Friday, March 30, 2012

Forward Cody McDavis Commits to Northern Colorado

6'8'' Arizona post Cody McDavis has committed to Northern Colorado, according to his twitter feed.

McDavis also had offers to UC Davis, Cal State Northridge, and UC Riverside. He sports a 4.0 GPA, according to Nor Cal Basketball.

According to Inside Runner Sports:

His strengths stretch from having a low post game where he can play with his back to the basket and range that can stretch to 17-18 feet if need be for a jump shot. McDavis is long and athletic. He'll finish strong and above the rim. His length and vertical jump are why he can flush the ball without taking a step, going straight up.

McDavis has only been playing organized ball for three years and nearly averaged a double-double this past season with 13points and 9 boards a game for Pinnacle High School (Phoenix, AZ).

In the landscape of Arizona hoops, few are more respected than founder Anthony Ray who is very high on McDavis, "He's got tremendous upside, great size and very skilled. He just looks the part. Last summer he played on a pretty low profile AAU team so he's been somewhat overlooked, but is probably the best available kid in Arizona, next to TK Edogi (Surprise, AZ). If he were on the East Coast, he'd have 20 offers by now," said Ray.
Northern Colorado needs some depth in the frontcourt to complement what looks to be a strong backcourt, which makes this a great signing. McDavis appears to have a bunch of upside, and has been improving leaps and bounds. He looks like he will have a bright future in the Big Sky, and UNC will benefit greatly from his signing.

Congrats to Coach Hill and the rest of the Bears staff.

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Nick Robinson Hired to Coach Southern Utah

As recently as a couple days ago, Barret Peery was reportedly the frontrunner for the Southern Utah head coaching job. Apparently, that information was not accurate.

Nick Robinson was hired on Thursday to be the next head coach of the Thunderbirds. Robinson graduated from Stanford in 2005, and most recently was an assistant coach at LSU.

"Nick is exactly what this program needs," Beazer said. "He comes to us with the highest of recommendations. He's a tireless worker and an outstanding recruiter and we believe that he and his family will fit well into the community.
It appears to be a bit of a risk given his relatively short track record. He is just 32 years old, and has never been a head coach before.

However, I like the hiring a lot. Sometimes low-majors have to take a bit of a risk with an unproven coach, and that can be a good way to hit a homerun. To work at a low-major requires passion and energy, and that is something that Robinson seems to have in spades.

He comes with a strong track record (and recent playing experience will surely be a nice draw for recruits) and is very highly recommended by Trent Johnson, a respected coach in his own right.

He is obviously not a guy that comes with a big pedigree, but that is OK in a conference like the Big Sky. He has a lot of energy, and is a very smart guy. He should be able to win recruits, and he has been on the staff of an excellent coach for the last few years. Time will tell obviously how this turns out, but I like the job by Southern Utah.

And of course, this brings up a great chance to show this video:

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Barret Peery the Southern Utah Frontrunner

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that Barret Peery is currently the frontrunner to get the Southern Utah head coaching job. Peery is a former player and assistant at Southern Utah, and spent last year as the head coach at Indian Hills Community College, where he experienced a lot of success.

Peery, 41, is a native of Payson who attended Snow College and Southern Utah.

This season, he guided Indian Hills to a 33-4 record and a seventh-place finish at the national junior college tournament. He spent the previous three years with Jim Boylen at the University of Utah.

Before joining Boylen’s staff, Peery coached at Southern Idaho for five seasons, including three as head coach. He has also been as assistant at Snow, Utah Valley, Portland State and Southern Utah.
Southern Utah will be joining the Big Sky next season.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wayne Tinkle's Salary

Interesting table in the USA Today about the salaries of the coaches of all the teams in the NCAA Tournament.

In terms of base salary, Wayne Tinkle of Montana was second to last of all those whose numbers were reported, ahead of only the coach of UNC Asheville.

It's no wonder Wayne Tinkle would reportedly listen if a school like Colorado State comes calling, as Andy Katz said. His potential salary could increase by more than double if he were to make such a move.

Thanks to Gidal Kaiser for the link.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Big Sky Coaches Could be Candidates for Colorado State Job?

As you know by now, Colorado State coach Tim Miles has become the head coach at Nebraska. Miles had a great run at Colorado State, and I think he will be a big success with the Cornhuskers (but as they say, that's another story for another time). He also left behind a very full cupboard for the Rams, and a new coach that will have a chance to step up and compete for a conference title.

Could that new coach come from the Big Sky? Maybe. Certainly the frontrunners are guys already in the program, but Randy Rahe and Wayne Tinkle could get at least a look.

The Coloradoan has already suggested that Rahe may be a candidate.

Other possible candidates might include Mike Dunlap, an assistant at St. John's who led Metro State of Denver to Division II national titles in 2000 and 2002; Weber State coach Randy Rahe, a former CSU assistant; Indiana assistant Steve McClain, a former Wyoming coach; Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton; or Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Rob Jeter. Sutton and Jeter reportedly were on Nebraska's list of potential candidates.
For Rahe, it would be easy to see why he would be interested in the job. His best player is likely gone (as are two other starters), and even though WSU will be very talented next year, he saw this year how hard it can be to make the Big Dance out of the Big Sky. A move to Colorado State could potentially double his pay, and as mentioned, the CSU job looks very enticing.

For Wayne Tinkle, a match could make sense, at least on paper. Tinkle has to be one of the short list for most openings out west, as he has a strong track record (two tourneys in three years, including a 15-1 conference mark this year), and he is a relatively young 46 years old. He can coach (especially defense), and he has recruited a lot of nice talent to Missoula. It wouldn't be difficult to see CSU show some interest.

At the end of the day, as said, these guys aren't the favorites for the Colorado State job. But one of these days, they are likely to get scooped up by a bigger program in a bigger conference. Tinkle interviewed for the Fresno State job last year, and after both coaches had good years, those types of schools could come calling once again.

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Damian Lillard Leaning Toward NBA Draft

At the end of last week, a report came from CBS' Gary Parrish that said Damian Lillard would be entering the NBA Draft.

Roy Burton of the Standard-Examiner then said that according to Lillard, there is no decision yet, but that Lillard is leaning toward the NBA Draft. There is nobody more plugged into Weber State than Burton, and Lillard is not a guy that I picture as trying to pull any fast ones, so I believe he hasn't 100% made up his mind yet.

But it would certainly be a shock if Lillard does not go pro. As we have said on here, his stock will probably not be higher than it is now, coming off a season where he was the conference MVP and a third team All-American. This is also a weak PG class, and the thought is that Lillard has a great chance to be the first PG off the board. It is easy to see why.

Nobody could blame Lillard for cashing in on this opportunity. Arguably, he is making the smart choice if he goes, and I think most Weber State fans realize that. It sure would be great to see him playing another year in Ogden, but if he were asking my opinion, I would turn pro if I were him.

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ESPN Article on Perry Jones

This article was posted a few weeks ago, but waited to post until we were out of the throes of the Big Sky season.

If you have a few minutes, check out the fantastic article by Jason King on Baylor's Perry Jones. It will change everything you thought you knew about Jones.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Southern Utah Coaching Search

From HoopDirt:

The search to replace Roger Reid at Southern Utah appears to be in the final stages. From what I’ve heard, there are three leaders in the clubhouse at this point. They are:

Barret Peery – Head Coach Indian Hills CC. Played at Southern Utah. His IHCC team went 30-3 this season, his first at the school. He came to IHCC after three years as an assistant coach at the University of Utah. Peery's previous head coaching experience came during a three year stint at the College of Southern Idaho where he went 85–19.

Ron Verlin – Associate Head Coach Pacific. Has been at Pacific for the past 18 seasons. His twin brother Don is the current head coach at the University of Idaho. He has also been an assistant at Nevada.

Nick Robinson – Assistant Coach LSU. Hails from Salt Lake City, UT. Played at Stanford and has been a part of Trent Johnson’s staff at both LSU and Stanford. Also spent time as an assistant at William Jewel College (MO).

