Friday, November 30, 2012

Southern Utah and Montana State Lose Close Games

If you just look at the box score, you see that Southern Utah lost to TCU by nine points and Montana State lost to Pepperdine by ten points. However, both games were tight deep into the second half before the Big Sky teams fell back at the stretch.

Southern Utah stayed in the game thanks to a huge day from guard Damon Heuir. He finished with 25 points on 7/14 shooting, including an impressive 9/12 from the line. The rest of the team was just a combined 11-41 from the floor. Jayson Cheesman had 9 points and 13 rebounds for the TBirds.

They lost in part because of an uncharacteristically poor game from Jackson Stevenett, who simply couldn't get the ball to go down. He was 0/10 from the floor, and finished with just one rebound and two assists in 26 minutes.

"Jackson didn't see the first couple of shots go through the net and he struggled tonight; a couple of them rimmed in and out, maybe three or four of those shots, and a lot of those were good shots, a lot were contested, but those are shots he's made before," Robinson pointed out. "I'm not worried about that, we had other guys chip in, Jayson was able to get some pretty good looks, Wade [Collie] made a couple of shots for us, and Tyson played extremely well."
Stevenett will have plenty of big games this year where he is the biggest reason that SUU wins, but that probably won't make him feel better in this one. The Thunderbirds led by a point midway through the second half before TCU went on a 24-15 run over the final ten minutes.


Meanwhile, Montana State trailed by ten at the half before making the game very interesting late. It seems they used too much energy getting back into the game, and couldn't muster enough down the stretch. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

“The difference was being down 10 at half,” Huse said. “They’re a hard team to come back on – we fought to get to where we were at and it comes down to a free-throw block out, a loose ball or something crazy. They converted, got a two possession lead and we couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
The Bobcats tied the game at 59 and trailed by two at the 2:47 mark, but they just couldn't make anything at the end of the game. They missed seven shots in the final 1:59 of the game.

Xavier Blount led the team with 19 points, while Jamie Stewart had 14 points. They struggled a bit with forcing some shots against the Pepperdine zone, which was not helped by an ankle injury to Flavien Davis, their best scorer inside. 

The losses dropped Montana State to 1-4, while Southern Utah is 1-5.

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Idaho State Gets Their First Win

They have been close on a couple of occasions, but on Thursday night Bill Evans finally got his first win at Idaho State. Montana Western came to Pocatello, and the Bengals pulled out a 70-52 victory.

The game was never in doubt, which is a good sign with the quality of the opponent. Montana Western scored the opening bucket, but ISU led the rest of the way.

The Bengals were led by their newcomers. Sophomore guard Chris Hansen had 20 points (he could lead the conference in three-point field goals), while Tomas Sanchez had 17 points.

They also won with stifling defense, allowing just 33% shooting and forcing 17 turnovers. The Bengals have still not allowed an opponent to score 60 points in a game this season. If they are successful this year, that type of defense is what will lead them.

EDIT: Jason Enes of the Idaho State Journal has pointed out a mistake I have made. ISU allowed 60 points in a game against Wright State this year. What I should have said was that they have not allowed more than 60 points in a game this year.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Weber State With Impressive Win Over Dayton

Early in the season, the Big Sky has struggled to get victories that would garner a lot of respect around the country. That was helped on Wednesday night, as Weber State went to Dayton and got a big, 62-61 road victory.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of our team and how they fought tonight," said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. "We stayed together and played really tough throughout and had so many players step up and contribute. It's a huge win for us and our program in a very tough environment and it really gives our team a lot of confidence."
It was an ugly first half for the Wildcats, and it didn't look like there would be a happy ending. The Flyers led 25-20 at the break, and WSU turned it over 12 times before the intermission. However, the Wildcats looked like a different team in the second half.

It started as they went on a quick 13-0 run early in the second half, and made their first six field goals (including 3 threes). They shot 62% in the second half and turned the ball over six times. In short, they looked like the team that could win the Big Sky.

 I talked earlier in the week about how Weber State needed a go-to scorer, and how their stars Scott Bamforth and Kyle Tresnak had struggled early in the year. That changed against Dayton.

Tresnak led the team with 16 points and 7 rebounds (in 22 minutes), shooting 6/10 from the field, even throwing in a big dunk. He has the ability to be a very good low post scorer, and he showed it in this one. Bamforth had 15 points, and hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game for the Wildcats. With the game knotted at 57, Bamforth hit a three with 1:26 to play to push the lead to 60-57. Then Bamforth hit two free throws with 8 seconds left to help seal the win.

Weber State improves to 2-2 on the year, while Dayton falls to 4-2. Post Damian Lillard, this is a big win to show that WSU is still an extremely talented team. Plus, they at least went a little way toward getting the Big Sky a little bit of respect.

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South Dakota State Wins On Chad White's Buzzer Beater

Any North Dakota fan will tell you that over the past couple of years, winning on the road has been a huge weakness. On Wednesday night, they almost won a big one.

Playing again without star Troy Huff, UND was thisclose to beating South Dakota State, losing 71-70 on a last-second, difficult three-pointer from the Jackrabbits Chad White.

SDSU got off to a 10-0 run to begin the game, but it was tight after that. UND eventually built a 70-66 lead with 1:57 to play, but they couldn't score the rest of the way. With 12 seconds left, Jamal Webb got a steal and was fouled, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. That led to this:

Such ended the heartbreaker for UND, but they do have plenty to feel good about. For one, SDSU is a darn good team. They won the Summit League last year (if I recall), and return a guy in Nate Wolters that is one of the best Mid-Major players in college basketball. For UND to have them on the ropes is a great sign, especially without Huff.

It was a balanced effort for UND, with four guys in double figures, led by 13 from Josh Schuler.They shot 51% from the field, while holding the Jackrabbits to 38.5%. The two keys were that UND put SDSU on the foul line 30 times (compared to 16 for them), and turned it over 15 times.

The Big Sky has been put on notice, because there are not a lot of teams from the conference that could go into Frost Arena and play like this.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mathias Ward is the Big Sky Player of the Week

Mathias Ward of Montana has been named the Big Sky Player of the Week, after scoring 23 points (including a late bucket) and grabbing four rebounds in a win over San Diego.

 The Grizzlies have needed Ward to step up and he has, bumping his scoring average from 10.9 PPG last year to 15.8 PPG so far in this early season.

Another good choice would have been Venky Jois of Eastern Washington, who had two straight double-doubles and averaged 15.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG over three games.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Northern Colorado Battles, But Loses 85-69 to Colorado State

Like Montana before them, Northern Colorado will be glad that there are no Colton Iverson's in the Big Sky.

Iverson had 18 points and 13 rebounds for Colorado State, as the Bears just simply didn't have an answer for him down low. Defensively, UNC was having trouble stopping anyone on the CSU squad. The Rams shot 54% from the field, and made 21/23 free throws, winning the game through offensive talent.

When Iverson got the ball down low, the Bears had nobody that could body him up, and he was able to get short jump hooks whenever he was single teamed, as he shot 7/8 from the floor. When the Bears brought a double team, he would kick it out, and UNC was having trouble in their rotations getting to the open shooter. This helped guys like Wes Eikmeier (17 points) and Dorian Green (19 points, 7 assists) have big nights.

In my keys for Northern Colorado, I said they would need to take care of the ball, rebound the ball, and hit their outside shots. They took care of the ball as well as they have all year (8 turnovers), and rebounded fairly well (it helped that Pierce Hornung missed the game, but they had been outrebounded just 16-14 at halftime, and 38-28 for the game). However, they couldn't get their shots to fall consistently, which had a lot to do with a very good Rams defense. The Bears finished 5/19 from downtown.

At times Northern Colorado struggled to be patient in their offense, with Tim Huskisson being a key offender, as he shot a couple of quick threes that drew the ire of head coach BJ Hill. Still, he is an impressive player and had an impressive game with ten points and seven rebounds. He had a nice bucket off the dribble, and an athletically impressive putback jump after a Tate Unruh miss. He also had a sweet block defensively. I have said for the past year he is such a key guy for the Bears, because physically he is capable of doing some things that nobody else on the team can do.

Derrick Barden, though, is another guy that adds that athleticism that was missing a bit last year. He had 13 points and three rebounds, and showed good quickness on both ends. I suspect his numbers will improve a lot during conference play, because small four men fare better there than against seven footers like Iverson. Barden had a steal up top and took it up for a dunk (he was fouled on the attempt), which is a play that maybe only a handful of guys in the conference can do, or even think about attempting.

One guy that I think has to be frustrating for the UNC coaching staff is Emmanuel Addo. When you watch him, there are times when you think he can be the best offensive post player in the conference, and potentially an all-conference player. He can step back and hit a three, has a solid midrange shot, a nice baby hook, and can even take you off the dribble. He should average 15 a night. At the same time, he can be a bit of a lazy defender and rebounder, and I am sure this cuts into his minutes. On one drive he failed to box out his man on a free throw attempt. Another team he didn't really seem to have the awareness to step in and help out when a Ram was driving to the hoop, and was far too late to provide any help at all. His potential is tantalizing though.

One guy that did impress me on the defensive end was guard James Davis, who is a really good on the ball defender. That was something they lacked last year after the departure of Elliott Lloyd, so he adds a nice element to the team.

One last player note... I liked what I saw out of Tate Unruh. He had 13 points on just 4/12 shooting, but he was very aggressive, and UNC ran plays designed to get him looks. He has a great stroke, and the Bears offense will be good if he can get 10 shots per game. Again, the 4/12 isn't as big of a concern because UNC will not play more frontlines like CSU's.

I came away impressed with Northern Colorado's fight in this game, as they often outhustled CSU, whose best attribute is possibly their tenacity. Coach Larry Eustachy of CSU also came away very impressed, saying he thought Northern Colorado was better than Montana, and that he could see them winning the Big Sky. It was a defeat for the Bears, but also gave them some good things to build on.

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Three Keys for Northern Colorado Against Colorado State

Tonight, Northern Colorado travels to Colorado State to take on the Rams in what should be a fun, intra-state game. CSU is certainly favored, but Northern Colorado has the talent to pull an upset if they can win a few key areas. Here are three keys for them to be able to pull off an upset:

1. Hit their outside shots – More than anything else, the Bears best skill is their outside shooting ability. They led the country in three-point shooting last year, but are just shooting 37% from downtown so far this year. They have plenty of shooters, and they will need guys like Tate Unruh, Tevin Svihovec, Tim Huskission, and Paul Garnica to get (and hit) good looks from the outside. Without a big advantage from the three-point line, it will be a struggle for the Bears.

2. Rebound the basketball – This is one of CSU’s big strengths. In the opening game of the year that I went to, Colton Iverson was an imposing force down low, and the Grizzlies had nobody that could match his strength. On paper, UNC doesn’t really have anyone that can do that either. In addition, Pierce Hornung may be, inch for inch, the best rebounder in college basketball. CSU has the personnel to kill you on the glass, especially with offensive rebounds, so this will be huge for the Bears. Derrick Barden, the Bears need you tonight.

3. Take care of the ball – Turnovers were a huge issue last year, and it has continued this year, as the Bears are giving it away 16 times per game. Point guard Tevin Svihovec has been the biggest offender, giving it away four times per game (with a very small sample size). He simply hasn’t looked strong with the ball, and that is a big issue for them. The Bears need Svihovec to become a consistently good PG if they are to reach their potential and be a top 3 team in the Big Sky. He does a lot of things well, and if he can add ball security to that list, they will be very dangerous.

Score prediction – Colorado State 71, Northern Colorado 58

If UNC can do these three things, they have a chance to pull the upset. If not, it will be tough for them to go into Moby Arena and steal a win.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Five Takeaways From the Weekend

It was a busy weekend in Big Sky country, so let's take a look at some takeaways from all of the games.

1. Montana misses Will Cherry - They wound up getting a 67-66 win on a late three-pointer from Kevin Henderson, but it is clear that they are missing Will Cherry. Keron DeShields and Jordan Gregory are solid players now and will be good starters eventually, but they are not good or experienced enough right now to lighten the burden on Kareem Jamar. Jamar had 11 assists on the day (including on the Grizzlies' last two buckets, but was just 2/9 from the field, scoring eight points. Cherry is a lockdown defender, but he is also a creator on offense and a guy that defenses have to pay a lot of attention to because of his ability to get to the rim or hit the midrange jumper. They miss him offensively.

