Saturday, December 31, 2011

Weber State Improves to 2-0 in Big Sky

As expected, Weber State took care of Sacramento State on New Year's Eve afternoon, beating the Hornets 74-63 in Ogden.

Weber State jumped out to fast start, and though Sacramento State was able to keep it within the 10-15 range for most of the day, they were never really able to threaten.

Damian Lillard again led the Wildcats with 22 points, 19 of which came in the second half. He also had 8 rebounds. He did not shoot overly well, but he got to the line often, making 10 of 11 free throws. Scott Bamforth threw in 19 points (though he also struggled with his shot), and Kyle Tresnak had 20 (on 9/12 shooting) for Weber State.

For Sacramento State, they did some things well, but could not force any turnovers and just couldn't hit enough shots. John Dickson led them in scoring with 20 points, but it took him 19 shots to get there. Joe Eberhard also continued his solid season with 15 and 7, but nobody was really able to get it going for the Hornets.

At the end of the day, Weber State improves to 2-0 in the Big Sky, a mark matched by Montana (and Northern Arizona could match as well with a victory tonight), while Sacramento State joins Portland State at 0-2. Weber State will travel to take on Eastern Washington in what should be an excellent game Thursday night, while Sacramento State will host Northern Colorado Thursday.

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Happy New Year's!!

Stay safe everyone and hope you have a great New Year's night!

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Montana State Beats Portland State, Moves To 1-1

Montana State had been struggling a bit offensively, but they found out something I think a few times will find out this year - a game against Portland State cures some offensive ills.

The Bobcats hit their first 9 shots en route to an 86-74 victory at home over the Vikings, improving to 1-1 in conference play, dropping PSU to 0-2. For the game, MSU shot 53%, including knocking down 9 threes. Xavier Blount got back to being their go-to guy, scoring 24 points and showing a lot of good aggressiveness. He got the line 10 times, which shows he was going to the hoop often in this game.

Christian Moon is showing he might be the best 6th man in the Big Sky, as he finished with a cool 21 points on 6/8 from downtown. He is challenging Scott Bamforth to be considered the best shooter in the conference at this point. He keeps getting better and better. Other Bobcats in double figures were Shawn Reid (14) and Mohammed Fall (12).

For the Vikings, Charles Odum continued his extremely efficient year, as he had 20 points on 7/8 shooting. He has been an excellent scorer for them this year, as he has a knack for getting into the lane. Chehales Tapscott had an excellent day as well, with 15 and 11.

For PSU, the story of the game (and their season so far) could be found in the game notes on PSU's website. In their last seven games, the Vikings have given up an average of 88 points per game, and their opponents are shooting 52% from the floor. It doesn't matter how good your offense is (and make no mistake, PSU has some good talent), that tough of defensive deficiency is hard to overcome.

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Mathias Ward Shines As Montana Downs Eastern Washington


If you would have told Montana fans before the game that Derek Selvig would be held scoreless and Kareem Jamar would score 9 points on 2/10 shooting, I'm not sure many of them would have thought they could have won the game.

However, that is exactly what happened, thanks to a career day from Mathias Ward. He scored 28 points on 9/11 shooting (becoming the conference leader in FG%) and was 10/13 from the line. He has a great touch from the field, and feasted on EWU's lack of big men (especially since they get in foul trouble so often).

"It definitely makes a difference when you can be the bigger person in the matchup, you can use angles and use your strength more than with other big guys," Ward said. "It was a lot of different things - my teammates were looking to get me the ball, I hit a couple of jump shots, I got a couple of easy ones, so I kind of got it rolling."
The other star was Will Cherry, who had 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. He also got the line 13 times.

For Eastern Washington, it was some of the same problems we have seen from them throughout the year. First, they hacked the Grizzlies all night, committing 26 fouls and sending Montana to the line for 37 FT attempts. It is very difficult to win when you consistently put other teams on the line as much as they do. One EWU message board compiled the stat that they have committed 92 more fouls than their opponents, resulting in 182 more FT attempts. After 14 games that is just unreal.

They also struggle with ball movement. Collin Chiverton can be a ball stopper, as he has 9 assists in 14 games (but takes a higher percentage of his team's shots than anyone else in America). EWU had 7 assists on 25 baskets in this game, ruining a great performance by Cliff Colimon.

At the end of the day, Montana's pick as #2 seems justified, as they improve to 2-0 with a quality BSC win. At the same time, EWU at #3 seems about right too, as they led at half and played the Griz tough. These are two quality teams.

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Weber State, Northern Arizona Start 1-0


I didn't have a chance to write about the games, but wanted to quickly talk about the two Thursday night games.

In the first game, Northern Arizona held off Sacramento State in an entertaining contest, with a final of 73-64. It was an interesting battle of contrasting styles, as NAU has no real post game, while Sac State tried to pound it down low.

For NAU, the star was freshman guard James Douglas, who had 22 points, including 4 treys. He seems to benefit from the addition of Gabe Rogers, who is a guy that defenses must account for at all times. Rogers had an inefficient 17 points (5/16 shooting), but you can bet he is a big help to the offense just by his presence out there.

Stallon Saldivar had 2 points and 5 assists, but it is apparent to me that he is clearly the best passer in the Big Sky. I know Dylan Garrity is leading the conference in assists, but I would take Saldivar over him at this point. Finally, even though he is 6'4'', Durrell Norman is the de facto big man for NAU a lot of the time, and I love watching him play. He is a definite scrapper, finishing with 15 points and 9 boards. He uses his body well.

For the Hornets, they might have been undone by their FT shooting, where they were an abysmal 8/21 from the stripe. Konnor Veteto had a nice 17 and 8 game, but was just 1/6 from the line. With a little better shooting, this would have been a different game. It is a tough road loss for the Hornets in a game that was very tight throughout the second half, but in the end they are in the familiar position of being on the wrong side of .500.

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In the other game, I expected Weber State to blow out Idaho State, and it kind of played out that way. The game was never really in doubt, with a 78-64 final, but ISU kept it competitive thanks to the great game by Chase Grabau.

Grabau was 9/13 from the field and 10/11 from the line, scoring a career-high 31 points to go with 7 rebounds. He has been their best all-around player this year, but this was certainly the best performance we have seen from him. He single-handedly kept them close, and hopefully they can build on that.

For Weber State, there were two stars. One was Damian Lillard, who was right at about his average, scoring 26 points in this game to go along with 3 assists. As usual, it was a very efficient night, as he was 8/13 from the field and 8/8 from the line. He makes great decisions and runs the offense very well. The big key for them was Scott Bamforth's play. He has been struggling a little bit at different times this year, but he got open and knocked down some shots, scoring 21 points. If he can become a reliable #2 scorer, Weber State is the best team in the Big Sky.

For Weber State and Northern Arizosna, 1-0 is a beautiful thing.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

More Fighting Sioux Nickname Talk

From the Grand Forks Herald:

A conservative blog that has championed efforts to save UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname alleges in a blog posting today that UND officials and others deliberately misled the North Dakota Legislature about UND’s status within the Big Sky Conference and how the fight over the nickname could affect that status.
Don't read the article unless you are a glutton for nickname punishment, but if there was any doubt that people are upset about changing the nickname, there shouldn't be. It is a hot issue up there. I know, having lived there for years!

Hopefully the school will simply go with The University of North Dakota. No new nickname. I think that is what would appease the most folks.

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Article on Montana State Recruit Ryan Shannon

Very interesting article in the Herald Net about Ryan Shannon, who will be joining Montana State next season.

Shannon has played a key role, but not an outstanding role on his new team, Mountlake Terrace. But tonight the focus will be on him not necessarily for what he has accomplished this season, but more because he used to don the jersey of the visiting team.

For the first time and perhaps the only time in his high school career, Shannon will face his former teammates from Marysville -- and he will do it on his 18th birthday.
Shannon is an athletic forward that should be a nice addition to the Bobcats, and it looks like he is having a very solid senior season.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sac State Sports Profile on Dylan Garrity

Excellent article over at Sac State Sports on freshman guard Dylan Garrity, who leads all freshmen in assists with 6.9 per game.

The Sacramento State men’s basketball coach was watching a game at Huntington Beach Edison High School and he knew after one quarter he had found the next Hornets star.