Sounds like an announcement will be made shortly. I’ll keep you updated as I hear more.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Damian Lillard in NBA Mock Drafts

Mock drafts are obviously no guarantee of where a guy is going to go in the NBA Draft, but they can help get a picture of where someone might go. So in that vein, let's take a look at where Damian Lillard is going in some mock drafts. Lillard is, of course, a junior, but he is widely expected to enter the draft.

- On, he is projected to go tenth to the Milwaukee Bucks.

- Hoops Hype has him going 11th to the Phoenix Suns.

- ESPN's Chad Ford has him going ninth to the Utah Jazz (which would surely delight Weber State fans).

Needless to say, he projects as a lottery pick right now, and he appears to be the best point guard in the draft.

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Note on Northern Arizona Coaching Search

I asked Coaching Rumors if they had any insight into the open Northern Arizona head coaching position, and they had this to say:

NAU Oregon St AC David Grace, and Vance Walberg has been rumored.
Still not hearing anything definitive, so we will see what happens. They have had a lot of time to look, but haven't heard nearly the amount of chatter out of Flagstaff that we heard from Idaho State and their coaching search.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Damian Lillard is Third Team All-American

In a season full of accolades, Damian Lillard has been named a third team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Lillard is joined on the team by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky, Jae Crowder of Marquette, Austin Rivers of Duke, and Isaiah Canaan of Murray State.

It is a fitting honor after a fantastic year from Lillard. Lillard is a junior, but it is widely expected that he will enter the NBA Draft.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Weber State's Season Ends in Overtime Loss

Weber State had a tough matchup in the second round of the CIT, having to travel to take on Loyola Marymount. They fought back from a first half deficit, but ultimately fell 84-78 in overtime on Sunday.

“I’m extremely proud of my team and we have accomplished a lot,” Rahe said. “This is as good a group of kids you can find and we fought through a lot and I couldn't be prouder of them.”
Playing without Scott Bamforth, who was not with the team for personal reasons, Weber State trailed by 10 at the break. The lead was still at 11 points with 6:56 to play, but then Weber State made a run, ultimately capped by a Damian Lillard three-pointer with 23 seconds to play.

Lillard finished with 27 points (and 14/14 from the line). He ends the season as the school's single-season scoring leader, with 784 points for the year (third best all time in the Big Sky). He set a school record for threes, and ends the year with a 24.5 PPG average, also best in school history.

He owns many records. He likely will finish his career with 1,934 points, second in Weber State history and fifth in Big Sky history. He is the school's career leader in three pointers and free throws made, and is second in assists. He has been a great, great player for the Wildcats. It is difficult obviously to see him returning to school, as there is not a lot left individually for him to prove at this level.

Gelaun Wheelwright finished with 19 points and and seven rebounds, and he will be called upon to be a huge cog for them next season. It seems, judging from the past month of the season, that he will be up to the task.

The careers for Kyle Bullinger and Darin Mahoney also end. Though it ends in disappointment, they had great careers and meant a lot to Weber State basketball. 25 wins in your senior year is certainly nothing to hang your head about.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Weber State Gets Raw Deal in CIT

Weber State won their opener in the tournament on Tuesday night, and it was assumed that they would get another home game.

After all, they won 25 games, have the best player in the tournament, have the best RPI of any team in the tournament (I believe), and had the best opening round attendance.  However, they will be going on the road on Sunday to play Loyola Marymount.

Weber State drew 2,334 fans to their opener, while LMU drew 1,161 fans. For the year, Weber State consistently drew fans much better than LMU. Once again, they have the better record, better RPI, and better star player. There is no reason that they should be going on the road for a game like this.

End of rant.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Abdulsamad Zaid Commits to Weber State

According to Rivals, combo JUCO guard Abdulsamad Zaid has committed to Weber State. Zaid is a 6'2'', 210 poind guard who played at Barstow Community College in Barstow, CA.

This year he averaged 17.4 PPG for Barstow, shooting 46% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. He also averaged a little under four rebounds, 3 assists, and one steal per contest.

He should add nice depth for Weber State, who figure to start Gelaun Wheelwright and Scott Bamforth in the backcourt (assuming Damian Lillard enters the draft), especially if they decide to redshirt Mike Brown, which I have heard is a possibility. As a junior, he should be ready to step in and give them quality minutes right away.

In the video, he is #1 for yellow. He looks to possess a nice outside shot (as evidence by the shooting percentage), as well as good quickness and athleticism going to the basket.

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Wisconsin Tops Montana in NCAA Tournament

The difference between the Big Sky and Big Ten was never more evident than it was on Thursday. Montana came into the game playing about as well as you could play, having won 14 straight games and winning the Big Sky, but they ran into a Badgers buzzsaw in the first round.

Montana kept things interesting early, but Wisconsin began to pull away late in the first half, and continued after Montana came out a bit listless after the break. By the time things were over, Wisconsin was the winner, 73-49. They were simply the far superior team on this day, and showed it in every aspect of the game.

The thought was that Montana could make things very interesting if they could hold the Badgers in check from the outside, where they get a lot of their offense. However, that didn't happen, as Wisconsin made six of their first nine threes, and finished 10-19 from the field. Simply put, with their defense, they are tough for anyone to beat when they shoot the ball that well.

As mentioned, defensively Wisconsin was outstanding, using their signature man-to-man to shut down the Grizzlies. Montana made just 38% of their shots, and were just 3/9 from downtown. That they only got nine three-point attempts despite trailing most of the game is a testament to the Badgers, who excel in not allowing their opponents to get a lot of good looks from the outside.

In his final collegiate game, Art Steward was their star, with 18 points, as he kept them in it early. Their other senior starter, Derek Selvig also played well in the first half, keeping the Grizzlies within shooting distance. But it was Montana's offensive stars that never got going. Will Cherry was just 3/14, and picking up his second foul in the first half was killer. Kareem Jamar was 3/8 for six points, and Mathias Ward was 1/5 for five points. For a team without much depth, they couldn't have their stars struggle, but that is what happened.

The season ends in disappointment for Montana, but it was still a successful year. They won the outright conference championship for the first time in a long time, and showed by the end of the year that they were the class of the conference. They will finish with a record of 25-7, and have the pieces in place to be even better next year. They simply ran into a better team today.

But we will be hearing much more about Montana in the future.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Few Bracket Predictions

Just a few thoughts and predictions for the NCAA Tournament.

First, as I wrote about yesterday, I really do believe Montana can and beat Wisconsin. It will be a defensive grinder, slow-paced, and will be very dependent on which team can hit a few shots. I think Jamar will hit his share, and I like Montana to win 58-55.

Other predictions:
- Final Four of Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio State, and North Carolina, with Kentucky topping Ohio State for the title.
- I like Michigan State to be the first 1 seed to lose, falling to Memphis in Round 3. I am taking the Tigers to the Elite Eight.I have Syracuse losing to Vanderbilt in the Sweet 16, UNC losing to Ohio State in the Final Four, and then Kentucky winning it all.
- 10 seeds or higher I am picking to win in round 1 - Xavier, Montana, Texas, West Virginia, South Florida, NC State, Belmont, and Purdue. Of those teams, I have South Florida and Belmont going to the Sweet 16.

What does your bracket look like?

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Weber State Wins CIT Opener

It wasn't easy, but Weber State emerged from their opening round CIT game with a 72-69 victory over Utah Valley.

The game was tied at halftime, but Weber got off to a great start in the second half, and led by as many as 13 points. But Utah Valley kept chipping away, eventually tying the game at 66 with under two minutes to play. Damian Lillard hit a three, but Utah Valley responded with a three to tie it at 69 with 1:14 to play. Down the stretch, WSU hit free throws, while UVU couldn't hit anything, and that was the difference.

