Friday, August 22, 2014

October 1

I have been enjoying my summer, and hope you have as well!

Just a couple little notes... I am writing the preview for ESPN for the Big Sky again this season, so I am getting back into Big Sky mode. I am planning to start up with articles on this site again around October 1, and hopefully have a preview on each team up in October... and then my customary long-winded conference preview sometime in November before the season begins.

There has been a lot of interesting things going on, and some new recruits/transfers I need to get myself acquainted with... It seems to me like a very wide open race will be had in the Big Sky this year, and I'm excited to cover it again for another season!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jaron Nash Granted Extra Year of Eligibility

When I created my early rankings, North Dakota came in at number 11, thanks to losing much of their scoring and experience. However, that spot should jump a bit on news that forward Jaron Nash has secured an extra year of eligibility.*

"This has been a long process and we are obviously thrilled to learn that we will get Jaron back for one more season," UND head coach Brian Jones said. "There are a lot of people to thank for their efforts, including Kara Helmig and her compliance staff along with our entire athletic administration.

"I also want to thank the NCAA and its review committee because now Jaron will be able to turn his college experience into a positive one. He's gone through a tough road to get here with his father's illness and dealling with some of his own injuries, but this decision will enable him to build upon his future and hopefully lift his family's spirits."

Nash applied for a waiver to play right away when he first transferred, but it was denied by the NCAA and he had to sit out his first year in Grand Forks. Thankfully, the NCAA has made the logical choice and reversed course.

Nash will be the leading returning scorer, as he averaged 10.8 PPG and 4.5 RPG last season. He's an extremely athletic forward who shot 57% on twos and 37% on threes last year, though he needs to improve on an abysmal 33% on free throws last season. He is a solid rebounder as well, grabbing about 8% of available offensive rebounds and 16% of defensive rebounds last year.

All in all, he brings much needed experience and explosiveness to the frontcourt, and should help bridge North Dakota as they transition from their great group of seniors last year. It's a big development for UND, and a nice way to end things for Jaron Nash.

* They also hope New Mexico State transfer Terrell de Rouen will be eligible to play right away.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Wayne Tinkle Reportedly Leaving for Oregon State

I know I'm on summer break, but had to post about this. It appears that Wayne Tinkle will be offered the Oregon State head coaching job, and is expected to take it (and might have already by the time you read this). It was bound to happen eventually... Tinkle is a fantastic coach that has done great things at Montana, and had been rumored for various jobs over the past couple of seasons.

Tinkle as a candidate for Oregon State was first rumored a couple weeks ago, but didn't seem to have a ton of steam. However, things must have moved quickly. It's a big loss for Montana, but coaches leaving can also be a great thing for program recognition. Plus, you can't help but be happy for Tinkle.

With a tough Big Sky coming at the top, and a talented but largely inexperienced roster set for next season, it appeared Tinkle was ready to seriously consider any opportunities that came his way. It is a good fit timing wise in that sense for him. Montana will be a good team, but it's not a given they will be in the top half of the Big Sky next season, because there should be a lot of solid teams.

So, where does Montana turn to next? Some logical names including former Montana player and current Cal assistant Travis DeCuire, former Griz assistant Freddie Owens, and current assistant Jono Metzger-Jones. All three are logical names to keep in mind, and all three seem like they would be fantastic head coaches.

It will be interesting to follow, because clearly Montana is one of the premier programs in the Big Sky, if not the premier program. You have to figure Montana will act quickly, to save their recruiting class.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Summer Break

With the offseason in full swing, this blog will be taking a summer break as well.

I posted my early rankings for next year, and have updated the recruiting tracker as best as I can.

I will be posting sparingly or not at all during the offseason - likely not saying much unless there is some big news. Feel free to contact me via email or twitter if anything major does happen and I see to miss it! I will most likely be back in the fall for one more season of Big Sky basketball coverage on the blog - that is the plan at least for now. I'll just see how I'm feeling when the time comes!

In the meantime, have a great summer! Get outside and stay adventurous!

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Early 2014-15 Big Sky Rankings

It's that time of the offseason where we take a VERY early look to how next season will play out. Since I've started blogging about the Big Sky (three years ago), there was always one or two favorites to win (Weber State and/or Montana). Next season, that won't be the case.

Honestly, to me, the top seven teams look remarkably even. It is going to be an absolutely wide open race for the Big Sky title, which should be pretty fun. So, if you disagree with these rankings, I don't blame you. Would love to hear thoughts and reasoned opinions on where you differ - I think it'd be very interesting to see what people think, because it was hard to come up with an order!

1. Weber State
They are first in part because they are the defending champions, they return a lot of talent (even though they also lose a lot), and there is no other clear favorite. But, it's clear they won't be the favorites as in some past seasons. For one, they will have one senior on the team, relying a lot on young guys. Second, they will be relying on guys to grow in ways they haven't shown yet. The good news is that the talent is there. Joel Bolomboy could be the conference POY - an NBA level rebounder and defender whose offensive game continues to develop. They need their sophomore backcourt of Jeremy Senglin and Richaud Gittens to make the leap from super talented freshmen contributors to cornerstones - a process that will happen, but it's just a matter of how long it takes. Would it be a surprise to see the Wildcats win the Big Sky again next season? No. But unlike past year, it also wouldn't be a surprise if they are in a dogfight just to finish in the top four.