2. Weber State needs to find a go to scorer - In an dreadful game to watch, Weber State fell 65-55 to Utah State. While their free throw shooting was alarming (15/27), the bigger concern was their lack of an idea of where to go at the end of the game. Scott Bamforth (four points on 1/7 shooting) and Kyle Tresnak (five points on 1/5 shooting, and wasn't even on the court in crunch time) were supposed to be their all-conference guys, but neither was a factor at the end of the game.

Davion Berry led the team with 11 points, but was just 5/14 from the floor and 1/5 from the line. Gelaun Wheelwright is obviously talented, but showed his inexperience with some poor decisions down the stretch. On paper, WSU is as talented as anyone in the conference, but they need to find a pecking order at the end of games.

3. Idaho State is winless, but not hopeless - The Bengals fell to Wright State and Central Michigan, dropping them to 0-5. But they are slowing the game down and keeping things close (CMU needed a shot with 0.5 seconds left to beat them), and as a result they are in most games. They haven't allowed more than 60 points in a game (on the flip side, they have only cracked the 50 point mark once). They aren't the most talented team, so their best chance this year may be to slow things down and shorten games. They are embracing that, and it will eventually give them a win or two that will surprise some people.

4. Sacramento State keeps racking up wins - They trailed by as many as 14 against Central Arkansas, but used a 21-5 run in the second half en route to a 71-68 win. UCA scored 45 points in the first half, but the Hornets defense was locked in after the break, allowing just 23 points in the second frame. The star of the game was Konner Veteto, who had 19 and 11 off the bench for the Hornets (Joe Eberhard also had a double-double for Sac State). Veteto has always been a productive player when he has been able to stay on the court, and he was huge in this game.

5. Portland State may be closer to the bottom than the top - Both the coaches and media picked the Vikings to finish fifth, while I pegged them at eighth before the season. So far, I'm still sticking with my pick. It's not that they are losing (recent losses to Portland and especially Oklahoma State aren't terrible), but it is the way they are losing. They seem to be getting blown out every game. They trailed 51-30 at halftime against the Pilots, and were down 53-24 at one point to Okie State. Their defense is getting shredded, and they don't seem to know where to go for points without Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott. They have the talent to be a solid team, but thus far, they look like a long way from being able to show it.

Any other big storylines?

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Kevin Henderson's Game Winner

I will write more about this weekend's games later, but Montana guard Kevin Henderson hit a three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to help Montana beat San Diego 67-66.

The video can be found here.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Northern Arizona Signs Ako Kaluna

Northern Arizona already had an impressive five-man recruiting class, but they got a big sixth recruit (both literally and figuratively) on Wednesday with the signing of 6'7'' post Ako Kaluna.

Kaluna adds a true big man into the NAU fold, as he averaged 16.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game last season. As Jack Murphy said, while the Lumberjacks class certainly didn't lack for talent, they were missing that true post that could bang down low and grab the tough rebounds.

"Ako brings toughness, athleticism and size to the post and fills a need in this class that was missing up to this point," said Murphy. "He is a strong kid that is very skilled. He looks like the prototypical left tackle but he really loves the game of basketball."

Kaluna said that he chose NAU because he felt comfortable and wanted there.

“When (NAU head coach) Jack Murphy was saying how much he wanted me to play and be able to play right away, then their point guard came up and introduced himself and told to me how much they needed me, to have someone from the team tell me that made me comfortable,” Kaluna said.
Josh Gershon of calls Kaluna an "athletic and hard-working post."

Northern Arizona has been trying to create a brand with #NAUTakeover on Twitter. With Jack Muprhy leading the program and the talented guys that they are bringing in, the basketball program could soon be leading the way there.

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Northern Arizona Falls to Jacksonville State

Northern Arizona is much improved this year, but they still have a ways to go to be a contender in the Big Sky. They showed that on Friday, with a tight, 50-48 loss to Jacksonville State in Las Vegas.

Jacksonville State would snag the lead right back two minutes later, but a pair of free throws by freshman DeWayne Russell inched the Lumberjacks back within one with eight seconds remaining, 49-48. After JSU's Tarvin Gaines made just one-of-two from the line on the ensuing possession, the Lumberjacks pushed the ball down the court for final possession. However, Rogers' pass to a wide-open Gaellan Bewernick under the basket was deflected as time expired, sealing up the 50-48 victory for the Gamecocks.
NAU held Jacksonville State to 33% shooting, but they were done in by 19 turnovers, allwoing the Gamecocks to shoot 28 free throws, and the lack of a third scoring threat.

Gabe Rogers led the Lumberjacks with 22 points on 6/15 shooting, his second consecutive 20 point game. DeWayne Russell chipped in 10. Beyond that, big man Ephraim Ekanem had eight points, but he is not a guy that will create shots himself. That third guy to take the pressure off was missing. Nobody else had more than four points.

Northern Arizona falls to 1-3, and they will travel to take on Arizona next week.

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Dylan Garrity and DeWayne Russell Are Co-Big Players of the Week

Both Dylan Garrity of Sacramento State and DeWayne Russell of Northern Arizona have played some excellent basketball this year, so it makes sense that they are named Co-Big Sky Players of the Week.

Garrity, a 6-2 sophomore point guard from Huntington Beach, Calif., averaged 20 points, six assists, and one steal per game as the Hornets picked up victories over Cal State Bakersfield and Utah. He shot 69.2 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from 3-point range, and 94.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Russell, a 5-11 true freshman guard from Peoria, Ariz., scored a career-high 25 points as Northern Arizona snapped its 18-game losing streak with an 85-82 road win over UC Davis.
Russell is a name all Big Sky fans should get to know, and they hopefully already know about Garrity, who was the best freshman in the conference last season.

It is beginning to be fair to say that they are not just two of the best young guards in the conference, but two of the best guards in the conference, period.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope that you are able to have a great and relaxing holiday on this Thanksgiving! Also wanted to give a sincere thank you to all readers, very much appreciated that you spend a little time in this corner of the internet!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Competitive Night in the Big Sky

Six Big Sky teams were in action on Wednesday night, and five of them played at least competitively, mostly against some solid competition. I touched on Northern Colorado losing to Wyoming, but let's take a quick peek around the rest of the conference.

- Southern Utah picked up their first win of the year, a 68-58 win over Carroll College. Normally a win over Carroll College isn't really anything to write home about, but we have to say congrats to head coach Nick Robinson for his first career victory!

- Eastern Washington also picked up their first win of the year, but it was a dogfight to pick up the win over USC Upstate. Collin Chiverton had 19 points in 18 minutes (before fouling out), but I think the story is freshman Venky Jois, who had his second straight double-double. Jois had an efficient 19 points, going 8/12 from the field and 3/4 from the stripe. He added 11 rebounds to go along with that.

Before the year I said that Jois would be the best freshman in the conference, and he has not done anything to make me think otherwise (though DeWayne Russell may have something to say about that.

- Montana State and Idaho State both played solid basketball in losses. MSU fell to Air Force they were within a point at the half), while ISU fell to Utah (after leading 29-22 at the half).

The Bobcats played well offensively, taking good care of the ball and shooting 44%, but they couldn't get stops. The Falcons shot 59% from the floor and had nine offensive rebounds. That was simply too much for MSU to overcome.

Idaho State played a lot of zone against the Utes, and it worked for a long time. Eventually, Utah just would not allow ISU to score points, and began to get the ball going in transition a bit more. Sophomore stat sheet stuffer Tomas Sanchez had 6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals for the Bengals.

- In the one stinker of the night for the Big Sky, Portland State got hammered by their cross-town rival Portland. The Pilots won 81-60 and I'm not even sure the game was that close. The Vikings struggled on both ends of the court, and it looks like it may be a long season for Tyler Geving. Renado Parker (10), Michael Harthun (11), and Dre Winston (13) were in double figures for PSU, who shot 36% from the floor.

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Northern Colorado Comes Up Short Against Wyoming

During the first half and early parts of the second half, it looked like Northern Colorado might pull off an impressive home win against a good Wyoming club. The Wyoming went on a 23-5 run in the second half to take control of the lead, and didn't give it up down the stretch, winning 69-60.

Like has been the case a lot over the past couple of years, Northern Colorado was done in by their turnovers, as they looked sloppy at parts in the first and second halves, turning the ball over a total of 20 times. Point guard Tevin Svihovec seemed to struggle the most, as he had five turnovers himself, often getting the ball just stolen from him. I know taking care of the ball has been a point of emphasis for the Bears coaches, but it didn't get through in this game.

Paul Garnica led the team with 13 points, and he continues to be a guy that can play you into games or out of games. He takes quick shots at times, often before anyone else has even touched the ball. On the other hand, he is one of their best playmakers with the ball in his hands, and has an outside shot that has to be respected. He also had three assists and no turnovers.

Derrick Barden had nine points and seven rebounds, and scored in some different ways. He drained a three, and also showed some nice moves off the dribble. He is a player that needs to be more aggressive, and I think that will come with time.

Two other quick player notes... James Davis played what I would guess was a career high in minutes in the backcourt, and handled himself well. He looks like he is their best on the ball defender. Emmanuel Addo is a guy with a ton of talent, and they tried to go to him often, but he just wasn't effective in this game. He played just 10 minutes, but had four turnovers.

The Bears drop to 1-2, and will travel to take on Colorado State next Monday, where I hope to be in attendance to see them in person. If they play like they did tonight, particularly in the second half, it could be a long evening for them.

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Eastern Washington's Struggles Continue As They Drop to 0-4

By most, Eastern Washington was picked to finish in the top half of the Big Sky conference. They may yet get there, but things are off to a poor start, as a loss to Utah Valley on Tuesday dropped the Eagles to 0-4.

For a half, it looked like they were on their way to their first win of the year, as they led 43-32 and looked to have things going well on both ends. However, their offense struggled to find consistency in the second half, and (more importantly) they couldn’t get a stop, eventually losing 86-83. The Eagles missed their first ten shots of the second half, which dropped them into a deficit that they could not come back from.

There were plenty of solid individual efforts from EWU players. Venky Jois had 16 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double, and he continues to look like one of the best freshmen in the conference. Martin Seiferth was solid with 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 blocks. However, those guys aren’t getting the ball enough for how good they have been. The Eagles were an astounding 11/42 from downtown, including these performances:

Justin Crogsile: 1/11
Collin Chiverton: 3/9
Kevin Winford: 2/8
Jeffrey Forbes: 3/8

I understand these guys have the green light, but they have to be a little bit smarter about when they pull the trigger, especially when the big guys are playing so well (Jois and Seiferth were a combined 11/15 from the field). Crogsile has been the most egregious offender… he has launched 44 threes in four games despite the fact that he is a 30% three-point shooter.

It sounds as if all of this is not lost on Jim Hayford. “We have to be able to handle freedom in our offense a little bit better,” said Hayford. “You want shooters to have confidence that the next one is going in, but we could have used a little bit better discretion.”

I still do think they will be fine. Individually, they are one of the most talented teams in the conference, and they will figure this stuff out. But they have to start playing more as one unit rather than a group of guys, and things need to pick up defensively. If these things happen, they have the personnel to be a very good team.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Sacramento State Signs Nick Hornby

Sacramento State has their second signee of the recruiting season, inking 6'5'' wing man Nick Hornby. Hornby is a freshman who averaged 12.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 3.2 APG, showcasing a good variety of skills.

From, a nice quote from Brian Katz:

“Nick can play three spots on the perimeter,” Katz said. “He gives us some size. He won’t have the experience that Joe has had, but he’s far more skilled than Joe.”
Hornby can play all three perimeter positions, and that versatility is something that Katz has really emphasized in recruiting with guys like Joe Eberhard and Cody Demps over the past couple of years.

Also from Sac State Sports:

Hornsby, who is from Tustin High School in Irvine, Calif., was named by ESPN as the 20th best high school recruit in California and ranked the sixth best small forward on the West Coast by
The Hornets are losing a lot of frontcourt talent after this season, with their three best frontcourt players graduating. However, with Eric Stuteville and now Nick Hornby, they are showing definitely that they will be able to build on the success they are having this year. As they have traditionally been near the bottom of the Big Sky, that is great news for the conference.

Hornby reportedly had offers from UC-Riverside and Portland State as well.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Montana State Gets Their First Win

It was a rough opening game for Montana State, but they made up for it with an excellent showing in their home opener against Portland, winning 83-64.

Guard Antonio Biglow hit a three to open the game, and MSU never trailed. Biglow led the team with 23 points, and he was joined in double figures by Flavien Davis (13), Calen Coleman (12), and Jamie Stewart (11). The Bobcats shot 51% from the field and got to the line 39 times, making 27 of them (69%).

