Saturday, March 4, 2017

The End

Originally published on April 21, 2015.

I've never really written the story of how or why this blog came to be started.

To be honest, it's not all that exciting. I have always loved to write, and I have always loved basketball. When I was in college, I had a blog covering all sports (back when there was a lot less of them), and it did pretty well. In time, life got busy, and I stopped writing there, but I still had the itch to write about sports. Eventually, I tried to write about college basketball as a whole, but I quickly found out that task was beyond me at that point in my life - I simply didn't have the time to devote to watching games and writing about them every night.

This was all around the time when I graduated college and was entering the "real world." In August of 2010, I moved from North Dakota out to sunny Colorado (following a girl, of course*). I still had the itch to write about basketball, but this time a better idea started to form in my mind. I decided that a better course of action would be to pick a specific conference to cover, and from there, the Big Sky was an easy choice for several reasons.

For one, living in Denver, I am only about an hour from Greeley, which would make it convenient to get to games (I have probably seen Northern Colorado 25 times in person over the last four years). Another good sign was the fact that my alma mater North Dakota would be entering the conference in the second year that I would be writing about the Big Sky. It seemed like a great way to follow my school and be very well-informed. Last, there really was nobody covering the Big Sky. Some teams have dedicated local beat writers, some kind of did, and a lot of the schools had active message boards, but there was no definitive source for Big Sky basketball information, opinions, and analysis. I hoped to become that source. So in July 2011, I kicked off the blog.

This will be my 1,348th post here, with over 500,000 pageviews (and I think at least a couple hundred aren't from me refreshing to make sure my info is correct!), and almost 1,700 comments.

I blogged about the Big Sky for four seasons, or the length of a college career, and so to me there is great symmetry ending the blog after that amount of time. I've given the blog all I could for four years, but it's time for me to move on! Over the past year, it's been tougher to juggle life, marriage, other hobbies, and the blog, and I can't really make this blog as good as I'd like it to be in the time I have to devote to it.

I've always had more ideas than time, so certainly there is room for someone else to do even a much better job covering the Big Sky, if they so choose.


Of course, there are many thank yous to say, so feel free to skip this section if you'd like!

First, big thanks to the Big Sky conference, who was really supportive of me and the site from right when I first started things. In particular, Jon Kasper and Tanner Gooch have been nothing but great, always helping me when I needed help or had any questions. They are certainly top notch.

Next, I have to thank many coaches and players who happily interacted with me, answered my questions, and made themselves accessible. I won't name names, but you know who you are. Growing up in North Dakota, I always thought basketball players and coaches were the coolest guys in the world, but they seemed so far removed from me. So, it was a little bit surreal to meet some of them and realize that for the most part, they're as nice as you hoped they would be. I feel like I've had the chance to interact a lot with guys that will be successful at the highest levels of both college basketball and at the NBA, and I can't wait to continue to follow the careers of those associated with the Big Sky.

Among the media, guys like Gidal Kaiser, Bob Meseroll, and Roy Burton were some of the first to really reach out, answer my questions, and recognize that I was not simply a charlatan behind a computer screen (well, that part is debatable, I suppose). Among the "new media" types, I have interacted a bunch with guys like Brett Hein and Raphielle Johnson, who seem to be as nice of people as they are good writers. There are many, many others who I've had the pleasure of interacting with over the last few years, so just let me say a blanket thank you in the interest of not rambling on too much.

Last, of course, a thanks to all readers and those who have conversed with me on the blog, the Big Sky message boards, email, and twitter. It'd be pretty boring to write and have nobody to read it, so I am exceedingly grateful for everyone that took the time to visit the site and chime in. Special thanks to guys like MTJack and SDHornet, who have been with me for as long as I can remember on the blog. There is a nice little community here, and during the last stretch run, the commenting and discussion on this blog was as good as it's been in all my years here, Truly, thank you all.


I have had some great experiences from this blog, from writing previews for ESPN, writing an article for the Ogden Standard-Examiner last year, and meeting a ton of great people. Rest assured, I already miss writing the blog, and I haven't even really stopped yet.

When next season comes around, I'll certainly get the itch to write again. I may write a post here and there, but most likely, this will be the last post on this site. Of course, I'll still follow the league, I'll try to visit the boards, I'll still be on twitter, and you can always email me (bigskybball AT

More than anything else, this blog and the whole community around the Big Sky has been great fun. Don't be strangers.

There have been a lot of great experiences from the past four years, from watching the greatness of Damian Lillard, to Dylan Garrity's 75 foot game winner (the most visited blog post in the history of the blog), to Eastern Washington's furious rally to win the Big Sky this year, to Montana's almost unbelievable two year stretch in my first two years of this blog, to many others that are too numerous to name.

Safe to say I have no shortage of great memories that stem from this website.

*Who is now my wife

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Friday, March 25, 2016

The 2016-17 Big Sky rankings

The committee (of one), inspired by ESPN’s Marc Stein, returns one more time this season. We’re gazing into the future, deciphering the signs of the basketball universe and revealing how the Big Sky Conference will unfold in 2017.

2016-17 Big Sky MVP
Jeremy Senglin, Weber State*

2016-17 all-conference team^
G - Jeremy Senglin, Weber State
G - Quinton Hooker, North Dakota 
G - Ethan Telfair, Idaho State
G - Victor Sanders, Idaho
G - Tyler Hall, Montana State**

1) WEBER STATE (2015-16 record: 26-9, 15-3)

Who's gone: Joel Bolomboy (17.1 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg)

Trending: Even.

Losing Bolomboy, the Big Sky MVP, is no small detail. Then again, this is Weber State. Center Zach Braxton, who averaged 6.9 points on 61 percent shooting while starting 34 games as a freshman, should take a monumental step forward as he develops.

Senior-to-be Kyndahl Hill, the Wildcats’ third-leading scorer at 8.2 points a game, is ready for a primetime role. Freshman point guard McKay Cannon, who spent most of the season shooting spot-up 3-pointers and passing the ball around the perimeter, showed real flashes of real playmaking ability against Xavier in the NCAA Tournament.

Just think about Weber’s depth. The ’Cats had the luxury of bringing absurdly athletic junior guard Richaud Gittens off the bench in 2015-16, and they’ll start incorporating 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman and former Rivals three-star recruit Jordan Dallas into the fold next fall.

And in the biggest OH BY THE WAY, Jeremy Senglin, with Bolomboy off to the pros, becomes the guy for Weber State now. Senglin will vie for conference MVP honors, and the Wildcats will contend for a second straight league championship.

2) NORTH DAKOTA (17-16, 10-8)

Who's gone: No one of consequence

Trending: Up

Eight Fighting Hawks averaged at least 15 minutes a game a season ago. Four were freshmen, two were sophomores and the other two were juniors. That’s the group that pushed UND to 17 victories, a nine-win boost from 2014-15 when North Dakota finished 4-14 in the Big Sky.

