Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Big Sky Podcast

Gidal Kaiser of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle organized a podcast featuring Brendan Loy of Mile High Mids, Gidal, and myself, and he has posted it online.

Among other things, we discuss the Big Sky conference tournament matchups and predictions, a look at awards, and just a look back at the season.

Be sure to give it a listen, and thanks to Gidal for organizing it!

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Big Sky Tournament Bracket

Courtesy of the Big Sky Conference.

Obviously will have many thoughts in the following days on this.

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Eastern Washington Clinches The 4 Seed

I will admit, I did not actually get a chance to watch Eastern Washington take on Idaho State yesterday, because all of my attention was focused on Weber State/Montana.

Fortunately, not everyone was so single-minded. There are a few solid recaps of the game out there, including Eastern Washington's official site and Idaho State's official site.

Eastern Washington moved to 8-8 in the Big Sky, while Idaho State fell to 7-9. That means EWU will host ISU on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky tournament. We will have much more to say about that game in the next couple of days.

Also, a quick note from the Portland State website about the Viks 75-74 victory over Northern Colorado. Charles Odum hit the game-clinching free throws to win, giving PSU their tenth conference win on the year. Northern Colorado finished 5-11 in Big Sky play. PSU will host Montana State on Saturday, while UNC’s season ends.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Montana is Your Big Sky Regular Season Champion

You won't find a lot of people surprised that Montana beat Weber State on Tuesday night, but I bet it is harder to find people who thought the win would be so convincing. Montana topped Weber State 66-51, sealing the regular season title and ensuring that the conference tournament will be going through Missoula.

There were a lot of reasons for Montana's win, but two things stick out the most.

One, Montana's defense harrassed Weber State all night long, and Weber State did not get many open looks. Even when they did, they didn't convert them. Weber State shot an 30.2% from the field, and an astounding 3/26 from downtown. Damian Lillard and Scott Bamforth combined to shoot 2/19 from beyond the arc, which is, frankly, shocking. I thought Montana would have to force some turnovers from their 1-2-2 press, but WSU only gave it away 11 times. But the press did take them out of their rhythm. At times, it looked like Weber State had never seen a zone defense before. It was a flawless defensive effort from Montana.

The other key was that Will Cherry simply outplayed Damian Lillard. Plain and simple, he was the better player tonight. He was much more aggressive offensively, got his teammates involved better, and was better on the defensive end. The elephant in the room for the Wildcats is this - as awesome as Lillard has been this year (and make no mistake, he has simply been excellent), he has struggled in their biggest games.

With Montana clinging to a 50-45 lead late in the game, it was Cherry that stepped up and made the plays. First, he had a sweet step-back jumper over Lillard to move the game to 52-45. It was a big-time play by a big-time player, right when his team needed it the most, because WSU was getting some momentum. The next possession, he got the ball but was outnumbered, and looked like he was going to pull it out. As the WSU defense relaxed, he quickly reversed, and got right to the rim for a layup. It was a smart, athletic, game-ending move that put the Grizzlies up 9, and Weber State didn't get closer the rest of the way. In short, those are the plays we thought Lillard would be making, but it was Cherry making the plays at the end of the game.

Cherry finished with 23 points, 4 assists, and was the point man in the zone all game long. He controlled the Grizzlies offense. There is no praise to high for how he stepped up in the biggest game of the season.

I have a lot more thoughts on the game, but wanted to end with one other key. Early in the first half, Derek Selvig picked up his second foul, and Kyle Tresnak began going to work. He was unguardable one on one early in the game, and had six quick points. Then, he picked up his second foul, and to me, that was the turning point of the game. Momentum changed, and it opened the door for the Grizzlies to bring in Mike Weisner (rather than sticking with Eric Hutchison), who provided a huge spark in the first half. Improbably, this was huge.

Montana ends the year at 15-1 in the Big Sky, and they have now won 12 straight games, and 18 of 19. They become the favorite now in the Big Sky (taking away that which has belonged to Weber State all year), and they will host the tournament next week. Weber State drops to 14-2, and you can bet they will take an "us-against-the-world" mentality into the conference tournament.