“I called my assistant coach and said ‘I’m going to offer him,’ ” Katz said, who usually prefers to watch a player in multiple games before offering a scholarship. But what he saw that day in Dylan Garrity was enough to make him want the two-time all-state guard on the spot.
The Hornets take on Northern Arizona tonight.

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My Podcast With Gidal

Earlier this week I recorded a 15-20 minute podcast with Gidal Kaiser of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, talking about all things Big Sky.

Topics including talking more about my predictions for conference play, why Northern Colorado is better than you think, and discussion about the resignations of Jim O'Brien and Mike Adras.

The link can be found in the middle of his pregame post yesterday. It was the first podcast ever for yours truly, hopefully it doesn't show too much!

Many thanks to Gidal for having me on!

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Montana Holds Court Over Portland State

In the other Big Sky conference game of the day, the road team got off to a great start to secure the victory. Not in this one. Here it was Montana that jumped out to an early 10 point lead, and the game was never really in doubt after that.

Montana shot 58% in the first half (including 7/9 from beyond the arc), which enabled them to get a 19 point lead going into the break. Portland State had a couple solid runs in the second half to cut the deficit down a bit, but they never really made it too interesting.

Kareem Jamar led the team with 17 points, also contributing 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He had a couple of great looks that led the easy baskets for the Griz, and he is really growing to be a great playmaker for them. The announcers of the game were heaping a lot of praise on Jamar near the end of the game, and it was hard to argue with anything. He is very talented offensively, and very advanced for being a sophomore.

Will Cherry also played well, with 15 points, including knocking down some outside shots, which is huge for him. He also had the play of the day... on a fast break, he threw up a beautiful alley oop that was completed by Art Steward (who also had 15) for an athletic finish (highlights can be found here). Cherry had a cramp later in the game, but should be fine for Friday. Cherry opposing Lateef McMullan (0/7, 0 points) was a huge mismatch in this game.

Derek Selvig and Eric Hutchison did not contribute a bunch offensively, but they were very sound defensively against a strong offensive frontcourt of PSU. In particular they played outstanding defense against Nate Lozeau.

It will not be a game Lozeau will want to remember. Coming into the day he was shooting 64%, but he was just 1/8 from the floor for 4 points and 3 rebounds, while also battling foul trouble. Chehales Tapscott didn't do much better offensively with 7 points, but he did have 12 rebounds and is just very active on the glass. Renado Parker had another great effort (16 points, 8 rebounds), and is one heck of a player down low, but it was not enough.

The bright spot for PSU was Charles Odum, who had a very efficient 27 points, taking only 13 shots. He got to the line well, and got into the lane for some easy shots. He is really an excellent player, though some of the points did come in garbage time.

Montana came out firing and played great, setting up an early season game against Eastern Washington to determine who will be #2 in the perception of those following the league. Meanwhile, PSU falls to 0-7 on the road this year, and has to turn around in 2 days to take on Montana State. It is a win they could definitely use.

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Previewing Thursday Night's Games

The second night of Big Sky games features two more contests, though on paper they are not quite as intriguing as opening night. Still, interesting basketball will be played if you are a follower of Big Sky Basketball, so let’s take a look at the games on tap.

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Sacramento State @ Northern Arizona
The Lumberjacks looked like a cellar dweller as little as a couple of weeks ago, but all of a sudden they are a very interesting squad. In large part this is due to the health of Gabe Rogers (as opposed to the early spark they got from the coaching change). Rogers was one of the best shooters and scorers in the Big Sky last season when he was healthy, and his addition is huge for NAU. Combined with Stallon Saldivar and James Douglas, NAU has a solid guard trio.

In Sacramento, there is a sense of optimism around from the 5-6 start, as they are looking for their first winning season in a couple of decades. They are a competitive, still young group, who should make this a very interesting game. The key to this game could be the production of Konner Veteto and John Dickson down low. NAU is not strong on the block, so it will be important for these guys to get their numbers.

Adding it all together, I will take Northern Arizona to win a close game because this one will be played in Flagstaff. It should be very competitive, and no outcome would surprise me. At times this year, both teams have looked like solid teams, and both have looked very bad. Anything can happen in this one.

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Idaho State @ Weber State
This is easy the least compelling game of the opening couple days, as it features the worst team in the Big Sky against the best.

Even if Weber State is not back the full strength, they still easily will have the most talent. Damian Lillard should have a big day against a porous Bengals defense, as ISU does not have any players that can stick with him man to man. If Scott Bamforth is able to get on track early, this game could get out of hand. ISU’s best chance is to slow the game down and take care of the ball. For a team with lesser talent, you either want to speed the game way up to try and force mistakes or slow the game way down to limit possessions. It is not ISU’s game to speed it up (and further, Weber is comfortable with that style of play), so it makes sense for the Bengals to slow the tempo and hope they are hitting some shots.

I don’t see it happening. Look for Weber State to win big and start their conference campaign off 1-0. Anything else would be a surprise.

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Eastern Washington Scores Road Win Over Montana State

Jim Hayford and the Eagles are off to a great start in the Big Sky. Anytime you can get a conference road win you have to be very pleased, all the better when you can do it in convincing fashion like EWU did, beating Montana State 82-66.

“What a great way to open the Big Sky Conference schedule,” said Hayford. “There is no better way to start league play than with a road win, especially at such a tough place to play as Bozeman. I’m very proud of our team.
EWU jumped out to a 25-10 lead and never looked back from there. The Bobcats cut the lead to 9 at intermission, but it seemed like EWU's advantage stayed between 10-12 for most of the second half. Their key was two fold. One, they forced 22 MSU turnovers, which led to 26 Eagles points off turnovers. Second, they simply shot the ball better. They made 50% of their shots, including 11 treys.

Cliff Colimon looked like the best player on the floor, though he did have 5 TOs. He scored 22 points and knocked down some big shots in the second half when MSU was trying to put a run together. Cliff Ederaine had a solid day, scoring 16 points and 7 rebounders, but he did turn it over 6 times. He is a decent ballhandler for his size, but definitely has times where the dribbles the ball a bit too much. Collin Chiverton also had 12, but only 3/11 shooting. Chiverton has not yet met a shot he did not like.

For MSU, they continued their shooting woes, shooting below 40% for the fourth straight game. Montana State was able to do some things well - they forced 21 Eagles turnovers and got to the line often - but it was not enough to overcome their poor shooting. Christian Moon was their star and kept them in the game, finishing with 20 points (including 3/5 from downtown). He has a great stroke and is a great piece for them.

Xavier Blount, however, struggled for the third straight game. He finished with just 5 points on 1/7 shooting, and didn't look at any time like he would be able to take the game over or give them a nice run. He needs to be a lot better.

For Eastern Washington, the optimism around the program will only grow after a game like this, a nice conference road win where they never trailed. For Montana State, they are left to ask more questions as they go into a Friday night home game against Portland State that looks very big for them.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Improvement of Paul Garnica and Tate Unruh

With Northern Colorado losing as much talent as they did after last season, it was paramount that they had some guys really step up. So far this year, the two guys that have done that the most are guards Tate Unruh and Paul Garnica. Both were expected to have their roles increase after being part-time players as freshman last year, and they have answered the bell.

For Paul Garnica, last year he did a lot of nice things, but he had a couple big holes in his game. One, he was not a very good outside shooter, and that limited him offensively. He shot just 27% from downtown, and did not get to the line often. His other problem was that he turned the ball over way too much, with a TO Rate of 28.3%. Disregarding the obvious fact that he was blocked by Devon Beitzel, these had to contribute to him not seeing more time.

This year, both of those weaknesses have been improved a lot, especially outside shooting. This year he is shooting nearly 50% from downtown (though his 2-point percentage is down), and that is having a huge impact on his offensive efficiency. In addition, his assist rate has gone up, and his turnover rate has gone down, from 28.3% to 18.8%. There is still room for improvement to take the next step, but that has to be very encouraging for BJ Hill. He is also getting to the FT line a bit more this year. All in all, he has at times looked like their best guy.

At other times, Tate Unruh has looked like their best player. Last year he played sparingly, but was efficient in that time, mostly because he flashed his potential as an outside shooter. He shot 42% from outside, and even though he didn't do a whole lot else, that is a great skill. I said before the year he would need to add strength and he could be very dangerous, and he has done that.