“I feel really good about this win,” Huse said. “A week ago we didn't feel like we played very good basketball (in a loss at Seattle), and today we feel good. We just have to keep working and keep practicing hard.”
MSU forced 19 Pilot turnovers, which is huge. They are going to be a team that will look to get out on the break a bit, so forcing turnovers will be critical to their success. They also had the rebounding edge, 32-23. Five guys had four or more rebounds.

The Bobcats now stand at 1-1, and will travel to take on Air Force on Wednesday.

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Get To Know The Name DeWayne Russell

Northern Arizona got their first win of the year, snapping an 18 game win streak with an 85-82 victory over UC Davis. Gabe Rogers led the team with 27 points, but it was a coming out party for DeWayne Russell.

Russell had an efficient 25 points, shooting 8/12 from the field (5/8 from downtown, 4/4 from the FT line), grabbing four rebounds, dishing out six assists, and adding two steals to boot. He scored 21 in the first half.

"DeWayne was unconscious in the first half," said Murphy. "He had 21 at the half and had 25 points on 12 shots. Do you know how difficult that is to do in a Division I basketball game? This is only his third game. He is a special player and is exactly who we thought he was when we recruited him."
Russell was a great scorer in high school, and that has translated quite nicely to the college level. I said he has a chance to lead the Big Sky in scoring at some point in his career, but he is more prolific early in his career than I even thought he would be. Before the year, it was clear that he was talented, but it was tough to see where he would get a ton of time because of the people in front of him. Now, it's clear to see that he will be a big factor for NAU all year long.

It's a time where NAU is rebuilding, and Russell is a great building block for Jack Murphy's program.

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Notes From The Past Few Days

Over the past week I have had the pleasure of both being really sick (I missed two days of work and should have missed more... I am still fighting it), and having a really busy week of work (hence why I did not miss more time), which has led to slower posting here than I would normally like. So, let's get caught up on some of the action over the past few days that I have missed.

- The one thing I didn't miss was Sacramento State's 3-0 start, including two wins over Division I teams. Dylan Garrity is making an early case for All-Conference honors, with 15.3 ppg and seven assists per contest early in the year.

- Northern Colorado turned in a historically great offensive performance in their first game of the year, but couldn't replicate that in their second game, losing 64-53 to Cal Poly. They shot just 3/18 from downtown, which is a big stat for them. The difference in the game was the free throws... UNC was 6/13, Cal Poly was 22/30.

- I predicted Derrick Barden to be the rebounding champ in the conference, and he pulled down nine in the game. However, he was just 2/6 from the field for seven points. They will need some more offense from him, and I expect he will be just fine. It just takes a little time to find your place in the offense.

- Weber State lost 68-67 in OT to San Jose State, with two guys widely expected to be all-conference players struggling for them. Kyle Tresnak was 0/8 with two points, and Scott Bamforth was 3/10 for 11 points. Needless to say, they need those guys.

- Two newcomers did step up for WSU... Davion Berry scored 21 points on 8/17 shooting, while Joel Bolomboy had 11 rebounds. Everyone expected Berry to be good, but he looks like he will lead the team in scoring easily. Bolomboy was expected to be more of a role player this year, but he might be too talented not to get a bunch of minutes.

- Nick Robinson may have a bigger rebuilding job on his hands than he might have expected. Southern Utah lost 66-54 to Green Bay, and 112-69 to CS Fullerton. None of their three games have been easy, but they haven't been particularly competitive either.

- It wasn't always pretty, but Montana got a 66-63 win over Idaho. The young guards are showing they are talented but inconsistent (Gregory/DeShields: 14 points, 3 assists, 4 turnovers), but the Grizzlies got enough from their stars. Kareem Jamar had 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Mathias Ward pitched in 16. Spencer Coleman had nine points and five rebounds, including a big three late. At this stage of the year, a win is a win.

- North Dakota continued their road struggles, getting blown out 72-47 at Northern Iowa. They were playing with Troy Huff, missing his second straight game after breaking his jaw. Aaron Anderson led the team with 12 points, but he was unusually inefficient doing it. Alzono Traylor had nine points and four rebounds, and I was impressed with him. He had a nice move near the basket, and showed good touch on a 15 footer. It will be big for them if he is able to become a consistent contributor.

- We went to the Nuggets/Heat game last Thursday night, and I would recommend for any basketball fan to go watch LeBron James play in person. He is incredible to watch. The athleticism, the presence, the passing ability.... it is incredible how many wide open looks his teammates get after passes from him. If you get the chance to watch him, you should take the opportunity.

Anything I missed?

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sacramento State Suddenly Carrying the Big Sky Torch

A week into the season, and Big Sky teams have just two victories against Division I opponents. Both of those wins are by Sacramento State.

After a thrilling, come from behind win last night over Utah, the Hornets are now 3-0. It is early, but they are looking a lot better than the seventh place team that the coaches poll predicted, the eighth place team the media predicted,or even the sixth place team that I predicted.

The Hornets had four players score in double figures, comprised of point guard Dylan Garrity (game-high 19), forward John Dickson (16), shooting guard Mikh McKinney (13) and swingman Joe Eberhard (10). Garrity and McKinney are both sophomores, and they combined for 15 of the team’s points during the 29-13 run.

In fact, Garrity had 11 of his 19 points during the final 9:07, including a high-arching jumper that gave the Hornets a 72-71 lead with 1:29 to play. That marked Sacramento State’s first lead since midway part of the first half when a Dickson three-pointer gave the Hornets a 21-20 lead.
A win over Utah doesn't quite mean as much as it used to, but it is still a road win over a Pac-12 opponent, which is far more than anyone else can put on their resume in the conference in this young season.

Utah led 58-45 at the 12:27 mark before the Hornets came back. Dylan Garrity was the star, scoring 19 points on 5/7 shooting (3/4 from downtown) and 6/6 from the charity stripe. He scored 11 of his 19 points in the final nine minutes. That man needs to shoot more!

The Hornets are 3-0 for the first time since 1999-2000, and this looks like their best team in ages. They will try to improve to 4-0 on Tuesday night, when they take on rival UC-Davis. At a time when it is arguably an insult by Utah if they put you on their non-conference schedule, this win has to feel great for the Hornets.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sacramento State Impressive In Victory

Sacramento State is a better team than they have been in past years, and they showed it on Wednesday night, beating Cal State Bakersfield 85-67.

Cal State Bakersfield is not going to the NCAA Tournament or anything like that, but they lost to UT-Arlington by 2 (UTA was a really solid team last year), and to California by 13 (even if the game wasn't really as close as that).

Simply put, it's a game past Sac State teams would have struggled with, and here, they led throughout, pulling away in the second half en route to the 18 point victory.

They were impressive offensively, shooting 49% and getting to the free throw line 36 times. Dylan Garrity was a star as always, with 21 points (a career high) and seven assists (a number he might average this year). He was very good leading the offense.

The guy I was especially impressed with was guard Mikh McKinney, who got the start for the Hornets. He looked very quick off the dribble, and seemed to be able to get in the lane almost anytime he wanted, where he also had some nice finishes. He had 23 points (7/13 FG, 7/7 FT), five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He had some good buzz around him heading into the season, and he is making good on that.

In an early season where Big Sky teams have really struggled with Division I opponents, it was good to see Sacramento State take care of business on their home court.

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Montana and North Dakota Notch Their First Victories

After 0-1 starts, North Dakota and Montana each had a home game against small schools who are not exactly known for their basketball prowess. It allowed each school to get their first win of the year.

North Dakota beat Crown College (which, it appears, is a Division III school near Minneapolis) by a final score of 87-51. Playing without Troy Huff (who was hurt) and Jamal Webb (serving a one game suspension), they played a solidly efficient game, especially offensively.

Aaron Anderson was stellar, scoring 18 points and a career high eight assists, as he also shot 8/8 from the stripe. Sophomore Lenny Antwi was equally impressive, with 16 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists.

UND was 12/22 from downtown, which is huge for them. They have not been a great outside shooting team the past couple of years, so it would be a big boost to their offense if they can establish that. They were also 13/16 from the stripe, which has been another area of concern for them.


Montana took a while to put Minot State away, but once they did, it was swift. They led by just ten at halftime (39-29), but put on a full court press early in the second half which quickly doubled the lead. They eventually won 82-53.

Mathias Ward led the team with 19 points, while Kareem Jamar had 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists. One other thing to note is that Keron DeShields started at PG for Montana (and had 7 assists), while Jordan Gregory came off the bench.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Martin Seiferth is the Big Sky POTW

Martin Seiferth was named the Big Sky Player of the Week, winning the first weekly award of the season. In two games he averaged 14.5 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks, a stellar start to the year.

He mostly won this award on the basis of his play on Monday, when he had a line of 27 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks in a loss to CS Northridge. The seven blocks were a school record.

Seiferth is a sophomore who transferred to Eastern Washington from Oregon.

Of the other candidates, Jackson Stevenett of Southern Utah also would have been a good choice, as he scored an effficient 29 points in a loss to Gonzaga. However, no arguing the choice of Seiferth, as he had one of the best stat lines we might see all year.

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Sac State Gets Commitment From Eric Stuteville

Last week Sacramento State got a commitment from a big man for next year in 6'10'' F Eric Stuteville. I saw it first reported by Guss Armstead, who had some praise for him on twitter.

The Hornets will lose a lot of talent up front, so he could have the chance to play early. Kevin McCarthy has a nice article up on him for

He averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots per game last year as a junior, which are certainly quite impressive numbers. He is described as a late bloomer with a hard-nosed game. He says he has close to three-point range, and also a post-up game.

The Hornets have a lot of work to do to replace Konner Veteto, John Dickson, and Joe Eberhard. Landing Stuteville is a great start.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Big Teams Teams Go 0-3 on Monday Night

It was a rough night for the Big Sky.

Three teams played, and while it was not a shock that they all may lose, there were not really even any moral victories on this night.

Portland State played a solid Oregon team and got off to a rough start in Eugene. A sloppy first half had them down by as many as 20 points midway through the first half, and they trailed 51-33 at the break.

"I think we were a little shell shocked from their pressure and quickness," said Viking Coach Tyler Geving. "We didn't handle it very well. We had 10 turnovers in the first nine minutes but after that we settled down. But you can't put yourself in that situation.

"It was a combination of bad shots and turnovers giving them 51 points (in the first half)."

Oregon was pressuring hard right from the get go, and PSU was playing into their hands with a lot of bad passes and turnovers. Of course, it's tough to stop them on the other end when the opponent is shooting 7/10 from downtown, which is how Oregon started the game. However, even when PSU was able to get into their half-court offense, they did too much standing around, which is how you get 6 assists compared to 15 turnovers on the night.

PSU settled down in the second half, making the final score a respectable 80-69. Renado Parker and Gary Winston each had 15 points to lead the Vikings. The second half should give them something to build on.


It was a homecoming of sorts for Jack Murphy playing at UNLV, but the Lumberjacks were not treated nicely. They were already thin, with starter Gaellen Bewernick having tweaked his ankle against Oregon, and things didn't really get much better. Stallon Saldivar did not play in the second half with an injury, and Ephraim Ekanem reportedly hurt his hand as well.

The lack of depth, combined with a second game in three days, mixed with a UNLV team that is pretty darn athletic and talented made for a long evening for NAU. UNLV won 92-54. scored 16 for NAU to lead the team, getting to the free throw line 10 times.

Here was the heigh of NAU's starting lineup:

Ephraim Ekanem - 6'7''
Michael Dunn - 6'0''
Gabe Rogers - 6'2''
Stallon Saldivar - 6'0''
DeWayne Russell - 5'11''

Fortunately for the Lumberjacks, there are no teams like UNLV in the Big Sky.


Eastern Washington had arguably the most winnable game of the night in the conference, but they came out flat against CS Northridge, losing 96-79.

They turned the ball over a whopping 22 times, which simply can't happen for them. They were 7/21 from downtown, and it will be tough for them to win a lot of games if they shoot 33% from downtown.

Justin Crogsile had a seemingly nice stat line with 18 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds, but he did it on 6/18 shooting (2/8 from downtown) and had 9 turnovers. There was a sequence where he carelessly threw the ball away, and then jogged back down the court only to watch the Matadors knock down a three. It seemed to be that way a lot all night for EWU, and I didn't like their body language in this game. They may have been tired from playing their second game in three days. The Matadors had a whopping 23 offensive rebounds in the game, which is simply not acceptable.

