughout the week for plenty more thoughts on the game.

Happy March Madness everybody!

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Eastern Washington Is The Big Sky Champion

It was a classic Big Sky title game, with both teams looking to be in control at different times. In the end, it was Eastern Washington making a stunning comeback in the final five minutes to beat Montana and take home the Big Sky title.

Early on, Eastern Washington looked like the team with more energy, and they got off to a nice start, building an early 14-7 lead. They had some missed chances early, but were active defensively, and really attacking the basket, especially going right at Martin Breunig (trying to get him in foul trouble). However, Montana weathered the storm, and took a 30-29 lead into the half.

In the second half, it was the Mike Weisner show, as he had a career high 18 points. He hit big shots throughout the second half, and at times found himself guarding Tyler Harvey, and doing a good job. He was really outstanding. Martin Breunig was also really great all game long. He finished with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and did a nice job defensively as well. If Montana had help on to win, he would be the one getting all the accolades, and rightfully so. He was outstanding.

At the 6:18 mark, Montana hit a basket to go up 59-48, and the crowd was going nuts. It was then that Eastern Washington went into a full-court press, which seemed to fluster Montana. The score was 61-52 at around the four minute mark. Then, Drew Brandon got a bucket, and Montana was called for a five second call after the couldn't get the ball in. After the TV timeout, Tyler Harvey hit a three, and suddenly it was a four point game and Montana was reeling. All told, EWU went on a 21-4 run to close the game out, save for the garbage time bucket by the Grizzlies with a second left.

Tyler Harvey, the nation's leading scorer, was at his best down the stretch. At the six minute mark, he had just ten points, and didn't seem to have any openings (many kudos have to go to Mario Dunn of Montana, who was sensational defensively). He had eight points down the stretch, including an and-1 on a 15 footer from the baseline, which gave EWU a four point lead with 43 seconds left, and the Grizzlies were never able to get any closer.

Montana has had trouble closing out opponents this year - Against both Sac State and Idaho, they had win probabilities of 97%+ in the final three minutes. I mentioned this in one of my previews coming into the tournament, and it turned out to be the Achilles heel for the Grizzlies. That's a tough way to lose.

Two other EWU players should be noted in a recap about the game. One is Bogdan Bliznyuk, as the freshman was outstanding, finishing with 13 points and 5 rebounds. At times, he was the only Eagle capable of getting buckets, and he kept the game close early in the second half. His future is very bright, obviously. The other guy is Drew Brandon, who finished with 16 points and 7 rebounds. His shooting has been unsteady this year, but it was on point in this game. One other Montana player to note is Jordan Gregory, who was getting to the basket all night. What a Big Sky tournament he had.

From an NCAA tournament standpoint, Eastern Washington had the best resume in the Big Sky conference, which should hopefully push them up a few lines when the brackets are announced. It has been a wildly successful season for the Eagles, who capture their second Big Sky championship, and could be even better next season.

What a classic.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Big Sky Statement on NAU/Montana Postgame Scuffle

After the postgame scuffle between Montana and Northern Arizona, the Big Sky has issued a postgame statement:

“First thing, I want to compliment the players,’’ Fullerton said. “The players as we watch them, there are no punches thrown, and they are breaking it up. They absolutely did a good job, both sets of players. The one thing people want to know about is (Montana coach) Travis (DeCuire). I see absolutely no action by Travis that would cause us to suspend him or cause any problems for Travis tomorrow. We’re still reviewing the head coach at Northern Arizona.’’

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Eastern Washington and Montana Advance to Big Sky Title Game

For the second straight day, we had some great games in the Big Sky tournament. First, the less complicated game, which was Eastern Washington taking down Sacramento State, winning their second straight game by a score of 91-83.

The EWU offense was as good as they have been at any point all year. In the first half, Sac State focused on Tyler Harvey, and held him to 0 points. The problem was that everyone else for EWU was firing on all cylinders. Felix Van Hofe hit five first half threes before finishing with 23 points. Bodgan Bliznyuk had 16 off the bench, and Venky Jois had 19.

Eastern Washington was 15/25 from downtown in this game, and finished with 1.25 PPP. You're going to win a lot of games like that. I said before the conference tournament that EWU had the highest ceiling of any team in the Big Sky, and they showed it in this game. If they play like that, they can and will beat Montana.

For Sac State, it's a bittersweet end to the season, but they have plenty to be proud about. They finish the best season in school history, Mikh McKinney was the league MVP, and Brian Katz the co- Coach of the Year. The senior class has elevated the program to a level that probably would have been unthinkable four years ago.

The Hornets were beaten by a better team on this day, but what a season it was.

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In the other semifinal game, Montana escaped for the second straight day, this time hanging on to beat Northern Arizona 61-59 on a game-winner from Jordan Gregory with 0.4 seconds left.