Unruh certainly is not the most athletic or strongest guy, but he has gotten the job done for the Bears. His efficiency has only gotten better with more time, as he has shot 46% from outside, 51% from 2-point range, and is 18/19 from the stripe. He still doesn't do a ton besides that (low assist rate, average rebounding rate), but he has become a solid scorer. He leads the team in scoring with 13.1 PPG. He has a long way to go to reach this level, but UNC may have found their next Devon Beitzel. Compare Unruh's stats this year to Beitzel's sophomore year.

UNC is still a very young team, with only one senior on the roster, but the improvement of guys like Garnica and Unruh is one reason the fans should still be very excited for the state of the Bears program. Tad Boyle put a lot of nice pieces in place, and BJ Hill is capitalizing on them.

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Big Sky Preview From Gidal

Excellent Big Sky preview posted in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle by Gidal Kaiser. The article focuses on Montana State obviously, but he has solid capsules on all Big Sky teams.

The Bobcats, in Huse's tenure, haven't had many issues with good starts when it comes to Big Sky play. In five seasons, MSU hasn't had one start below .500 and has displayed records of 6-2 and 5-3 as the first half of the schedule closed in 2009-10 and 2010-11, respectively. Last year, the Bobcats shot out to a 5-1 start in the Big Sky. Coincidentally, MSU opened conference play at home and went 2-0 in both homestands. The Bobcats' home record under Huse is 24-14.
I did a podcast with Gidal earlier this week which will be posted at some point. Of all the traditional media guys that follow the league or the teams in the league, Gidal is the one I have found most knowledge about the Big Sky as a whole. Check out his preview.

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Big Sky Rankings From The Bleacher Report

It is not often we get another site putting up Big Sky rankings, but The Bleacher Report did, so let's check them out.

Behind star Damian Lillard, the Weber State Wildcats have emerged as the conference favorites.

However, Montana, Eastern Washington, and Portland State have put together solid seasons so far, and they will look to take down the Wildcats for the conference crown.

1. Weber State
2. Montana
3. Eastern Washington
4. Portland State
5. Montana State
6. Northern Arizona
7. Northern Colorado
8. Sacramento State
9. Idaho State

Thanks to Sac State Sports for the link.

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Idaho State Searching For Answers

There was an article in the Magic Valley Times-News about Idaho State, and how they are searching for answers as conference play begins. There was a curious quote from interim head coach Deane Martin about them team:

The Bengals (2-9) head into Big Sky Conference play searching for answers, and they simply may not be coming. New interim head coach Deane Martin was frank when assessing his team's potential with con-ference play on the horizon.

"This isn't the NBA, it's not like we can go out and make trades," he said.
This is not exactly the ringing endorsement you would expect to hear from a coach. Obviously the team knows they are 2-9 and struggling, but the one thing you would expect to hear is confidence from your coach.

I have no idea Martin's coaching style, or too much about him, so it's certainly not fair for me to read too much from a couple of quotes in an article, but if I was a player I would want to see a little more optimism. On the other hand, maybe Martin is just realistic.

Many thanks to a commenter for pointing out this article!

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Preview Of The Big Sky Openers

The Big Sky conference season finally kicks off on Wednesday, with two solid games on the docket. Let's take a look at each with thoughts and predictions.

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Eastern Washington @ Montana State
This is a game between two teams that started off the year strong and had their good moments, but have struggled a bit heading into conference play. Even though this game is in Bozeman, I think EWU is the favorite, as they have simply been better offensively and defensively so far this season.

A key for the Bobcats will be that they need Xavier Blount and Jamie Stewart to draw some fouls and get to the line for easy points.They are two athletic wings that handle the ball well, and they need to be on their game. Neither of these teams shoots the ball well from inside the arc, so outside shooting will be paramount. The Eagles need Collin Chiverton and Cliff Colimon to knock a few shots down early, that will be a big key for the Eagles.

Look for a tight, hard-fought game, but one I like Eastern Washington to pull out.

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Portland State @ Montana
Montana is the best defensive team in the Big Sky, while Portland State is one of the best on offense. The Grizzlies are a team with great perimeter defenders, while the Vikings are a team that likes to get points down low and in the paint. It should be a heck of a matchup.

The key will be if Montana's bigs can slow down the inside play of the Vikings trio of Chehales Tapscott, Nate Lozeau, and Renado Parker. Tapscott in particular is solid at drawing fouls and getting to the line, which could be a key because Montana does not have a ton of frontcourt depth. If the Montana bigs (particularly Derek Selvig) get into foul trouble, it will be interesting to see what type of lineup Coach Tinkle puts out there.

In the backcourt, the Grizzlies have a big edge. For PSU, Charles Odum has been excellent, but they haven't always got consistency from the rest of the guards. They will need Michael Harthun to hit some shots. The Grizzlies guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar should have a field day against Portland State's defense, which is a bit porous. Those two need 35-40 points for the Griz in this game.

This should be another excellent game on a solid Big Sky opening day, and I like Montana to hold home court and win this game.

Your thoughts on the opening games?

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Weber State Ranked 22nd in Mid-Major Top 25

After being ranked 22nd last week, Weber State has moved up to 21st in the Mid-Major Top 25.

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Big Sky Notes

The conference officially put some notes out as conference play is beginning, and there were some interesting nuggets in there.

MOVING UP QUICK: Montana junior Will Cherry enters conference play with 166 career steals. Cherry currently ranks 17th all-time in Big Sky history, but should move into the top 10 during conference play. Cherry needs 31 steals to move into 10th place on the career list. Just nine players have amassed 200 career steals in Big Sky history. DeShawn Freeman, who played at Sacramento State from 2002-06, is the all-time leader with 283. Weber State junior Damian Lillard enters conference play with 191 career made 3-pointers. He is tied for 16th all-time in Big Sky history. He is just 21 away from moving into the top 10. The all-time leader is NAU’s Ross Land, who made 308 from 1996-00. Lillard has scored 1,429 career points. If he stays healthy, he will soon become the 31st player in conference history to score 1,500 career points. If Lillard maintains his current scoring pace and Weber State plays a minimum of 18 more games, he will finish the season with 1,886 career points, which would put him seventh all-time in Big Sky history. The league career record is 2,102 set by Idaho’s Orlando Lightfoot. Lillard is on pace to shatter the record, assuming he stays healthy and stays for his senior season.

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Damian Lillard is the Big Sky POW (Again)

It is deja vu all over again... Damian Lillard is the Big Sky Player of the Week for the third time this season.

Lillard, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior from Oakland, Calif., averaged 25 points, 7.5 rebounds, four assists and two steals per game as the Wildcats earned wins over Mayville State and Utah of the Pac-12 Conference.

Other candidates were - Collin Chiverton (Eastern Washington), Kenny McGowen (Idaho State), Derek Selvig (Montana), Durrell Norman (Northern Arizona), Tevin Svihovec (Northern Colorado), Chehales Tapscott (Portland State), and John Dickson (Sacramento State).

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Midseason Big Sky Predictions

I gave my predictions and rankings before the season began, and have been giving power rankings over at Rush The Court, but it is time for my predictions on how the conference season will play out, with stream-of-consciousness style thoughts on each team.

1. Weber State (Preseason: 1) - They have the best player in the conference in Damian Lillard, who is tied for the nation's lead in scoring and still leads the nation in efficiency. He is a star and the biggest reason the Wilcats are the favorite... Once Kyle Bullinger is able to return healthy, they are among the best rebounding teams in the conference, as he is a great rebounder from the 3 spot... Kyle Tresnak is becoming a solid offensive option, as he shoots a nice percentage and is able to get to the line a decent amount. If he could become a better rebounder (especially on the defensive end) he'd be one of the top post player in the Big Sky... Scott Bamforth has been bottled up by some opponents lately, but they need him to be a solid second scoring option. He is 5th in the Big Sky in scoring but needs to get a few more shots... Their backcourt rotation of Lilard/Bamforth/Jordan Richardon/Gelaun Wheelwright should be very solid. Richardson is a nice role player and Wheelwright has a ton of talent, even if he is still learning how to use it.