We know what Quinton Hooker delivers on a nightly basis. His offensive rating of 120.7 and effective field goal percentage of 55.4 percent are excellent and likely to improve with another year of maturity. But the guy who’s really interesting moving forward is freshman Geno Crandall. He’s nowhere near the offensive dynamo of Hooker, and there were times when UND was overly reliant on Hooker’s scoring. So if Crandall — and the Hawks’ other bevy of contributors — can continue developing their offensive skills, North Dakota will have one heck of a year.

Here’s one area where North Dakota should be much better: on the road. The Fighting Hawks, in league play, went 7-2 at home but 3-6 on the road. And two of those road Ws were at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Finding a way to get things done away from Grand Forks is their next step of development.

3) MONTANA (21-12, 14-4)

Who's gone: Martin Breunig (18.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg)

Trending: Even

For the past two seasons, Montana built itself around the all-league skills of Martin Breunig, and he delivered with back-to-back first-team all-conference selections.

Breunig posted a stellar 120.2 offensive rating via KenPom, and his 62.8 percent effective field goal percentage was 23rd in the country. Breunig was a tank, too, starting 65 games the past two seasons. The committee (of one) took no issue with Bolomboy’s selection as the Big Sky MVP. But if we had a vote, it would have gone to Breunig.

We bring this up because, as well as UM has recruited with DeCuire, replacing Breunig is going to be monstrously difficult for coach Travis DeCuire.

Breunig was the team’s lone senior, and UM signed high school swingman Alphonso Anderson out of Tacoma, Washington, last November. If our math is correct, then, the Grizzlies don’t have another scholarship available. So Montana’s options for replacing Breunig are to either make room on the roster for a transfer or rely on the roster pieces already in place.

The latter of the options is particularly intriguing. Montana has ranked No. 303 and 310 in adjusted tempo in DeCuire’s two seasons, but the current construction of players on the team leads us to think the Griz may decide to speed things up. A faster pace could take advantage of Walter Wright, Mario Dunn and Michael Oguine^^^ — not to mention the shooting talents of Bobby Moorehead, Brandon Gfeller and Jack Lopez.

No matter what the Montana coaching staff decides, though, we’ll just assume it’s the right choice and Montana will battle (again) for the Big Sky crown.

4) IDAHO (21-13, 12-6)

Who's gone: Chris Sarbaugh (5.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.2 apg), Nashon George (4.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg), Paulin Mpawe

Trending: Up

Four is too low for the Vandals. The committee (of one) is already regretting it. The team’s top six scorers are back, and that includes sophomore Victor Sanders (15.9 ppg, 41 FG%) and junior Perrion Callandret (14.0 ppg, 39 FG%).

Idaho’s weakness was its offense. The Vandals were ninth in the Big Sky in offensive efficiency (1.033 points per possession), so Sanders and Callandret have to lead the charge to an improved offensive unit. Junior college signee BJ Blake, who averaged 21.2 points a game at North Idaho College as a sophomore, should be able to help right away.

And, ultimately, if the Vandals proceed to defend at a high level, they’re going to be just fine.

5) IDAHO STATE (16-15, 11-7)

Who's gone: Ben Wilson (6.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 50 percent shooting), Evann Hall (2.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 50 percent shooting)

Trending: Up

Don’t sleep on how much Idaho State will miss Wilson. He was a limited offensive weapon but his defense, rebounding and, most of all, leadership are the kind of things no one outside ISU’s locker room will notice as a big deal until it’s no longer there.

That said, however, Idaho State is in the same position as Weber, North Dakota and Idaho. The Bengals return the bulk of a roster that shocked the league as they nabbed a top-four postseason seed.

One of the biggest accomplishments of ISU’s season, and the reason why Bill Evans was the right choice for coach of year, was that the Bengals won 11 league games despite working from scratch with the roster. Other than Wilson, Idaho State’s top players were new to the program or minor contributors the year before. They’ve got an entire offseason to continue working out together and that extra time to get to know one another on and off the court is important.

We know Ethan Telfair is tremendous. He is, in the committee’s eyes, the most exciting talent in the Big Sky. But if ISU is going to challenge for a championship next season, guys like junior forward Kyle Ingram, freshman Stephen Lennox and freshman Gary Chivichyan have to make similar year-to-year improvements like Luzcando^^ managed in 2016.

Watch what Chivichyan (7.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 38 3P%) does closely. As a true freshman he didn’t work his way to a full-time starter until mid-January, and of his 168 field goal attempts, 151 were from 3. But he’s a solid athlete and there were flashes of an all-around game as the season wore on.

6) PORTLAND STATE (13-18, 8-10)

Who's gone: Cameron Forte (19.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg), Donivine Stewart (5.8 ppg, 3.7 apg), Collin Spickerman (5.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg)

Trending: Even

By the end of the season, Portland State’s cast of Division I transfers and junior college signees came together really well. The Vikings played faster than anyone else in the Big Sky, Cameron Forte was a nightmare matchup and PSU developed a toughness the committee (of one) found appealing.

Three starters (Isaiah Pineiro, Calaen Robinson, Zach Gengler) are back from that team, plus junior Braxton Tucker, who started 22 games in 2014-15 and redshirt last season, is slated to return. Throw in junior college transfer Bryce Canda, who should be able to provide some much-needed long-range shooting, and PSU has intriguing talent.

7) Montana State (14-17, 9-9)

Who’s gone: Marcus Colbert (16.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.1 apg), Danny Robison (5.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg)

Trending: Up***

With Colbert gone, Montana State has two key areas to address in recruiting. Coach Brian Fish needs a point guard and an injection of some frontcourt players with size.

Expect MSU to go the juco route to fix at least one of those issues, and the Bobcats will structure their offense (to an even greater degree) around the abilities of sophomore-to-be Tyler Hall.

Montana State has a number roster issues, but the ’Cats take our No. 7 spot because … A) We believe Fish and his staff can recruit. He’ll fill the holes. … B) Hall is the Big Sky’s next big thing.

8) NORTHERN COLORADO (10-21, 7-11)

Who's gone: No one

Trending: Even

In our continuing theme, Northern Colorado was an exceedingly young team in 2015-16 and didn’t have a senior on its roster. That’s good news.

What’s bad news, however, is that BJ Hill and UNC have ranked 305th or worse in adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the past five seasons. Northern Colorado was 348th in AdjD in 2016, giving up 1.165 points per possession. At this point we know Northern Colorado is a miserable defensive squad, and without any major additions to the current roster that’s not changing.

But the committee (of one) loves the idea of continuity. And assuming the Bears take the floor with the same cast of guys next season, they’ll make improvements in all aspects, and — maybe — they’ll even get a few stops on defense.

9) EASTERN WASHINGTON (18-16, 10-8)

Who's gone: Venky Jois (16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg), Austin McBroom (21 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.7 apg), Kyle Reid (1.3 ppg)

Trending: Down

Eastern returns some talent next season in Felix Von Hofe, Bogdan Bliznyuk and Julian Harrell. And the Eagles will have 6-foot-7 Australian Geremy McKay ready to go after he had to sit out a season following his transfer from Albany.