It should be noted that big man Martin Seiferth was a star for EWU on this night. He scored 27 points, had 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks for the Eagles. He was outstanding, but unfortunately, he didn't have a lot of help in this game.


I am in a "Big Sky West Challenge" with Mountain West Connection and Big West Confidential... and safe to say, things are off to an ugly start.

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A Couple More Commits For Northern Arizona

If Northern Arizona had stopped long ago, they would have already had an impressive recruiting class. But it turns out Jack Murphy, after a very nice first class, could have an even better one in year two, now that he has had time to get settled in Flagstaff.

Just got word of a couple different recruits that will be signing with the Lumberjacks.

One (as reported by various twitter accounts a couple weeks ago) is 6'7'' forward Terry Winn, who comes out of Memphis. The connection here is obvious, as Murphy had been an assistant at Memphis under Josh Pastner. It makes sense he would work that area for recruiting, as it is known for its basketball talent.

The other recruit is 6'4'' SG Travis Meeker, as first reported by David Schneider. On this site, he was ranked as the tenth best prospect coming out of Arizona in the class of 2013, and he also had offers from Big Sky schools Idaho State, Southern Utah, and Portland State.

The addition of these two makes it a five man class for the Lumberjacks. While I may be missing some guys, by my count, nobody else has more than three signed. I am working on getting some more information on the recruits as well.

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Opening Weekend Storylines

One weekend of Big Sky (and college basketball) play is in the book, so let's take a peek at some of the early storylines.

1. Montana loses, but looks impressive - On paper it was a 72-65 loss to Colorado State, but Wayne Tinkle has to be pleased with his team's effort. They were undermanned because of injury (Will Cherry is out and Spencer Coleman is bothered by an ankle injury) and poor reffing (which caused lots of foul trouble issues for guys like Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward), but battled a tournament-quality team the whole game. Their two young guards showed they are capable of being really good players this year.

2. Weber State and Northern Colorado are offensive juggernauts* - *At least, they are when they play NAIA teams. Weber State scored 110 points in a 58 point win over Arizona Christian, while Northern Colorado scored 127 points in a 46 point win over Southwest College. UNC shot 71% from the floor, while WSU was held to only 64% shooting.

3. Northern Arizona Could Be Better Than People Think - They lost by 10 to Oregon, but it was a tight game. NAU took 67-66 lead with 5:44 to go, before Oregon was able to go on a 17-6 run to close the game. I have been talking up DeWayne Russell a bit in the preseason, and he showed why, as he had 15 second half points to help keep the game tight. He could win a Big Sky scoring title at some point in his career at NAU.

4. Expect the Expected - The rest of the weekend's games were fairly undramatic, as the teams that were expected to win did, and the teams that could be expected to lose did. Here were the outcomes:

- Montana State loses to Seattle 87-72. Problems abound for Coach Brad Huse as MSU had 28 turnovers, but Paul Egwuonwu's double-double is a bright spot.
- Eastern Washington loses to Washington State 88-69. Collin Chiverton played just six minutes, but EWU hoisted 39 threes. I know Jim Hayford loves the three ball, but they will need to find some balance there.
- Idaho State loses to Utah State 56-48. They have to shore up the rebounding but a nice defensive effort. Stat sheet stuffer Tomas Sanchez with 9 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 steals in his debut.
- North Dakota loses to Kansas State 85-52 - A loss was to be expected in Manhattan, but rough first showing for UND. Still no word on Jaron Nash.
- Southern Utah loses to Gonzaga 103-65. Turnovers were the big issue, as the T'Birds coughed it up 28 times in defeat.
- Sacramento State beats UC Merced 96-62. Ho hum. Nice showing in victory, which was to be expected.
- Portland State beats Pacific (OR) 77-58. Like Sac State, took care of business against a lower level team.

Anything else stand out from the first weekend?

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Northern Colorado Explodes Offensively With 127 Points

Like Weber State, Northern Colorado got their year going against a lower division opponent, as Southwest College visited Greeley on Saturday. It was quite a start for UNC, who scored a school, Division I record for points a game. They dropped 70 in the first half, and 57 in the second half.

Among the other offensive numbers:
- 11/20 three-point FG, picking up where they left off last year
- 71.2% FG on 47/66 shooting. 47 fields goals made is ridiculous.
- 33 assists on those 47 baskets.
- 67 points off the bench.
- 5 guys scored in double figures, and a whopping 13 players scored at least 4 points.

The level of competition wasn't close to what they play in the Big Sky this year, but still, 127 points against anyone is an extremely impressive day.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weber State, Portland State, Sacramento State All Notch Wins

Weber State, Sacramento State, and Portland State all started the season with home games against lower competition, games they should dominate. All three schools did just that.

Weber State lived well in their first game without Damian Lillard, dropping a ridiculous 110 points on Arizona Christian. AZ Christian is an NAIA school, but still nice to see them score 55 points in each half. Seven guys scored in double figures in this game for the Wildcats, and they shot 64% from the floor (and still wound up with 16 offensive boards)

Two quick guys to focus on... Davion Berry scored a cool 17 points in his debut (in 23 minutes), shooting 6/10 from the floor and 3/5 from downtown. Off the bench, Joel Bolomoboy played 22 minutes and notched a double, with 16 points (5/5 FG, 5/8 FT), 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks. They are deep.


Sacramento State started things off right with a 96-62 win over UC-Merced. Going into the year I thought the Hornets seemed settled at a starting lineup, but Brian Katz started Joey Quigley and Mikh McKinney, relegating Konner Veteto and Jackson Carbajal to coming off the bench (I believe he used this lineup in the exhibition game also).

Five guys scored in double figures for the Hornets, who led by just 8 at the break before blowing it open in the second half. John Dickson led the way with 18 and 9, while Veteto had 17 and 8. Dylan Garrity picked up where he left off last year, scoring six points, but dishing out nine assists.


Portland State's victory margin was less than the other two games, but winning was never really in doubt in a 77-58 win over Pacific. Their lead was 26-24 late in the first half, but the Vikings went on a 13-4 run to head into the break, and never looked back.

Dre Winston led the way with 16 points, shooting 5/6 from the field and 3/4 from downtown. Aaron Moore (13) and Michael Harthun (11) also scored in double figures. PSU turned it over 19 times, which is just way too much. Lateef McMullan needs to be the steady hand as a senior PG, but he struggled. He was just 2/7 from the field and had 5 TOs.

The Vikings will travel to face Oregon on Monday night.

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North Dakota and Southern Utah Lose Their Openers

When the schedule came out, it was clear that North Dakota and Southern Utah were going to challenge themselves in non-conference play. It wouldn't have been fair to expect a victory in the openers, but it turned out that both teams were on the wrong end of blowouts.

North Dakota traveled to take on a very solid Kansas State team, and just seemed to run out of gas in the second half of play. UND had the lead down to 26-25 at the seven minute mark of the first half, but it was all KState from there. The Wildcats closed the half on a 10-2 run to lead 36-27, and then outscored UND 49-25 in the second half, sealing the 85-52 win.

UND struggled with turnovers, giving the ball away 19 times while also shooting just 30% from the floor. Troy Huff was the only guy in double figures with 12 points, but it did take 15 shots to get there. On the glass, the Wildcats pulled down 18 offensive rebounds, and outrebounded UND 48-35. There is no shame in losing to Kansas State in Manhattan, but I am guessing Brian Jones was hoping to keep things a little tighter.


The other newcomer, Southern Utah, traveled to Gonzaga for their season opener, also showing that they would not be afraid to challenge themselves.

The Thunderbirds got a great game from Jackson Stevenett, who had a career-high 29 points on 11/15 from the floor, but SUU just struggled to get stops in this game. The score was 44-27 at the half, and by the first TV timeout, it was 62-31.

The final score was 103-65, as SUU did shoot a stellar 49% from the floor. Unfortunately, Gonzaga shot 55% and got 18 more shots, thanks to a whopping 28 Thunderbird turnovers. Gonzaga is going to do that to some people, but PG Damon Heuir (2 assists, 8 turnovers) simply has to play better.

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Colorado State Holds On 72-65 Over Montana

Montana is already playing without their star PG, Will Cherry. Four minutes into the game, they were playing without their other star for a while, as Kareem Jamar picked up his second foul and sat the rest of the half. Four minutes after that, their other experienced returner, Mathias Ward, picked up his second foul and sat for the rest of the half.

So it went all night for Wayne Tinkle and Montana, who battled foul trouble all game and seemed to be doing all they could possibly do to grind it out. For a half, it worked, as they went into the intermission ahead 34-27. At the break, CSU was outrebounding Montana 21-10, and that included a 14-1 edge in offensive rebounds. They couldn't buy a bucket in the paint, but they got a ton of chances.

After halftime, it was back and forth, but the Rams just had too much size. Colton Iverson was physically too strong for Montana's bigs, and it showed. He finished with an efficient 18 and 8, and was simply overpowering. Greg Smith also seemed to get almost any shot he wanted down low, finishing with 11. Pierce Hornung had 16 rebounds for CSU, playing with the flu, according to Larry Eustachy.

I don't want to dwell on it but it should be mentioned... Montana was not pleased at all with the refs in this game. At one point Tinkle actively looked like he was trying to get a technical, but the refs didn't call one on him. At another point it looked like he was going to take off his tie in frustration. Montana lost four guys to fouling out, and had 20 fouls called on them in the second half (33 for the game), and it was not a case of cheap fouls at the end of the game. CSU shot 41 free throws in the game, compared to 23 for Montana. In part, it makes sense because of the size difference, but I have to say there was a lot of questionable, ticky tack calls that went against the Grizzlies. On the other hand, Larry Eustachy wasn't thrilled with the refs either... he said after the game that one thing he has always hated about basketball was that guys can be out of the game on a judgment call, and he was referring to a couple of the late fouls on Wes Eikmeier, who also fouled out.

That said, Montana didn't lose the game because of the reffing, they lost because the Rams were simply superior down low. A 44-21 rebounding disadvantage is almost impossible to overcome. The Grizzlies almost did, but the wear and tear was too much by the end of the game.

If you are Montana staff, one thing they have to be excited about is the play of the young guard. Simply put, on a night when Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward were not big factors (aside from the foul trouble, CSU put bigger guys on Jamar and were quick to help, which didn't give him many looks), Keron DeShields and Jordan Gregory kept the Grizzlies in the game.

Before the year, Tinkle said that DeShields had a ton of confidence, which could be a good or bad thing. On Friday night, both sides were on display, but the good far outweighed the bad. He forced a couple shots early in the shot clock, but other than that played an outstanding game. They are simply a tough team when he is on the court, and he brings a swagger to his game. He had 17, and was fearless taking it to the hoop, often at times when he was one of the few Grizzlies to stay aggressive offensively. Jordan Gregory hit some big shots from the outside, and generally made good decisions. The two combined to have 0 turnovers.

The duo also played great defensively, holding Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green (two really good players) to 6/19 shooting. Tinkle needed at least one of them to step up in the absense of Will Cherry, and it appears that both of them are up to the task. Spencer Coleman was another guy that had a big impact once he got in the flow of the game, but he was also struck by foul trouble.

The bottom line for Montana is this... Colorado State is a tournament team. Their top six is really excellent, and their frontline can match up with almost anyone in the country. There are no Colton Iverson's in the Big Sky. It was a tough loss for the Grizzlies, but they played well, and they have a lot to build on after this game. If you had told most Montana fans that Jamar and Ward would combine for 14 points and play just 40 minutes between them, most would have expected the game to be more out of hand. That it was anyone's ballgame up to the very end is a testament to the program and system that Wayne Tinkle has in place.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Some Good Big Sky Related Content

With the season under way today, there is a lot of good Big Sky content out on the internet. Here is a small sample (I am sure there is a ton more I am missing).

- Roy Burton at the Standard has a nice article on Weber State. His going over the roster reminds you again of how much depth they have, which could be their best asset this year.

- The Arizona Daily Sun has a good article on the start of the year for Northern Arizona. Three of their first five games include tilts against Oregon, Arizona, and UNLV.

- author Bryan Metcalf has a nice interview with head coach Brian Katz. Among the topics was the thought that Dylan Garrity is a guy he expects to be a more assertive scorer.

Only a few hours until Big Sky tipoff!!

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Predicting The Season Openers

Between Friday and Sunday, every Big Sky team will have a game under their belt. The season is finally here! So, let's take a look at all of the games, and offer up a little prediction for them all.