Kris Yanku hit two free throws to tie the game with 8.2 seconds left, and Gregory got the ball and went coast to coast, driving right by Quinton Upshur (who looked more concerned with not fouling than with stopping Gregory) for the tough lay-in. This has gotten lost a bit in all of the happenings post-game (we'll get to it in a moment), but what a great play by Gregory.

He knew just how much time he had, he didn't settle for an outside shot, and he got a good look at the rim. That is textbook. It's a shame it got overshadowed a bit, but we need to give him his due.

However, as mentioned, after the shot, pandemonium broke out. College Basketball Talk has the video and image, but after the shot, 0.4 seconds remained on the clock. However, a Montana assistant ran on the court, realized there was time left on the clock, ran back and literally dove back to the bench. The play was reviewed (either for that or to see how much time was left), and 0.4 seconds was put on the clock, but no technical foul was called.

In my opinion, the Grizzlies were very lucky to get out of there with no technical. To my eye, a technical foul should have been called. From that CBT article, here is the rule that potentially applies:

Assistant coaches and bench personnel. All bench personnel, with the exception of the head coach, are required to be seated on the bench while the ball is live except to react spontaneously to an outstanding play and then to immediately return to sitting on the bench. Violations by players, especially assistant coaches, should not be tolerated by officials. When assistant coaches or bench personnel are violating bench decorum rules in a minor way, the official shall inform the head coach and request that he handle the situation. This is an official warning. Any further violation by bench personnel shall result in a technical foul assessed to the offender. Egregious (blatant) conduct violations by assistant coaches or bench personnel need no warning and shall immediately result in a technical foul. A tehnical foul assessed to bench personnel is also assessed as a CLASS B technical foul to the head coach.
I understand that it ultimately did not impact the game, which is the explanation that was given to Coach Jack Murphy. However, the only reason it didn't impact the game was because NAU happened to not throw the ball in right away (perhaps because there was an assistant coach on the floor?) To my eye, that crosses the arbitrary standard of being an egregious or blatant violation.

I understand you don't want a game to end in that way, or be impacted like that, but a rule is a rule. A technical foul should have been assessed. In talking to others around the league, I am not alone in this thinking.

EDIT: One report does say it was not an assistant coach, but a player who is sitting out this season that ran onto the court. That does seem to be the case. It doesn't change my mind on the play, but I should note that distinction.

EDIT 2: The Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton made a statement after the game saying that Travis DeCuire will not be suspended for anything, but that they are still looking into the actions of NAU coach Jack Murphy.

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So, I've said my part! Once again, it's a shame this is taking away from the game itself a bit, because it has nothing to do with the Grizzlies players. They deserved to win this game, and for the second straight day, they made enough plays down the stretch to get the win and advance.

This sets up a dream Big Sky championship matchup between Montana and Eastern Washington, who are the two best teams in the Big Sky for my money. The teams split their season series, and each won on the other team's home court. We'll be in for a classic.

Preview to come tomorrow.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Northern Arizona and Montana Survive to Advance

For all of the parity in the Big Sky this year, all of the top seeds will advance to the semifinals. However, it certainly wasn't easy!

Northern Arizona's win over Northern Colorado didn't generate any style points, but they controlled the game defensively to get the 63-57 victory and advance to the Big Sky semifinals.

UNC had just 0.97 PPP, as they shot 15/39 inside the arc and 5/22 beyond it. Good looks were nowhere to be had, even as they grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. Tim Huskisson had 15 and 10 in his final career game, but Tevin Svihovec was held to 13 points on 4/17 shooting, and the Bears didn't have enough scorers to pick up the slack.

The game was tight the whole way, but it always felt like NAU had things under control. It was a power game, as they had 14 offensive rebounds themselves, consistently looking to get the ball inside. Jordyn Martin had 4 offensive rebounds, but the real star down low was Len Springs, who finished with 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He was a force down low on both ends.

But the star of the second half for NAU, I thought, was Aaseem Dixon, who always seemed to hit a big bucket when the Jacks needed one. He finished the game with 16 points, including hitting four threes.

In the first two games of the day, it was the stars that took over and powered their teams. In this game, it was a full team effort as NAU does what they couldn't do last year - beat Northern Colorado in the opening round of the Big Sky tournament.

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In the nightcap, we got a classic battle between Montana and Weber State, though the refs seemed to do everything they could to slow the flow of the game. 47 fouls were called in this game, many of the ticky tack variety. The topper was in OT, where Ryan Richardson may have slightly bumped Mike Weisner 25 feet from the basket, and was called for his fifth foul. Both coaches got warnings from the refs by the end of the first half, and things were inconsistent throughout. The silver lining is that both teams had plenty of reason to be miffed many times over, so it's not like one team was consistently favored. And that is the last I will say about the reffing.

First, let's talk about Weber State, who played their best game of the year, putting all they had into this one but coming up just short. Jeremy Senglin missed a month with a broken jaw, and played a wonderful game, finishing with 25 points, many of them in big spots. Joel Bolomboy had 18 and 10, and battled Martin Brenig all game.