But McKay is a freshman who hasn’t played for two years, and he’s part of team filled with 12 freshmen and sophomores. The 2016-17 season could be a rebuilding year as the Eagles transition to a new era.

The most fascinating thing to watch with the Eagles right now is whether coach Jim Hayford really is interested in the vacant University of San Francisco job.

10) SACRAMENTO STATE (14-17, 6-12)

Who's gone: Dreon Barlett (7.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Cody Demps (12.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.7 apg)

Trending: Down

Sophomores Justin Strings and Marcus Graves are two solid building blocks, and freshman Jeff Wu has us interested. But Sacramento State, which was 295th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, lacks the pieces that shows the committee (of one) the Hornets will be demonstratively better on that side of the ball next season. The Big Sky Conference, with rare exceptions, is ruled by great guards, and that’s what the Hornets are missing.

11) NORTHERN ARIZONA (5-25, 3-15)

Who's gone: Kris Yanku (14.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.8 apg) … Jordyn Martin and Jaleni Neely are both appealing for medical redshirts

Trending: Down

It stinks that Kris Yanku’s collegiate career is over. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Thursday that Yanku, a junior, will not return to NAU for his senior season. He’s “deciding between transfer/turning pro.”

Yanku, remember, did not play in the Big Sky tournament for NAU. When the Lumberjacks traveled the #RoadtoReno, Yanku was sent home for “conduct detrimental to the team,” according to an article by the Arizona Daily Sun.

It’s an unsatisfying end to what had been a brilliant career. The committee’s lasting memory of the heady point guard is from his freshman season.

The Lumberjacks were in Pocatello playing the Bengals and Yanku walked to the line for a free-throw attempt with 6 seconds left in the game and the score tied. Yanku had drawn foul by stealing the ball away from ISU’s Chris Hansen on the other end of the floor.

As Yanku stood at the foul line and waited for the ball, Bengals senior point guard Tomas Sanchez walked up to him and whispered in his ear. No idea what Sanchez said, but let’s assume they weren’t words of encouragement. Yanku went on to sink one of the free throws, NAU won 66-65 and delivered a crushing blow to Idaho State’s postseason hopes in the process.

On the road, chaotic ending, senior muttering sweet words in your ear — it was just a ballsy couple plays for Yanku and ones he made again and again for the ’Jacks. But the relationship , it seems, ended because Yanku rebelled against coach Jack Murphy and the NAU staff as they labored through a five-win season. It’s too bad.

12) SOUTHERN UTAH (6-24, 3-15)

Who's gone: Travon Langston (11.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Christian Thompson (4.2 ppg), Casey Oliverson (9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and the status of A.J. Hess is unknown. Hess has been granted a medical redshirt and is “exploring options” according to the Twitter account Compton Magic.

Trending: To be determined … not really sure down is an option, anyway

Nick Robinson is out. And Todd Simon, who was a high school coach in 2013, is Southern Utah’s new head coach for men’s basketball.

Simon built a reputation as a top recruiter in his three years at UNLV. Recruiting, as it turns out, was Robinson’s greatest downfall. The Thunderbirds never consistently pulled in elite players in his Robinson’s four years in Cedar City.

Robinson and SUU relied heavily on high school kids to fill out their roster, rather than dipping into the juco ranks for a quick fix. It’ll be intriguing to see which approach Simon takes.


108 - Weber State
144 - Montana
190 - Idaho
218 - North Dakota
232 - Eastern Washington
256 - Idaho State
260 - Montana State
273 - Sacramento State
282 - Portland State
304 - Northern Colorado
333 - Northern Arizona
335 - Southern Utah


137 - Weber State
146 - Montana
194 - North Dakota
195 - Eastern Washington
213 - Idaho
257 - Montana State
261 - Portland State
277 - Idaho State
284 - Sacramento State
312 - Northern Colorado
340 - Southern Utah
343 - Northern Arizona

* The committee (of one) truly wanted to select either North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker or Idaho State’s Ethan Telfair as the 2016-17 Big Sky MVP. But if we’re under the assumption Weber State is going to win the league, we have to pick a Wildcat as the MVP. It’s rare when those two things don’t coincide. And, hey, Senglin is good — like real good.

^ Notice how there are five players on our all-conference team? Big Sky coaches should take note, because we’re sick of seeing six players on the league’s all-conference teams. It’s a joke. Why six? It makes no sense … unless, of course, you remember the fact that the coaches who vote for the all-conference teams are thinking about job security and padding their resumes.

** Five guards on the all-conference team? That’s ridiculous. … And, yeah, it is. But with Bolomboy, Breunig and Jois graduating, there’s a dearth of quality big men in the conference. New guys will emerge, no doubt. But as we look at the conference, there’s no question to the committee (of one) that the five best players are guards. Taking that thought a step further, we could make a second all-conference team with five different players and it’d still largely consist of guards. That’s the state of the Big Sky.

^^^ As if Montana doesn't have enough good guards ... this guy will be ready to go in 2016-17.

^^ Luzcando as a freshman … 15.6 mpg, 3.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 36.4 FG%, 27.9 3P%

Luzcando as a sophomore … 30.6 mpg, 14.4 ppg … 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 2.0 spg, 50.3 FG%, 35.9 3P%

*** Wait, Montana State is picked by the committee (of one) to finish seventh in the league. That’s where the ’Cats finished last season. So why are they “trending” up?

Well, thanks for asking imaginary friend. The answer is because this whole “trending” thing is 1) a gimmick and 2) more a reflection of how the committee (of one) feels about the program from a big-picture perspective. And when it comes to Montana State, we like Fish and we like Hall. MSU is trending in the right direction.

— Kyle Franko

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Big Sky's last hope — previewing Eastern Washington-Nevada

College Basketball Invitational

BETTING LINE: Nevada -5.5
KENPOM GIVES Nevada a 75 percent chance to win

CAN YOU WATCH? Watch … live stats

WINNER moves on to the CBI semifinals March 28-April 1. The tournament is re-bracketed following the quarterfinals. Check out a fully updated CBI bracket here.

HOW WE GOT HERE: Last Wednesday … Eastern Washington knocked off Pepperdine 79-72. EWU’s Venky Jois was limited to 12 minutes with a sore knee (according to EWU athletics) and the Eagles shot 10 for 32 from 2-point range — not good. But led by Austin McBroom, Felix Von Hofe and Bogdan Bliznyuk, the Eagles drained 14 3-pointers and 17 of 20 free-throw attempts to sneak out a win.

Last Wednesday … Nevada trailed Montana by 10 at halftime, but rallied in the second half behind D.J. Fenner’s and Lindsey Drew’s combined 30 points and six 3-pointers of a 79-75 victory.