2. Sacramento State
The Hornets get my vote for second based on the strength of their backcourt, which was arguably the best in the conference last season, and will be the best this season. Both Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney are superb ballhandlers, scorers, and passers. Garrity may be the elite shooter in the Big Sky, while McKinney is excellent at breaking down a defense, getting into the lane, and getting to the line. The key will be frontcourt production. They have a nice recruiting class, but they can't count too much on those guys this season. Zach Mills is a nice player, and he will produce. The key will be Eric Stuteville, who came on strong at the end of his freshman season. If he can develop into a double digit scorer (and he has that talent level), the Hornets should have the best offense in the Big Sky.

3. Northern Arizona
Last year, I think, was almost a year ahead of schedule for the Lumberjacks. They finished third in the Big Sky, an impressive showing considering their age and inexperience. They lose Max Jacobsen, but the rest of their main guys returns. They will have a strong backcourt with Aaseem Dixon, Kris Yanku, and Quinton Upshur, and guys like Ako Kaluna and Len Springs will be even better inside. Head coach Jack Murphy has done a great job recruiting, and they should have the athletes and talent to compete for a Big Sky title next season.

4. Montana
There are reasons to think this is too optimistic. They weren't that good last year (despite finishing fourth, they had major issues), and they lose do everything Kareem Jamar. But take them lightly at your own peril. For one, their backcourt will remain strong - Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields will be a solid senior duo, and Mario Dunn is ready to become a star in the Big Sky. The other thing is that the frontcourt will be much better than in past year. Martin Breunig will become eligible, and he was the best post man in the program last season. They also have young bigs coming in, which will greatly help the depth. Bottom line, the Grizzlies lose Jamar, but they could be an improved team anyway.

5. Eastern Washington
The Eagles return everyone from last year's squad, which is good for a team that improved by three conferences games from the year before and was 5th in the conference offensively. They will have tons of weapons, including guard Tyler Harvey, who developed into possibly the best scorer in the conference. They have balance as well, with guys like Venky Jois, Martin Seiferth, and Ognjen Miljkovic in the frontcourt. Like others, the Eagles absolutely are talented enough to win the Big Sky.

6. Northern Colorado
The Bears probably head up the "second tier," but they are still a really talented team, even after losing some cornerstone players. Tevin Svihovec has been around forever, and he'll be the senior leader. Of course, they won't be hurting for backcourt talent - Jordan Wilson was steady as a freshman PG, Corey Spence adds a spark, and eligible transfer Cam Michael is ready to play after sitting out a year (and don't be surprised if he is the Newcomer of the Year). The key to the year might be senior forward Tim Huskisson, who is an all-conference talent when things are going well. The problem has been staying in BJ Hill's good graces and bringing consistency every night. If he does, UNC can and will beat anyone on any given night.

7. Portland State
With the way the Vikings finished and the fact that they don't lose that many guys, this may be too low. They will have a deep backcourt, with guys like Gary Winston, Tim Douglas, Marcus Hall, and DaShaun Wiggins all proven contributors. The key will be the frontcourt, where they lose Kyle Richardson, but will hopefully have a healthy Tiegba Bamba and some solid JUCO guys coming in. Their defense was better last year but still just seventh in the Big Sky last year. If they can get even a little better there, the ceiling could be a top 3 Big Sky finish.

8. Idaho
I looked at them in more depth a couple weeks ago, but they look like a typical Big Sky team - they can put points on the boards, but they won't get too many stops. They lose two of their top six, but return Connor Hill, who could be one of the best shooters in the Big Sky in his first season in the conference. During WAC play, they were worst in the conference in defensive efficiency. How they do on that end will determine if they are battling for the final tournament spot, or if their sights should be set a little higher.

9. Idaho State
They lose Tomas SanchezAndre Hatchett, and Aviabkuro Preh, who were a huge part of the program and are a lot to replace. As I have said, I think Bill Evans is an excellent coach, but we knew it would take time to build the talent level of the program back up. There are question marks heading into this season - who plays point guard? But there is talent with guys like Chris Hansen and Jeffrey Solarin, and they should be good enough to being on the edge of conference tournament qualification.

10. Montana State
The Bobcats lose three starters (including their top two frontcourt players) and their head coach, so clearly there is some work to be done. Brian Fish looks like a nice fit on paper, so we will see how the first season of his reign goes. He made a quick statement by signing two solid athletes out of Arizona, but the problem in Bozeman lately has not been getting good players to campus, but molding them into a good team. Expectations should be tempered in year one, but the Bobcats could have enough talent to be frisky.