The Wildcats played great defense in the second half, making the Grizzlies work for everything. It would have been enough too, if it weren't for a tough loose ball foul on Bolomboy which sent Jordan Gregory to the foul line with 3.2 seconds left (re: that call... it was an unfortunate call on Weber, but I'm not sure it could have been called any other way).

For Montana, they survive and advance, which is the name of the game. They battled foul trouble for much of the second half, with Mario Dunn fouling out, and Breunig playing much of the end of the game with four fouls.

Still, Breunig was excellent in this game, finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds. despite getting a ton of Weber attention. His offensive game is so diverse and impressive. He is a star.

Gregory struggled to get many good looks, but it is a testament to him that when he was fouled, down 2, with 3.2 seconds left, there was no doubt as to whether he was going to hit the shots. He did.

Weber State got Montana out of their game - the Grizzlies were 3/17 from downtown, and struggled to get contributions from many of their role players (Brandon Gfeller had 2 points on 0/5 FG), but they come away with the win. That sets up an NAU/Montana game which should be fascinating. They are the two best defensive teams in the Big Sky, and will look to attach each other in different ways. Hopefully it is a worthy follow up to this classic.

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Eastern Washington and Sacramento State Advance in Big Sky Tournament

Through two games in the Big Sky Tournament, the favorites have advanced on the backs of their stars.

The first game of the day was an entertaining, back and forth affair between Eastern Washington and Idaho. Points came in flurries, with the Eagles eventually prevailing 91-83 to move on.

They were led by Tyler Harvey, who was simply sensational, tying a Big Sky tournament record with 42 points. He was 13/20 from the field, and hit eight threes in the victory. It wasn't a case of Idaho losing track of him either... Harvey hit stepback jumpers with guys in his face. He was essentially unguardable at times, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Mikh McKinney was a rightful MVP winner, but Harvey showed that at his best, he was the toughest guy to guard.

At times, it looked like EWU wasn't going to get enough from everyone else to get the win (other than Harvey, the Eagles were 5/20 from downtown), but they got just enough plays down the stretch. Venky Jois got a lot of defensive attention, but he eventually finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Ognjen Miljkovic made enough shots to be dangerous, and finished with 13. Bogdan Bliznyuk made some plays down the stretch. They got just enough from everyone else.

Idaho was almost not going to be denied, as they put on an offensive clinic of their own. The star was Connor Hill, who finished with 23 points and looked like a senior doing everything he could to prolong his career. At times, it looked like his range was unlimited. Perrion Callandret played perhaps the best game of his career, and gives them hope that they will have a great backcourt next year (along with Sekou Wiggs). Ark Mkrtchyan did his thing, as always. In the end, they just couldn't get the stops they needed. They were a fun team to watch, with a lot of offensive talent and the ability to raise their game against good opponents, but they just never found that elite level defensively.

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The Eagles opponent in the semifinals will be Sacramento State, who held off a pesky Portland State team to get the 70-60 win.

Portland State took care of the ball, and they were patient against the Sacramento State zone, but they just couldn't find enough good shots, as they were just 22/61 from the field. The Hornets were very disciplined in the zone, always staying in position and never overpursuing.

On the other end, the Hornets were powered by their starts. Dylan Garrity had 22 points and was 8/8 inside the arc, Mikh McKinney had 24 points, and Cody Demps finished with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. The trio combined for 55 of the Hornets 70 points, showing why they are arguably the best trio in the Big Sky.

For the Vikings, Gary Winston was excellent, as the senior finished with 26 points, but the Vikings had no balance in this game. Tiegbe Bamba and DaShaun Wiggins both had their moments, but nobody else was able to get anything done against the Hornets zone. In the end, Sac State won this game with their defense, which is not a phrase we would expect to write about them this year.

The Eagles won an entertaining affair, while the Hornets slowly strangled the Vikings into submission. In the end, both styles get you into the Big Sky semifinals. The Eagles win will get a few more headlines because it was more visually appealing, but the Hornets arguably looked better in their victory.

We'll get a matchup that many expected to see in the title game for much of the season. It will be an even matchup, as both teams split in the regular season. It will come down to the stars - Harvey and Jois on one side, McKinney and Garrity on the other. We are all in for a real treat!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Big Sky Tournament Predictions

After looking at all of the teams yesterday, and their respective chances to win the Big Sky tournmament, let's get to something more concrete - previews of the games themselves, along with some predictions.

I'll go into more detail on the quartefinal games, and then give me predictions for the subsequent rounds in less detail (since there's no need to go deep in depth for matchups that may or may not happen). Without further ado...