PREVIEWING THE GAME: First things first: Yes, Jois is expected to play against the Wolf Pack. And on the injury front for Nevada, the Wolf Pack’s leading scorer, senior guard Marqueze Coleman, should return to the floor.

Coleman, Nevada’s highest usage rate player, averages 15.9 points a game but has been fighting a bum ankle he turned Feb. 24 against Utah State.

On the matchup itself, this is strength versus strength. Eastern is 62nd in the country in offensive points per possession (1.102), and Nevada is 39th in defensive points per possession (.965).

It’s also a game of weakness versus weakness. Nevada has one of the country’s least-productive offenses, ranking 289th in offensive points per possession (.978), and Eastern is even worse defensively, giving up 1.133 points per possession, 329th in the nation.

So in really simple terms, can Eastern overcome its porous defense by hitting enough 3-pointers to outscore Nevada? Or maybe the Wolf Pack will take advantage of the Eagles and have a great offensive performance.

Nevada is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in college basketball, but seven 3s in the second half against Montana helped drive the Wolf Pack in the come-from-behind victory. Fenner, a junior, had a team-high 24 points, and even if Coleman is able to return, Fenner has become a good gauge for Nevada’s success. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray, in an article you can find here, wrote that in Nevada’s wins, Fenner averages 14.9 points on 39.7 percent shooting. In the team’s losses, his production drops to 30.4 percent shooting and 10.8 points a game.

A couple tidbits to keep in mind for the game: Eastern’s win against Pepperdine was the school’s first in a national postseason tournament as a member of Division I. … It was also EWU coach Jim Hayford’s 500th game as a collegiate head coach. … The Eagles are 3-9 all-time versus the Wolf Pack. Eastern’s lone victory in Reno against Nevada was on Feb. 22, 1990. … EWU’s Jois, who has 1,803 points in his career, needs seven more to move into 12th place in Big Sky Conference history.

— Kyle Franko

Friday, March 18, 2016

Big Sky morning links -- getting set for Xavier-Weber State

Two things before we get to the links.

One, a Big Sky bball dot com Xavier-Weber State preview of the game is here. And if you're a Wildcat fan — or at least rooting for WSU — consider this for a bit of hope: Eastern Washington beat Pepperdine on Wednesday in the CBI. Pepperdine beat St. Mary's twice during the regular season. St. Mary's beat Gonzaga twice during the regular season. Gonzaga handled Seton Hall on Thursday in the NCAA tournament. Seton Hall knocked off Xavier in the Big East postseason tournament.

So, in recap, ... EWU > Pepperdine > St. Mary's > Gonzaga > Seton Hall > Xavier. Based off those ridiculous factors, is it fair to think Weber State can pull off a shocking upset? After all, WSU > EWU ... right? On to the links ...

No. 2 XAVIER vs No. 15 WEBER STATE, Friday, 7:20 p.m.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Big Sky morning links -- recapping the Big Sky in tournament action tournament


From the Grand Forks Herald ... MEN'S BASKETBALL: UC Irvine 89, UND 86, OT

The Fighting Hawks finish on a two-game losing streak, falling in overtime to Weber State in the Big Sky tournament and UC Irvine in the CIT. That's tough, but UND's potential for next year couldn't be higher.

Here's what North Dakota coach Brian Jones told the Herald on Wednesday: “It was a high-level game. Both teams played really hard and both were really prepared. We got quality shots in regulation and overtime and that’s all you can ever want. You can’t control whether the ball goes in but you can control the quality of looks you get.”

College Basketball Invitational


From the Spokesman Review ... EWU outlasts Pepperdine, earns first postseason win in program history

Fun game — "March Madness, Cheney-style,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford told the Spokesman. The Eagles will play at Nevada on Monday.


From the Missoulian ... Nevada erases halftime deficit, ends Grizzlies' season

Another fantastic postseason game. And another disappointing finish for the Big Sky Conference. The Grizzlies performed well on the road, but couldn't stem a second-half Wolf Pack surge.


From The Seattle Times ... Seattle U gets past Idaho in CBI opener

Ugh. Idaho's Victor Sanders went 1 for 11 from the field and 0 for 7 from 3-point range.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Xavier-Weber State NCAA tournament game preview


No. 2 XAVIER vs No. 15 WEBER STATE, Friday, 7:20 p.m.
Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Mo.
BETTING LINE: Xavier -13.5
KENPOM GIVES Xavier an 87 percent chance to win

WHERE CAN YOU WATCH? TNT with Brian Anderson, Steve Smith and Dana Jacobson on the call

WINNER GETS The winner of No. 7 Wisconsin/No. 11 Michigan/Tulsa

HOW WE GOT HERE: Xavier lost 87-83 in the semifinals of the Big East tournament to Seton Hall. The Musketeers still managed to snag a a No. 2 seed in theBig Dance based on its 28 victories — 12 coming against teams in the top 100 of the latest RPI rankings.

Weber State, which has 26 wins of its own and is No. 108 in the RPI, won both the regular season and postseason tournament in the Big Sky Conference. The Wildcats, of course, can’t match the number of quality wins of the Musketeers. In terms of RPI, WSU’s best win was Dec. 22 at home, a 99-95 victory against South Dakota State (26-7, No. 28 in the RPI).

PREVIEWING THE GAME: Let’s start with the most pressing question in regard to this game and work our way from there: Can Weber State pull off the upset and knock off Xavier? The Wildcats are 6-16 all-time in the NCAA tournament, and the Big Sky Conference hasn’t won a game in the Dance since 2006 when 12th-seeded Montana beat No. 5 Nevada 87-79.

Weber State last made a major splash in the NCAA tourney when it shocked No. 3 North Carolina 76-74 in 1999. Since 1985, when the tournament field was expanded to 64 teams, the Big Sky Conference has three wins, total — like, period.

No. 12 Montana 87, No. 5 Nevada 79

No. 14 Weber State 76, No. 3 North Carolina 74

No. 14 Weber State 79, No. 3 Michigan State 72

In the past 31 years, a Big Sky team has lost to a No. 1 seed eight times, a 2 seven times, a 3 four times, a 4 eight times and a 5 once.

Getting to the point: Weber State and the rest of the Big Sky need monumental wins for the league to garner respect. But when your best team — this year, the Wildcats — goes 18-3 against league competition, works itself to No. 108 in the RPI, has an NBA draft prospect and still only manages a 15 seed in the tournament … well … it’s an uphill battle.

And that’s nothing new.

Getting back around to the original question of whether WSU can pull off an upset … 

Xavier is no joke. The Musketeers are one of nine teams in the country that have reached five Sweet 16s since 2008. Sophomore Trevon Bluiett is XU’s first All-American since Tu Holloway in 2011-12.

The talk in Cincinnati this week is whether this season’s Xavier men’s basketball squad is the school’s best, ever. EVER. That’s no quaint discussion to have considering the program’s basketball chops.