11. North Dakota
All UND is losing is the best class in program history, and the one that brought them into the DI level. They can't replace guys like Troy Huff, Aaron Anderson, Jamal Webb, and others, so this is a team that will look very different. Brian Jones will need a backcourt of Quinton Hooker and Cole Stefan to log a lot of productive minutes for UND, who will be replacing the majority of their scoring from one of the most experienced teams in the country last season. It is a rebuilding year in Grand Forks.

12. Southern Utah
They will be much improved from last year's team, but this is still a program with a long ways to go. They have young guys that they hope can be cornerstone players - the five guys that played the most minutes last season are all returning, and none of them will even be seniors this year(!), but this year will be about continuing that growth and building toward 2015-16. If they improve their Big Sky win total by five games and continue to show the growth that was evident throughout last season, they might finish last again, but their rebuilding plan will be right on schedule for Nick Robinson.

Please share any of your thoughts and opinions! As I've said, this is all guesswork, but one of the most fun articles to write and think about. Would love to hear some discussion.

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ScoreBig Review

I got the chance to review ScoreBig, which is a new ticketing website (like StubHub). It works a little differently in that you aren't necessarily purchasing a specific ticket - you bid on tickets in certain sections, and then either get the bid or don't get the bid. You also get an instant answer, which is nice.

I bid on tickets for the a Minnesota Twins vs Colorado Rockies game, and it went well and was actually a little fun. I bid for two tickets - once I put my tickets and corresponding section, it told me roughly how likely I was to get the tickets. Then I pressed the button, and right away it told me my bid was successful!

Also, there were no fees at all, which was pretty nice, because those have a tendency to gouge you! Just for fun, I compared my tickets and pricing to stubhub, and my tickets were cheaper than they would have been on stubhub for that particular area. So, I would recommend trying out ScoreBig, and I will likely try it out again. I can't speak to their amount of tickets or ubiquity of events, but I can say that my experience was a successful one!

Here is some more information on them:

ScoreBig.com enables consumers to get great tickets for live sports, concert and theater events – at guaranteed savings of up to 60 percent. ScoreBig.com customers pick their own price on seats from the floor to the rafters, always pay less than box office price, and never pay any fees. For its partners, ScoreBig.com is the first and only opaque sales channel to move unsold ticket inventory in a way that protects the ticket owner’s brand and full-price sales. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., ScoreBig.com was founded in 2009 and is backed by Bain Capital Ventures and U.S. Venture Partners. ScoreBig.com was recently recognized by Forbes as one of America’s Most Promising Companies and by Billboard as one of the 10 Best Start-ups of 2012.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

2014 Big Sky Transfers

Jeff Goodman has his list of transfers in college basketball, including a lot that have to do with the Big Sky. So, let's take a quick peek at who is transferring in and out of the conference.

TRANSFERRING OUT:
- Clint Thomas - Idaho State (walk-on)
- Travis Meeker - Northern Arizona
- DeWayne Russell - Northern Arizona (to Grand Canyon - he transferred before the year, obviously)
- Andre Winston - Portland State
- Lamont Prosser - Portland State (midseason transfer)
- Ryan Okwudibonye - Sacramento State
- Case Rada - Sacramento State
- Drake Thomas - Southern Utah
- Chris Nsenki - Southern Utah
- Royce Williams - Weber State
- Josh Fuller - Weber State

TRANSFERRING IN:
- Carson Shanks - North Dakota (from Utah State)
- Keonta Vernon - Northern Arizona (from Wyoming)
- KJ Bluford - Northern Arizona (from Iowa State)

In all, the transfers coming in should have big impacts, as is typically the case at this level. Of the transfers leaving, DeWayne Russell obviously was talented, but NAU is just fine without him. Andre Winston was a very good player for the Vikings, but they have enough backcourt depth to withstand that. Royce Williams could have contributed in a bigger role, and I had heard good things about Josh Fuller as well for the Wildcats.

Beyond that, the transfers out shouldn't really have a big impact on the teams. It's a lot of guys that weren't getting a ton of minutes, so hopefully they can find better situations for themselves elsewhere.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Portland State and Sacramento State Sign Some Recruits

Recruits are starting to sign with schools now, and Sacramento State and Portland State both announced their recruiting classes.

In total, Sac State has five recruits signed (four in the current signing period, one early), and really, it looks like a very strong class.

The signees, and a quick blurb about them:

- Guard Marcus Graves - “Marcus is a highly skilled player who is a very good shooter and play maker,” Katz said. “He has a similar game to (current Hornet guard) Dylan Garrity in that he is a shooter that can drive. Marcus’ eyes are always up in the open court and in the on-ball, and he has a very good feel and understanding for the game of basketball.”

- Center James Herrick - “James is a big, strong and powerful post player,” Katz said. “He has very good hands, and is a big man that can shoot and pass the ball. He has a tremendous amount of upside, and gives us a solid player at the 5 spot that will develop and get better.”

- Forward Mason Stuteville (brother of current Hornet Eric Stuteville) - “Mason is a skilled big man with a powerful body who can pass, shoot and has good hands,” Katz said. “When we signed his brother, we said Eric’s best days were ahead of him, and I truly believe that with Mason as well. He can post, he can drive the lane, and he can shoot it. We like his versatility, and he will provide matchup problems for our opponents.”