@ Colorado State 67, Montana 60
CSU is beginning life without Tim Miles, while Montana begins life (for now) without Will Cherry. In last year's game between these teams, CSU won by absolutely dominating the boards, and that could be the case again this year. With a frontline of Pierce Hornung, Greg Smith, and Colton Iverson, the Grizzlies need to hit the glass hard. I am not sure if they will have the personnel for that.

@ Kansas State 72, North Dakota 64
UND will immediately get to test if their chops on the road, as they travel to the Little Apple to take on a KSU team that won 20+ games last year. They will need to find a way to slow down senior guard Rodney McGruder, who averaged 16 points per game last year. I think UND will keep it close, but KSU might be a little too physical.

@ Gonzaga 81, Southern Utah 64
This is a tough debut for Nick Robinson, traveling to take on a solid and experienced Gonzaga team. They don't have the offensive firepower to hang with the Zags, so will need to try and slow the game down and limit possessions. I am afraid that might be easier said than done.

@ Weber State 79, Arizona Christian 55
The Wildcats begin with a warmup game, which will hopefully help to further establish a rotation and pecking order offensively.  It will be long awaited WSU debut for Davion Berry, who could lead them in scoring this year and be among the conference leaders.

@ Sacramento State 72, UC Merced 59
The Hornets quest for .500 begins with what should be a relatively easy game against UC Merced. The interesting part here will be watching the guys off the bench - especially Mikh McKinney, Cody Demps, and Joey Quigley. They are three newcomers that look like they will be heavily relied on to provide production.

@ Portland State 84, Pacific (OR) 70
PSU's exhibition game featured a ton of offense, but not too much defense. Here, I expect them to push the pace and get a lot of easy baskets against Pacific. Renado Parker should begin his senior year with a very productive game.

Oregon 78, Northern Arizona 63
This is a neutral court game, but will be a tough one for NAU to keep up with the Ducks. They could have a tough time stopping Oregon's frontline with Arsalan Kazemi (though he probably will not be eligible), EJ Singler, and Tony Woods. They will need to be hitting from outside, but that will be a tall order against a good Ducks team.

@ Utah State 73, Idaho State 59
 There might not be a duo that shoots more threes in the Big Sky this year than Chris Hansen and Melvin Morgan, who will be firing early and often. ISU needs to take good care of the ball, which has been a little bit of a struggle in exhibition games. They are the clear underdogs here, but have a chance if they can get hot from the outside.

@ Northern Colorado 78, College of Southwest 54
This one should be over pretty quickly, as UNC will have superior and depth in this game. BJ Hill will be watching the team's turnovers, to see if they can make strides in taking care of the basketball. This will be an easy one for Derrick Barden to break into the lineup, and for Hill to figure out the rotation.

@ Washington State 71, Eastern Washington 62 
 This is a game that EWU can win, and they will come out believing that. The Eagles had a tough non-conference schedule last year, but couldn't get the big win. They get a chance early here. As could often be the case, it could come down to how well they shoot the ball. They will also need big men such as Venky Jois and Martin Seiferth to be sound on the glass against a WSU frontline that is led by very good senior forward Brock Motum.

Montana State 72, @ Seattle 70
Seattle is a solid team that ended last season by winning six of seven, but MSU is usually fast starters under Huse. Their guard play will get them a nice road win early in the season, as the Antonio Biglow, Jamie Stewart, Xavier Blount, and Christian Moon is a good core to have.


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Nice SI Article on Jack Murphy

SI recently had a nice article on new NAU coach Jack Murphy:

"I always knew that I wanted to be a coach," Murphy said during a media tour in downtown Phoenix this week. "Everything I have done has been with that end in mind."

After his not-so-stellar high school career - at least on the court - Murphy landed a job as the team manager at Arizona with the help of his high school coach, Al La Rocque, a friend of Olson's.

Murphy spent eight years in Tucson, serving as recruiting coordinator, administrative assistant, video coordinator and eventually director of operations.

He then went on to work as an advance scout for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-09 before landing a job as an assistant coach at Memphis under Pastner, a player and assistant at Arizona during Murphy's time in the desert.

That led to his big break at Northern Arizona, a team in big need of a boost.
He has a strong pedigree and has put a bunch of excitement back into the Lumberjacks program. While there is some rebuilding to be done, he is off to a great start in Flagstaff.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Riley Bradshaw Transferring to Montana

A couple weeks ago, highly touted Montana guard Riley Bradshaw announced he would transfer away from Utah State before he had ever played a game there, and immediately the rumors started to fly that he would be headed to Montana.

As first seen on, Bradshaw will indeed be transferring to play for Wayne Tinkle and the University of Montana.

Bradshaw says he will begin practicing immediately with the team at the start of this spring semester. However he will have to sit out one full year before being able to suit up for the Griz in a game. That means his Grizzly debut likely wouldn’t take place until late December of January of next season (2013-2014).

For now the Bitterroot Valley native says he’s just excited to start practices with the team this winter:

“I'm excited to get back and start practicing as soon as I can. When I’m able to put that uniform on and start playing I'm excited for that too you know.”

In his stellar high school career for the Corvallis Blue Devils was named the Class ‘A’ Southwest Conference MVP three times and was also an all-state selection for three years. His senior season (2011-2012) he averaged over 24 points and seven assists per game.
Bradshaw was seen by many as the best high school player in the state of Montana two years ago, so obviously it is a big move for Montana to land him. The Grizzlies are a bit crowded in the backcourt, but they recruited him hard out of high school, and I am guessing were happy to get him in the fold after the transfer.

EDIT: Gidal has corrected me that he was one of the best recruits in the state two years ago, and it wasn't a complete consensus.

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Next Year's Outlook

At the end of my Big Sky preview, I made the remark that the Big Sky would be even better next year, and categorized the teams a little bit. Today, I just wanted to follow up on that with a little explanation for why I put teams where I did.

Obviously better next year:
- Idaho State - They lost a lot of talent heading into this year, which is why they are being picked so low. But Bill Evans is upgrading the talent, which will be a big help. He should also be better with another year of guys learning his system, which is why I expect them to be improved next season.
- Northern Arizona - They lose Gabe Rogers and Stallon Saldivar, but reinforcements are coming, via recruits and redshirts (such as Cameron Forte, who has to sit out this year after transferring). I expect the talent level and depth to continue to get better at NAU. Even though they will be a bit inexperienced next year, they should be better.
- Northern Colorado - This is the most obvious one. They return a ton of experience this year (with only one senior on last year’s roster), and will return EVERYONE next year (no seniors on the roster). They will be a deep team this year, and very well could head into next season as the favorite to win the conference.
- North Dakota - Like UNC, they do not lose much talent after this year, barring unforeseen circumstances. They have four seniors on the roster, but all are rotational guys. There is a good chance that all of their starters will be juniors, which would set them up to be a very dangerous and experienced team heading into next season.
- Portland State - They lose a few starters off of this year’s team, but they should be better. Guys like Gary Winston and Dre Winston are really talented, and should be a formidable backcourt duo with another year of experience. Also, they have a good crop of juniors this year that will make up for the production of the guys they lose.

Potentially better next year:
- Eastern Washington - The only reason this is potentially better rather than definitely better is because they lose Collin Chiverton, one of the best scorers in the conference. But still, they have a lot of freshmen this year, and guys like Daniel Hill/Venky Jois/Thomas Reuter could be on their way to being stars in the Big Sky as sophomores.
- Montana State - This one is questionable, because they lose senior talent. But as long as Antonio Biglow is back for his senior year, they have enough pieces in place to get even better next season.
- Weber State - Scott Bamforth will be gone, and he will be a unique player to replace. But with Gelaun Wheelwright, Davion Berry, and Kyle Tresnak back, they won’t hurt for offense. They also have a couple of really good guards coming in next season, so they could be even deeper than they already will be this season.

Potentially worse next year:
- Montana - They lose Will Cherry and Mathias Ward, which will be tough. They have pieces in place to replace them… Keron DeShields and Jordan Gregory at the one (which is one of the most interesting storylines early in this year), and potentially Jake Wiley up front. But those two pieces are simply going to be extremely difficult to replace, even with the security of having Kareem Jamar around for one more year.
- Southern Utah - They will lose Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir, which means they might have to take a step back next year before they can take a step forward. Nick Robinson should get them to be a consistently solid program, but it might take a few years to get that level of talent and consistency there.

Obviously worse next year:
- Sacramento State - Simply put, nobody in the conference will lose as much as production as the Hornets will up front, with Joe Eberhard, Konner Veteto, and John Dickson all seniors. That is tough to replace. They should have a talented and deep backcourt (Dylan Garrity, Jackson Carbajal, Mikh McKinney, Cody Demps), but the key will be finding production up front.

Thoughts? Where do you disagree?

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Andrej Slavic Commits to Idaho State

According to Michael Clay of Rocky Mountain Hoop Review, Idaho State has picked up its third verbal commit for the class of 2013, as they got a commitment from F Andrej Slavic.

He also had some good things to say about Slavic:

It will still be a rebuilding year in Pocatello, but it looks like a program on the rise. With a good class this year and the makings of a very strong class already for next year, ISU should soon have more talent and depth than they have had in a while, a testament to the work of new head coach Bill Evans.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gabe Rogers Strong In Exhibition Games

One of the biggest keys for Northern Arizona and their competitiveness this year will be Gabe Rogers.

In 2010, he shot 47% from downtown and was one of the best shooters in the Big Sky. He looked primed for a big junior year in which he would become the lead scorer. However, last offseason, he hurt his shoulder and had to have surgery, and simply wasn't the same player when he came back. He shot 31% from the floor, and his true shooting percentage dropped nearly 20 points.

With a coaching change and some new personnel, the Lumberjacks need Rogers to step up and be a big offensive weapon for them. That said, Jack Murphy has to be happy with what he has seen through the first two exhibition games this year.

In the first exhibition game, Rogers led the team with 29 points, shooting 12/21 from the field and 4/7 from downtown. In their second game, he had 26 points (along with six rebounds and five assists) on 10/22 shooting, 6/11 from downtown.

They are only exhibition games, but Rogers struggled so much last year after injury that to see him putting up these types of numbers is impressive and encouraging. NAU struggled to score last year, but if Rogers plays like this, he has the talent to be an all-conference guy,

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Monday, November 5, 2012

The Most Comprehensive Big Sky Preview You'll Ever Read, 2.0

One bid conferences don't always get a lot of love.

In college basketball preview magazines such as Athlon, they get a page for the whole conference, as if a small paragraph on each team is enough to encapsulate everything about the team. Among college basketball sites, Yahoo had one of the best previews of the conference, as they devoted two articles to a preview. I know Ken Pomeroy wrote a couple thousands words or so for a preview for College Basketball Prospectus. Blue Ribbon, I must say, does have a solid preview of all of the teams.

I don't mean this as a negative at all to the rest of the college basketball sites and writers. I can only imagine that page views for coverage of one bid conferences is minimal compared to writing about the "BCS conferences," so I certainly can't blame anyone for not writing enough about the Big Sky. However, that does not mean they are to be forgotten about, or not looked at in depth. Last year, I wrote a little over 6,000 words in my Big Sky preview, and this year we are a little bit over 9,300 words. If you are looking for a quick look at the conference, it will be best to look elsewhere. My goal is that if you know nothing about the Big Sky, and have never watched a conference game, you will read this article and feel that you know the conference in depth.

Over the past year, I have discovered what makes small conferences so great, and it is what makes sites like The Mid-Majority so popular. There are two reasons:

The first is something I could best describe as comparing a big city to a small city. The big city is exciting. Lots of stars roll through, and you can constantly entertain yourself. In the small city, it is more about the people, the sense of camaraderie, and that everyone is in it together. In major conferences, there are plenty of stars and big names. There is more coverage, more media, more scrutiny.

In the Big Sky (and I imagine this is true across all small conferences), everyone knows each other a little more, it seems. I have been in postgame "press conferences" that might have a local newspaper reporter, a reporter for the student paper, and myself. It's impossible not getting to know everyone if you follow the league close enough, and I have found coaches/players/fans that reach out to see if you need anything. I consider myself a pretty lowly blog writer just enjoying myself with a hobby that I love, and I have been touched by the support I have received by everyone associated with the conference. This is one reason why one bid leagues are so great.

The second reason is because truly every game matters, and this is something that especially holds true in the Big Sky. While big conferences might put six or eight teams into the NCAA Tournament, everyone going into the year here knows that one team is making the NCAA Tournament, and that is it. Every game in the regular season matters because only seven teams make the conference tournament. If you blow an early game that you should have won, that might mean the difference between seventh and eighth place, which is the difference between having at least a glimmer of hope, and watching at home. If you are near the top of the conference, the top seed means that you will have home court advantage for the conference tournament. You cannot afford to take any games off in the Big Sky.