That sort of discussion springs up after Xavier was tabbed as a No. 2 seed, the best in the school’s history. And it’s placed the Musketeers in unfamiliar territory. Usually, they’re viewed as one of the little guys, the underdog in the NCAA tournament. As Shannon Russell, the Xavier beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, points out in a recent article, the Musketeers were a 6 seed a year ago, a 12 in 2014 and a 10 in 2012.

“Where teams mess up is the fact that they try to get comfortable,” junior guard Myles Davis told the Enquirer. “We don’t want to be comfortable. We want to be just as hungry as any other team.”

So is it possible Xavier adjusts poorly to the reality of being the “hunted” rather than the “hunter?” If there’s a positive of being a 13.5-point underdog in the tournament like Weber coach Randy Rahe and the Wildcats, it’s always the fact that the neutral-site crowd will root for you in a close game. And if WSU can keep within striking distance of XU late into the second half, the pressure of the moment falls squarely on the Musketeers.

And, yes, it does seem like a possibility Weber State can give itself a shot at keeping things close Friday. The Wildcats are 90th in the country in defensive efficiency, holding teams to .100 points per possession. With Joel Bolomboy, Kyndahl Hill and Zach Braxton patrolling the paint, WSU was particularly good defensively in the Big Sky, leading the league in defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage defense and 2-point defensive shooting percentage.

The formula for Weber on Friday …… Control the pace of the game — XU is 29th in the country in adjusted tempo — to keep Xavier’s athletes in check + get comfortable working against the Musketeer’s 1-3-1 zone* + Bolomboy needs to dominate the paint and defensive glass + and Jeremy Senglin has to play out of his mind.^

If any of those things don’t happen, it’s hard to conjure a scenario where Weber State comes out on top. But who the heck knows, really? This is supposed to be the NCAA tournament where everybody’s bracket is shredded to pieces because there are no clear favorites. This is the season of parity.

And maybe it’s the season when Weber State can become the darling for the nation. Maybe.

*According to an article on FiveThiryEight, Xavier has used the 1-3-1 zone on 33.6 percent of its defensive possessions and held opponents to .797 points per possession when doing so — which is just spectacular.

^Senglin averaged 22.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists during the Big Sky tournament, shooting 10 for 18 from 2 (48.9 percent) and 13 for 29 from 3 (44.8 percent). If Senglin hadn’t gone off for seven 3-pointers and 31 points in the semifinals against North Dakota, the Wildcats would be taking part in the NIT.

— Kyle Franko

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Previewing North Dakota, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana in the postseason tournament

UC IRVINE at NORTH DAKOTA, Wednesday, 6 p.m. MST
BETTING LINE: UC Irvine -4.5
KENPOM GIVES UC Irvine a 63 percent chance to win

WINNER GETS Depends. The CollegeInsider tournament, as its site notes, “uses the old NIT model in which there is no set bracket. Future round opponents are determined by the results of the previous round.”

HOW WE GOT HERE: UC Irvine, the No. 2 seed in the Big West tournament, was upset by third-seeded Long Beach State 77-72 in the semifinals. North Dakota was knocked off the semis of the Big Sky 83-78 in overtime by Weber State.

PREVIEWING THE GAME: Great news for North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks are hosting a postseason game as a Division I basketball program for the first time.

Bad news for North Dakota. The Hawks make the tournament and are pitted against UC Irvine, a 25-win team ranked No. 94 by KenPom and No. 75 in the RPI.

Mamadou Ndiaye is 7 foot 6 and the anchor of the Anteaters’ defense that is 58th in the country holding teams to .970 points per possession.

UC Irvine, though, is much more than Ndiaye. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer and plays under 24 minutes a night. The Anteaters dip deep into their bench with 10 guys averaging at least 10 minutes. Certainly, Ndiaye is impactful. His production — 12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.47 bpg, 66.5 percent shooting — is downright impressive considering how much time he spends resting.

In light of Ndiaye’s size and strengths, Irvine doesn’t play fast, ranking 219th in adjusted tempo. So expect North Dakota, hopefully in front of a big crowd, to try and ratchet up the intensity and speed of the game.

That’s how Quinton Hooker, Drick Bernstine and Geno Crandall have the best shot at pulling off what would arguably be their best win of the season.

College Basketball Invitational

KENPOM GIVES Eastern a 51 percent chance to win

CAN YOU WATCH? Yep, on Eversport

WINNER GETS The winner of Nevada/Montana

HOW WE GOT HERE: Pepperdine lost to Saint Mary’s 81-66 in the West Coast Conference semifinals. Eastern Washington dropped out of the Big Sky tournament in the quarterfinals, falling to Idaho 77-73.

PREVIEWING THE GAME: One more chance to watch Eastern’s Venky Jois and Austin McBroom? Heck, yeah, I’m in.

Those two, actually, will need to play well if the Eagles are going to win this game. Pepperdine beat Montana back in November 69-63 and also has wins against Saint Mary’s (twice) and BYU. This game is particularly important to the Waves program. Fifth-year head coach Marty Wilson and his team can surpass their win total of 18 from a season ago, the most victories Pepperdine would have in a single season since 2002.

The guy to watch for the Waves is junior Lamond Murray Jr.. He was an All-WCC second-team selection and averaged 17.3 points a game in league play. That’s after putting up just under seven points a game as a sophomore.

Pace will be an important facet of this game. Pepperdine is 209th in the country in adjusted tempo and Eastern is 118th. The Eagles don’t want to be forced to match up with the Waves in a half-court battle.

IDAHO at SEATTLE, Wednesday, 8 p.m. MST
KENPOM GIVES Idaho a 55 percent chance to win

CAN YOU WATCH? Yep, on the WAC Digital Network

WINNER GETS Winner of Vermont/Western Carolina

HOW WE GOT HERE: Idaho lost to Montana 81-72 in the Big Sky semifinals. Seattle dropped a 72-47 decision to CSU Bakersfield in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference.

PREVIEWING THE GAME: Idaho is the lone Big Sky Conference team favored to win this week. Seattle is two games below .500, went 7-7 in the WAC and possesses one of the least productive offenses in the country. The Redhawks No. 324 in offensive points per possession (.938).

The Vandals, as we know, are very good defensively and will make life tough for the 'Hawks, who are led by junior guard Brendan Westendorf — the lone player on the team to average double digits (13.0 ppg) in points.

Idaho isn’t elite on offense, either, but Victor Sanders and company should have the firepower to win on the road if they can do one thing: defensive rebound. Seattle is shooting 45 percent from 2-point range (310th in the country) and 35.3 percent from 3 (143rd in the country), but those poor shooting percentages are somewhat offset by a 32.5 percent offensive rebounding rate (81st in the country).

BETTING LINE: Nevada -4.5
KENPOM GIVES Nevada a 66 percent chance to win

WINNER GETS Winner of Eastern Washington/Pepperdine

HOW WE GOT HERE: Nevada lost 67-55 to San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference semifinals. Montana dropped a a 62-59 thriller to Weber State in the Big Sky Conference title game.