Damian Lillard led the charge with 21 points and five assists. That put him over 1,900 points for his career, second best in school history. Scott Bamforth added 16 in the win.

Weber State moves to 25-6 on the year, but are unsure on the next matchup. It will be decided after the first round is over, where they are regionally matched up. Best guess would be that they will get a rematch with Utah State if they win.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Montana Will Beat Wisconsin

A semi-popular upset pick this year is Montana taking down Wisconsin. The Grizzlies come into the NCAA Tournament as hot as anyone, having won 14 straight games, the longest winning streak in the country. They won the conference tournament championship by 19 points against a really good team. They have been there before, having won the conference tournament two years ago.

Those are all great, but that's not why they're going to win. Here are five reasons.

1. Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar - Maybe most of America doesn't know these two guys yet, but hopefully they will by the end of the first weekend. They are one of the most dynamic guard combos in the West, and they bring it on both ends. Cherry is the conference Defensive Player of the Year, and Jamar might be their most talented guy. Cherry averages 16 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, and 2.6 SPG. He is on pace to be the conference all-time leader in steals. Jamar averages 13.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 3.7 APG. He is the best passer on the team, and shoots 45% from downtown. They are superb players, and a cut above the Wisconsin backcourt (even with Jordan Taylor).

2. The altitude - One weakness of the Grizzlies is that they don't have a depth, but their bench actually plays a little more minutes than Wisconsin's has over the season. For teams without a ton of depth, fatigue obviously can be a factor. One thing that could add to fatigue is a high altitude. This is an advantage for Montana. Missoula sits at an altitute of 3,209 feet, compared to Madison's altitude of 1,058 feet. Montana has played at Northern Colorado (4,658 feet), Northern Arizona (7,000 feet), and Weber State (4,473 feet). I could be wrong, but I don't know that Wisconsin has played many or any games over 1,500 feet. Albuquerque stands at over 5,000 feet in most parts. The Badgers could be tugging at their shorts a bit.

3. The refs aren't from the Big Ten - This is not meant to be a crack at favorable officiating or anything like that. It means that Wisconsin is a very physical defensive team, and that style of play may sometimes go uncalled in the Big Ten. In the NCAA Tournament, the refs might call a little bit more than the Badgers are used to having things be called.

4. Jordan Taylor will struggle against Cherry - A lot of Wisconsin's offense is generated by Taylor. He handles the ball a lot, and typically initiates everything offensively for them. However, he is not great off the dribble at getting to the rim, and that is even without playing guys like Will Cherry, one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. When the offense bogs down for the Badgers, Taylor is not going to be able to make a ton happen against Cherry going to the rim. The dirty secret for Wisconsin is that Taylor has taken a step back in almost every category compared to last year.

5. Montana's weaknesses are not Wisconsin's strengths - Wisconsin is sound offensively because they simply don't turn the ball over. However, Montana's defense is not predicated on getting turnovers, but on not allowing the offense good looks. Montana is susceptible to teams that can pound the ball inside and get offensive rebounds, because their big men are not really traditional bigs. Fortunately, Wisconsin's aren't either, which helps the Grizzlies.

Other game links:
- Montana roster overview
- Wisconsin scouting report

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Wayne Tinkle is Big Sky Coach of the Year

Congrats to Wayne Tinkle of Montana, who is the Big Sky Coach of the Year.

It is well deserved, as he guided Montana to a 15-1 Big Sky record, and then they took care of business and won the conference tournament. It was their first outright conference title since 1991-92.

He has led the team to three straight 20-win seasons, and it would not be surprise to see him get some looks from bigger schools looking for a new head coach. He certainly has proven himself well for the Grizzlies.

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Breakdown of Wisconsin

With Montana set to take on Wisconsin on Thursday, let's take a look at the Badgers.

They are a very unique team, as they play the second slowest pace in the nation behind Western Illinois. They do this in part because they are one of the very best teams in the country at avoiding turnovers, but they also don't force a bunch either. They don't like to push the ball, and are content to let the shot clock wind down before taking a shot. This forces you to play their pace, and not the other way around.

Offensively, they are reliant on the three-point shot, where they get over 40% of their points (they shoot 36.1%). Almost everyone on the team is capable of hitting from the outside.

Defensively, though, is where the Badgers shine. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing 85.8 points per 100 possessions (fourth in the country - by comparison, Montana gives up 93.6 points per 100 possessions, 42nd in the country). Teams shoot just 28.9% from beyond the arc against the team, but more important they are excellent at not allowing teams to shoot many threes. In a college game that is sometimes dominated by the three-point shot, this is an important skill.

In terms of allowing twos, they are elite as well, as teams shoot just 41.3% inside the arc against them. This adds up to a 41.8 EFG% against, second best in the nation. They don't turn you over often, but you don't get good looks against Wisconsin and you don't get many opportunities for second chance points.

Like Montana, they are a team that relies heavily on their starters... their bench plays just 21% of minutes (compared to 22.4% for Montana), which is in the bottom 16 in the country. They have started the same five guys all season, so let's take a quick look at those guys:

- Jordan Taylor (SR) - Their star. He was seen as a potential All-American before the year, and even though he had a little bit of a down year compared to those standards, he was still excellent. He excels at taking care of the ball and making good decisions, as he has had a great turnover rate the past few years. One strange thing is that his shooting percentages have gone down this year. He shoots just 43% from twos, and 35.5% from downtown. His assist rates are also down a bit as well this year. That said, he is their senior leader and a guy that can hurt you.

- Josh Gasser (SO) - He is not a prolific offensive player, but he does a little bit of everything for the Badgers. He is efficient offensively, and makes 45% of his threes. He is a pretty good rebounder for a guard as well. Even when he is not scoring, he finds other ways to help the team.

- Ryan Evans (JR) - He is the rare Badger that doesn't shoot the ball well from the outside (7/32 this year), but he still does a lot of things for Wisconsin. He is the best rebounder on the team, and pulls down 6.8 boards per game. Even though he isn't a great outside shooter, he is the second leading scorer on the team after Jordan Taylor with over ten per game.

- Mike Bruesewitz (JR) - Like Evans, he hit a lot of outside shots (though he has taken 78 threes this year), but he can do a little bit of everything. He is the best offensive rebounder on the team, and second chance points are huge in close, low scoring games (like this one projects to be). He shoots just 38% from the field, so Montana is ok if he decides to take some shots from outside. If they want to play small, they will bring in Ben Brust, who plays over 30 minutes per game.

- Jared Berggren (JR) - He is the prototypical Bo Ryan big man, because he can stretch the floor well. He is 6'10'' but shoots 37% from downtown. He is also comfortable going down low, and this makes him probably their second best offensive player. Not super athletic but smart. He is a solid defender as well and is their best at protecting the rim, where he has a 6.0 block rate.

Anything I missed about the Badgers?

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Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar Interviews

College Hoops Net had a nice interview with Kareem Jamar and Will Cherry over the weekend. Check it out.

Among other solid questions and answers, I liked this one:

JT: You were recently named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and you rank in the Top-10 in the country in steals. What is your secret for being a great defender, and do you consider yourself one of the best defenders in the nation?

WC: I think that I am one of the best defenders in the country. A lot of players are great on offense but you have to be good on both sides of the ball. The key is that you have to take pride in locking down your defender and have a little speed as well.

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Montana Roster Overview

For anyone looking for information on Montana, definitely a sleeper in the NCAA Tournament as they take on Wisconsin. A brief look at the players that make Montana a potentially dangerous 13 seed.

Will Cherry (JR) - He is the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Sky, and arguably one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He takes great pride in his defense, and is a master at getting steals (he should finish his career at the Big Sky career steals leader). Offensively, he has an improving outside shot, and has good explosion on his drives. He can get at least a decent look almost whenever he wants. He tends to make big plays at the biggest moments, as he definitely showed down the stretch. He is the team leader, and is a very emotional player, which rubs off on everyone else.