Anyway, that is enough time on the soapbox. Hopefully you enjoy the preview. Let me know any thoughts, or anything I missed, either in the comments or emailing me. You can also find me on twitter, @bigskybball. I always love to hear any thoughts!

This has been fluid for the past few weeks, but here is my final predictions for how the conference will play out, with a little tidbit on each team.

1. Weber State (17-3)
Damian Lillard is gone, this much we know. He was the Conference Player of the Year and the best PG in the country, which he is proving over and over again with his play at the next level. Just as importantly, he (along with fellow departed players Kyle Bullinger and Darin Mahoney)  set the tone for the team and were the leaders. But still, it is reasonable to assume that Lillard's incredible offensive prowess will be the most difficult thing for the Wildcats to replace. No one man could do it alone, and fortunately, no one player will be forced to try.

One of the keys will be Scott Bamforth, who will be the starting two guard. If there was any thought that his success was dependent on the attention that Lillard received, a quick perusal of the stats tells a different story. In 2011 (when Lillard had a medical redshirt and played just nine games), Bamforth shot 48.8% from downtown, making 78 threes. Last year, he shot 40.1% from three, making 77 of them. He also posted a bit higher of an assist rate (and TO rate, it should be noted), showing he might be able to handle a little bit more of a ball handling load if need be.

Another guy that will be relied on is Davion Berry, a transfer from Cal-State Monterey. He was a big-time scorer at the DII level, and all accounts say he will be ready to do that for Weber State as well. One of the best parts of Lillard's game last year was his ability to get to the free throw line, and Berry should be able to replicate that, as he led the country in FT attempts two years ago.

Weber State is the deepest team in the Big Sky, as they really go a legit two deep at all five positions. It is this depth that I believe will allow them to win the conference regular season title.

2. Montana (16-4)
Almost everyone is picking Montana to win the conference, but I am picking Weber State to come out on top in the regular season. This deserves an explanation. Here are my three reasons why:

A) Will Cherry’s injury – He is widely expected to be back by the beginning of conference play, if not a little bit sooner. But I am still worried he might not be at 100% right away when he returns, which could cause the Grizzlies to struggle a little bit early on in conference play. A fully healthy Will Cherry is the best player in the conference, but the difference between Montana and Weber State is not so great that the Grizzlies are a better team if he is not 100%. Maybe he will be right away when he returns for conference play, but I am a little skeptical.
B) Departure of Bill Evans – One of the biggest reasons that Montana had been so consistently good is because they always seem to be the best defensive team in the conference. For the past four years, one of the biggest reasons for that was having Bill Evans on the staff, as he was known as being the leader of the defense for Montana. This past offseason, he became the head coach at Idaho State. It is fair to wonder if Montana’s defense might be a little less excellent without Evans on staff as a mastermind.
C) Issues in the frontcourt – The Grizzlies were already going to be a little bit thin in the frontcourt after the graduation of Derek Selvig and Art Steward, two key cogs for them last year. One of the main guys expected to replace them was Marko Kovacevic, who looked like he could be their best low-post scorer. However, he was declared academically ineligible, which leaves them without a ton of depth there. Mathias Ward will start at the four, but while he might be the best mid-range shooter in the conference, he is not a great rebounder. Eric Hutchison looks like the starting five, but he has a short track record even though he has been in the program two years. Behind them is Andy Martin (a freshman who had good size but is raw) and Jake Wiley (a supremely athletic guy that is also raw). The X Factor might be Spencer Coleman, who seems to be a more natural three man but could be a smallball four.

Added all together, and I can see a scenario where Montana struggles a little bit in the conference season while they find their groove and settle into a nice rotation. However, one thing about Wayne Tinkle is that his teams are always playing well at the end of the year, and they could definitely win the conference tournament even if they don’t win the regular season (spoiler for later in the article!)

3. Northern Colorado (13-7)
 Among players that ended the year on the team, UNC had one senior and no juniors. They had talented players (they led the country in three-point shooting at 45.1%), but they were young, and they did things that showed that inexperience. In a conference call this preseason, Coach BJ Hill told me that along with their youth came the idea that they would just be able to outscore other teams. Unfortunately, it didn't really work like that.

If you could pick two areas that a young team could struggle in, you might say defense, and taking care of the ball. This was where the Bears struggle. If they improve in these areas (and I suspect they will, with the added experience), then they absolutely have the talent to finish number three in the conference.

Their turnover % was 24.2, which was number 333 in the country. They had young guards, and they simply were not very good at taking care of the ball. Only one player had a turnover rate under 20%, and that was Tate Unruh, at 18.8. It was a team-wide problem. The good news is that they are a year older and stronger. Defensively, their adjusted efficiency was 112.4 (326th in the nation), and they allowed opponents to shoot 54.0 EFG%, 328th in the country. Also, they didn't force turnovers. While I think their personnel is better suited to improve the turnover issue than defensively, they should see an improvement here.

The other reason I am picking them three is because of Derrick Barden, one of the best incoming players in the conference. He is an undersized power forward (which is ok in the Big Sky) who was a third team JUCO All-American last season, as he averaged 20 and 12. He should be able to step in and immediately have a big impact.

4. North Dakota (11-9)
I did a non-scientific study to gauge the distances between schools. I went into Google, and typed in the cities of the schools, and saw how far it would take to drive from one to another. This isn't perfect (after all, nobody is going to be busing from Sacramento to Grand Forks), but I believe it gives a pretty good indicator for the longest road trips in the conference. Here were the seven longest distances between schools:

1) North Dakota and Sacramento State
2) North Dakota and Northern Arizona
3) North Dakota and Portland State
4) North Dakota and Southern Utah
5) Portland State and Northern Arizona
6) Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona
7) North Dakota and Eastern Washington

UND is involved in five of the seven pairings. On the one hand, this is great, because it may mean they have the best home court advantage in the conference, because it will always be a long road trip to Grand Forks (especially in the middle of winter). Last year, North Dakota was 13-1 at home, including a win over Montana (something only Weber State out of the Big Sky was able to do).

Of course, this also means that they have the longest road trips in the conference, which will make things very difficult. Brian Jones said they got accustomed to it the past couple years in the Great West, but that doesn't mean it's easy. They went 1-14 in road games last year, including getting beat soundly by Idaho State and Sacramento State. Part of that could be a function of a young team trying to learn how to win on the road, but that has to be an area of major concern for Coach Jones.

The other biggest reason (along with the home court advantage) that I have UND fourth is that they return more scoring than anyone else in the Big Sky (chart in the Idaho State section), with Patrick Mitchell their only loss of note. You will be hearing more about Troy Huff later in this article, but he has the talent to be an all-conference in the Big Sky this year.

5. Eastern Washington (11-9)
It is my opinion that Coach Jim Hayford has a lot of big days ahead of him, and I think this fifth place projection could be the lowest that EWU is projected to be for awhile. After one year, Hayford's philosophy is simple, and speaks to why I think EWU will have great success.

For one, they avoid turnovers. It is one thing for a coach to say that is a key for the team, it is another for a coach to have his team put it into practice so well, which the Eagles did last season. The style is exemplified by Collin Chiverton, who posted a ridiculously low 8.9 TO Rate (12th best in the country), despite taking 38.1% of the shots when he was on the floor (second most in the country). As a team, EWU's rate was 23rd in the country, and I expect that will improve as he gets more of his own guys in there.

The Eagles also take lots of threes, and they pretty much have the green light at all times. They shot the third most threes in the country last year, making a respectable 35% from downtown. It is clearly something they look for, and at 35% that is a smart, high percentage way to go about things. Again, it wouldn't surprise me if this number goes up, because you know Hayford is going to look to recruit shooters and place a high emphasis on this.

There is a lot of intrigue around his recruiting class, as it features four international players. The early returns I am hearing are very good... in particular, I think big man Venky Jois could be the best freshman in the conference. Point guard Daniel Hill is also a name you will hear a lot over the next four years. They have enough talent to be very competitive this year, but I think they are also set up to be really, really good in the future.

6. Sacramento State (10-10)
I have talked a lot this offseason about how it could be Sacramento State's best team in a long time, so if you are not familiar with the program, you might be confused that I have hyped them up and am now picking them to finish sixth in the conference with a .500 record. You have to know a little bit about their history to know why this would be a very big season. The Hornets have not had a winning record since 1988-89.

From 1992-1999, they had a record of 28-186, a 0.131 winning percentage. The past decade has gone like this:

2001: 5-22 (2-14)
2002: 9-19 (3-13)
2003: 12-17 (5-9)
2004: 13-15 (77)
2005: 12-16 (8-6)
2006: 15-15 (5-9)
2007: 10-19 (5-11)
2008: 4-24 (2-14)
2009: 2-27 (1-15)
2010:  9-21 (3-13)
2011: 7-21 (4-12)
2012: 10-18 (5-11)

They return basically five starters, and could have five guys in double figures. After going 0-8 in the first time through conference play, they finished 5-3 in the Big Sky. This is the year for the Hornets to make their move, make the Big Sky tournament, and finish over .500. It has been a long time coming for Hornets fans.

7. Montana State (9-11)
It seems as though there is never a dull offseason for Montana State, as they have struggled with some continuity in Brad Huse's tenure (just as MSU fans). Since the start of last season, these things have happened:

- Jamie Stewart was declared ineligible for the second semester last year (he is back on the team this year).
- Antonio Biglow was supposed to be a big-time player for them last year, but didn't play at all (he should be a stud for them this year).
- Xavier Blount was their best player, but got injured in a bar fight and missed the end of the season (he is back and will be a starter).
- Shawn Reid was a key cog for them, but transferred after the year.
- Mohamed Fall was told by the NCAA that he had exhausted his eligibility because of exhibition games he played four years ago.
- Tre Johnson and Jeff Budinich were arrested in an off-season incident (Johnson was kicked off the team, Budinich had his scholarship revoked).

This would be difficult for any team to go through, and has to be especially difficult for Huse, with rumors around that he needs to have a good year in the final year of his contract. They will be strong in the backcourt, with Biglow, Blount, Stewart, and Christian Moon all capable of playing big minutes. They key will be avoiding a second-half slide which has become all too familiar for the Bobcats.

2008: Started 5-3 in Big Sky, finished 7-9
2009: Started 5-4 in Big Sky, finished 6-10
2010: Started 6-2 in Big Sky, finished 10-6
2011: Started 5-1 in Big Sky, finished 7-9
2012: Started 6-2 in Big Sky, finished 7-9

The talent is there for this season to be much better than a seventh place finish. Let's see if the Bobcats can put it together all year, because their roster can pose a ton of matchup problems.

8. Portland State (8-12)
The big key for them, not only this year but in the future if they want to be a consistent contender in the Big Sky, is defense.  Over the past three years, things have been ugly. In 2010, they were 338th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (112.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). In 2011, they are 334th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (113.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). Last year, they improved... all the way to 313th in adjusted defensive efficiency (110.6 points allowed per 100 possessions). In short, they have been one of the worst defensive teams in the country when looking at the past three seasons.

Coach Tyler Geving thinks they will be improved this year with different personnel. Gone is Charles Odum, who was a great scorer but didn't get a lot of stops. Getting minutes in his place is Dre Winston, a transfer from Washington State that Geving says has the chance to be one of the best defenders in the Big Sky. Also in is junior college transfer Marcus Hall, who they say brings a defensive presence. They need to force more turnovers, as they were one of the worst teams in the country at that last season. The bad news is that Chehales Tapscott was the best for them in that category, but he is gone.

They have the talent on paper to be in the top half of the conference, so it would not surprise me if they outplayed this number eight ranking. But for the last couple of seasons, they were a good offensive team and a bad defensive team. They still have offensive playmakers, but they should take a step back there, and I'm not sure they're ready to take a big leap forward defensively.

9. Northern Arizona (6-14)
After the firing of Mike Adras and the short interim coaching stop for Dave Brown, there was a lack of some talent in Flagstaff. They returned some good seniors (such as Gabe Rogers and Stallon Saldivar), but they had two of their better freshmen transfer away from the program, including James Douglas. Jack Murphy has made headway on that, bringing in some good players that will contribute right away, and he has a great start on next year's class as well. I feel very confident in saying this - he will turn the NAU program around and get them to be a consistent winner.