Quarterfinals

#1 Montana vs #8 Weber State
Previous Meeting(s): Weber won 68-60 in Ogden, Montana won 74-63 in Missoula
Thoughts: Jeremy Senglin missed the second meeting, so Weber State's best chance will be to follow what happened in the first meeting. In that game, Martin Breunig was dominant (31 points on 14/18 shooting), but the Wildcats did a good job containing everyone else. The rest of the team shot 10/37 for 29 points, including a 4/18 effort from Jordan Gregory. Breunig has abused Weber in both games, so they may not have a easy time stopping him. Their best bet may be to just single him up with Joel Bolomboy, and stick to the rest of Montana's shooters as close as they can. A guy like Brandon Gfeller can rack up some points in a hurry if he gets good looks, and that could be the type of thing Weber State can't come back from.

The bigger factor, I think, will be the other end of the court, where Weber State doesn't figure to have a ton of success against the Montana defense. Nobody has been better at forcing turnovers in the Big Sky, but WSU has been the second most generous team in giving them up. Getting Senglin back could help that, but he's also had a tendency to turn it over. As I mentioned yesterday, the easiest way to beat Montana could be to get Breunig into foul trouble, and Bolomboy has had some success drawing fouls this year (he takes over 5.5 FTs per game). However, I just don't see the Wildcats getting enough open looks against the Griz, especially since this game is in Missoula.

Montana 71, Weber State 60

#4 Northern Arizona vs #5 Northern Colorado
Previous Meeting(s): NAU won 65-60 in Flagstaff, UNC won 76-74 in Greeley
Thoughts: I watched these two teams in Greeley a couple weeks ago and it was a great game, so it will be fun to watch again. When UNC has the ball, it will come down to who is able to play more to their strengths. NAU doesn't give you good looks in the paint, and they typically rebound the ball well. On the other hand, UNC excels in the midrange and using their quickness to get good shots at the rim, and they can be terrors on the offensive glass. In Greeley, they snagged 14 offensive rebounds, which Jack Murphy believed to be the difference in the game. In the first meeting, they only had six. That is a key thing to watch.

On the other end, The Bears have had trouble containing Kris Yanku, and that will likely continue. UNC is at its best with either Jordan Wilson or Cody Spence out there (or even both, at times), but both guys struggle with the height of Yanku. On the other hand, someone like Tevin Svihovec doesn't have the quickness to stay in front of him. If the Bears collapse on him in the paint, Yanku has the vision and passing skills to take advantage, with shooters on the outside, and guys capable of finishing strong at the rim. It will be a pick your poison type of scenario for UNC, and I expect Yanku to put up big numbers either way.

This should be a great game, as both teams are capable of going on runs and winning this game. However, I trust NAU just a little bit more.

Northern Arizona 73, Northern Colorado 69

#2 Eastern Washington vs #7 Idaho
Previous Meetings(s): EWU won 89-86 in Moscow, and 98-95 in Cheney
Thoughts: As you can tell from the previous game scores, we should be in for a fun, fast paced game. Where teams like Northern Colorado or Sacramento State are great offensively but don't try to push the pace, both the Eagles and Vandals are excellent scoring the ball AND like to push it as fast as they can. Plus, they can have their defensive struggles at times as well (though one more than the other).

The Vandals keeping both meetings close points to the fact that they can win this game, but the Eagles are clearly the favorite as they have more consistently played at a high level. EWU is primarily seen a three-point bombing team, but they have been better this year when they've gotten the ball inside, with guys like Venky Jois and Bogdan Bliznyuk being elite scorers down low. Idaho is also not intimidating down low either, as while guys like Bira Seck and Ark Mkrtychyan are good players, they aren't rim protectors. Look for EWU to get the ball inside as much as they can.

When Idaho has the ball, they need to be hitting outside shots, especially against an Eagles front line that has the best shot blockers in the conference. Fortunately for them, they are certainly capable of doing that, as they shot 40.9% from downtown during Big Sky play, third in the conference. The Vandals aren't going to force many turnovers, but they should look for easy options off of EWU misses, as easy baskets will be important. However, I'm not sure they'll get enough stops to be able to keep up.

Eastern Washington 88, Idaho 83

#3 Sacramento State vs #6 Portland State
Previous Meeting(s): Sac State won 64-60 in Sacramento, and 73-60 in Portland
Thoughts: The availability of Braxton Tucker will be important here, as he scored 18 in the first meeting, but missed the second game. A front line with Tucker and Tiegbe Bamba could be a huge weapon for the Vikings. Collin Spickerman can do some nice things for the Vikings (namely, block shots and crash the offensive glass), but the other two guys are the front line scorers. Tucker has missed the last three games with a knee contusion, and should probably be considered questionable. Another key for them is to take care of the basketball. PSU has been good at protecting the ball, but have struggled against Sac State, where they have turned it over 17 times in both meetings. There are scoring opportunities to be had against the Hornets, but they are also good at forcing TOs, so that will be a key.

When Sac State has the ball, they are an interesting team in that they have the best three-point shooting team in the conference, but they don't look to take a ton of threes. Everything starts with Mikh McKinney, who does it all for the Hornets. McKinney will get his, but they can't let him get great looks for everyone else. The Vikings aren't going to force a lot of turnovers, so it comes down to closing in on shooters such as Dylan Garrity, and cutting off the penetration of McKinney and Cody Demps. All three guys are capable of scoring 20.