2. Montana (Preseason: 2) - In the past couple of games Derek Selvig is getting back to an offensive role of shooting more from the outside, penetrating, and finding open guys. That is a great role for him. Early in the year (and throughout the offseason) he was playing more inside, but I don't think that is the best use of his skills... Will Cherry gets the most attention, but I think so far this year Kareem Jamar has been the best player for the Grizzlies. He is a really good all-around player... They need to get Keron DeSheilds and Kevin Henderson more time. Shawn Stockton and Jordan Wood are seniors who have been through the ropes, but DeShields and Henderson are a lot more talented... Hopefully Billy Reader can start to be better defensively, because they need his offensive skills down low.

3. Eastern Washington (Preseason: 4) - Their biggest problem is that they can't play defense without hacking, and that has made them an average to below average defensive team. If they clean that up, they can do great things... on the flip side, they are very reliant on the outside shot, so they don't get to the FT line very often. Plus, they don't shoot 2s very well, only 40.4% so far this year. They take good care of the basketball and they are a solid outside shooting team, but they need to find a way to get to the rim for easy shots and get to the FT line, otherwise they are simply average offensively... Collin Chiverton has been an interesting guy. Nobody in America takes a higher percentage of his team's shots than he does when he is on the floor (which means he has the ball a lot), but he also does not turn it over. I would like to see him get his teammates involved a bit more.... Cliff Colimon has shown nice improvement this year, as he is one of the best PGs in the conference... Kevin Winford had some big scoring games last year, but he doesn't seem to have a big role in Hayford's offense. He has only taken 27 shots on the year.

4. Portland State (Preseason: 3) - Offensively they are a very good team. They get to the line a bunch, and they get points inside. They are the anti Eastern Washington, as they can't shoot from downtown but they get inside and get some easy buckets... their frontcourt trio of Chehales Tapscott, Nate Lozeau, and Renado Parker is the best frontcourt offensive trio in the conference. Lozeau has been a pleasant surprise with how good he has been.... Lateef McMullan has been a big disappointment for them so far. He is shooting poorly, and not getting others involved. His A:TO ratio is on the wrong side of 1... Charles Odum followed up his strong year last year with another good one so far this year. He is best served never shooting from outside (7/42 from downtown) but shoots an astounding 63.5% from 2-point range, which is great, and the biggest reason he is one of the best guards in the Big Sky.... Tapscott is the best frontcourt player in the conference. Good inside scorer, gets to the line, blocks some shots, and excellent rebounder.

5. Northern Colorado (Preseason: 6) - They have played the 11th toughest schedule in America, and other than their loss to Westminster they have not played too poorly despite their 3-8 record... Paul Garnica and Tate Unruh were role players last year, but are among the most improved players in the Big Sky this year. As sophomores they are one of the best guard tandems in the conference.... They have some good outside shooters which will keep them in games, as they are 4th in the nation from downtown, shooting 44.2%... Mike Proctor was supposed to be their best inside guy this year, but I think he is their third best post. Emmanuel Addo is more athletic and a better scorer, while Connor Osborne is a better rebounder thanks to his strength... They are inconsistent with all of their youth (see: loss to Westminster, UT), but they are a talented bunch. They have a lot of trouble with athletic teams, but they don't face a lot of that in the Big Sky... Their potential starting five next year - Garnica/Unruh/Tim Huskisson/Osborne/Addo will keep a lot of opposing coaches up at night. And the scary thing is, none of those guys would be seniors next year.

6. Montana State (Preseason: 5) - They need Xavier Blount to be the go-to guy for them, but he has struggled with inconsistency. He had a nice string of games with 26, 19, and 21 points, but in his last two games he has 10 points on 3/20 shooting. Obviously that won't get it done for them... They are an athletic group but they don't push the temp all that much, slightly above average when it comes to pace... They brought in a lot of JUCO guys who have been solid offensively, but they are struggling to pick up defensive concepts. Montana State has not been a good defensive team at all... After a three game winning streak to improve to 5-3, it looked like the Bobcats had an argument to be a a top 3 Big Sky team, now they have lost three straight (including two bad ones in a row) and are trying to put that behind them. They open with a huge 2 games at home, against Eastern Washington and Portland State. They can't afford to go 0-2 here.

7. Northern Arizona (Preseason: 7) - Their guard trio of James Douglas, Stallon Saldivar, and Gabe Rogers is excellent, and it will cause a lot of opponent's problems. Douglas should benefit from the return of Rogers, as it will take some of the scoring load off... The coaching change provide a bit of a spark, but I am not sure it will last. They got blown out by Sam Houston State to end non-conference, and the same roster configuration problems that existed at the start of the year are still there. They still have too many guards and not enough big men, which has caused them to be a poor rebounding team and one that doesn't get inside buckets. They have some guys giving good efforts, but they don't have any solid true post guys at this point. That will make it tough for them to consistently win games, unless they really speed the game up (which they haven't done yet this year).

8. Sacramento State (Preseason: 8) - They have a solid-for-them record of 5-6, but their best win to date is at home against North Dakota... freshman Dylan Garrity has been a great distributor for them and is leading the conference in assists, but he has not been able to hit the broad side of the barn so far. He is shooting 9/32 from 2-point range and 8/29 from 3-point range. That is bad... Konner Veteto has been a nice piece for them down low, but he needs some help down low... Joe Eberhard, John Dickson, and Walter Jackson provide a nice trio on the wings, and Heath Hoffman has been a nice contributor as well... They have dome some nice things, but I do still think they are a year away from competing for a spot in the Big Sky Tournament.

9. Idaho State (Preseason: 9) - Unlike NAU, the coaching change does not appear to have sparked them, as they lost by 24 to Wyoming in Deane Martin's first game... Chase Grabau has been a nice piece for them, as he is an efficient scorer that gets to the stripe, is solid defensively, and gets some others involved. However, he needs some help. I'm not sure anyone on ISU has been above average so far this year other than Grabau.... Melvin Morgan has become a decent scoring option, but has not been quite the distributor they hoped he would be. He needs to take better care of the basketball... For all the preseason talk on Jakub Kusmieruk, he has not been much of a factor... Unfortunately, this is the least talented team in the conference and one in transition with the coaching change. It would be a surprise if they stayed out of the cellar.

What are your thoughts? What order would you put these teams in?

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My Big Sky Check-In

Forgot to post this before Christmas, but here is my pre-Christmas check-in on the Big Sky Conference, posted over at Rush The Court.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Weber State Takes Care of Utah

Taking on Utah at home is a game the Wildcats needed to win big, as they are the much better and more talented team than the Utes. Fortunately, they did exactly that, winning 80-51 on Thursday night.

It was their biggest win over Utah in the history of the rivalry.

Damian Lillard led the team with the type of performance we have come to expect from him, scoring 22 points and dishing out 5 assists while taking good care of the basketball. Three other guys scored in double figures, as Scott Bamforth (10 points), James Hajek (10 points), and Kyle Tresnak (10 points) all contributed. It was a nice, confidence-building performance for the Wildcats heading into conference play.

The sad thing is that this could be the last game in Ogden between these two teams, as Utah will reportedly not be making the trip now that they are part of the Pac-12. It is sad to see that happen, as they in-state Utah rivalries always provide competitive, heated games. It is good for the state to have these types of games, and it is a shame they won't be coming to Ogden again.

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Three Other Big Sky Teams Fall Thursday

We looked at Sacramento State's loss last night, but three other Big Sky teams fell on Thursday night, leaving some bad tastes in their mouth heading into the Christmas break (soon hopefully to be filled by the taste of a delicious Christmas dinner).

Portland State continued their trend of mixing a great offensive performance with a bad defensive one, as they fell 92-86 to Cal State Fullerton. Amazingly, it was the fourth time in five games that Portland State has given up 85 points in a game, which is something that Tyler Geving needs to clean up. The Titans shot 49% from the field and made 11 three-pointers in this game.

PSU had a stellar offensive game in their own right, finishing with 6 guys in double figures. Charles Odum had another efficient game, finishing with 19 points. Chehales Tapscott also had a nice all-around day, with 12 points, 7 boards, and 6 assists. They are still not getting much play-making from Lateef McMullan, who had 14 points, but only 3 assists against 3 turnovers. They need him to get others involved.