However, one thing that will be interesting to see this year is the weird roster configuration. The Lumberjacks are a bit heavy on impact guards, and light on players that look to be impact players in the frontcourt. It's possible that four of their top five guys will be 6'2'' and under (Rogers, Saldivar, Michael Dunn, and DeWayne Russell), with the fifth guy being 6'6'' Gaellen Bewernick. During the preseason coaches conference call, I asked Coach Murphy about the chances of seeing three of those little guys on the court at the same time. In essence, he said they would do whatever they could to get their best players on the court, including playing three of the little guys at the same time (it would not surprise me if Rogers/Saldivar/Russell all started), or even playing Bewernick at the 5.

The Lumberjacks have been ranked anywhere from 9-11 in preseason predictions, and I think that is fair based on their current talent level and difficulty in matching up with some teams. However, they are going to be very entertaining to watch, and I think they are building for a really solid future.

10. Southern Utah (5-15)
Nick Robinson is the youngest coach in the league and one of the youngest coaches in the country. Being that it is his first year at Southern Utah and his first year as head coach, it is tough to tell what style of team he will try and build. Perhaps the best way is to look at what type of player he was, and the coaching style of Trent Johnson (he was under Johnson for three years at Stanford, and the past three years at LSU).

As a player, Robinson was a glue guy that did all of the little things the team needed to win. His senior year, he score 8 ppg, and only shot 36% from the field, but he played over 33 minutes per game, because he contributed in a lot of ways. He was a good defender, and chipped in almost five rebounds and two assists per game. He also got 1.5 steals per game with his tough defense. He says he wants to bring a tough, man-to-man style of defense to Southern Utah.

The hallmark of Johnson's teams has been tough defense. Other than a 2 year period at LSU where the team struggled (winning 11 games each year), Johnson's teams were 57th or best in defensive efficient every year since 2004, reaching as high as 15th best a couple of times. Offensively, his teams were efficient when they were at their best during the Stanford days. They were frequently towards the bottom in three pointers attempted, but they were often solid at avoiding turnovers. They were generally pretty average in their pace.

How does this relate to the future of Thunderbirds basketball? I am guessing Robinson will try to build with defense first. The best teams he has been a part of as an assistant were built starting with defense, and he will try to get players to buy into his system there. Offensively, it is about efficiency, taking care of the ball, and controlling the pace. Looking at this year's roster, they don't have the athletes to push the pace (last year's team was 279 in adjusted tempo). They will rely heavily on Jackson Stevenett, who could average 15+ points per game with sheer efficiency. He doesn't take bad shots, knows his strengths, and plays within a team concept. I am guessing that will be the prototype for Robinson's offense.

11. Idaho State (4-16)
I like Bill Evans a lot, and think he is a very good coach. His recruiting class this year, and the one started for next year suggest that he is going to improve the talent level here to a step up from past years, where they have had little depth on the roster. However, he is walking into a situation where it will be tough for him to step in and win right away. They lose 3/5 of their starting lineup, and this was not a team that relied a lot on their bench last year. Here is a chart showing the percentage of returning scoring from last year, which shows the Bengals to be at the bottom of the Big Sky.

It will be a rebuilding year for the Bengals, since they lost arguably their three best players. There will be a lot of new faces, which will excite ISU fans. Of the five newcomers, two of them started their exhibition game, while the three others were the first ones off the bench. The future of ISU is arguably brighter than it has been anytime in the past few years. However, with their talent level, it is difficult to imagine them rising above ninth place in the conference this year. I have them last, but I think 9 through 11 will be tight.

Put it this way... Idaho State is picked last here, and they were mostly picked last heading into last season (though they finished way above that)... but I think they are significantly better than NAU was last year (when they took last). This will be a tough conference, 1 through 11.

New Format: In past years, the top 6 teams made the conference tournament, with the one and two seed getting a bye. Number three would play number six on a Saturday, with number four playing number five, both games at the site of the higher seed. The winners would advance to the semifinals against the top two seeds, which was played at the site of the conference champion. The semifinals were played on a Tuesday night, with the championship being the next night. This year, the top seven teams make the tournament, with only the top seed getting a bye. It will feel more tournament-like, as all the games will take place on three days, with the championship coming Saturday. It will be a great tournament.

Location: This always brings up debate with fans, the fact that the tournament takes place at the home arena of the regular season champion. It makes it tougher to plan to travel to the tournament, because you might not know where it will be until a week beforehand (last year, the location was determined when Montana beat Weber State on the last day of the regular season).

I personally think it is great. A conference like the Big Sky needs to do what they can to make sure that the best team makes the NCAA Tournament, because that provides the conference with the best chance of a good showing. They do there, as the top seed gets home court advantage and a first round bye. It also brings more fans to the championship game and creates a better atmosphere for the conference's showcase game, since that is the one on national TV. All in all, I like it.

Montana over Montana State - Last year, the Grizzlies got better as the season went along while the Bobcats got worse.
Northern Colorado over Sacramento State - As a young UNC team grows up, their superior talent and depth will take down the veteran Hornets team.
Eastern Washington over North Dakota - Both teams will be better next year, but EWU has been through the rigors of the Big Sky tournament before.

Weber State over Eastern Washington - The Wildcats will be rested, and their superior depth will be too much for the Eagles to overcome.
Montana over Northern Colorado - The Bears were up on Montana in the second half in Greeley last year before falling because of Montana pressure. On a neutral site, I like the Grizzlies.

Montana over Weber State - Part of the reason I ranked Weber State over Montana is that I think it will take Will Cherry a little bit of time to get back to being himself, and for the new pieces to gel together, especially in the frontcourt. But by conference tournament time, I think they will be rolling again. Wayne Tinkle adds another accomplishment to his already impressive resume.


(*denotes Player of the Year)
- Kareem Jamar* (Montana) - He is the most complete offensive player in the conference, hands down. He is a good outside shooter (44% threes), has a good post-up game, gets to the FT line, and is one of the best passers in the conference. Add in that he is solid defensively and grabs over 5 boards a game, and he is my pick for POY.
- Will Cherry (Montana) - If he was healthy, he would be my POY pick, because he is the best defensive player in the conference, and has improved every year offensively. You just need to look at his three point shooting. His freshman year, he shot 17% and made six of them. His sophomore year, he was up to 23% and made 23 of them. Last year, he made 37% and made 51 of them. During their meetings with WSU last year, he more than held his own against Damian Lillard.
- Scott Bamforth (Weber State) - He is a dangerous shooter (and practically automatic from the free throw line), but also a sneakily good ball handler and passer. He will be counted on heavily for production and leadership in the Wildcats backcourt.
- Collin Chiverton (Eastern Washington) - I have noted it before, but he had one of the most bizarre stat lines in the country last year. He was second in percentage of shots taken while he was on the floor, but also had one of the lowest turnover rates in the country. He was solid last year while battling a broken foot. This year, completely healthy, he should be extremely explosive.
- Renado Parker (Portland State) - This is a bit of a wildcard, because he didn't even start for the Vikings last year, and he is a 6'5'' power forward. But he is the only guy that can challenge Kyle Tresnak for the crown of best post scorer in the conference, and he is a very solid rebounder as well. He shot 57% from the floor last year, and it wasn't a sample size issue. He could average 16 points and 7 rebounds per game this year, his post game is that good.
- Kyle Tresnak (Weber State) - The Big Sky is not a conference with a lot of dominant big men, which is why Tresnak has the potential to be one of the best players in the conference. He is a 6'10'' low post scorer, which doesn't come around much here. He has a good baby hook, and can take over games when he is getting the ball. The one thing he doesn't do is rebound much, as he has posted poor rebound rates for a big man. If he can improve in that area, he could be in the running for conference player of the year next season.

- Antonio Biglow (Montana State) - His debut has been long awaited in Bozeman, and I don't think he will disappoint. He could probably score 20 per game if the team needed it, but MSU will be at their best when he is getting others involved and picking his spots offensively.
- Troy Huff (North Dakota) - I looked at him extensively a couple weeks ago, and the cliff's notes version is this: He is one of the most talented players in the Big Sky. If he makes the leap, UND will be a conference title contender. If he doesn't, they won't. His three-point shooting struggled last year. If he improves that (or just improves his shot selection) and improves his FT shooting, he has the ability to be a first teamer.
- Davion Berry (Weber State) - Going back to last year, there was talk that Berry was the second best offensive player on the team after Lillard. Now, he gets the chance to prove it. He scored in a variety of ways in Division II, and should have plenty of chances here. It wouldn't be a surprise if he scores 15 per game in an efficient manner.
- Joe Eberhard (Sacramento State) - Brian Katz thinks Eberhard should have been the Newcomer of the Year last year, and that is not at all a far-fetched argument. He was a good scorer within the system (54% 2s, 46% 3s, and scored within the flow of the offense. His effective FG% was in the top 50 in the nation. He was a solid rebounder, and grabbed six boards a game. He contributes to them in a lot of ways.
- Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado) - BJ Hill is careful not to hype him too much, but I have no such qualms. He is an all-around offensive player, as he is explosive around the basket and has range out to at least 15 feet. He will be a matchup nightmare for four men with his quickness, but is tough enough to out-rebound guys bigger than him.

- Gelaun Wheelwright (Weber State) - He is not Damian Lillard, and the onus is not on him to replace Lillard's production, nor should it be. But he is extremely talented in his own way. He might be the fastest player in the conference, and can get out and score in transition. He has a great first step, and that should allow him to get to the basket. If he can improve his jumpshot and make good decisions with the ball, he will be a star. The tools are there.
- Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State) - He led the conference in assists as a freshman, and should be an even more complete offensive player as a sophomore. Katz says he is the best shooter on the team, which means he should improve a lot on his 33% three-point shooting. He is already a really good player, and has lots of room for growth. That has to allow Katz to sleep well.
- Jackson Stevenett (Southern Utah) - Perhaps more than anyone else in the conference, he knows his game, and he doesn't stray from it. He is solid around the basket, and so he doesn't take many threes. He will be a cornerstone for Nick Robinson in the T-Birds first year in the conference.
- Mathias Ward (Montana) - He really came on as the year went along, and is as good of a third option offensively as there is in the conference. He is deadly from the mid-range, and showed that he could be dangerous even from the three-point line. If he can help more on the glass, he can be even better than this.
- Konner Veteto (Sacramento State) - The issue with Veteto will be whether or not he can stay on the court, as he has had issues with foul trouble. When he's on the court, he plays like a potential first-teamer. He shot 50% from the floor (while getting to the line a ton), and can lead the conference in rebounding if he is able to play enough minutes.

- Justin Crogsile (Eastern Washington) - Jim Hayford's offense places a lot of emphasis on PG production, which could be a good sign for Crogsile as he replaces Cliff Colimon. He was a highly regarded recruit that spent his first two years at St. Joseph's before sitting out last season. I believe in the power of Jim Hayford to turn Crogsile into a very good player for them.
- Aaron Anderson (North Dakota) - He was a good player as a freshman, but took a nice leap last season. He shot 48% from downtown, and if he can keep that percentage while taking more (he shot 77 of them last year) he will be an even better offensive weapon. He is not the primary ball handler, but he had a solid 20.3 Assist Rate last season. He brings a lot of things to the table without taking much away.
- Tevin Svihovec (Northern Colorado) - He got better and better as the season went along, and could explode as he is just a sophomore. Athletically, he doesn't jump out at you, but he is just solid. He is a good shooter (40% downtown) that doesn't take many bad shots. He is a solid passer, though he needs to get a bit better. If he comes back a little stronger to cut down on turnovers, UNC will have the unquestioned leader of the offense. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, the offense ran through him at the end of ballgames.
- Xavier Blount (Montana State) - He has the talent to be one of the most varied players in the conference. He was not great shooting outside, but it was good enough that you had to respect his shot. He is a good passer and rebounder for his size. He needs to be more efficient offensively, but hopefully it will help to have Biglow running the offense.
- Venky Jois (Eastern Washington) - He is tough to project since he is from Australia, but Hayford said he grabbed 17 rebounds earlier this year in a closed scrimmage. One of the best ways to gauge newcomers is by how effusive the praise from coaches is, and when he signed, Hayford said he had "freakish athleticism and great basketball IQ." He looks ready to start immediately.