PREVIEWING THE GAME: Nevada is in the midst of its best season since joining the Mountain West Conference four years ago. The program’s 19 wins is 10 more than a season ago and marks one of the biggest turnarounds in the country.

The Wolf Pack, who played the 119th toughest schedule in college basketball according to, beat Montana State (83-62) and Portland State (76-73) during nonconference play and have solid wins against UNLV, Utah State, Fresno State and Colorado State.

Nevada’s greatest strength is its defense where it ranked second in Mountain West Conference action, holding teams to .972 points per possession and an effective field goal percentage of 46 percent.

The Wolf Pack have had to be stingy defensively. They’ve lacked offensive firepower. They’re the worst — No. 351 — 3-point shooting team in the country. It’s forced Nevada to structure its offense around pounding it inside the paint with the likes of senior Marqueze Coleman (15.9 ppg), junior DJ Fenner (12.9 ppg), freshman Oliver Cameron (12.4 ppg) and senior Tyron Criswell (12.2 ppg).

This is going to be a physical game, but the Griz have a shot to pull the upset if the likes of Jack Lopez, Walter Wright, Michael Oguine, Bobby Morehead or Brandon Gfeller can hit a few shots from deep to take the pressure of Martin Breunig. The Wolf Pack have one of the stoutest defenses the Grizzlies will face this season, so we’ll find out what kind of game plan UM head coach Travis DeCuire can come up with to win on the road.

— Kyle Franko

Big Sky morning links -- March 15

UC IRVINE at NORTH DAKOTA, Wednesday, 6 p.m. MST

From the Grand Forks Herald ... Tall, tall challenge

Fighting Hawks coach Brian Jones on the Anteaters: "I'm shocked they're in the CIT. They won 25 games and that's really, really hard to do. They're a veteran, experienced team."

MONTANA at NEVADA, Wednesday, 8 p.m. MST

From the Missoulian ... Grizzlies' CBI decision didn't come easy

XAVIER vs WEBER STATE, Thursday, 7:20 p.m. MST

From the Cincinnati Enquirer ... Wins, record rankings highlight Xavier's regular season

You'll definitely want to check this article out. It's a great way to review Xavier's season and see how the team has evolved.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer ... Here's how Xavier, UC move forward in tourney

Musketeers coach Chris Mack to the Enquirer: “This team’s had a remarkable regular season, one that I’m really proud of. But as I told our team, and again I’m looking more in the future, I’ve been around teams that have barely made the NCAA tournament and gone on incredible runs. And then I’ve seen the opposite, where you knew you were in for a month or so and didn’t fare so well. So we’re not entitled to anything. I think our team understands that."

From the Cincinnati Enquirer ... Youthful Xavier exceeds outsiders' expectations

From the Cincinnati Enquirer ... Is this the best Xavier team ever?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Big Sky morning links -- recapping who is headed to the postseason


— College Basketball Invitational

Pepperdine at Eastern Washington, Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. MST
Montana at Nevada, Wednesday, 8 p.m. MST
Idaho at Seattle, Wednesday, 8 p.m. MST

— Tournament 

UC Irvine at North Dakota, Wednesday, 6 p.m. MST

— 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship

Weber State vs Xavier, Friday, 9:20 p.m.


Weber State is a 15 seed and will play second-seeded Xavier

Get your printable NCAA bracket here

From the Standard-Examiner ... Weber State to face Xavier in NCAA Tournament

Wildcats coach Randy Rahe in the Examiner: “We will be ready to compete, there is no question. I want them to enjoy the experience, but when it's time to lock in and get ready to go in our preparation, they'll get locked in and ready to go.”

From the Salt Lake Tribune ... Kragthorpe: Weber State excels in post-Damian Lillard era

From the Cincinnati Enquirer ... Doc: It's Xavier's time to shine

The Enquirer's Paul Daughtry wrote: "This is definitely Xavier’s time. Time for more validation and continued steps along the trail up Mt. Elite. Xavier has been on the Final 4 fringes for a decade, with groups of players either not as talented, as together or as deep as this group."

Also from the Cincinnati Enquirer ... Xavier makes history with No. 2 seed

Xavier guard Myles Davis to the Enquirer on what he knew about Weber State early on: "Mack told us that they like to shoot jump shots. That’s the most that we know. I know that their main player averages about 18 points a game. I heard all their losses were…they didn’t lose by a lot. They’re a very good team, one that we’re not going to overlook."

North Dakota accepted an invitation to play in the Tournament

The Fighting Hawks will host UC Irvine on Wednesday

You can find the entire Tournament schedule here (there is no bracket)

Montana, Eastern Washington and Idaho accepted invitations to play in the College Basketball Invitational

A bracket is here

Idaho plays Wednesday at Seattle U

Eastern Washington hosts Pepperdine

And Montana is headed back to Reno to play Nevada

Sunday, March 13, 2016

An early look at Weber State's NCAA Tournament draw

The Big Sky Conference champions are a 15 seed and headed to play second-seeded Xavier on Friday in the Scottrade Center in in St. Louis, Missouri.

Xavier (27-5) is ranked fifth in the country and coming off an 87-83 loss to Seton Hall in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. The No. 2 seed in the tournament is the highest in the school's history.

The Musketeers have reached 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments and 14 of the last 16. Seventh-year head coach Chris Mack has led Xavier to six NCAA Tournaments in his first seven years, including three Sweet 16 berths.

The Musketeers are No. 15 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings. Led by 6-foot-6 sophomore Trevon Bluiett, Xavier is 36th in the country in defensive efficiency (.962 points per possession) and 18th in offensive efficiency (1.158 points per possession).

Bluiett, who is one of two Musketeers to start every game this season, leads the team in scoring (15.5 ppg) and is second in rebounding (6.2 rpg). Bluiett is a former four-star recruit who picked Xavier over programs like UCLA, Arizona, Indiana and Michigan. But he’s just part of a potent offense. Freshman Edmond Sumner (11.3 ppg), junior Myles Davis (11.1) and senior James Farr (10.8) all average double figures for a team that’s 29th in the nation in adjusted tempo and 18th in points per game (81.3).