Portland State is a team that doesn't force turnovers (they are absolutely one of the worst in America), and their defensive efficiency could soon be among the worst in the country. Their talent states that they should be one of the top 4 teams in the Big Sky, but to do so, they will need to get some steps at key moments in games, and they have yet to show that they are capable of that. One thing is for sure, they will be an exciting team, and you can bet that lots of points will be put on the board in their games.

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Northern Colorado took on Colorado State, a nice rivalry since the schools are about 20 minutes apart, but they simply could not stop the Rams on Thursday night, losing 92-78. Dorian Green for CSU had a career-high 36 points in this game, which boggles my mind a little bit.

"They're just not focused on [defense]. They just don't understand the importance of it," Hill said. "We have two guys in this program (Mike Proctor and Elliott Lloyd) who played any type of significant minutes on that team last year or the year before. I know Emmanuel [Addo] was on that team; I know Tate [Unruh] was on the team; I know Tevin [Svihovec] was around in practice. But unless you have a significant role in those seasons, you don't understand what it takes. And they don't understand right now. They have to be baptized and get it on their own, because that's what kids have to do.
The loss drops UNC to 3-8, and there is some talk about how much the Bears struggled last season before going on a run in conference play, but this has the look of a much different ballclub.

It is not like Northern Colorado is void of good players, they are simply too young right now to get it done every night, as they have shown so far this season.  They are a team that does not bring it defensively every night, and it shows. Offensively, they are their own worst enemy. They are an excellent outside shooting team but they turn the ball over a ton.

Their schedule has potentially set them up to get off to a quick start in conference play, as they begin with home games against Northern Arizona and Idaho State. Based on the way they have played this year, no outcome in these games would surprise me.

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Idaho State was hoping that the coaching change would provide a spark, but it did not such thing against Wyoming, as they fell 80-56. The loss drops the Bengals to 2-9, while Wyoming continues their quietly impressive year, improving to 12-2.

Kenny McGowen led the team with 23 points, while no other Bengal was in double figures.

“It was more of the same thing pretty much. We come out. We play through stretches for a while and then it just all goes kaput at some point. Offensively I told the team that I don't know if there is an offense we can scheme up to go out and make the shot for you. At some point you have to go out and make the play. We did pretty good defensively against them. We get them down to the shot clock at under 10 seconds I don't know how many times. They come off a ball screen and go make a play."
Looking at the way things have ended in non-conference play, it is tough to make an argument that Idaho State will be anywhere but the cellar. They need to start getting full team efforts on both ends of the court, as they just can't seem to put a full game together.

Anything else you guys noticed from these three games?

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Sacramento State Falls to SE Missouri State

In the most exciting Big Sky game of the night, Sacramento State lost a close game to Southeast Missouri State, 77-76.

Lucas Nutt made the first of two free throw attempts with 3.3 seconds left to give the Redhawks (5-7) the lead. When he missed the second one, John Dickson attempted a buzzer-beater from behind half court that was well short.
The Hornets were down by 10 with 4:39 to play, including tying the game with 38 seconds left, but it was not enough to pull out the victory. The loss snaps a two games winning streak for Sac State, and drops them to 5-6.

Freshman PG Dylan Garrity has struggled of late, but he was excellent in this game, posting his first career double-double. He had 11 points (he was very good at getting to the FT line), and finished with a sparkling 12:0 A:TO ratio. It is good to see him get back to the way he was playing at the beginning of the year.

The Hornets got a lot of other nice contributions as well, notably from John Dickson (10/19 FG for 24 points), Joe Eberhard (15 & 8), and Josh McCarver, who had 12 points in 18 minutes. Ultimately, they just didn't get a solid performance from their defense per head coach Brian Katz.

“I don’t think I’ve ever coached a game where we could not get stops,” Katz said. “It was unbelievable.”
Sacramento State will open conference play with a trip to Northern Arizona on the 29th.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Montana Takes Down Utah Valley

Montana is a team that will head into the holidays on a high note. Thanks to a nice second half run, they took down Utah Valley 65-52 to improve to 7-5 in non-conference play.

Mathias Ward and Kareem Jamar had 15 apiece for the Grizzlies, but Derek Selvig was their most efficient player. He had 13 points (on 4/6 shooting) to go along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Last year Selvig was a great multi-dimensional player, but he has struggled all-around this season.

Selvig is a key piece for the Grizzlies, but his three-point shooting and assists have been way down this season. He was 4/5 from downtown in this one, so hopefully that is a step in the right direction for them. When he is playing his best, Montana is arguably the best team in the conference.

For Montana, an up-and-down non-conference season ends on a 2-game winning streak, and they will come out of the break with two huge home games, against Eastern Washington and Portland State (who I think are the third and fourth best teams in the Big Sky). It will be a fun beginning to conference play for the Griz.

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More Damian Lillard Positive Press

From noted basketball site "Basketball Prospectus":

Damian Lillard, Weber State. The 6-3 junior is the nation’s leading scorer at the moment, averaging 26 points a game, and for his part Lillard says he’s “kind of surprised” to rank No. 1 out of 4000 or so D-I players. I’m kind of surprised the nation’s leading scorer is a paragon of efficiency: Lillard’s hitting 45 percent of his threes and 53 percent of his twos while functioning as a (smallish) dual-threat wing. Equally impressive is the fact that Lillard’s not just stockpiling points in garbage time. In fact his best performance came in the Wildcats’ closest game. On December 3 against San Jose State, Lillard scored 41 points on 21 shots in WSU’s 91-89 win.

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Deane Martin Profile

A quick look at the Idaho State profile of their new interim head coach, Deane Martin:

Deane Martin enters his first year as assistant coach at Idaho State. Martin comes to Pocatello after spending 2010 as the head coach of Potros Itson, a professional team in Mexico. The team was a part of the top professional league in the country.

Martin has also spent time coaching in the NBA Development League. He spent the 2008-09 year as an assistant coach and assistant general manager with the Bakersfield Jam and in 2007-08 he assisted the Dakota Wizards to the Central Division Championship.

From 2001-2004 he served as an assistant coach at UNLV where he was the recruiting coordinator and assisted practice planning, scouting and coaching. During his time in Las Vegas he coached NBA lottery pick Marcus Banks. Along with Banks, Martin played a significant role in recruiting the Midwest and Northern California areas.

Martin was the Associate Head Coach at Tennessee-Martin from 1999-2001 and from 1997-99 he was an assistant at St. Louis University. While at UT-Martin, he helped recruit a class that turned in the first winning season in the school's 10-year history at the Division I level.

At Saint Louis University he served on coach Charlie Spoonhour's staff for two seasons (1997-99) and helped tutor a team that defeated Massachusetts in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky in the second round.

Spoonhour added Martin to his Billikens staff after Martin had spent four seasons as an assistant at his alma mater Central Missouri.

A native of Mercer, Mo., a town of about 400, Martin earned unanimous first team all-state honors at North Mercer High School.

He played two seasons at Trenton (Mo.) Junior College before transferring to Central Missouri, where he graduated with a degree in physical education in 1987. While at Central Missouri he played two-years for Joe O’Brien, who was an assistant at the University at the time.

Martin began his coaching career at Neosho County (Kan.) Community College, in 1998-89, then spent 1989-92 at Cowley County Community College, in Arkansas City, Kan. Cowley won the Jaykawk Conference title in each of Martin's three seasons and was known for a pesky match-up zone that kept opponents off balance.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Stallon Saldivar Named Big Sky POW

Breaking a two week run by Weber State's Damian Lillard, Stallon Saldivar was named the Big Sky Player of the Week.

Saldivar, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior point guard from Salt Lake City, Utah, scored a career-high 24 points with nine assists and five rebounds. Saldivar hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left in the 69-68 upset of the Pac-12 Sun Devils.

Other candidates were - Collin Chiverton (Eastern Washington), Chase Grabau (Idaho State), Will Cherry (Montana), Tate Unruh (Northern Colorado), Chehales Tapscott (Portland State), Heath Hoffman (Sacramento State), and Scott Bamforth (Weber State)

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Eastern Washington Falls to St. Mary's

Eastern Washington was done in by a poor first half on the road against St. Mary's, as they fell to the Gaels to drop to 6-6. They are the second Big Sky team to lose to St. Mary's this year, as Weber State also dropped a game to them. The final was 77-61.