- Guard Jiday Ugbaja - “Jiday is an athletic guard with power and explosiveness,” Katz said. “He’s 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, and with a year or two of weight training, he will look like an NFL running back. He is a driver that can shoot, and he fits the mould of what we look for in our perimeter players as guys that can dribble, pass and shoot.”

- Forward Justin Strings - "Justin has big shoulders, big hands, long arms, a big chest and he will eventually develop a very powerful body," Katz said. "He is one of those players that flew under the radar, but is extremely skilled and has the potential to become a very good player at the collegiate level. He is versatile in that he can play in the post and on the perimeter, and its not a stretch to say his ball-handling skills are the equivalent to most shooting guards."

Just as impressive, all five guys are freshmen, which is typically a good sign for a program, in my opinion.

With Portland State's roster construction, they figured to go after big men, and that is indeed what they did, signing two froncourt players, both from the junior college ranks.

- Forward Collin Spickerman - "With the loss of Kyle Richardson we needed to find someone who could replace him inside and Collin is that man," said Geving. "He brings something we are trying to add to our team, which is rebounding and defending the glass. We think Collin can step right in as a rebounder and be an offensive threat for us. His best attribute is his ability to block shots. He has great timing for a 6-foot-8 guy, he moves his feet well and can protect the rim for us.

- Forward Braxton Tucker - "Braxton is another guy that is a great athlete. The biggest thing he adds for us is his ability to rebound and defend bigger guys inside. He fills a need of adding more size and depth to our front line."

The Vikings have a deep and talented backcourt, so it makes sense that they would go for JUCO big men in this class.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Marcus Hall of Portland State Given Another Year of Eligibility

Portland State received some good news last week, as wing man Marcus Hall was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA.

Hall and Portland State were appealing the NCAA to get a year back after Hall was able to compete in only eight games in 2012-13 due to a calf injury.

The news of Hall's additional year is significant for the Viking program. The 6-4 guard started 31 of 32 games for PSU this past season. He averaged 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds. Hall made a team-high 51 three-point field goals, hitting .395 from distance.

Hall will be one of four starters and 10 letterwinners returning next season from a Viking team that was 17-15 in 2013-14.hat was 17-15 in 2013-14.
Last season, Hall played the second most minutes on the team, almost 75% of them. Offensively, he was mostly a three-point specialist - he shot 39% from outside and shot over twice as many threes as twos. His return certainly is good news for a PSU team could be very dangerous next season, as they'll have one of the deepest backcourts in the conference.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Idaho Primer

As you are most likely aware, Idaho will be joining the Big Sky next season. If you are like me, you don't really know all that much about Idaho. They made it to the WAC title game, we know that much, but what else should we know about their team next season?

(Note: I'm just going through their roster. I will be the first to admit I may have something wrong, or there may be something I don't know. This is just meant to be a quick look at what they might look like next season.)

Last season, they finished 16-18, 7-9 in the WAC. Their strength was offense (so they will fit right into the Big Sky!), as they scored 1.05 PPP (154th in the country(, while allowing 1.12 PPP (312th in the country). The previous year, they scored 1.08 PPP (57th), and allowed 1.12 PPP (337th). They play at a relatively high pace - their tempo would have been the third fastest in the Big Sky after Eastern Washington and North Dakota.

Based on minutes played, they lose two of their top six players, including former Big Sky member Glen Dean, and Stephen Madison. Dean averaged 9.0 points and 2.4 assists, while Madison led the team at 20.1 points per game and 7.6 rebounds. So those are big losses, but there still should be some good returning talent on hand.

The leading scorer will likely be guard Connor Hill, who averaged 14.2 PPG this past season. He shot 41% on threes last season, while taking over seven of them per game. He shot 234 threes vs 127 twos, though that ratio is a good thing when you are shooting such a solid percentage. He doesn't grab many rebounds or create shots for others, but he doesn't turn the ball over either.

Getting him the ball will be the job of Mike Scott, who will also be a senior. He is an average scorer, but he had a nice 22.4 Assist Rate vs just a 13.7 TO Rate. He has the chance to be a good lead guard for the Vandals. Another guy that shows promise is guard Sekou Wiggs. As a freshman last season, he was third on the team in scoring, and third in rebounding. He doesn't have much of an outside shot yet, but he is relentless attacking the rim, and was 26th in the country in the rate of fouls that he drew. He shot 66% from the stripe, and if he can boost that up a little bit, he can be a big-time scorer for the Vandals this season.

A couple others guys to touch on is big man Ty Egbert, who was also solid as a freshman. He played 12 minutes a game, but showed flashes of being a good contributor. He shot 59% on his limited attempts (though he was awful at the FT line). Joining him up front could be Bira Seck, an excellent rebounder that snagged 11.1% of offensive rebounds and 19.2% of defensive rebounds.

As I look into the recruiting class for the teams, I will research more on them, but this was a quick look at their roster. Would appreciate any insight from those that are a bit more knowledgeable about the Vandals.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brian Fish Named Montana State Coach

This happened last week, but I was out of town so wasn't able to write about it. Montana State moved quickly to hire a new head coach, hiring Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish.