In the end, if I was a betting man, I think the most likely scenario is that Sac State wins a close game. However, I think at least one of the lower seeds win (with how even this league has been all year), and I think this is the most likely game. If PSU can take care of the ball (again, has been an issue against the Hornets), they can score enough to win this game. It should be fun.

Portland State 69, Sacramento State 68

Semifinals

#1 Montana vs #4 Northern Arizona
This would be a slugfest of a semifinal, featuring the two best defensive teams in the Big Sky. During their only meeting in late January, NAU scored 0.89 PPP, while Montana mustered 1.00 PPP thanks to 31 points from Jordan Gregory. NAU has the horses down low (including Big Sky Defensive POY Jordyn Martin) to slow down Martin Breunig, but Montana has Mario Dunn to help contain Kris Yanku. Once again, I like the home court to triumph, and I'd take Montana.

#2 Eastern Washington vs #6 Portland State
These teams split during the regular season, so it's a closer game than the seeds might show. However, Venky Jois missed the second meeting (when PSU won), and we are starting to realize he may be the Eagles most important player with his offensive scoring and shot blocking ability. That would make the difference in the third meeting, and I like Eastern Washington in this theoretical matchup.

Championship

#1 Montana vs #2 Eastern Washington
In terms of entertainment factor, this is probably our dream finals matchup. The two teams split their meetings, winning on each other's home courts. As mentioned, Montana is the favorite with their home-court advantage, but EWU is a team that can combat the strengths of the Grizzlies. Venky Jois is down low, and he bothered Breunig in their first matchup (in fairness, Breunig was a force in the rematch). The other thing is that, as we've mentioned, Montana excels at forcing turnovers, but EWU is predicated on taking care of the ball... Their 19 turnovers in the two meetings combined is not bad. So, they can score on the Grizzlies.

However, I just can't shake the feeling that Montana is the best team in the Big Sky right now. Jordan Gregory is the go to guy late in games, and it's nice to have that pecking order. We've talked about Breunig. Mario Dunn could be a future defensive POY. Guys like Brandon Gfeller, Fabijan Krslovic, and Mike Weisner all fill their roles. Everything is coming up Montana for me, and that's why I think they will be the Big Sky champions.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Big Sky Tournament Teams - Quick Preview

Before we get to the previews of the games themselves, let's take a quick rundown of each of the teams, and why they could either win the whole tournament, or lose in the first round. It's a wide open race this year, which should make it fun!

#1 Montana
Why they can win it: For one, they have home court advantage. The Grizzlies were 8-1 at home during Big Sky play, losing just to EWU on February 5th. The Grizzlies are also playing the best basketball of anyuone in the Big Sky the past few weeks... after that loss to EWU on 2/5, they went 7-1, with the only loss coming in double OT at Idaho (a game they had a 97.2% chance to win with 3:24 left).

They are also the best defensive team in the Big Sky, at 0.998 PPP during conference play. Their 0.12 PPP margin in Big Sky play is easily the best in the conference. Tying it all together, the Griz have a luxury in Martin Breunig that is rare in the Big Sky - a big man with a solid offensive skill set. He was a unanimous first-teamer and you could easily make the case for him as Big Sky POY.

Let me put it this way... If Sac State had finished with a win and hosted, Montana still might have been the favorite to win the conference. As it is, they are clearly the favorite going into things. In early February, I said Montana was a definite contender (unintentionally angering Sac State fans in the process), but they came on stronger than I ever expected.

Why they can lose in round 1: In two of their four Big Sky losses, they had big leads late, and lost it at the end. Such that that is a trend, they could struggle to hold onto leads.With it happening in just two games, it would be far too strong to say they have a tendency to blow late leads, but it's out there. The biggest concern for them, I think, is that Martin Breunig can get into foul trouble. In both of the aforementioned games, he fouled out. While Jordan Gregory is very good, and they have role players that can do some nice things, everything is harder when Breunig is not out there. Losing him to foul trouble early in a game could be the clearest path to a loss for them.

#2 Eastern Washington
Why they can win it: The Eagles pose the best chance of beating Montana, as they did it once and almost did it again. The Grizzlies have been great at forcing turnovers, but EWU can take care of the ball, and Venky Jois can match up with Breunig down low. That would be a heck of a title game!

The Eagles have shown they may have the highest ceiling in the Big Sky, as they had some big road wins earlier in the year, and have looked downright unstoppable offensively at times. We all know about Tyler Harvey and Venky Jois, but Bogdan Bliznyk is a legit weapon, Drew Brandon does a bit of everything, and Parker Kelly can shoot. Even Felix Van Hofe has hit some big shots. They are tough to defend because they almost always have five guys out there that can score.