A glance at Xavier’s projected starting five …

— Fr. G Edmond Sumner (6-6) … 11.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 40.8 FG%, 31.6 3pt%
— So. G Trevon Bluiett (6-6) … 15.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 42.9 FG%, 39.9 3pt%
— Jr. G Myles Davis (6-2) … 11.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.2 apg, 40.5 FG%, 38.7 3pt%
— Jr. F Jalen Reynolds (6-10) … 9.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 507 FG%
— Sr. G Remy Abell (6-4) … 6.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.5 apg, 39.5 FG%, 32.5 3pt%


No. 18 in offense … 1.158 points per possession
No. 29 in adjusted tempo … 72.9
No. 108 in effective FG% … 51.5
No. 108 in 3p% … 36.2
No. 122 in 2p% … 50.0
No. 58 in FT% … 73.1

No. 36 in defense … .962 points per possession
No. 83 in effective defensive FG% … 47.9
No. 32 in 3p% … 31.5
No. 153 in 2p% … 48.4

Big Sky morning links -- championship recap


From Skyline Sports ...Weber beats Griz, punches Big Dance ticket

From the Standard-Examiner ... Weber State wins Big Sky championship game, advances to NCAA tournament

From the Missoulian ... Griz fall short in NCAA bid

From the Missoulian ... Griz will now await postseason fate


From the Standard-Examiner ... Big Sky brass pleased by first Reno tournament, set sights on 2017 improvements

From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle ... New Big Sky tournament format shows promise

From the Billings Gazette ... Big Sky tournament draws fan on quest to see all D-I teams

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Idaho's Jon Newlee with strong comments to Idaho State fans

After Idaho defeated Idaho State 67-55 in the Big Sky women's basketball championship game, Vandals coach Jon Newlee gestured toward Bengal fans. It caused Idaho State athletic director Jeff Tingey to Tweet, "Class act. Idaho's Newlee came to the @ISUBengals fans post-game to gloat and celebrate...twice. They can have him."

In the video above, Newlee explained why he was upset with fans from Idaho State.

And here's a screen grab of Tingey's Tweet that has since been deleted.

For some additional background on Newlee's history with Idaho State, he is the school's second-winningest women's basketball coach with  93 career victories. Newlee was in Pocatello from 2002-07 and went 54-34 in the Big Sky Conference. He led the program to a conference tournament championship in 2007. Following the 2007-08 season and a berth in the WNIT, Newlee left ISU for Idaho.

Previewing Saturday's Big Sky men's championship game


BETTING LINE: Weber State -1.5 (Weber opened as a one-point favorite. The line shifted to Montana -2 Saturday morning, and to UM -1.5 early Saturday afternoon.)
KENPOM GIVES Weber a 52 percent chance to win

WINNER GETS The Big Sky’s automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament

DURING THE REGULAR SEASON: Weber State won the lone meeting

Weber State 60, Montana 54 in Ogden

Stars of the game
UM - Michael Oguine … 21 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 steal
WSU - Dusty Baker … 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 of 4 from 3 in 25 minutes off the bench

HISTORY IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: This is the eighth time Weber State and Montana are meeting in the championship game of the Big Sky tournament. The Grizzlies hold a 4-3 edge, including four straight wins — three of those with Wildcats coach Randy Rahe on the sideline.

Montana 67, Weber State 64

Montana 85, Weber State 66

Montana 66, Weber State 65

Montana 63, Weber State 61

Weber State 84, Montana 62

Weber State 50, Montana 42

Weber State 62, Montana 55 OT

PREVIEWING THE GAME: Looking back at the one game these teams played Feb. 27 in Ogden, Utah, for any clues about how Saturday night will play out seems dangerous.

Big Sky Conference MVP Joel Bolomboy didn’t suit up for Weber State (advantage: Montana), but the Wildcats also benefited from a home attendance of 8,960 boisterous fans (advantage: Weber).

Weber State will field its full team for the championship tilt, and the neutral-court setting is something else entirely different from their first game. Attendance for the semifinals Friday was officially 2,362.

I guess what this really means is that we’ve got a matchup tonight where neither team has a distinct advantage.

KenPom’s numbers tell us the same thing. Using conference-only stats, Montana has the league’s second-best offense. Weber State counterattacks with the No. 1 defense. WSU is fourth in the league in points per possession on offense. UM is fourth in defensive points per possession.

Up and down KenPom’s metrics, any strength of the Grizzlies is offset by something the Wildcats do exceptionally well. And if the ’Cats are good in one area, the Griz are positioned to counteract it.

But there is one facet of the game that is interesting. Montana relies on 3-pointers for 38.5 percent of its field goal attempts, the fourth-highest mark in the Big Sky. Weber State defends the 3-point line at a high level. The Wildcats are fifth in the Big Sky in 3-point field goal percentage (34.1 percent).

But what Weber does particularly well on defense is limiting how many 3-pointers its opponents take. In conference action, a league-low 23.9 percent of opponents’ field goal attempts were from beyond the arc against WSU. Over the entire season, 27.5 percent of the field goal attempts versus Weber’s D were from 3 — the seventh-lowest mark in the country.

Limiting 3-point attempts is a huge part of the defensive game plan for Weber. Montana, during the 18-game conference schedule, shot just over 21 3-pointers per game. The Griz were held to 11 attempted 3s in their game versus Weber, tied for the fewest they had in any game this season.*

While the chess match along the 3-point line will be fun to watch, there are a couple individual matchups that we all want to check out. Because of Bolomboy’s knee injury late in the regular season, we were robbed of seeing the Big Sky MVP go up against Grizzlies star forward Martin Breunig, who is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds in the tournament, when the teams squared off two weeks ago.

The other personnel battle is among the guards … WSU’s Jeremy Senglin versus Montana’s Michael Oguine, Walter Wright and Mario Dunn. Senglin was unbelievable against North Dakota on Friday, hitting seven 3-pointers and finishing with a team-high 31 points. His ability to make off-balance, contested shots is a reminder of a guy in Portland who Big Sky fans knew about before anyone else.

So will it be Senglin who has the game of his life to push the Wildcats to the Big Sky championship? Or will it be Breunig? … maybe Bolomboy? … or Wright? … or Dusty Baker? … or Oguine?

We’ll find out at 6:45 MST on ESPNU.

*Note: The number of 3-pointers attempted isn't everything — duh, right? And Montana isn’t going to hoist up a bunch of long-distance treys just to meet some sort of quota. In fact, the Griz only shot 12 3s in the semifinals against Idaho. The bad part for the Vandals? UM made seven of those shots. And this goes back to what we all know — efficiency is the important thing here.

— Kyle Franko

Big Sky morning links -- recapping the semifinals



From the Grand Forks Herald ... Weber State holds off UND in overtime



From the Billings Gazette (but written by Kyle Sample of the Missoulian) ... DeCuire positions Grizzlies for another title run

Friday, March 11, 2016

Previewing Friday's Big Sky semifinals


BETTING LINE: Weber -5.5
KENPOM GIVES Weber a 65 percent chance to win

WINNER GETS UM/Idaho winner

DURING THE REGULAR SEASON: The teams split a pair of games

Weber State 74, North Dakota 62 in Ogden

Stars of the game
WSU - Jeremy Senglin … 26 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers, 2 steals, 5 of 11 from 3
WSU - Joel Bolomboy … 20 points, 23 rebounds, 8-of-14 shooting
UND - Quinton Hooker … 23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists … 6-of-16 shooting, 10 of 11 from the free-throw line

North Dakota 78, Weber State 71 in Grand Forks

Stars of the game
WSU - Jeremy Senglin … 28 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 7 of 11 from 3
UND - Geno Crandall … 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
UND - Conner Avants … 12 points, 5 rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench … Avants averages 7.0 points per game

TRENDS/WHAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Old power versus new power. Established versus up-and-coming. A nine-time champion versus a program that jumped up to Division I athletics eight years ago.