Kareem Jamar (SO) - Jamar has taken a big step forward this year, and the argument could be made that he, and not Cherry, is the Grizzlies best player. He was great in the championship against Weber State, and finished as the Grizzlies second leading scorer, second leading rebounder, and leader in assists. He shoots 48% from the field, including 45% from three-point range. He is a varied offensive player that can shoot from the outside, drive, or post up smaller guards. He is also the best passer on the team. He has an extremely bright future.

Art Stewart (SR) - He is the consummate glue guy who does a little bit of everything. Most of all, he adds a lot of toughness to the team. He is a very good defender, and does all of the little things for Montana. Offensively, he picks his spots well, as he very efficiently averaged 9.2 PPG. He can take it inside, and his outside shot is just good enough to keep people honest.

Mathias Ward (JR) - His offensive development has been a revelation this year. He was a solid spot-up shooter in the frontcourt last year, but this year he has become one of the best offensive weapons, as he showed in the championship. His midrange game is probably better than anyone else in the conference, and he shot 55% from two this year. He also has enough range to hit a three. He is not a great rebounder or defender, but he does just enough that he is not a big liability in those areas.

Derek Selvig (SR) - He is possibly the most unique center in America. He is one of the best passing big men I have ever seen, and has very good ballhandling skills. His scoring is down this year, but he has instead focused on the glass and interior defense, where he made big strides this season. Offensively, he can hurt you in a lot of different ways. He is a very good three-point shooter, off the drive, posting up, or finding the open man. His skill set will be tough for Wisconsin to gameplan for.

Shawn Stockton (SR) - They don't rely much on their bench (they played their starters all 20 minutes in the second half of the conference championship), but when they do Stockton is usually the guy that enters first. With 15.6 minutes per game that was more than anyone else off the bench. He has struggled with his outside shot this year, making just 13 of his 54 threes. He is more of a combo guard because he is not a natural 1, but Tinkle likes him because he brings the attitude of a senior to the floor.

Keron DeShields (FR) - They have three freshmen wing guards, but DeSheilds has been getting the most time lately (Kevin Henderson and Jordan Gregory are the others). He has a lot of potential on the offensive end, but gets a little too eager at times, like freshmen are want to do.

Mike Weisner (FR) - The redshirt freshman is their first big man off the bench, even though he has the body of a small forward. He had some big moments against Weber State in the regular season finale, and flashed some solid potential. He has a nice outside shot (though he has only made 5 threes this year), and is a good passer.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weber State Will Play in the CIT

Somehow, Weber State has missed the NIT. I would have thought they would get a bid over teams like Illinois State, Minnesota, or Iowa, but they have been left out of the field with a 24-6 overall record.

Instead, they will play Utah Vallay on Tuesday night at the Dee Events Center. UVU finished 200-12 on the year and 9-2 in the Great West, but lost in the semifinals to NJIT (who then lost to UND).

It is certainly a disappointment for Weber State to miss the NIT (just ask Damian Lillard), but hopefully they will be able to take out that frustration and turn it into a successful CIT run.

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Montana is a 13 Seed

Obviously will have much more to say as the week goes on, but for now, Montana will be a 13 seed, playing Wisconsin in Albuquerque.

There was a lot of thought that they might get a 14 seed and take on Baylor, but they got pushed up a line, possibly with help from St. Bonaventure, who was a surprise team making the field. The Badgers are not a great matchup for Montana, but much better than Baylor would have been.

They will play on Thursday, and it doesn't seem like many people are really giving Montana even a second thought at being able to get an upset. This should be fun.

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North Dakota Wins The Great West

For the second straight season, North Dakota has won the Great West Tournament and will head to the tournament. This year was a little less dramatic, as they took care of NJIT with a 75-60 victory.

UND trailed by two at the break, but came out storming with a strong second half to capture the title. Balance was the key for UND, as they had five players in double figures, with four of them being sophomores. That type of youth is why the future could be bright for UND, if they are able to take the next step this offseason.

According to the team's twitter feed, they will be traveling to take on Drake in the first round on either Tuesday or Wednesday. A berth in the CIT is not like a berth in the NCAA Tournament or NIT, but making it two straight years is a step in the right direction for a team that becomes Tournament eligible next season.

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Portland State Ends The Season With a Loss

Portland State had one game left on their schedule after the Big Sky Tournament, as they traveled to Seattle on Saturday. Earlier in the year, they beat them 66-65, but things didn't go as well this time around, as they lost 94-83 to the Redhawks.

It is hard to imagine that PSU was incredibly motivated for this game after losing in the Big Sky tournament last week, and it showed. They allowed Seattle to shoot over 50%, and they were outrebounded 47-27.

Vikings fans did get a glimpse of next season, however. Renado Parker led the team with 20 points off the bench, shooting 8/13 from the field. He could be one of the best inside scorers in the conference next year, and we will talk plenty about him in the offseason. Gary Winston also had 19 points (including five treys) off the bench,, and the freshman has a bright future. He should step into Charles Odum's starting spot next year.

For Odum, the end comes with 19 points in his final collegiate game. Chehales Tapscott had 10 points, seven rebounds, and four assists to end a great two-year career. Both players were first- team conference players.

Portland State ends the year with a record of 17-15.

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Eagles POV Look at Jim Hayford

An excellent Eastern Washington site takes a look at the first season for Jim Hayford.

To me, the goods have more than counterbalanced the bads, and I am excited for what next season could be, with Weber State and Montana once again projected to be the favorites, but Eastern with a shot to mess up both of their dance plans.
I tend to agree. Not all was rosy, as there were constant problems that he was unable to solve this year, but I thought on the whole it was a successful season. More than anything, I think he has a good plan in place for a bright future. He is solid on the recruiting trail, solid coach, and has brought in a good staff.

I think it will still take him a couple years to get the program into the consistent top 4 range (as he will have a lot of new guys next year), this is a program that I think is trending to be one of the best in the Big Sky.

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Quick Hits on Northern Arizona Coaching Search

From CBS Sports:

Out: Mike Adras - Resigned after a 2-7 start with the Lumberjacks this season, his 13th as the head coach Adras was an assistant with the program for seven years and took over when Ben Howland left for Pittsburgh. He was 193-170 in his 12-plus seasons.

In: Dave Brown (interim)

Potential candidates: Jay John (Cal), Scott Pera (Arizona State), Jack Murphy (Memphis), David Grace (Oregon State), Jerry Carrillo (Cochise College)

What we think: Brown isn't getting the gig. The Lumberjacks need to get a young, go-getter and guys like Pera, Murphy and Grace all fit the bill.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Big Sky Should be Rooting for Louisiana Tech Tonight

Currently in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology, Montana is sitting at a 14. With a bit of help, maybe they could make it to a 13.

Louisiana Tech out of the WAC is one team Montana should be rooting for today. They took out Nevada yesterday (who would have been seeded higher than Montana), and now take on New Mexico State today. I suspect NM State would get ranked higher than Montana (it would at least be close), but La Tech would not. Thus, if the Bulldogs pull another upset, it would push Montana up a bit. Maybe not up to a higher seed, but then again, maybe.

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North Dakota Stays Alive in the Great West

Last season, North Dakota won the Great West title game in double overtime over South Dakota, propelling them to a birth in the CBI Tournament. This year, it looked like UND's goal of winning the tournament for the second straight year was going to be in serious jeopardy.

After taking a 23-17 over Texas-Pan American in the first half, UTPA went on a 20-0 run going into the half, leading 37-23. Their lead swelled to as much as 16 points, but that is when North Dakota made their move. They went on a 25-5 run over a 12 minute span, which sparked them onto victory, 63-59.

UND was led by Jamal Webb with 19 points and six rebounds. Troy Huff (17) and Aaron Anderson (12) were also in double figures.