- Gabe Rogers (Northern Arizona) - If he plays like he did two years ago before he hurt his shoulder, this is far too low for him. If he plays like he did last year when returning, this is too high. I think he will be back closer to the former, where he was an elite shooter and solid scorer. He should do well in Jack Murphy's offense.
- Tate Unruh (Northern Colorado) - He might be the most pure shooter in the Big Sky, and his shooting form looks picture perfect. He made 46% of threes and 97% of FTs (38/39) last season. He is a little one-dimensional as a player (though reports are that he has been working hard to change that), but that one dimension is really, really good.
- Dre Winston (Portland State) - He scored 26 in their exhibition opener, and Coach Geving said he can be one of the best defensive players in the conference. He was recruited by Washington State and played a season there before transferring, so he has the talent to be really good at this level. They will need him to be a player.
- John Dickson (Sacramento State) - He has put up a lot of numbers in career, but did it a lot less efficiently last year than other Hornets. He shot 12% from downtown two years ago (in 39 attempts), and 27% last year (still taking 34 attempts). He needs to cut that out of his game, and the offense will benefit. He has the talent to put up 14 and 6 per game.
- Spencer Coleman (Montana) - He will be counted on heavily this year, as he will likely see minutes at both the three and four. He averaged 15 and 7 in junior college last year, and has a nice offensive game that allows him to make threes (56 of them last year) and go down low. His versatility will be extremely important for them.

- Melvin Morgan (Idaho State) - Last year, he was the third wheel offensively, and benefited a bit from attention on other guys. This year, he is the most experienced player on the team, and will be called to lead them as a senior PG. He shot just 39% from inside the arc, but 40% outside it. He needs to cut down turnovers and increase assists. He should put up a lot of points for them.
- Lateef McMullan (Portland State) - Like Morgan, he was a junior college PG brought in last year, and was not the focal point of any defenses. This year, the pressure will be on him more to step up, because Odum and Tapscott are not here to take care of the ball. He needs to be more efficient with the ball.
- Stallon Saldivar (Northern Arizona) -He has never been counted on to score, though Murphy says he will be asked to do that a bit more. He is one of the best passers in the conference, and had a 32.0 assist rate last year. His turnover rate was also high. They need him to facilitate the offense and make sure everyone knows their role.
- Flavien Davis (Montana State) - Davis is another undersized big man, as he is 6'5'' but I would guess would see time at the three and four this year. He had similar numbers to Spencer Coleman, with 15 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He should be a productive player from the get go.
- Brandon Brekke (North Dakota) - UND's guards get all the attention, but Brekke has quietly been a really good post player for UND in his first two years. He scores at an extremely efficient rate, as he shot a ridiculous 68% from the field last year. He also snagged 23.4% of defensive rebounds, which is an excellent rate. He has struggled with some foul problems, but he is really good when he is on the court.

TOUGHEST OMISSIONS - Jamie Stewart (Montana State), Jeffrey Forbes (Eastern Washington), DeWayne Russell (Northern Arizona), Emmanuel Addo (Northern Colorado), Gary Winston (Portland State), Jamal Webb (North Dakota), Byron Fulton (Weber State)

Player of the Year: Kareem Jamar (Montana)
Defensive Player of the Year: Will Cherry (Montana)
Newcomer of the Year: Davion Berry (Weber State)
Freshman of the Year: Venky Jois (Eastern Washington)

(Note: Players from North Dakota and Southern Utah are eligible for Newcomer of the Year awards, but I am not including players from those schools here unless they are new to those programs. Also, I am ranking these guys based on their )
1. Davion Berry (Weber State) - See comments above.
2. Antonio Biglow (Montana State) - See comments above.
3. Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado) - See comments above.
4. Venky Jois (Eastern Washington) - See comments above.
5. Justin Crogsile (Eastern Washington) - See comments above.
6. Spencer Coleman (Montana) - See comments above.
7. Dre Winston (Portland State) - See comments above.
8. Flavien Davis (Montana State) - See comments above.
9. DeWayne Russell (Northern Arizona) - It’s tough to project whether he will be starting or coming off the bench (with the presence of Gabe Rogers and Stallon Saldivar), and how many minutes he will play. But the one thing that seems clear is that he has the ability to be a dynamite scorer. He will have to find his way around the college game a bit, but by conference time he could be the second best scorer on the team behind Rogers.
10. Jaron Nash (North Dakota) - This is still a bit up in the air, as UND coaches are still not sure how the NCAA will rule on the eligibility of Nash, so this is obviously assuming he is able to play (which seems like the fair judgment, but who knows). Nash is a transfer from Texas Tech. He didn't play a ton last year, but he is tall and thin with a lot of athletic ability. In his last year before TT, he averaged 11 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
11. Lamont Prosser (Portland State) - He figures to get a lot of time in a PSU frontcourt that lost a lot of production. I’m not sure if he can have the production that Chehales Tapscott had, or even Renado Parker had last year in his first year, but he will be a good rotation player for them as a capable post scorer and rebounder.
12. Joel Bolomboy (Weber State) - He might be the most athletic guy in the conference at 6’10’’, and has the ability to be a unique talent in the Big Sky. He is a true big man that can run the floor and jump out of the gym, which is rare for the conference. He is a bit raw, but I suspect he could provide plenty of highlight plays this year in the form of big dunks and blocked shots. His impact in the frontcourt could be an x factor for Weber State this year.
13. Chris Hansen (Idaho State) - ISU will be a team looking for offense, and Hansen should be relied on heavily to provide it. It is his first year in the Bengals program, but he is a sophomore sharpshooter. He hit five threes in their exhibition win over Montana Tech, and looks to be given the green light often this year. He is one of many candidates that could lead the league in three-pointers made this season.
14. Tomas Sanchez (Idaho State) - Sanchez is another new guard for the Bengals, but his game is much different than Hansen. He brings a little bit of everything to the table and will likely play many roles for ISU. Last year he shot 44% from downtown, and had a 7:1 assists to turnover ratio. He won’t score as many points as Hansen, but could be a stat sheet stuffer.
15. Mikh McKinney (Sacramento State) - He will be the first man off the bench for Sac State, which makes him very important on a team without a lot of established guys on the bench. He averaged 14 per game as a freshman in junior college, and has reportedly impressed with his explosiveness. He will be vital for the Hornets’ success this year.
16. Paul Egwuonwu (Montana State) - He is not a guy that will put up big numbers, but he is a solid team defender and rebounder, which is what the Bobcats need. He was described by his JUCO coach as a glue guy, and does all of the little things for a team upfront.
17. Thomas Reuter (Eastern Washington) - He is a German import, and should be a solid rebounder and post player right away (Hayford said him and Vois have a chance to be four year starters). He will be an excellent all-around guy for the Eagles.
18. Nnamdi Ezenwa (Idaho State) - Ezenwa seems to be a bit of a 3/4 hybrid player, as he is 6'5'' but grabbed 8.7 rebounds per game and shot 59% at his last stop. He struggled in the Bengals exhibition game with six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes, but he could be the first guy off the bench for Bill Evans,
19. Jordyn Martin (Northern Arizona) - Martin was the first recruit for Jack Murphy, and he will see some time in a frontcourt that is looking for people to step up off the bench. He averaged about 11 and 9 last year as a senior, so you know he gets after it on the glass.
20. Jayson Cheesman (Southern Utah) - He is a true big man at 6'11'', 250 pounds, and should see immediate time. Last year he averaged 8 points/5.5 rebounds/1.4 blocks per game. He is an efficient offensive player that looks to be in line to start or see a lot of minutes off the bench.

BONUS (Freshman who will have a bigger impact in future years than this year):
- Kyndahl Hill (Weber State) - Bolomboy’s main challenger for best athlete in the Big Sky could be teammate Kyndahl Hill. He reportedly had a football scholarship to Kansas State, but decided to focus on basketball. He might not make a big splash in year one, and could even be a redshirt candidate, but he has the physical skills to be a really dynamic player in the future.
- Daniel Hill (Eastern Washington) - He is not eligible until December, but should still have an impact this year. Even more important, he is the PG of the future for Jim Hayford, and that usually comes with some gaudy numbers. He has gotten a lot of experience in Australia, and Hayford has nothing but great things to say about him. He looks poised for a nice career for the Eagles.
- Cody Demps (Sacramento State) - They love his versatility, as he can play four different positions. He will be counted on a lot this season, but will shine even more with added experience (which will be vital next year and beyond). He was a two sport star in high school, which gives you an indication that he has a lot of athletic ability.
- Jake Wiley (Montana) - Wayne Tinkle called him the most athletic post player he has had at Montana in his tenure, but he is just raw right now. He can jump out of the gym, which will make him tough offensively on the break. He also should be able to block some shots. Like Bolomboy at Weber State, he is a guy that is a bit raw to be counted on too much, but he will make some highlight reel plays.

1. Collin Chiverton will lead the Big Sky in scoring -More than anyone else in the Big Sky, he has the green light to shoot at any time. His % of shots was second in the country at 38.1%, and if anything, that could go up, as he took 13 shots in 10 minutes in their exhibition game. He scored 13.9 points per game last year, but that was because he was limited to 22 minutes a game because of a foot injury. He is healthy now, and has range starting just inside the gym, with a ton of athleticism to go along with it. He will have some nights with big scoring numbers this year.
2. Two guys will average seven assists per game -Last year just six players in the NCAA reached this number, but the Big Sky has two players capable of getting there. One is Dylan Garrity, who had 6.9 per game last year, which was seventh in the country and tops among freshmen. The other guy is Stallon Saldivar from Northern Arizona. Two years ago he averaged 5.4 per game. This year, with a faster paced Jack Murphy offense, that number should be even higher.
3. Derrick Barden will lead the conference in rebounding - Last year's leader has graduated, opening the door for someone. I think Derrick Barden, the JUCO transfer for Northern Colorado, could be that guy. He averaged 12 boards a game last year in at Odessa College, and all reports are extremely positive about him.
4. Antonio Biglow will be the second best PG in the Big Sky -Will Cherry is the best PG in the conference and one of the best out west, but Antonio Biglow will be a big-time player. He has a ton of athletic ability and will have a big role for them. In a year where Brad Huse badly needs wins, Biglow will be a cornerstone.
5. Kareem Jamar will lead Montana in points, rebounds, and assists - Last year he was second in points, second in rebounds, and first in assists, so this is not that farfetched. He is a very unique talent, and has the potential to be one of the special players in the history of Montana's program. He can just hurt you in so many different ways on both sides of the floor.
6. Sacramento State will have five players scoring in double figures -Last year they had five guys that averaged 8.1 ppg or more (three in double figures) and all of them return. Dylan Garrity was the lowest of the five, and he should be improved shooting the ball. They will be very balanced.
7. Weber State will be the best offensive team -They were second in the conference in adjusted efficiency last year, and I think they could be even better this year even while losing Damian Lillard. They will be balanced, and will be able to have five guys on the floor at all times that can score. Davion Berry is a guy that will be key here.
8. Two teams will have new head coaches next year -I am just playing percentages here... Randy Rahe and Wayne Tinkle have both had overtures in the past couple of years, and it is not a stretch to think that eventually at least one of them will leave. They have proven themselves great coaches at this level. On the flipside, the pressure is on a couple other coaches who are nearing the end of their contracts and need to get it done.
9. Troy Huff and Kareem Jamar will be the best players in the Big Sky heading into next year  -We have talked about Jamar, but I think Huff is a guy that will turn a lot of heads this year. Athletically, he has the ability to be a special player in the conference. After a full year in the Big Sky, he should be really ready to breakout for his senior year.
10. The Big Sky will project to be even better next year - Here is a very unscientific look of how things look to me:
- Obviously better next year - Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, North Dakota, Portland State
- Potentially better next year - Eastern Washington, Montana State, Weber State
- Potentially worse next year - Montana, Southern Utah
- Obviously worse next year - Sacramento State

(This is an award I just made up to honor the glue guys who don't put up a ton of numbers, but they contribute to their team's success in a lot of ways)

- Jeffrey Forbes (Eastern Washington) - After Will Cherry, he may be the second best perimeter defender in the conference. Offensively, he takes things within the flow of the offense, does not force shots, and doesn't turn the ball over much. He doesn't pop out in the stat sheet, but he helps EWU win games.
- Eric Hutchison (Montana) - If he doesn’t score a point all year, but just becomes a solid rebounder and low post defender that the Grizzlies can count on every game, he will have done his job. The word is that he has really grabbed the starting 5 spot this year.
- Brandon Brekke (North Dakota) - He is the not as heralded as some of their guards, but he does the dirty work down low. He is the best rebounder on the team, and takes what is given to him offensively (68% FG).
- Gaellen Bewernick (Northern Arizona) -Bewernick is 6'6'', but he played a lot of power forward last year, and will again this year. He is an excellent rebounder and efficient offensive player. Not a lot of people know Bewernick's game, but he is integral to what NAU does.

Well, if you made it this far, thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed! Please get a hold of me via email or twitter if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions!

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