Why they can lose in round 1: A lot of this has been due to injuries at times, but they haven't quite seemed to be playing to their peak over the second half of conference play. Save for a date with MSU on 2/26, all of their other last eight games were either within four points or went to OT. That shows some close losses, but an elite team should be able to blow out a couple of those teams. As always, the key for them is defense. They finished fifth at 1.08 PPP allowed in conference play, but teams shot 42% from downtown against them. If their own shots aren't falling, they need to be able to rely on the D to pick up the slack for a while before the offense gets rolling again. It remains to be seen if they can do that.

#3 Sacramento State
Why they can win it: Until the last week, they looked like they would be the hosts of the tournament, so obviously they have the talent to be near the top. They have been great in close games, and while it's debatable if that is a repeatable skill, all the checkpoints are there for them to be good late in games, including experienced guards, a big time shooter in Dylan Garrity, the Big Sky POY Mikh McKinney, and a worthy third fiddle in Cody Demps.

McKinney is the biggest reason to think they can win... no matter if you think he should or shouldn't have been the POY, he has been great all year. He can shoot, drive to the hole, find his teammates, and make plays on the defensive side of the court. He can do it all, and that elite player gives the Hornets a shot every time.

Why they can lose in round 1: In the last section, I wrote about success and experience in close games, but that may have made them a little overrated at times, as winning close games can statistically be fluky. For all the hope that Eric Stuteville would provide consistent inside presence, that hasn't really happened this year, which leaves them too reliant on their guards. That can also be a problem defensively, as guys like Nick Hornsby and Zach Mills are good players, but not really great interior forces defensively. The other factor for the Hornets is the way the season ended... They needed one win in the final two games to host the tournament, and plans were in place to convert the rec center on campus for the Big Sky tournament - and then things came crashing down. Will there be a hangover for their confidence?

#4 Northern Arizona
Why they can win it: After Montana, they have the best defense in the conference, and the ability to get stops seems to translate better to tournaments when scouting time may be at a minimum. They are anchored by Big Sky Defensive POY Jordyn Martin, but they have several big bodies down low.

Offensively, Kris Yanku is playing great basketball, and nobody is better than him at driving and dishing, or driving to finish. He has a great understanding of pace and angles, which allows him to get to the rim almost at any time. Late in a close game, he is the best weapon in the conference. Flanking him are shooters Quinton Upshur and Aaseem Dixon. Those two guys struggled a bit earlier in the year, but have played better in the second half of the Big Sky slate.

Why they can lose in round 1: While Yanku is a great shot creator, the offense can stagnant a bit if he is not out there, as Upshur and Dixon can be limited at times in creating shots for themselves or offense for others. If the outside shots aren't falling, they can struggle to score. Another issue is depth... They only go 8 deep, and don't really like to play many guards. It could be easy to wear down. Last, they always seem to have trouble with UNC... they lost to them last year in the opening round, and lost to them in Greeley just a couple weeks ago. It's a tough opener if the Bears are playing well, which they always seem to do in the Big Sky tournament.

#5 Northern Colorado
Why they can win it: They have tons of depth and balance, meaning they could be able to weather the storm better than some if their main guys struggle. Tevin Svihovec was the only member of the team to get into postseason awards but guys like Cam Michael and Tim Huskisson have the ability to carry the offense for stretches. Another thing is that their defense has been bad this year, but they have guys like Cody Spence and Jordan Wilson that can pressure you for 94 feet, which places extra pressure on defense, especially in a tournament when teams might be a little tighter.

Their offense can be as explosive as anyone in the conference, and if some of their role players get hot for a couple games, they could carry the momentum from it right into the NCAA Tournament.

Why they can lose in round 1: The balance is great, but they don't necessarily have that one guy that can carry them and get them a good shot when it's needed. Tevin Svihovec is that guy at times, but you don't necessarily trust him as much as guys like Jordan Gregory, Tyler Harvey, Miki McKinney, or Kris Yanku. But really, the biggest worry here is defense, just like always. In terms of PPP allowed, they were the second worst defensive team in the country. It's hard to win three games in three days like that.

#6 Portland State
Why they can win it: In conference play, they beat EWU on the road... and also lost at home in double digits on three occasions. Point being - they are unpredictable. On any given night, they can beat anyone, which can make them dangerous. If Braxton Tucker plays (still trying to find out), their front line is as explosive as anyone, and a backcourt with Gary Winston and DaShaun Wiggins can score baskets. With a trio of senior guards, they take good care of the basketball and don't give opponents extra possessions. Their talent level, when all healthy and playing right, gives them the ceiling of a team that can win this tournament.

Why they can lose in round 1: As mentioned above, they are very unpredictable, and prone to games where they just don't seem to come out and play. This is not just a problem for this year's team, as it seems to have happened previous years as well. If they don't play their best, they will lose in the opening round to Sac State. Their defense is not the gaping liability it has been in some past years, but it's still not one you trust to get a stop when you need. Also, unlike previous years, their offense has been merely average in Big Sky play. It's easier to see a path for teams like UNC or Idaho in the bottom half of the bracket to make a run than it is to see the Vikings string three straight great games together.