North Dakota will take on New Jersey Institute of Technology today in the Great West title game, looking to capture their second straight conference title. They split the regular season series with them. It would again be a good momentum builder heading into next season, when they will enter the Big Sky.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Southern Utah Coach Roger Reid Retires

There will be three new head coaches in the Big Sky next season. Bill Evans will be the head coach at Idaho State, Northern Arizona is in the hunt for a new coach, and now Southern Utah will be as well.

After almost forty years of coaching basketball, Coach Roger Reid has announced his retirement as head men's basketball coach at Southern Utah University. With eleven squad members returning next year, including all-league selection Jackson Stevenett and two more players with starting experience, Coach Reid leaves behind a Thunderbird program poised for success in the Big Sky, which SUU will join for the 2012-13 season.

"I will miss this great group of young men," Coach Reid said. "I have coached so many fine players in my career, and this group ranks up there with the best of them. They have worked their tails off on the floor, they have performed in the classroom, and they will certainly make noise in the Big Sky. This program is in great shape and this team can win a lot of games."
Reid had a career Division I record of 205-173, including going 54-97 in his time at Southern Utah. He also had a career record of 152-76 as the head coach of BYU.

Southern Utah will be joining the Big Sky next season, and should return a lot of talent.  They finished sixth in a very competitive Summit League this year, and will return at least two starters. The best among them is Jackson Stevenett, an efficient shooting guard.

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Where Will Montana Get Seeded?

It seems a lot of Montana fans are hoping for a seed similar to 2006, when the Grizzlies were the number 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely. Here is how some draft pundits are projecting them:

Joe Lunardi of ESPN has them as a 15 playing Missouri.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has them as a 14 playing Baylor.
Andy Bottoms of Fox Sports has them as a 15 playing Duke.

Factors helping Montana:
- They beat Long Beach State and Weber State (twice) – Long Beach State likely needs to win their conference tournament to make the Big Dance, but nobody disputes that they are a quality team. Montana beat them 73-71 in Dahlberg Arena. Weber State is another team that obviously is not going to make the NCAA Tournament, but they are a team with a decent RPI, and beating them twice will be a nice plus on their resume.
- They enter the tournament on a hot streak – As much as this matters (which is hard to say), you can’t be sitting much better than Montana is right now. They have won 14 straight games, 20 of 21, and won the conference championship by 19 points over the second best team. They will enter the tournament playing great, great basketball.

Factors hurting Montana:
- The weakness of the Big Sky – Other than the Grizzlies and Weber State, it was a weak year for the Big Sky. They finished 25 out of 33 conferences in RPI, and 27th among conference according to Ken Pomeroy. There was a dearth of quality non-conference wins outside of the conference, and they didn’t help themselves during Bracket Busters either (where the conference went 3-6). It was not a banner year for the Big Sky.
- They lost to North Dakota – All of their other losses are defensible, but this one will be hard to swallow. UND was supposed to take a step forward and be a really quality team this year, but that didn’t really happen. That’s the one really bad loss on their resume.
- They lack quality road wins – They were right in the game against Colorado State to start the year, but fell short. They got pounded by Oregon State on the road. Their best road win is probably Portland State, and while they are a solid team, that is not going to impress the committee. They would feel better if they got at least one quality non-conference road win, or even another quality home win (they lost to Nevada and San Francisco).

It looks like the most likely seed right now is a 15, but if they get some help, 14 is certainly reasonable. They will be a dangerous team for a 2/3 seed to have to take on.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why Montana Won

Quick thought. Have heard different things, but in my mind Montana won this game for two reasons.

1. They were simply unconscious in the second half. Whenever you shoot as well as they did, you are going to be tough to beat. They were nailing shots from everywhere after the break.

2. Weber State never figured out how to beat Montana's zone. For the first ten minutes or so of the second half, they reverted back to last Tuesday night. In that game, they stopped being aggressive, and were content to take long jump shots against the zone. That happened again. At about the eight minute mark, it clicked with Damian Lillard that they couldn't win like that, and he started to take it hard to hole (and was largely successful), but it was too late. By then, Montana's offense was rolling, and nobody else for Weber State was hitting anything.

Agree or disagree?

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Montana Is Going Dancing

Congratulations to the Montana Grizzlies. After beating Weber State 85-66 in the Big Sky title game, they will be headed to the NCAA Tournament.

I thought that if they won, they would do it because they are the best defensive team in the conference. Instead, they did it by being almost literally unstoppable offensively in the second half.

Weber State led 36-31 at the break, but it was all Montana in the second half, as they outscored the Wildcats 54-30 after the intermission. In the second half, they simply could not be stopped. They were 19/32 from the field in the second half, including 8/12 from downtown.

Mathias Ward started out the half by giving them big shot after big shot. He was firing on all cylinders, and finished with 23 points on 10/16 shooting. Offensively he is one of the most diverse big men in the conference, and he showed it in this one. He also had eight rebounds.

From there, it was Kareem Jamar that took over offensively. He seemed to hit from everywhere on the court... at one point the announcer said Damian Lillard just looked over at Randy Rahe and shook his head. Sometimes, there is not much that you can do. Jamar finished with 23 points (on 9/12 FG, 5/8 3PT) and seven assists. He was fantastic all tournament long and was the Big Sky Conference Tournament MVP. Well deserved.

All other starters were in double figures for the Griz. Will Cherry finished with 13 points and six assists. Derek Selvig had 16 points, including 13 in the first half when he kept the Grizzlies in it. Art Steward had 10 points and seven rebounds. The bench played only nine minutes combined, as it was the starters that carried the day.

For Weber State, it's a tough way to go out. Damian Lillard played great for most of the night (had one stretch where he was a bit too passive) and finished with 29 points, ten rebounds, and seven assists. However, he just didn't get a lot of help. Byron Fulton had ten points, and Kyle Tresnak had 12, but nobody else was in double figures. It was the same story for WSU offensively as last week... they simply didn't look like they knew what to do for most of the night against the Montana zone. They stopped being aggressive, and jacked up too many threes. It worked in the second half, but they couldn't keep it going.

Montana has won 14 straight games, and 20 of their last 21. They will head to the tournament as hot as any team in the country. They are currently projected by most pundits as a 15 seed, and I would not want to see them in my bracket if I was a 2 seed. They have the type of balanced offense and stout defense that could make them a candidate to pull a shocker in the NCAA Tournament.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Weber State vs Montana Round III Preview

Well, this is the matchup that we have all been waiting for in the Big Sky. Weber State and Montana were one and two in the Big Sky before the season began, have held those two spots all year long, and so it is only fitting that they will meet on Wednesday night to decide the Big Sky champion. They split their regular season meetings, and so this will be a true rubber match for all the marbles. It should be fantastic. Let's preview it.

Montana won the Big Sky regular season title, and as a result the deciding game will be in Missoula. They finished 15-1 in the regular season in conference, and 24-6 overall, winners of 13 straight and 19 of 20. Not many teams are hotter than them in the country. Weber State finished 14-2 in the Big Sky, becoming the first team in conference history to have only two losses and not win the conference outright. They are 24-5, and have merely won 18 of 20. As they say, it's on.

In the semifinals, Weber State was trailing for 35 minutes, as Portland State gave them all they could handle before winning 69-63. For Montana, they bested them again... Eastern Washington was controlling the game for 38 minutes before they pulled away for the 74-66 win. Neither team had the chance to rest easy before this one.

Obviously they are led by Damian Lillard, one of the best players in the country. He sets the tone for them. They shoot the ball very well normally, as they were almost 38% from downtown this year. They led the country in FT percentage, so you certainly do not want to be trailing them late. Also led by Lillard is the fact that they do not turn the ball over often... just a 15.9 TO Rate, sixth best in the country.

Over the course of the year they have gotten some solid depth. Freshman Gelaun Wheelwright has become a playmaker off the bench, and that was never more evident than in the semifinals against Portland State, where he had 15 points. Byron Fulton is a diversified offensive player, who can take you down on the block, but also shoots 44% from downtown. They will have the edge on depth over the Grizzlies.