Fish comes to MSU after four seasons on Dana Altman's staff at the University of Oregon, a period in which the Ducks compiled 96 wins, including three in the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the post-season each year. He spent the previous six seasons (2004-10 as assistant coach), and eight years overall (including 1994-96 as video coordinator), on Altman's staff at Creighton, and was also assistant coach (2003-04) and associate head coach (2004-05) at San Diego, and assistant coach (1996-2002) on Billy Tubbs' staff at TCU.
He has never been a head coach, but was an assistant under Dana Altman for a long time. Altman's excellent track record suggests that he is an excellent to learn from in terms of how to have success and build a program.

The most interesting thing to me always is what style of play a new coach has, and Fish answered that in an FAQ on Montana State's site.

What style will the Bobcats play? My simple answer to that has been whatever style will win us a game. Each team is different, and the great thing is that as a program we can evolve each year. Ideally I'd like to play up tempo, but we'll see what this team's strengths are and go from there.
A common complaint about former coach Brad Huse was that he was stuck in his system, and did not do a good job of adapting to the personnel he had. To that end, Fish's response about using whatever style will win has to be music to the ears of the program.

It's always tough to predict how a new coach will do, but Fish has the pedigree to be a very solid coach, including recruiting ties to the Pacific Northwest and California, from his time at Oregon, and at San Diego earlier in his career. That is essential for success in the Big Sky. If he can turn some things around, MSU has a very solid recruiting base, and I think the program would respond very well to a winner. Time will tell if Fish is the guy to provide that.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

My Big Sky Awards, Part 2

Before leaving for vacation, I posted part 1 of my Big Sky awards, so it's time for part 2 - the award teams. While my part one did not differ much from what actually happened, I suspect I will have some differences to the actual selections made for the teams.

I will use the same amount of players as the Conference has for these awards, for consistency sake.

BIG SKY FIRST TEAM
- Davion Berry (Weber State) - Berry was a deserving POY, an all-around play without many weaknesses. It was a great two-year Weber State career for him.
- Kareem Jamar (Montana) - For Jamar, it was a great four-year career that included a POY award and three first-team selections. He was a great player for the Grizzlies, and I will miss watching him.
- Troy Huff (North Dakota) - Perhaps the most dynamic player in the Big Sky with his above the rim ability, people forget he led the Big Sky in steals too.
- Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington) - Harvey's story is a great one. Last year, he was a freshman not on a scholarship. He got his chance late in the year and thrived. This year, all he did was lead the Big Sky in scoring at almost 22 a game.
- Joel Bolomboy (Weber State) - He got snubbed from the first team, but he could be the POY next season. His offensive game is still developing, but it's a good sign that he shot 72% on FTs this year. It's also a good sign that he is perhaps the best rebounder in the entire country, and was the defensive POY in the Big Sky. He is a star.
- Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado) - Early on, he looked like a contender for Big Sky POY, but that fizzled a bit when UNC struggled in the second half of conference play. Still, he was a great player for the Bears that improved even on an excellent debut season. He shot 60% from the field, was a tenacious rebounder, and versatile defender. He was a star in his two year career for the Bears.

BIG SKY SECOND TEAM
- Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State) - He got overshadowed a bit by McKinney, but Garrity hums along as a great offensive player. This year, he shot 48% from three on about five attempts per game. That is ridiculously good.
- Mikh McKinney (Sacramento State) - McKinney was one of the most improved players in the conference. His two-point percentage jumped from 41% to 53%, and he draws a ton of fouls. This year, he also became a great assist man, while cutting down turnovers. The Hornets could have two first-teamers next year, as they will continue to have the Big Sky's best backcourt.
- Aaron Anderson (North Dakota) - Throughout his career, I thought Anderson was very underrated, as shown by his honorable mention status (rather than first or second team). He did it all offensively, shooting from outside, getting to the rack, drawing fouls, and keeping his turnovers down. Troy Huff got the pub, but I'm not so sure that Anderson wasn't UND's best offensive player.
- Tate Unruh (Northern Colorado) - Unruh developed nicely in his career, as a guy who started as just a shooter, and ended as a complete offensive player. Of course, he retained his elite shooting skills... in his career, he missed nine free throws out of 149 attempts.
- Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona) - Upshur had a great debut season, and was rightly named Newcomer of the Year. He has unlimited range, but was efficient inside the arc as well. If he can take the next step in his development, NAU will be a Big Sky title contender.