#7 Idaho
Why they can win it: Like PSU, the Vandals are a team with a high ceiling - they beat Montana, Sac State, and almost beat EWU twice. They are explosive offensively when things are working, from Mike Scott creating shots for himself and others, Connor Hill as one of the best shooters in the conference, and Sekou Wiggs getting to the foul line. They are never out of a game because of how well they can score the basketball.

They also don't get intimidated by anyone. They averaged almost 90 PPG against EWU, arguably should have beat Sac State on the road, and of course had that great comeback against Montana. They don't have to just believe they can beat the best teams in the conference - they know they can. That counts for a lot.

Why they can lose in round 1: Despite all those impressive showings against good teams, they were a Southern Utah win over Portland State on the final day of the regular season away from missing the Big Sky tournament. To call them inconsistent would be an insult to the word "inconsistent." They lack rim protectors so they struggle stopping teams inside, which could lead to a big day from Venky Jois in the tournament opening round. I am as fascinated by them as anyone - I can't wait to see which Idaho team shows up, because they could crash the party,. They could also go out in a fiery crash.

#8 Weber State
Why they can win it: Things have not come together for the Wildcats this year, but it's not like they don't have talent. They were the preseason pick to win the conference, and all those pieces that made voters vote for them are still there. If Jeremy Senglin is able to come back and play (which seems like a safe bet), that's a huge boost for the Wildcats and their offense. When healthy, he's their best offensive guy, and their best chance for an outlier performance. Weber also has Joel Bolomboy, who still has the ability to take over games with his rebounding and shot blocking. For all of Weber's struggles, they finished third in the conference in defensive deficiency.

Plus, let's not remember that Weber State is the defending champions. Though they are missing a lot of those guys that made it happen, many in the rotation played huge minutes for a title winning team last season. Last, for what it's worth, they did beat Montana earlier this year... granted, it was two months ago.

Why they can lose in round 1: For one thing, they are playing Montana at Montana. They are seven point underdogs, and even that line feels a little bit low to me. When the two teams met in late February, the Grizzlies won by 11.  They have struggled to score the basketball even when Senglin has been healthy, and the finished eighth in the Big Sky in offensive efficiency. Often, when underdog teams win games they aren't expected to, it happens through shooting. However, Weber was 11th in the Big Sky, shooting just 34.5% from downtown during conference play. If they get hot and shoot the lights out for three straight games, it won't be something that could have been expected.

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Big Sky Awards Announced

As you know by now, Montana and Eastern Washington are the co-champions in the Big Sky, with Montana earning the right to host thanks to a tiebreaker victories. Sac State's hearts were broken by a Kris Yanku runner, ending their dreams of hosting the tournament.

At the back end of the bracket, Weber State and Idaho did what they could to lose their spots by losing on Saturday, but got bailed out when Portland State went on the road and beat Southern Utah, saving a spot for both the Wildcats and Thunderbirds. It was a great Saturday of basketball!

The first-round matchups are:

(1) Montana vs (8) Weber State
(2) Eastern Washington vs (7) Idaho
(3) Sacramento State vs (6) Portland State
(4) Northern Arizona vs (5) Northern Colorado

That is a great slate of matchups! I will have much more to come this week in terms of previews and predictions, I am just getting back into the swing of things after being out of town all weekend.

The other news was the release of the awards!

Here is the first-team Big Sky:

- Mikh McKinney of Sacramento State
- Tyler Harvey of Eastern Washington
- Martin Breunig of Montana
- Venky Jois of Eastern Washington
- Kris Yanku of Northern Arizona
- Jordan Gregory of Montana

McKinney was the Player of the Year, in a mild surprise (I thought it may be Breunig because of Montana's spot in the standings). On first thought, without digging into things too much, I can't disagree with any of the choices, including the pick of McKinney as POY. That is very well deserved! I will give more thoughts and awards and all-conference teams next week once the conference tourney talk dies down.

The second-team Big Sky:
- Connor Hill of Idaho
- Mike Scott of Idaho
- Joel Bolomboy of Weber State
- Dylan Garrity of Sacramento State
- Quinton Upshur of Northern Arizona

Honorable-Mention Big Sky:
- Jeffrey Solarin of Idaho State
- Drew Brandon of Eastern Washington
- Chris Hansen of Idaho State
- Mario Dunn of Montana
- Aaseem Dixon of Northern Arizona
- Tevin Svihovec of Northern Colorado
- DaShaun Wiggins of Portland State
- Jeremy Senglin of Weber State

In the other awards, Bogdan Blizynuk was the Freshman of the Year, which was an easy choice. Jordyn Martin was the Defensive POY, which was a little surprise because he doesn't block shots (and numbers usually win awards), but it was a very good choice, as he anchors their D. Marcus Colbert was the Top Reserve, another good choice.