As always under Wayne Tinkle, they are a very good defensive ballclub. Their DRtg is 92.3, which is 29th in the nation even though the Big Sky was a pretty efficient offensive league. They are led here by Will Cherry, the best defensive player in the conference and one of the best perimeter defenders in America. He can get a steal at anytime and convert it to an easy two points. Art Steward is a guy at the 3 spot that is tough as nails - it will be fun watching him match up with Kyle Bullinger.

Offensively, the Grizzlies are very balanced. Five guys score at least 8.8 PPG (and Derek Selvig is the guy that scores that much... he averaged double figures last year). Will Cherry averages 16.1, but Kareem Jamar is also very dynamic in the backcourt. Cherry, Jamar, and Selvig are all above average passers, meaning you always have to account for your man when you are guarding the Grizzlies. This is one of Tinkle's best offensive teams.

They have shown themselves to be surprisingly susceptible to zone defenses, as they really struggled in the last meeting with Montana, and saw a lot of it against Portland State as well. They are sometimes content to just jack up threes rather than taking the ball aggressively to the basket, and this can cause their offense to lack flow. You can bet that they will see a lot of zone defense on Wednesday night.

Another thing is that they are not susceptible to being outrebounded. Chehales Tapscott had a big day on the offensive glass against them, and that will happen. Their best big man (Kyle Tresnak) is a very average rebounder, so it's important that guys like Lillard hit the glass hard. Kyle Bullinger is a very good rebounder out of the SF spot, but they have been going small and putting in Wheelwright for him at times. Bullinger had a nasty elbow injury early in the season, and doesn't seem to quite be the same player that he was before the injury.

They don't have a lot of depth. After their starting five, things get spotty.  Shawn Stockton is their first backcourt sub, but he is very limited. Mike Weisner is probably their first frontcourt sub, but he is a freshman that has not gotten a lot of minutes this year. As The Upset Blog noted on Twitter tonight, their starters played a lot of minutes Tuesday night. Cherry played 40, Selvig 37, Jamar and Ward with 35, and Steward with 31. Jamar was battling leg cramps for much of the night, and Cherry took a very hard spill late in the game. They will be a bit beat up heading into the championship.

Another thing is that even though their offense is good, they are not necessarily explosive. They rely on their defense a lot of times for offensive runs, which might not work as well against a team that doesn't turn it over a lot. They shoot the three ball well, but they don't shoot a lot of them. They are solid at getting to the line, but not outstanding. Their offense is just very good... but it has not often been called great this year.

In the first meeting between these teams, Weber State won by 16 at home, really taking it to Montana. In the last meeting, the Grizzlies won by 15, thanks to a great defensive effort by them and a passive offensive effort by Weber State. This game will take place in Missoula, which is one factor counting in Montana's favor.

However, I just have a feeling that Damian Lillard and Weber State are going to pull something off. Both WSU and Montana looked sluggish early in their semifinal games, but both began to play well late in the game, so rust will not be a factor. Weber State will be helped by that extra depth, which is a big factor when playing your second game in as many nights.

In their last meeting, Montana controlled the game from the middle of the first half on, and you got the sense watching the game that Weber State couldn't play much worse. Still, they only trailed by five late in the second half, and it was a competitive game for most of it. Montana won because Weber State couldn't do much against the press and zone, but I think they started to figure that out by the end of the PSU game.

Finally, Weber State still has a bad taste in their mouth from a couple of years ago. You remember the game. Big Sky tournament final in Ogden, UT. Weber State led Montana by 20 at halftime, and looked to be cruising to the NCAA tournament. Then Anthony Johnson happened. He scored 34 in the second half (40 for the game), as Montana came back for a surreal 66-65 victory. Damian Lillard was the leading scorer for the Wildcats that game, and the Big Sky MVP that season. Kyle Bullinger was in the starting lineup. Those guys remember that game, and the feeling it left them with. I don't think they will let another opportunity slip through their fingers.


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Weber State Escapes With 69-63 Win

Portland State controlled the game for 35 minutes. Damian Lillard controlled the game for the last five.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty, but Weber State will be going to the Big Sky championship game after beating Portland State 69-63 Tuesday night in Missoula. Some takeaways from the game:

- Weber State continued to have major troubles with the zone, far too often settling for jumpshots instead of taking the ball inside. When they did get more aggressive at the end of the game, Gelaun Wheelwright and Damian Lillard were able to get into the lane and to the free throw line, which may have been the difference in the game. Lillard was fantastic down the stretch, and was doing all he could to will them to victory.

- Gelaun Wheelwright was absolutely huge tonight. He had 15 points on 6/10 shooting, and had some really big buckets for them tonight. He clearly was not overwhelmed by the moment, which is big for a freshman. Weber State fans have a right to be excited about him. Jordan Richardson also gave them big minutes down the stretch. He hit a key three with Weber State down by eight, and played great defense.

- Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott showed why they are Big Sky first-teamers. Odum had 24 points on 10/19 shooting. It did seem like he was letting the refs get in his head a bit at the end of the game. He reacted strongly to every close call against him. Have to let that stuff go. Tapscott had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and also played excellent defense. He can do it all on the court, and will be missed. Not many players I like watching play more than him.

- It was interesting to see Wheelwright and Richardson getting late playing time over Scott Bamforth and Kyle Bullinger. Good call by Randy Rahe to go with what was working, rather than simply what was more conventional.

- Portland State shot 8/14 from downtown which is excellent, but WSU still did what they could to take away from the Vikings getting in the lane. They did a nice job on Odum late in the game. PSU also hit the offensive glass very well. They played a good game, but they just didn't have enough in this one.

Weber State is not looking for style points obviously, so they will take this game every day of the week. At the end of the week, all that matters is that they are going to the Big Sky championship game. The Damian Lillard Show continues for at least one more night.

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Bill Evans Will Be Head Coach at Idaho State

As speculated this morning, KPVI is now reporting that Bill Evans will be the new head coach at Idaho State.

He was the head coach of Southern Utah for 15 years, and has a school record 209 career victories there. He is currently an assistant coach at Montana, where he helped lead the team to a Big Sky regular season title this season.

More details and thoughts to follow.

EDIT: HoopDirt also talked about this earlier in the day.

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The Lillard Chronicles

Nice article/collection of links and quotes put together by the WSU Sports Blog (by Roy Burton) following Damian Lillard throughout the season. He does a nice job of tracking the praise that Lillard has received this season, so check it out if you want to follow his timeline.

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Deane Martin Will Not Be Idaho State's Coach

According to KPVI News 6, Idaho State has announced that interim coach Deane Martin will not get the permanent job.

A news conference will be held Thursday to announce the new men's basketball coach. The time and location of the press conference will be announced on Wednesday.

In a statement, ISU Director of Athletics Jeff Tingey said, "I greatly appreciate all that coach Martin has done for our men’s basketball program this year. He took over the team in a difficult time and helped our program qualify for the conference tournament."
I will admit, I am a bit disappointed by the decision.

Under Martin, Idaho State had done a total 180 this year. They began the year 3-13, were picked to finish last, and wound up nearly hosting a game in the conference tournament. On a team without a depth of talent, they nearly won their quarterfinal game to advance to the Big Sky semis. He took over mid-season and did an outstanding job.

He appeared to have a knack for knowing how to use his talent, has a history of solid recruiting at previous jobs, and appeared to be working on recruiting this year as well. It's clear that Idaho State AD Jeff Tingey and his staff have done a thorough job searching for the next head coach, and have come up with someone they like better, but it will be interesting. One guess is Bill Evans, but we'll have to wait until Thursday to see.

If I was Northern Arizona, I would pick up the phone and give Martin a look for my open position. Honestly, it seems like he would be a great choice there.

Idaho State fans, I know you are my passionate, would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Why Western Carolina Losing is Bad For the Big Sky

Last night, there was an epic title game in the SoCon, with Davidson outlasting Western Carolina 93-91 in double OT. Strangely enough, this is bad for the Big Sky.