BIG SKY HONORABLE MENTION
- Kyle Tresnak (Weber State) - Tresnak always showed flashes, such as his great effort in the Big Sky title game, but never quite became the dominant force we thought he might be. That is OK, because he was still very good - a capable scorer and solid rebounder and defender.
- Jordan Gregory (Montana) - He was the toughest omission from the top two teams, as he grew as expected to be a reliable contributor. He is a good outside shooter, but has a nice ability to get inside and make baskets.
- Kyle Richardson (Portland State) - Richardson was quietly one of the best big men in the conference during conference play, even though he was at times the Vikings only reliable big man. He had a big impact in his one season in Portland.
- Tomas Sanchez (Idaho State) - I wanted to find a way to get him in one of the top two teams, but couldn't quite make the leap. Still, he was an iron man for the Bengals, as basically their only PG. He took and made big shots, and was a solid distributor. Without him, it would have been an ugly year in Pocatello.
- Chris Hansen (Idaho State) - Hansen is an excellent shooter, making 40% on a ton of three-point attempts. He will need to work a bit on creating his own shot, because they are going to rely on him a lot next season.
- Max Jacobsen (Northern Arizona) - All Jacobsen did as a senior was shoot 61% from the field, as perhaps the best low post scorer in the Big Sky. He was not above average in any other skill, but in a league without a lot of great frontcourt scorers, Jacobsen stood out.
- Keron DeShields (Montana) - He was greatly improved this season, becoming a better distributor and better offensive scorer. His two-point shooting jumped from  40% to 56%, which turned him from a liability to a reliable contributor for the Grizzlies.
- Gary Winston (Portland State) - Winston is a solid all-around offensive player, with the ability to hit threes and get to the rim. He is part of a deep backcourt for PSU which should be a strength next season.
- Tevin Svihovec (Northern Colorado) - Svihovec played off the ball a lot more this year, and I think that suited his game well. He still forces too many shots, but he is a solid outside shooter that can get to the rim and draw fouls. They need him to be an offensive centerpiece next season.
- Paul Egwuonwu (Montana State) - He was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country last season, and that was huge for the Bobcats. He wasn't a great offensive player but he wasn't a negative either. Combined with his rebounding, and he will be sorely missed.

Thoughts?

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Postseason Stuff

My wife and I are on vacation this upcoming week, and then I have a few posts planned for when I get back. Here is what I am still planning to post before the offseason:

- My Big Sky Awards (Pt 2)
- Idaho primer
- Early rankings for next year
- Update recruiting roundup

Anything else you want to see before the blog goes into hibernation mode?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Big Sky Awards, Part 1

The Big Sky awards were revealed a couple of weeks ago, and for the most part, I think they were good choices. However, I still wanted to go through and give my thoughts on the awards, who I'd choose, and the other top candidates.

Player of the Year
Actual Choice: Davion Berry, Weber State
My Choice: Davion Berry
Other Candidates: Kareem Jamar, Troy Huff, Derrick Barden
Comments: It was almost a foregone conclusion that Berry would win the award, as it usually goes to the best player on the best team, but should he have? Berry and Jamar are basically neck and neck, so neither would be a bad choice, but I pick Berry for a couple reasons:

- Statistically, a big edge for Jamar is that he grabs 17.9% of defensive rebounds, while Berry is at 12.8%, a big difference. However, Berry plays alongside an elite rebounder in Joel Bolomboy, while Jamar does not, which makes it easier for him to grab rebounds.
- They are about equally good shooters and passers. However, Berry is a little better from downtown, shooting 40% on threes compared to 34% for Jamar.
- Berry is better at getting to the free throw line which gives him more opportunities for freebies. Also, he is an 82% foul shooter compared to 71% for Jamar.

Either way, both guys would be good choices, but I would choose Berry. Derrick Barden would be another solid option for his efficient offense and rebounding, but I think Berry does more things at a high level. Similarly, Troy Huff is not a bad pick as he is a better rebounder than Berry/Jamar and led the conference in steals, but he loses some points for his offensive efficiency and the fact that he is a far worse passer than the other two guys.

Newcomer of the Year
Actual Choice: Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona
My Choice: Quinton Upshur
Other Candidates: Kyle Richardson of Portland State
Comments: Upshur had an excellent debut season for the Jacks, and got better and better as the season went on. He has deep range, and shoots efficiently inside the arc as well. He pokes away some steals as well, with a 3.4 steal percentage. He is not a great passer or rebounder, but he is a very good scorer for them. Certainly a case could be made for Kyle Richardson of Portland State, who was really one of the best big men in the conference by the end of the year, but I think Upshur was the right choice.

Freshman of the Year
Actual Choice: Jeremy Senglin, Weber State
My Choice: Jeremy Senglin
Other Candidates: Jordan Wilson of Northern Colorado, Kris Yanku of Northern Arizona, Mario Dunn of Montana
Comments: Senglin had a steady debut season, showcasing some offensive skills (including 40% shooting on threes). He needs to become a better passer, but he showed he is capable of running the offense and should be slotted in for the Wildcats. He played almost 75% of the team's minutes and started from day one on the conference champ, which tells you what the coaches think of him. You could make a case for the other PGs as well. Dunn is the best defensive player of the group and will be an all-conference guy eventually. Yanku got better as the season went along and is perhaps the most important guy in NAU's program right now. Wilson was great for UNC as a freshman, showing some signs of good offense, as well as excellent on-ball defense. All four guys are worthy, and the fact that four PGs like this enter the Big Sky as freshmen is a great sign, but I would give Senglin the nod.