Eastern Washington was undone by two things - poor shooting, and foul trouble. The foul problems have plagued them all season, as they are dead last in the NCAA in opponents FT rate. The Gaels shot 44 free throws on the night, making 32 of them. Three guys fouled out for the Eagles.

Offensively, they made just 39.6% of their shots and hit 6 threes. Their offensive game is predicated on hitting shots, so when they struggle, they don't make up for it by getting to the line a lot of by getting a ton of easy baskets. Cliff Colimon struggled to a 2/11 performance, while Collin Chiverton was 6/14. I am hearing some complaints that Chiverton looks for his shot a little too much, which is supported by the fact that he has 9 assists on the year and leads the nation in percentage of his teams shots' taken when he's on the floor (39%).

All together, it is understandable to lose to a good team like St. Mary's, but Jim Hayford certainly would have liked to see them make it a little bit closer. EWU will head into the break at 6-6, which is not bad, but they don't have a lot of quality wins on their resume. Number one priority for the Eagles - playing defense without fouling.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two Big Sky Point Guards Candidates For Bob Cousy Award

The list for the award for the nation's top point guard is out, and it contains two guys in the Big Sky (though probably not the two Big Sky point guards you would think).

The two candidates are:
Will Cherry of Montana
Stallon Saldivar of Northern Arizona


That leaves one glaring omission, and one I certainly can't explain - Damian Lillard of Weber State. He leads the nation in scoring and ORtg, and he has gotten quite a bit of national press, so I am not sure why he did not make the list. He has started at PG this year for every game, so there is no doubt what position he plays.

That said, I don't want to take away from Saldivar and Cherry, who both deserved to be mentioned here as well. Cherry has not had a huge offensive improvement, but he is still a solid passer and distributor, as well as being one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

Saldivar led the conference in assists last season, and his ARate has gone up, currently at 35.1% as he looks poised to lead the conference again. In addition, he has shown some solid offensive improvement to his outside game, as he is shooting about 43% from downtown this season.

Kudos to those guys, who have earned this honor.

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Big Sky Teams Take Big Losses


The two early games in the Big Sky on Tuesday night did not turn out so well.

We hoped Northern Arizona would carry some momentum from their win against Arizona State into the game against Sam Houston State, but it simply did not happen. The Lumberjacks got blown out 73-49, as they were undone by a halftime score of 38-16. NAU struggled offensively (SHSU shot 52%) and offensively (shooting just 31.5%), losing a winnable game to a mediocre opponent.

NAU got a solid game out of Durrell Norman (18 and 13), but beyond that, it is easy to see why they struggled so much. Gabe Rogers struggled mightily in his second game back, shooting just 1/10 and scoring 2 points in 26 minutes. Stallon Saldivar, fresh off of the best game of his career, was 1/5, scoring 3 points to go with 4 assists. Those are their two big leaders, and they need them to be there if NAU is going to be competitive.

The Bearkats improve to 4-7, while NAU drops to 4-8. After a great start under interim coach Dave Brown, they will have to go into the Christmas break with this taste in their mouth.

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I did not expect Montana State to go into New Mexico and beat the Lobos, but I did think they would keep it reasonably competitive. No such luck, as they fell 91-46 in Albuquerque, including getting outscored 53-16 in the first half (!). Combining this with their loss to Pepperdine, and it is has not been a very good week for MSU.

It is tough to find bright spots for Montana State. They shot 30% from the field, even worse from downtown, and allowed New Mexico to play a brutally efficient offensive game. If you look deep enough, you can see that Tre Johnson had a nice night with 16 points and 6 rebounds, and Christian Moon hit four threes, but those are about the lone bright spots.

For Montana State, it was not long ago that I was wondering if they were the second best team in the Big Sky. Suddenly, they look like a fringe Big Sky tournament team.

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Idaho State Coach Joe O'Brien Resigns

It seems like the biggest news in the Big Sky happens when I am the busiest! In the middle of a 15 hour workday yesterday, Idaho State head coach Joe O'Brien resigned, and was replaced by assistant coach Dean Martin.

“In coaching you need to know when it is time to walk way,” O'Brien said. “I know it is time. For a number of reasons in my life it is time. This basketball team has a chance and they have proven they can compete with people. A different voice will make a difference in this program. It is time for me to do something different.”
O'Brien had been a bit on the hot seat heading into the season, and the Bengals had fallen to 2-8 this year, dropping his career record at Idaho State to 56-105. If he had lasted the year, O'Brien likely would not have had his contract renewed after the season, so he decided to go out on his own terms.

Since I began this blog 5 or so months ago, I have heard a lot of Idaho State fans complain that they wanted a coaching change, and were looking forward to a fresh start at the top. However, as a testament to Coach O'Brien, I have not heard a single one of them say anything negatively about his character (which can happen sometimes with upset fans), which is a kudos to both himself and Bengals fans.

I wish O'Brien the best, and from all I read about the type of person that he has, he seems likely to land solidly on his feet somewhere.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Predicting the Best Games Of The Week

It will be a bit of a quiet week in the Big Sky, with Christmas almost upon us, but there will still be a few games worth watching this week. Here are some thoughts on some of the intriguing matchups.

@ St. Mary's 74, Eastern Washington 64 (12/19)
This will depend on which Eagles team shows up. If it is the team that was solid this year at forcing turnovers and hitting outside shots, this is a game they can win. But they have been a little too inconsistent of late, last week putting up an anemic offensive performance against UCLA before sneaking by Pacific Lutheran. St. Mary's is simply the better team at this point in the year.

@ New Mexico 77, Montana State 63 (12/20)
It is a very difficult team to go into New Mexico and win in The Pit, and the Bobcats don't quite have that talent level. It will be a nice test for them heading into the Big Sky season, to go into a hostile environment and play. Xavier Blount is emerging as a great weapon for them, and they will need him to be a star to stay in this game.

@ Weber State 74, Utah 54 (12/22)
Weber State is banged up and coming off of a tough game against California, but they should win this game big. They are the better, more talented team, and playing in Ogden. Damian Lillard will look to get back on track after a surprisingly poor performance against Cal. Hopefully this is a game for the Wildcats to get back in sync.

Wyoming 75, @ Idaho State 61 (12/22)
Wyoming is a solid club this year, as they sit at 11-1 and have the look of being in the upper half of the Moutain West. They have been efficient offensively and one of the best defensive teams in the country. That is bad news for Idaho State, who looks like they might be one of the worst Division I teams out there after their 12 point loss to Utah. Chase Grabau is a real nice player, but there are not a lot of other positive for Jim O'Brien.

Colorado State 69, @ Northern Colorado 65 (12/22)
This should be a pretty competitive game. The Rams are solid, but they are not as talented as they were last season. UNC can definitely win this game, but I think they will come up a little short. They are a young team that is still learning how to win games. It will be a battle of the guards, and the Bears need Paul Garnica and Tate Unruh to hit some outside shots.

Portland State 87, @ Cal State Fullerton 84 (12/22)
The Vikings are doing some good things offensively, but they have been bad defensively, there is no other way to say it. Cal State Fullerton is similar in that they are good offensively but have had their struggles on defense. Expect a high-scoring, entertaining game, with the Vikings having a little bit more in them.

Last Week: 6-2
Season Record: 20-10

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Other Saturday Big Sky Action


We looked at NAU's stunner over Arizona State, but a brief look at the other action in the Big Sky yesterday.

Northern Colorado went to Marquette and predictably lost 93-72, but there were a couple of bright spots for the Bears. First was guard sophomore Tate Unruh, who scored a career high 25 points to lead the team. He was 10/18 from the floor and hit five from downtown, showing his excellent shooting range. Early in the year it looked like Paul Garnica was morphing into "The Guy" for the Bears, but Unruh has really come on. He has one of the purest strokes in the conference, and is becoming a heck of a player for UNC.

Another bright spot was freshman Tim Huskisson, who continued his strong play. I ranked him as the 4th best freshmen in the conference so far, but he is trying to move up the list. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes for the Bears (including 10/11 from the line), and is one of the big reasons why the future is bright for the Bears even with their struggles this season.