Davidson moved to 25-7 on the year, and is currently being projected as a 14 seed. The Catamounts of Western Carolina, on the other hand, were 8-10 in the conference, and would have certainly received a lower seed. Simply put, Davidson is likely to be seeded above whoever wins the Big Sky, and Western Carolina would have been below them (assuming it was Montana or Weber State).

This is why Western Carolina losing is good for the overall excitement of the NCAA Tournament, but bad for the Big Sky. Of course, this opportunity will likely pop up all over the place this week in conference tournaments... I will do my best to keep track and see if there are any upsets that will help the Big Sky seed line.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Three Keys For Each Big Sky Team To Win

With three Big Sky games to go, let’s take a look at the keys for each of the teams remaining. Here are the Tuesday night games –

(1) Montana vs (4) Eastern Washington
(2) Weber State vs (3) Portland State

What does each team need to do to win?

1. Get the big guys involved – Montana’s offense is helped when guys like Mathias Ward and Derek Selvig are a part of things offensively, because both have varied offensive games. They can create space with their outside shot, which opens up the lane for Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. Another big thing is that EWU’s big are prone to foul the opposition, which makes it even more important for Selvig and Ward to be aggressive. Ward had his best game of the season in these team’s first matchup, scoring 28 points in a victory.

2. Go right at Eastern Washington’s defense – As mentioned, Eastern Washington has put their opponents on the free throw line more than anyone else this year, which makes it imperative for the opposition not to settle for jumpers. This is part of the reason that Idaho State lost to EWU three times… they didn’t try to force anything or get to the line, and they were content to shoot jumpshots. That is not the best way to take down the Eagles.

3. Guard everyone on the perimeter – EWU is not afraid to shoot from the perimeter, and just about everyone (except Laron Griffin) will fire away at any time. You have to make sure to guard them at all times, because if they get hot from there they can beat anyone. It is probably preferable to let guys like Cliff Colimon, Collin Chiverton, and Parker Kelly drive rather than get an open look, which Montana has to watch for.

1. Get Kyle Tresnak involved early – Everybody knows what Damian Lillard and Scott Bamforth can do offensively, but a big key for the Wildcats is Kyle Tresnak. He has shown himself to be one of the best scoring big men in the Big Sky, as long as he is getting touches and staying out of foul trouble (which derailed him against Montana). He has a nice baby hook and low post game, and should have a size advantage over most PSU guys (except Nate Lozeau). It will be key to get him involved.

2. Stay aggressive – Against Montana, they were content to launch deep threes against Montana’s zone, and I am sure PSU will see this on tape. It won’t be a surprise if the Vikings play a lot of zone defense, and if that’s the case, Weber State needs to stay aggressive. Work to get the ball inside, take the ball to the basket, and push it in transition.

3. Keep Portland State out of the paint – The Vikings are an efficient offensive team because they are so good at taking good shots. Charles Odum is one of the best in the conference at getting in the paint, and shoots a great percentage because of it. Chehales Tapscott and Renado Parker are great inside, using crafty moves to score points. If you can make PSU beat you from the outside, chances are that they won’t beat you.

1. Keep Damian Lillard in check – In two games against PSU this year, Lillard has averaged almost 40 points per game, and has absolutely dominated both games. Obviously, that can’t happen again if the Vikings want to pull the upset. While WSU has other players that are very capable offensively (Bamforth, Tresnak, Bullinger), Portland State would be wise to make those guys beat them. Certainly this is easier said than done.

2. Hit some outside shots – Their offense is predicated on getting into the paint, but to be a very good team they need to be able to keep defenses honest. Charles Odum, Lateef McMullan, and Michael Harthun all need to hit a couple shots from the outside, which will open up their lanes to drive to the basket or get better shots for Chehales Tapscott and Renado Parker. If they can hit from the outside, they are tough to stop.

3. Hit the offensive glass – This is a way for them to get some easy baskets, which will be needed to keep up with Weber’s offense. Chehales Tapscott is a solid offensive rebounder, and had some very nice putbacks in their game against Montana State. This would relieve some pressure on their halfcourt offense if they are able to get some second half points.

1. Get some contributions from Collin Chiverton – He won the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year award, but he has been battling some inconsistency and injuries all season long. When he is on, he is a deadly long-range shooter that can put up 20 points on you, as well as get some buckets in transition with his athleticism. When he is not on, he will take a lot of bad shots, and can be a ball-stopper in their offense. To beat an elite team like Montana, they need him to be the guy that was the top newcomer in the Big Sky, and not the one that has scored 12 points in their last four games. That might depend on his health.

2. Take care of the ball – This has been a strength for the Eagles all year, but will be especially important against Will Cherry and Montana. Montana can rack up easy points off turnovers (especially out of their 1-2-2 zone press), and that’s why it’s key for EWU. It is hard enough to beat the Grizzlies even if you are not giving them easy points.

3. Stop Will Cherry’s penetration – Cherry is one of the best penetrators in the conference, and has great quickness going to the basket. This can get good looks either for himself or his teammates. EWU needs to cut that off at the point of attack, and make him be more of a jump shooter. Even though he has improved in that aspect, it is a better proposition than allowing him to get into the lane.

Any other keys for the games?

For any live updates or discussion during the games tomorrow, make sure to follow me on Twitter.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Four Guards

Four lead guards made the Big Sky first-team this season, and not coincidentally, the teams for those guards are the ones still standing as we enter the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament. Let's take a look at each of them, and what makes them so good.

Cliff Colimon (Eastern Washington) - We knew before the year that Colimon was going to get big minutes, but I'm not sure anyone predicted he would be this good for the Eagles. He has been better in all categories this year, most notably bumping his scoring (10.4 PPG to 15.9 PPG), and assists (1.8 APG and 17.8 ARate last year, 5.0 APG and 31.6 ARate this year). He is still not the most efficient scorer (shoots just 39%), but he has become of the best playmakers in the conference. He has been a great senior leader for Eastern Washington, and they rely on him a lot to take care of the ball and make good decisions.

Charles Odum (Portland State) - Odum is second in the conference in scoring, and like the leader (Lillard), he does it with great efficiency. He increased his scoring from 14 PPG to 19 PPG this year. He is a master at getting into the lane, and either getting a great look on a nice runner, or getting to the free throw line. He shoots over 61% on 2-pointers and 84% from the line, and is able to keep defenses honest from behind the arc (34%). His true shooting percentage is 20th in America, and he sports a 119.1 ORtg. He is a fun guy to watch, because even though he is a great scorer, he doesn't force things on offense.

Will Cherry (Montana) - He is the defensive player of the year in the Big Sky, and is the rare player that changes the game as much (more more) on the defensive end as he does on the offensive side of the ball. You can tell how hard he has worked on his games by his shooting percentages... his freshman year he was 6/35 from 3-point land, last year he shot 22.5%, and this year he is up to 38.4%. He is on pace to become the conference's all-time leader in steals, and will likely enter next season as the POY favorite. He has also shown a killer instinct this year, which is a big reason why Montana is so tough to beat.

Damian Lillard (Weber State) - I have written a lot about him obviously this year, but he has been sensational all year long, despite being in the spotlight nationally (as he led the country in scoring for much of the year) and from NBA scouts coming to most of the Wildcats games. I wrote extensively about his attributes here, but in short, he is a great and efficient offensive player, can hurt you in a variety of ways, gets teammates involved, and takes great care of the basketball. He has topped 40 points twice this year, and 30 points eight times. I have a feeling he has some good stuff up his sleeve for us the rest of the tournament.

Anything I missed about these guys?

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Season Wrap-up and Tourney Preview at Rush The Court

I had my year end post over at Rush The Court, talking about awards, tournament preview, and some final rankings. Check it out if you are interested in learning some more about the Big Sky.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Semifinals Are Set as Portland State Rolls to Victory

I knew Montana State was going to have trouble scoring enough to keep up with Portland State. I also knew that the teams were coming in with opposite momentum. However, I didn't expect PSU to dominate the game like they did on Saturday night, beating the Bobcats 75-53 in the Big Sky quarterfinals.