Sixth Man of the Year
Actual Choice: Jamal Webb of North Dakota and DaShaun Wiggins of Portland State
My Choice: Tim Huskisson, Northern Colorado
Other Candidates: Wiggins
Comments: Neither of the choices were bad at all. Webb was a steady guard off the bench, after starting the previous three seasons. Wiggins was even better... he was one of the best in the country at drawing fouls, and was a super efficient offensive players. He was a fine choice. However, my selection would be Huskisson, who started 12 of 32 games for the Bears. He was an efficient scorer and versatile defender. He still struggles at times with consistency, but he still has the ceiling of being a star.

Defensive Player of the Year
Actual Choice: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
My Choice: Joel Bolomboy
Other Candidates: Jamal Webb, Derrick Barden
Comments: Bolomboy is an excellent anchor of the defense, with his size, quickness, and leaping ability. He gobbles up every rebound (28.2% DR%). His blocks were down, but he still impacted many shots. Bolomboy could be a POY as soon as next season in the Big Sky.

Coach of the Year
Actual Choice: Randy Rahe, Weber State
My Choice: Jack Murphy, Northern Arizona
Other Candidates: Rahe, Brian Katz
Comments: I can't argue with Rahe too much, as he is a great coach, but Murphy would have been my choice. It is simply about expectations vs actual results. Weber State was predicted first, and that is where they finished. However, NAU was predicted near the bottom of the conference, lost their best returner right before the season... and still finished third with a ton of newcomers. He did a great coaching job this season.

What are your thoughts? In the next week or two I should have time to go through and give my all-conference teams, and I suspect I will have a lot more differences compared to what the actual selections were than I do here.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Weber State Battles, But Falls to Arizona

In the end, Weber State was not to be the first 16 seed to topple a one seed, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Wildcats of Weber State battled down to the final buzzer, losing to Arizona 68-59 to end the Big Sky season. We talked about how Arizona is possibly the best defensive team in the country - and that was shown in this game - but Weber State was not intimidated, and even managed to make things interesting down the stretch.

Weber State shot 30% from the floor, and still found a way to make Arizona sweat. They should be proud of their efforts.

Weber State got off to an early 7-0 run, but Arizona moved quickly to take back the lead, going on a 32-13 run the rest of the first half. For long stretches, Weber State was just not able to get enough buckets to stay in the game. However, they just kept attacking. Davion Berry was just 5/20 FG, but he made shots down the stretch, and stayed aggressive going to the hoop, finishing with 10 free throw attempts. It was a nice end to a great two year career in purple for him, as he was clearly not afraid of the big stage.

Another guy that showcased himself was big man Joel Bolomboy, who finished with 16 rebounds, seven of them offensive. As we have said really since he got to Weber State - his offensive game is not polished, but he is an NBA level rebounder and athlete in the frontcourt. Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the game he thought Bolomboy would be an NBA player, and it's hard to disagree.

It was an up and down year for the Big Sky, as evidenced by the 16 seed that Weber State received. However, the Wildcats represented themselves and the Big Sky well, playing a great team very tough, never backing down, and never letting up, even when the Arizona lead grew in the second half. It was a great learning experience for the young guys (Jeremy Senglin was the freshman of the year in the conference, but fellow freshman Richaud Gittens could be an all-conference player very soon), and a great showcase for the program, especially after they came up just short the last couple of seasons.

In the end, perhaps the highest praise came from Miller, who said this after the game:

"Weber is one of the best teams we've played all season," Miller said. "We've played some of the great teams in college basketball and I don't care what the name of their conference is or what they say on their shirt."
Great game, and an excellent season for a great program.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

What Can Weber State Do To Have a Chance?

Obviously, you know that a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. The odds are not just stacked against Weber State, they would have to make history to advance and beat Arizona. On paper, certainly, Arizona is the heavy favorite, but that's why they play the games. Here are some keys for the game that would help give Weber State a puncher's chance:

- Make outside shots - This is key for anyone trying to pull off a big upset - you have to be able to hit shots. Arizona is perhaps the best defensive team in the country - you are not going to break them down and get to the rim. Weber State is a very athletic team, but Arizona is even more athletic. Teams shoot 40.5% on twos against Arizona, second lowest rate in the country. To have a shot, Weber needs to make some threes, and they do have the shooters to be able to do that.

-  Force Arizona bigs into foul trouble - Without Brandon Ashley, Arizona is perhaps most susceptible if you can get their big men into foul trouble (especially Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon). Weber is a good team at drawing fouls, especially Davion Berry. I know I said they need to make a lot of threes, but they could also benefit from Berry trying to get to the rim, and ideally forcing some fouls.

- Don't let Arizona get second chance shots - Weber State is not a team that forces turnovers, and that will not change today.But, they are a good defensive rebounding team, and that trait needs to hold today. Once they force a miss, they HAVE to get the defensive rebound - you can't give up free baskets to teams as good as Arizona. Joel Bolomboy is one of the best rebounders in the nation, and he'll have to show it today.