Jim Hayford and Brian Katz shared Coach of the Year honors. I can't argue with those guys, and I couldn't have argued if Travis DeCuire or Nick Robinson had won the award either, as all of those guys were worthy.

Any thoughts?

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Big Sky Tiebreaker Scenarios

There are many, many scenarios in the Big Sky for Saturday, with a lot of different ways teams could be seeded in one place or another. I'm not going to try and hit on all of them, but I'll try to hit the main things that can happen.

One note of caution: Don't take this as Gospel truth. Obviously, I'm trying to be as accurate as possible, and not state anything incorrectly, but with so many scenarios, feel free to double check my work!

As far as I can tell, the race to host the conference tournament is down to three teams after Sacramento State's loss on Thursday - the Hornets can still win, as can Eastern Washington or Montana. Based on my analysis (which I'll say shortly), I don't believe Northern Arizona can host the tournament.

There are a few scenarios that are pretty clear cut in terms of determining the host of the Big Sky tournament:
- If Sac State beats NAU, they host the tournament.
- If Sac State loses, EWU wins, Montana loses - then EWU hosts the tournament.
- If Sac State loses, EWU loses, Montana wins - then Montana hosts the tournament.
- If Sac State loses, EWU loses, Montana loses - then we would have a four way tie, with four teams at five losses. Oddly, this scenario is easy to figure out, because all four teams would be tied, you would just look at the records in the game between the teams. In that case, based on my understanding, Sac State would be the 1 seed, followed by Northern Arizona, followed by Montana, and EWU as the four seed.

[UPDATE: I have changed this section around as I have learned some new information]

The last possible scenario is that Sac State loses, but EWU and Montana both win. In that case, the Grizzlies and Eagles are tied at 14-4, while the Jacks and Hornets would be tied at 13-5.

EWU and Montana both split, which is the first tiebreaker. Then, the next tiebreaker would be the winning percentage against the next collective group. In that case, Montana would be the host, because they went 1-1 against NAU/Sac, while EWU went 1-2 against them. That would give Montana the tiebreaker, and they would host.

Then, Sac State would be third and NAU fourth, since the Hornets were 1-0 against Montana, while the Jacks were 0-1.

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Northern Colorado is the best bet for the fifth seed because they just need a win, and they've got it. If they lose, in possible head to head ties for the fifth seed, they would beat Weber State, but lose to Idaho. If they are simply tied with Portland State, the tiebreaker winner would depend on the order of the top seeds, as they split the season series.

Weber State, Portland State, and Idaho are all into the tournament with a win or Southern Utah loss, but could potentially still miss the tournament if they lose and SUU wins.

Southern Utah is actually in pretty decent shape if they beat Portland State. They hold the tiebreaker over Weber State (who they beat twice) and Idaho (who they beat in their only meeting). SUU fans should also be rooting for Sac State to win - now that they have a win over the Hornets, that would help them in a tiebreaker against Portland State, should it come to that, since SUU is 1-1 against the Hornets, but PSU is 0-2.

EDIT: After poking around a bit more, I think Southern Utah is in if they win.

Since SUU plays PSU, if they win, there would be four other scenarios involving Weber State/Idaho and a tie for the final spot:

- Idaho wins, Weber State wins - In this case, SUU and Portland State would be tied at 8-10. They split the season series, so then things would get tricky. From my understanding, SUU would do better if it came down to Sac State being the definitive team, because they are 1-1 against the Hornets, while the Vikings are 0-2. PSU would get the advantage if EWU was the tiebreaker... BUT, EWU cannot be the definitive tiebreaker, because if they win, that means Weber State has lost, and Weber State would be the odd man out. So in the scenario of Idaho and Weber State both winning, that would leave Portland State out of the tournament.
- Idaho wins, Weber State loses - This would bring about a 3-way tie between Weber, PSU, and SUU. In the record in games between the three, SUU would be 3-1, PSU 2-1, Weber State 0-3, so Weber State would miss out.
- Idaho loses, Weber State wins - This would bring a 3-way tie between SUU, PSU, and Idaho. In the record in games between the three, SUU would be 2-1, PSU 2-2, and Idaho 1-2, so Idaho would miss the tournament.
- Idaho loses, Weber State loses - This would bring about a four way tie at 8-10. In the record between the four teams, SUU would be 4-1, PSU 3-2, Idaho 2-3, and WSU 1-4. That would leave Weber State as the odd team out.

That is a quick rundown of things... by no means comprehensive, but hopefully I've hit the key points. If you have any more specific questions, please let me know and I will try and answer them. I will try to update some more scenarios in the race for the final spot if I am able to get more time today.

Also, a programming note... I will unfortunately be out of town this weekend, as we are traveling for a baptism... So, I will try and post on Sunday, and hopefully tweet here and there, but I'm not sure how that will look. Either way, I'll have lots of coverage next week on everything Big Sky tournament related.

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