It was a familiar script for Portland State. Excellent production from their stars, Chehales Tapscott (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Charles Odum (16 points, seven rebounds); and solid efforts from a couple of role players, Lateef McMullan (14 points, four assists, and Renado Parker (13 points, nine rebounds off the bench). More or less, this is what they have done all season long.

Montana State came out of the gate playing pretty well because of their defense. They ran multiple zone looks, and it confused the Vikings early. PSU turned the ball over often early on, and MSU was able to get some easy baskets. That was big for them, and it was an eight point deficit at the break, as the Viks were unable to create a ton of separation in the first half.

However, PSU began to figure out the zone in the second half, and Montana State simply didn't have the weapons to respond. They needed a big day from Shawn Reid, but he was held to four points on 2/10 shooting. Simply put, the Bobcats were unable to consistently get good looks from their half-court offense. They weren't hitting anything from the outside (3/16 threes), and they weren't able to aggressively attack the rim (11 free throws). They simply didn't have the personnel to score effectively or consistently in the half court offense, and once they stopped forcing turnovers, PSU ran away from them.

It ends a disappointing season for Montana State. After a 6-2 start to the Big Sky season, their world ends with a whimper. Montana State fans have seen this movie before, and I am not sure how much longer they will tolerate it. Obviously we will look at everything more in depth in the offseason, but safe to say Brad Huse probably doesn't head into next season feeling too comfortable about job security.

For Portland State, the dream lives on. They get Weber State in a neutral court game, and if they can find a way to slow down Damian Lillard (who has torched them this season), they will have a chance. They have the offensive talent, it is all about digging in defensively. They will meet on 5:30pm Tuesday night, in what should be an outstanding game.

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Eastern Washington Advances to Semifinals

In the first quarterfinal of the day, it was Eastern Washington winning a hard fought game over Idaho State, 81-75 to advance to the quarterfinals. Who they play next depends on the outcome of the Portland State/Montana State tilt.

Eastern Washington won because it got some big performances all-around. First-teamer Cliff Colimon played great, finishing with 22 points and seven assists. He got plenty of help though. Laron Griffin scored a career-high 21 points, and also had 11 rebounds. Jeffrey Forbes had a season high 21 points, and made some big plays in the final minute. Those were not the guys you would expect to have huge impacts, but that is what you need to advance in conference tournaments.

For ISU, the gameplan was simply... fire away. They made 14 threes (in 33 attempts). Kenny McGowen finished with 28 points, but he was just 9/28 from the field, and 5/19 from downtown. Defensively, you will take that. I talked about how EWU had been prone to putting opponents on the line, but I thought they would win because ISU is content to shoot jumpshots... that was true today, as the Bengals shot just eight free throws.

It is Eastern Washington's first trip to the semifinals since 2006, and is at least making the ending of an up and down season more positive for Eastern Washington fans. They have the talent and athleticism to pull a shocker in the semifinals, so I can guarantee you that Montana or Weber State will not be caught sleeping when they take on the Eagles Tuesday night.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Big Sky Quarterfinal Notes

A couple notes on Saturday's games from Greg Crawford.

As for the game, it would be a major upset if Portland State lost. The Vikings are playing really well right now and are a tough team to beat at home. While most of the attention for the Vikings always falls on Chehales Tapscott and Charles Odum, almost certain all-league Big Sky first team choices, I think any key to a long postseason run might rest with Michael Harthun.
I communicated with Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford this week and one of my questions was why their Big Sky playoff home playoff game against Idaho State on Saturday was being played at 2:00 pm, rather than the usual night time. Hayford told me when he was at Whitworth in Spokane, the same city that Gonzaga resides in, he learned not to compete with the Zags on times, so he has carried that over to Eastern Washington. Gonzaga will be playing in the WCC tournament on Saturday night and for fans in the Spokane/Cheney area it gives them a chance to watch both games, live for EWU and on TV for the Bulldogs. Smart marketing thinking in my opinion.

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Montana State @ Portland State Quarterfinal Preview and Prediction

The Big Sky Tournament is finally upon us! On Saturday, there will be two quarterfinal games being played. In the three vs six matchup, we will see Montana State travel to take on Portland State. Let's break it down and offer up a prediction.

You wouldn't guess this, but it has been Montana State that has swept the season series. They beat Portland State 86-73 in late December, and then 70-65 in late January.

Portland State is led by all-conference player Charles Odum, who is second in the conference in scoring. He is an excellent offensive player, and he shoots 62% from inside the arc, an astounding number for a 6'0'' guard. He is a master at getting in the lane and to the line, where he has shot more than seven FTs per game (making 83% of them). He is flanked by Lateef McMullan, who struggled early in the year but has had some nice moments. They need more consistent play from him, but he is capable of producing. Michael Harthun is in the wing spot, and he has been a quietly efficient player. He shoots 43% from downtown, and doesn't take much off the table.

Montana State has been hurt by attrition. Jamie Stewart was academically ineligible, and of course Xavier Blount got injured in an off-court incident. That has stretched their depth. Rod Singleton is their (much-maligned, by fans) senior leader and PG, but he turns it over more than he gets assists. Shawn Reid has stepped into the lineup in Blount's absense and been probably their best player over the last month. He is a guy they look to as their go-to scorer. Christian Moon is a nice outside shooter, but he has been slumping a bit. If he starts to hit some shots, they will have a chance.

EDGE: I give the edge to Portland State simply because they have Charles Odum. He is a difference-maker.

MSU usually starts Mohammed Fall and Tre Johnson in the post, two guys that have different skill sets. Fall is an athletic guy, solid defender and rebounder, and a guy that cleans up on the offensive glass with putbacks. He is one of the best shot blockers in the conference, and a guy that can cause teams problems down low. Tre Johnson is more offensive minded, and is a little bit better at creating shots.

For PSU, they are led by Chehales Tapscott, another first teamer and probably the best frontcourt player in the Big Sky. He does it all for the Viks. He is a solid scorer, the best rebounder in the Big Sky, one of the best shot blockers, and also gets his fair share of steals. He is a fun guy to watch, and the conference will miss him. He is joined in the frontcourt by Nate Lozeau, a guy that started out the year very strong, but has had less of impact as the season has gone on. Still, he is a big man that rebounds and shoots a very nice percentage.

EDGE: I give Portland State a slight edge in this one, because Tapscott is just that good.

Portland State has the best bench player in the game and one of the best in the conference in Renado Parker, an adept scorer and rebounder. He has a chance to be a 15/8 player next year and forms a formidable offensive duo with Tapscott. Gary Winston has been a nice player in the backcourt for them, showing a nice outside touch. He is a likely starter next year and can be a solid bench player for them.

Montana State, as we've said, struggles with depth because of their personnel losses. Mike Dison is their lone backcourt sub that gets a lot of time, but he struggles to make an impact as a freshman. In the frontcourt, Jeff Budinich is a nice player. He has a sneaky solid outside shot, and his high release means he can get shots off almost whenever he wants. Jourdain Allou is a solid, athletic big that is a good offensive rebounder and efficient scorer.

EDGE: This one is too close to call, so I will say even. Each team has one or two guys that can make plays off the bench, but they are not very deep. The starters will decide this game.

These are two teams trending in opposite directions. The Vikings have won six straight conference games, while the Bobcats have won once in their last nine games. As I have been saying (including on a podcast with Gidal), MSU relies heavily on Shawn Reid and Christian Moon for their scoring, but they are not necessarily ready for those roles.

Portland State, meanwhile, is well defined in that they have their two stars (Odum and Tapscott), and then everyone else falls in after that. They will be the two best players on the court, and combined with the fact that this game is in Portland, I like the Vikings to win this game.


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