- Survive the first ten minutes - I know that Weber State is confident they can go in there and shock the world - you simply wouldn't be a competitor if you didn't believe that no matter the odds. But if Arizona gets off to a big start right away, some of that belief could fade a little bit. They have to start out strong, and be at least even or close to it after the first ten minutes. Build up a little momentum, and the crowd will be on your side, at least the neutral fans that are in the house.

That is the anatomy of a Weber State upset. Ken Pomeroy's odds give them a 4% chance to win the game. If they are going to shock the world, these four keys will likely be a big part of it.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brad Huse Resigns as Montana State Head Coach

In a surprising turn of events, Montana State head coach Brad Huse has resigned. He signed a two year contract extension after last season, but the Bobcats missed the conference tournament after a 9-11 Big Sky mark.

From the Montana Standard:

Brad Huse has resigned his position as head coach of the men’s basketball team at Montana State University, the school announced today.

Huse made the move after meeting with athletic director Peter Fields earlier in the day.

“Brad offered his resignation during a meeting this morning and I have accepted it,” Fields said in a statement. “I want to thank him for his effort, dedication and integrity. I wish Brad and his family nothing but the best.”

Huse recently completed his eighth year as the Bobcats’ head basketball coach, amassing a 107-133 overall record. The Bobcats finished with 14-17 record this season.

Fields said that a search for Huse’s replacement will begin immediately. He hopes that the process will not take long but said that, “hiring the right person is the most important factor.”
No matter your thoughts on Huse as a coach (and Montana State fans have plenty of things to say), from all accounts Huse is a stand-up guy, and we wish him well.

I thought there would be a good chance we would have no coaching openings in the Big Sky (unless Wayne Tinkle or Randy Rahe leave for greener pastures), but suddenly, the Montana State job is open.

If I had to speculate, it was more of a firing than a straight-up resignation, but I have no inside information there - just guessing. Not many young coaches resign one year into a two year deal.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Big Sky Teams Postseason Tournaments

We know about Weber State in the NCAA Tournament, but they are not the only team that will be playing postseason basketball.

Big Sky runner-up North Dakota will be playing in the CIT for the fourth straight season. In the opening round Wednesday, they will take on Nebraska-Omaha.

Northern Colorado also got a berth in the CIT, and they will get to host a game to boot. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi will come to Greeley on Wednesday night.

Last, Portland State also got the invite to the CIT, and they will travel to take on San Diego on Tuesday night. The berth is great validation for Tyler Geving and his club, who has such a strong finish to the season.

The focus this time of year is on the NCAA Tournament, but it is a good sign for the Big Sky that three other teams are playing in postseason tournaments. We'll be following along with everyone here!

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A Brief Look at Arizona

By now, you know that Weber State drew the 16 seed in the West, and will take on Arizona in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Let's take a brief look at Arizona, and what we know of them.

For a lot of the year, Arizona was ranked #1 in the country, as they started things off by winning 21 straight games. They finished 30-4, losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament final.

Star forward Brandon Ashley (sidenote: Arizona has a lot of stars) got hurt in the 22nd game against California. It might be worth noting that Arizona was 21-0 with him, and 9-4 without him.

Arizona is led by Nick Johnson, a first team All-American and a guy that is really an excellent player. This year, he averaged 16.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 2.8 APG. He can score from the outside (36%), inside (49% on twos), and is good at getting to the free throw line (169 attempts this year, shooting 77%). Other guys to watch for include Aaron Gordon (a super athletic freshman who will be a high draft pick this year), and TJ McConnell (a transfer from Duquesne who is an excellent passer). As you would expect from a number one seed, Arizona has no shortage of talent, athletes, or depth in a game like this.

In terms of defensive efficiency, Arizona is the best defensiv team in the country, allowing 0.87 PPP (by comparison, Weber State allows 1.06 PPP). Teams shoot just 40.5% on twos against them, second best rate in the country. Also, the Wildcats are great on the defensive glass, and opponents have the sixth worst offensive rebounding percentage against them of any team in the country. Baskets will be tough to come by.

Offensively, Arizona is 35th in the country at 1.13 PPP (again for comparison, Weber State is at 1.06 PPP). Their best weapon as been scoring inside the paint... they aren't a great three-point shooting team, and they get 57% of their points with two-pointers. They will look to go inside.

Obviously, Weber State will have their work cut out for them. No 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed. The Wildcats are 30-4 for a reason! As the week goes on, though, we'll look at what Weber State has to do to have a puncher's chance in this game.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where Will Weber State Get Seeded?

Now that we know Weber State is going dancing, the next intrigue comes from wondering if they can stay off the 16 seed line. According to a lot of the bracket experts I am seeing, that will be tough.

I asked a couple bracket experts right after the game, and at that time, they had Weber State slotted as the highest rated 16 seed, and potentially looking at being out in the West bracket against Arizona.





As of the time of this writing (Saturday night), Jerry Palm at CBS has Weber State on the 16 seed line also taking on Arizona.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN has them as a 15 seed against Wisconsin in the West bracket.

We will find out on Sunday.

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