UNC lost to Marquette, but that is an understandable loss. Marquette is a real good team and will win a lot of games. But BJ Hill still has to be happy with a few bright spots coming from this game, most notably Unruh and Huskisson.

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The other Big Sky game on Saturday featured Montana taking on Portland. The Grizzlies hadn't played since their loss to Nevada, but they came out with fresh legs in this one, winning 80-65 on the road. The big thing was that the Grizzlies three best guys all came to play in this game.

Derek Selvig had 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks in this game, showing a nice inside game both on the glass and defensively, which is huge for this team. No matter how many points he scores, if he can rebound and be a factor down low defensively, it will be successful for him. Will Cherry did not shoot the ball particularly well, but he had a nice all-around impact. He finished with 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

The other star is Kareem Jamar, who finished with 15 points and 7 assists. He has really become a great playmaker for them, and in my mind is the biggest reason the Grizzlies probably should still be seen as the second best team in the Big Sky. The Grizzlies made 9 threes compared to 2 for the Pilots, and got 20 more attempts from the FT line, which was the difference in this one.

Any other thoughts on these two games?

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Northern Arizona Stuns Arizona State

Photo courtesy of Northern Arizona News.

About 10 days ago, Northern Arizona was sitting at 2-7. They hadn't beaten a Division I team, and they were coming off of a 49-40 loss to Pepperdine. Their long-time coach Mike Adras was about to resign in a situation where all of the details still aren't known. They would promote the 70 year old radio announcer to be the head coach, and it seemed like they were the best candidate to finish last in the Big Sky.

It is funny how things change. In the first two games since the chance in coaching, Northern Arizona finally beat a Division I team with an 80-67 win over Cal State Bakersfield. Amazingly, they topped that last night, with a 69-68 victory over Pac-12 Arizona State, getting a buzzer beater from Stallon Saldivar to shock the Sun Devils.

"I had planned that we would hit it to win it and told them that," said Interim Head Coach Dave Brown of the final play. "The guy was going to miss one free throw and we were going to get our chance. That is one thing we try to do to reinforce confidence. It is important and we want shooters to shoot."
If you haven't heard the audio of the game-winner, click here.

For NAU, a couple big storylines in this game. First, was simply the brilliance of Stallon Saldivar. The junior guard's performance was sublime in this game. He shot 7/12 (and 6/8 from downtown), finishing with 24 points. He always displayed his normal solid decision-making, finishing with 9 assists compared to 2 turnovers. To top it off, he pulled down 5 rebounds. He has been counted on to the stabilizing force for them this year, and in this game he looked like one of the best players in the conference. This is certainly a game he will remember for a long time.

The other big story was the return of Gabe Rogers from injury. He didn't have a huge impact in this game, shooting 2/7 for 4 points in 15 minutes, but the mere fact that he is back on the court is huge for the Lumberjacks. He was expected to be their leader and best player this year, but then he suffered a preseason shoulder injury. If Rogers can get back to full health, he is one of the best shooters in the Big Sky (and in the country) and a huge difference-maker for NAU.

Not long ago, NAU was looking like a pushover. Now, suddenly, a three-guard lineup with Saldivar, Rogers, and James Douglas is something that no Big Sky team is going to want to face. Can they keep this up? I'm not sure, but for the first time this year, this are signs of life in Flagstaff.

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Audio of Stallon Saldivar Game-Winner

I will have more to say on this game tomorrow, but for now, audio of Stallon Saldivar's game-winning three with 0.8 seconds left, as Northern Arizona took down Arizona State for a thrilling road upset.

The audio can be found here.

If you like excited audio calls of game-winners (and who doesn't), you best click that link.

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Tweets From Californa/Weber State

I watched the game between California and Weber State on Friday night, and it was sad. The Wildcats simply could not get it going (other than for a few minutes at the beginning of the second half), and they could not slow down the Bears either. It was a poor showing from the best team in the Big Sky.

Further, Damian Lillard struggled with one of the worst games in his career. He pressed a bit, and he was shut down by Jorge Gutierrez, and elite defender for the Bears.

Anyway, instead of writing a recap, let me just paste tweets I made throughout the game. It was a depressing game to watch, and there is no need to further prolong the torture by writing a recap in addition to the tweeting. Without further ado, from @bigskybball:

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- Cal 18, Weber State 9 early on... Fulton hit a big 3, Wildcats will need lots of balance to hang in this game

- Lillard forces a 3... might be a little tight, over 100 friends and family in the stands

- Fulton loves that fadeaway in the post, but needs to learn to take it strong to the hoop. Not a very effective move for him

- Bamforth with a rare missed FT, fitting end to the first half. Bears lead Weber State 32-18 at the half @WeberHoops

- [Tweet from Roy Burton) @WeberState is 6-for-35 from the field in first half (17.1 percent). Lillard, nation's leading scorer, is 1-10, 0-5 from 3pt range. 4 pts

- Bamforth with another 3! 6 3s in the 2nd half for WSU, keeping them with a beating pulse #BigSkyMBB

- Lillard has carried Weber State all year, but he is off tonight while Bamforth/Fulton keeping them in it offensively #BigSkyMBB

- Weber State really missing Otis and Bullinger, they are the 2 best rebounders for @WeberStateMBB #BigSkyMBB

- Not a night Damian Lillard will remember fondly. To say J Gutierrez has outplayed him would be too kind of a way to put it

- Plays like that rebound, coast-to-coast transition layup in traffic show how good Lillard is (even if it was a foul before the basket)

- When his shot is falling, nobody has a shot that looks better than Scott Bamforth #BigSkyMBB

- (Tweet from Weber State) Final score - California 77, Weber State 57. Scott Bamforth leads the 'Cats with 19 points. Byron Fulton adds a season-high 13 points.

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All in all, a night Weber State and the rest of the Big Sky will try to forget...

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Eastern Washington Hangs On To Beat Pacific Lutheran


You can understand why it would have been tough for Eastern Washington to get up for this game. They were coming off a game against UCLA, it was a Friday night game against a lower level opponent, and the crowd at the Reese Center was sparse (to be generous). Still, the game had to be a little closer than Jim Hayford would have liked.

Eastern Washington managed to win the game 83-72, but the game was in doubt until the final minute. The Lutes shot the ball well, and EWU just could not put them away until the very end of the game.

The best player on the court for the Eagles was Cliff Colimon, who finished with a season-high 26 points. He also finished with 7 assists and 5 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes, so he certainly put in a full day's work. He did have 7 turnovers though, which is a big flag. This has not been a big problem for him this year though, so it could be a one game aberration.

Collin Chiverton also had 26 points, and he had an efficient day from the field. He was 10/19 from the field while making 4 treys. Cliff Ederaine was the only other Eagle in double figures, as he had 12 points. Overall, EWU shot 57% from the field and made 11/22 from downtown. After a poor offensive showing the other night, this had to be good to see, no matter the opponent.

This was Eastern Washington's last game before conference play. They open the Big Sky season December 28th with a trip to Bozeman to take on Montana State.

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North Dakota Gets A Nice Win

I haven't been able to follow North Dakota and Southern Utah as much as I would have wanted this season, but did want to pass along a nice victory by the Fighting Sioux.

Forward Patrick Mitchell (Des Moines, Iowa) scored a season-high 22 points, connecting on his first six 3-pointers of the contest to lead North Dakota past South Dakota State 89-70 on Thursday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
With the victory North Dakota evens their record at 5-5.

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Dlan Garrity Leads All Freshmen In Assists

From CBS Sports:

The top freshman rebounder is Oakland’s Corey Petros (11.3 rpg) and the top assist man is Sacramento State’s Dylan Garrity (6.3 apg).
That is the biggest reason I think he has been the best freshman in the Big Sky so far this season.

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Story on Former EWU Guard Glen Dean

Whenever the words brain surgery are in the title of a story, you know it is scary.