If Weber State wins, it moves into the championship game of the Big Sky tournament for the 16th time. North Dakota reached the tournament semifinals in ’13 and the finals in ’14.*

Like a number of other games in the tournament, this matchup is about tempo. The Wildcats defends so well in the half court that an opponent has to manufacture points by getting stops or turnovers and running in the open court. In the quarterfinals, Weber State gave up 19 points off turnovers and 16 points via the fast break.

North Dakota is a more well-rounded offensive unit than PSU, but the Fighting Hawks can’t let this turn into a slow, one-shot, half-court slog.

Looking at the individual matchups, North Dakota needs to find an answer for WSU guard Jeremy Senglin, who averaged 27 points against the Hawks during the regular season. Going back to Senglin’s freshman season, he’s played great against UND — putting up 21 points in their one meeting in 2015 and scoring a combined 40 points versus North Dakota in three games two years ago.

Another facet of this semifinal: North Dakota is now the lone team remaining that didn’t have a first-round bye. The Hawks, after playing at Montana and Montana State last week, flew directly to Reno, Nevada, from Bozeman, Montana. They’ve been on the road for more than week, and this will be UND’s fifth game in nine days.

To some extent, it won’t matter a bit. Adrenaline and the allure of an NCAA tournament bid will provide plenty of fuel. But at some point, WSU’s fresher legs could mean the difference on a loose ball or long rebound. 


NO. 2 MONTANA vs NO. 3 IDAHO, 9:05 p.m. winner
BETTING LINE: Montana -3.5
KENPOM GIVES Montana a 63 percent chance to win



Idaho 63, Montana 58 in Missoula

Stars of the game
UM - Martin Breunig … 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 2 steals
UI - Victor Sanders … 27 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 6-of-10 shooting, 13 of 14 from the free-throw line

TRENDS/WHAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: If Weber-North Dakota is old versus new, Montana-Idaho is a throwback to another time.

The Griz and Vandals were charter members of the Big Sky Conference in 1963 and have played 192 times, according to UM’s athletic department. They’ve combined to win 13 Big Sky championships and were potent rivals until Idaho left the Big Sky following the 1995-96 athletic season.

The Vandals have been back in the league since 2014, and this is the first time they’ll play the Grizzlies in men’s postseason basketball in 20 years.

Montana forward Martin Breunig dominated Sacramento State in the quarterfinals with 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. The Grizzlies won 70-53 and it wasn’t that close. UM scored 1.15 points per possession and held Sac to .87 points per possession.

Idaho, of course, will be a much different test. The Vandals held Eastern Washington to 28.1 percent (9 for 32) shooting from 3 in the quarterfinals, and freshman Nate Sherwood, who averages 6.4 points a game, blasted the Eagles for 19 points.

It feels like Sherwood, or some other role player for Idaho or Montana, could be the difference in this game, too. The Grizzlies and Vandals are the slowest-paced teams in the Big Sky. Who can execute against a set defense? Who can nab a couple offensive rebounds? Who can knock down a contested 3-pointer? Can someone get a couple steals and easy layups? All those little things will loom large in this slugfest.
Live stats

— Kyle Franko

*Note: In 2014, UND beat Sac State and Portland State on the way to the championship game where it lost to Weber State 88-67. Earlier this sentence read that UND had never advanced past the semifinals.

Big Sky morning links -- recapping the quarterfinals


From the Standard-Examiner ... Weber State survives scare from Portland State


From the Grand Forks Herald ... UND cruises past Idaho State, reaches semifinals



From Skyline Sports ... Intensity leads Vandals past EWU

Thursday, March 10, 2016

5 reasons to watch the Big Sky men’s quarterfinals (as if you need them)

1) Can the men’s tournament match the women’s for excitement?

The women had an epic four games in the quarterfinals. Longtime Big Sky beat writer Colter Nuanez, on his site Skyline Sports, wrote it had to be “one of the wildest days in the 34-season history of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament.”

Every game went down to the final possession. Who could possibly expect the men’s tournament to follow that up? It won’t. It’s impossible. But Weber State-Portland State, Idaho State-Idaho, Montana-Sac State and Idaho-Eastern Washington are four solid-to-good-to-great matchups. Here’s hoping they can deliver.

2) Can Forte maintain his torrid pace against the league’s top defense?

PSU forward Cameron Forte stung Northern Colorado for 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the Vikings’ 74-67 win in the first round. That sort of double-double has become downright common for Forte in the past month.

Here are Forte’s points, rebounds and assists in his previous nine games …


Going back one more game, Forte has ripped off 10 straight games with at least 13 points. He’s got five double-doubles and one triple-double in his last nine games … and he’s doing that while shooting 86 of 139 (61.8 percent) from the field.

Forte put together two solid performances against the Wildcats during the regular season (both WSU wins), averaging 17.5 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest.

But those kinds of numbers probably won’t be enough for PSU to upset Weber, an eight-point favorite, in the quarterfinals. As it’s been mentioned numerous times on this blog in the past few weeks, WSU is the Big Sky’s top defensive team, holding league opponents to .943 points per possession — by far the best mark in the Big Sky (Idaho is second at .989 points allowed per possession).

And Weber, with its strong front court and athletic guards, is very good defending inside the paint. And that’s where the Vikings want to attack.

Heck, after just thinking about Forte versus Weber State’s D, I don’t even need three more reasons for you to watch the quarterfinals. Especially when you read the Tweet below …

3) Telfair vs Hooker

Idaho State junior Ethan Telfair and North Dakota junior Quinton Hooker were the two best guards in the Big Sky this season.

Just look at the numbers they put up during conference play …

Telfair averaged 23.9 points, 5.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Hooker rang up 20.6 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals a game.

And now they’re going head to head for a spot in Friday night’s semifinals.

4) Sac State fan advantage?

Sacramento to Reno is a 132-mile drive — 789 miles shorter than Missoula to Reno. It could mean that for the first time in … ever? … the Hornets will have a fan advantage going against Montana in a Big Sky basketball tournament.

Word on Tuesday was that Sac had a nice contingent on hand during its 79-75 victory against the Bobcats. When you’re the 10 seed trying to knock off the mighty Grizzlies, every little bonus helps.

5) A rivalry to behold

Since Sacramento State upset Montana State, we’re deprived of a Cat-Griz throwdown in the postseason. But that’s OK because Idaho-Eastern Washington could bud into something special in the coming years.

These two universities are only separated by 72 miles and one state border. Both seemed positioned to have success in basketball for years to come, and if they continue to butt heads in high-stakes games then we’ll have a burgeoning rivalry in the Northwest that will be fun to watch.

— Kyle Franko