Point guard Glen Dean underwent successful brain surgery Wednesday at University Hospital to repair an undisclosed condition. The Spokesman Review, in Spokane, Wash., reported that Dean suffered a ruptured blood vessel in his brain.
Best wishes to Dean for a full and speedy recovery, hopefully we will see him back out on the court.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Damian Lillard Leads The Nation In ORtg


Perhaps even more impressive than Damian Lillard leading the nation in scoring at 26.9 PPG, is the fact that he leads the country in ORtg at 131.3. ORtg, or Offensive Rating is a stat from stats guru Ken Pomeroy and Dean Oliver. From KenPom:

Offensive rating (ORtg): A measure of personal offensive efficiency developed by Dean Oliver. The formula is very complicated, but accurate. For a detailed explanation, buy Basketball on Paper.
There are many ways to show how good Lillard has been this year, and this is one of them. Lillard has been efficient in every sense of the word on the offensive side of the ball, as he is shooting the ball very well, getting his teammates good shots, and getting to the foul line.

His true shooting percentage is 67.7%, good for 38th in the country. This is because he has made 55% of his twos and 45$ of his threes. He has also already taken more three-pointers than he did all of last season, so his percentage is not a sample size issue. If he continues at this rate, it is fair to say he is the most dangerous offensive player in the country, as an inconsistent outside shot was his biggest offensive question mark.

He has a great assist: turnover ratio. His ARate of 27.7% is very good; when contrasted with a turnover rate of 11.1%, it looks even better. Simply put, he gets guys involved and takes good care of the basketball. Both numbers are better than he put up last year, further showing his improvement.

His athleticism is shown by drawing fouls and getting to the line. He is 24th in the country at drawing fouls, and he is a great foul shooter (88%) when he does get to the line. He is a complete offensive player.

Anybody that has not seen Damian Lillard play yet needs to do so. He is the total package and will be a future pro. He has the athleticism to match any guard in the country, he is quietly developing a very dangerous outside shot, he takes care of the ball, and is good at getting teammates involved. Damian Lillard is the total package.

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Northern Colorado/Denver Recap

Excellent stuff from Brendan Loy of Mile High Mids with his writeup for The Mid-Majority 800 Games Project, who wrote about Northern Colorado's tight loss to Denver on Wednesday night.

This game, though, was a Tale of Two Halves -- and I showed up at just the right time. (Or perhaps, as I suggested via Twitter, either I or my companions were good-luck charms.) While I was walking to my seat, Brian Stafford hit a #superhoop to cut the lead to 31-29. As I was sitting down, Rob Lewis hit another to make it 32-31 -- Denver's first lead of the night. Northern Colorado would never lead again.
Give it a read, Mr. Loy is always a great spot to go for good, entertaining writing (even if he is an attorney...)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Montana Recruit Jake Wiley

Just happened to run across a few articles on Montana recruit Jake Wiley and some his high school games. He certainly has been impressive.

December 4:

Newport 77, Priest River 63: Jake Wiley had 31 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Grizzlies (2-0) to a win over the visiting Spartans (0-3).
December 7:

Newport 67, Medical Lake 60: Jake Wiley had 25 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Grizzlies (3-0) past the visiting Cardinals (0-3).
December 10:

Deer Park 69, Newport 60: Zach Mohr hit five 3-pointers and finished with 24 points as the Stags (3-0) remained unbeaten with a win over the host Grizzlies (3-1). Blake Starbuck added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Stags. Jake Wiley led Newport with 22 points.
Also happened to see a little on Montana State recruit Marcus Colbert:

Post Falls 45, Pullman 37: Michael Hillman had 15 points and eight rebounds to lead the Trojans (2-0) past the host Greyhounds (1-1). Seth Anderson and Marcus Colbert each added 11 points for Post Falls. Austin Drake led Pullman with 15 points and seven boards.
There will be some solid talent coming to the state of Montana next season.

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Jackson Carbajal Back At Practice For Sacramento State

From Sac State Sports:

The Sacramento State men’s basketball team is one giant step closer to being healthy for the first time since their season-opening game against Menlo.

Sophomore guard Jackson Carbajal practiced for the first time since injuring his knee during that game.

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Carbajal appeared in all 28 games last year for the Hornets, including 16 starts as a true freshman, averaging 6.5 points per game shooting 40.9 percent (63-154) from the field.

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Damian Lillard Named Big Sky POW (Again)

No, this story is not a week late... Damian Lillard has just been named the Big Sky Player of the Week for the second straight week.

Lillard, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior guard from Oakland, Calif., averaged 23 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game as the Wildcats beat Southern Utah and lost at Brigham Young.

Lillard scored 31 points and dished out a career-high nine assists in Weber State’s 84-66 home victory over Southern Utah on Saturday. Lillard made 9-of-15 shots from the floor, was 5-of-8 from 3-point range, and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. He also had three rebounds and a steal.
I have the strange feeling this won't be the last time Lillard wins the award this season.

Other candidates were Cliff Colimon (EWU), Kenny McGowen (IdSt), Kareem Jamar (MT), Xavier Blount (MtSt), James Douglas (NAU), Chehales Tapscott (PSU), and John Dickson (CSUS).

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Does Anyone Want To Be Second Best In Big Sky?


So far this season, I think everyone can agree on one thing in the Big Sky - Weber State was the team to beat going into the season, and they still are at this point. Beyond that, it's tough to say who is #2. Teams have had chances to step into that spot, but it seems like nobody really wants it at this point. Let's take a look at the contenders:

- Montana - They started the year ranked 2nd, but they already have 5 losses this season. They don't have any terrible losses, as their worst is to a North Dakota team that should finish on the right side of .500, but they have missed some good opportunities. They lost to San Francisco and Nevada at home, and got smoked by Oregon State on the road. Obviously none of those losses are terrible, but they are games a team can win (especially the home games) if they are a true #2 in the Big Sky. In addition, they have looked completely uninspiring in too-close-for-comfort wins over Great Falls and Montana Tech.

Simply put, they have been mediocre offensively. Will Cherry was expected to be the man offensively, and we are learning that is not a role he is suited for at this point in his career. Derek Selvig was the leader of the frontcourt and he has been pretty bad offensively so far (though I do think he will pick it up, based on his career performance). I think if the coaches were polled today, Montana would still be picked #2, but it wouldn't be nearly as unanimous as before.

- Eastern Washington - At one point, they looked poised to seize control of the 2nd spot in the Big Sky, but they have had a couple of poor losses within the last couple of weeks. First, they got blown out by a Washington State team that is not very good, losing 75-49. Then they lost by 13 to Cal-State Fullerton. They have been a solid offensive team, but they need to create turnovers defensively to be successful.

In the frontcourt they have some solid players, but their difference-makers are in the backcourt. Collin Chiverton is supremely athletic and takes care of the ball, but he needs to be more efficient. Cliff Colimon is a great playmaker, but his shooting percentage is down. Jeffrey Forbes is a guy you might not really notice, but he is a solid player on both ends of the court that doesn't make a lot of mistakes. EWU should be in the thick of things all season long.

- Portland State - They are another team that seemed like they had a chance to be in control of #2, as they were just sitting at 5-2, but they are on a 2 game losing streak also. They allowed 93 points to a Utah Valley offense that isn't all that good, and then followed up with a good game, but still a loss to Oregon. Their best win this season is probably against Seattle, but that is not a huge notch in their favor.

They are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, and there is no bigger culprit than Charles Odum (though he might be their best player). He is really struggling with his outside shot, but is making up for it with great efficiency in other areas. They might have the most talented offensive frontcourt in the Big Sky, with a trio of Chehales Tapscott, Nate Lozeau, and now Renado Parker. That will be tough for anyone in the conference to match up against.

- Montana State - They have to be considered among the contenders for their stellar play so far this season. If not for a miraculous shot by UC Riverside, the Bobcats would be 6-3. They have decent wins over Utah, San Jose State, and Cal State Bakersfield, so they have beat some DI teams.

Offensively, they are beginning to form an identity, and it begins with Xavier Blount. He is turning into one of the better scorers in the Big Sky, and should soon be a guy that everyone in the conference knows. Defensively they have struggled, and they will need Mohammed Fall to be an anchor for them. If they can figure out how to stop people, they have the offensive weapons to be a contender.

While Northern Colorado, Sacramento State, Idaho State, and Northern Arizona have had their moments this year, I don't believe any of them has a real argument to be considered a top 2 team in the Big Sky.

Who do you think is #2? How would you rank them? Would love to hear some thoughts and arguments.

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