It is going to be a really fun conference tournament.

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Eastern Washington vs Idaho State Predictions

Though this game does not quite have the same implications on the Big Sky as Weber State vs. Montana, this one is still a big game with big stakes.

In short, these two teams will meet on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament, in the 4/5 game. However, what order the teams are seeded (and thus, where the game will be played) will be decided on Tuesday night in Cheney. Last Thursday, EWU won a tough road game in Pocatello, 85-78.

It will be the curious case of two teams playing each other three times in a nine day span, and right now EWU looks like the better team (by a little). Idaho State had their big streak in the middle of the year, but they have cooled off, losing five of six with their only win coming against Northern Arizona.

It is tough to know which Eastern Washington team will show up, but there are a few things we know. EWU is susceptible to putting their opponents on the line, but ISU will struggle to take advantage of that because they are more of a jump shooting team. The other thing is that Eastern relies on the three, and the Bengals haven't done a very good job of stopping their opponents this year.

Look for Parker Kelly to hit a couple big shots, and for EWU to beat ISU for the second time in a week... and then the rest test will come in whether they can beat them for a third time. EASTERN WASHINGTON 77, IDAHO STATE 70

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Weber State @ Montana Implications

As you know if you follow the Big Sky at all, on Tuesday night Weber State travels to Montana in a game that has big implications. Both teams are 14-1 in the Big Sky, and the winner of this game will be the Big Sky regular season winner. Here are just some of the implications for Tuesday night's game.

1. The winner will host the Big Sky Tournament
If you are not familiar with the Big Sky, the winner of the regular season also hosts the semifinals and championship game in their building, which helps to give them a huge advantage of advancing through the conference tournament and into the NCAA Tournament. Montana is 13-2 at home this year, while Weber State is 15-0 in Ogden. Whoever wins Tuesday night will have a big advantage heading into next week.

2. The winner gets the pride of being the regular season champion
It seems as if lately, when it comes to the regular season, Montana is always the bridesmaid, and never the bride. They have finished in the top three 7 out of the last 8 years (and the year they didn't, they finished fourth), but have not secured a regular season crown in the last decade. Weber State was the regular season champion in 2009 and 2010, but then they lost in the conference tournament both those years. So maybe they should try to lose... (nah)

3. The winner avoids the possibility of playing Portland State in the semifinals
As mentioned on Monday morning, Portland State has won five straight conference games, and they have the talent (with Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott) to give teams fits.  I can guarantee that neither Weber State nor Montana wants to be facing a confident PSU team on a neutral court next Tuesday night.

4. The winner gets a solid resume win
Every bracket I have seen has the Big Sky winner as a 15 seed in the tournament, but maybe one of them could sneak up into the 14 line, which would be a big help for trying to pull off an upset. Weber State is in the mid 70s for RPI, while Montana is currently at 102. Whichever team wins will be getting a nice resume builder to brag about.

5. The winner keeps their momentum
Montana has won 11 straight games and 17 of their last 18. Weber State has won 7 straight games and 17 of their last 18. As they say, something has to give. The winner will head to the conference tournament riding a wave of momentum, particularly if it's Weber State, since that means they will have beaten the Grizzlies twice this year.

WHO WINS: This is a game that I have gone back and forth on many times, because obviously either team is capable of winning the game. I saw both teams in person within the last few weeks, and both were extremely impressive. However, if I had to make a choice, I think Weber State is going to go in and get a huge road win.

For one, Weber has the best player in the conference in Damian Lillard. I have written about him almost ad nauseum on this site, but in case you missed it, here are the vital statistics. He is explosive, has the best first step in the conference, and can get a shot off almost anytime. Will Cherry is the second best player in the Big Sky, but he is not in Lillard's league yet.

Another thing is that Montana gets a lot of their offense on forced turnovers, and they really create turnovers well. Weber State is one of the better teams in the country at avoiding turnovers, which all starts with Lillard. In these two teams first meeting (an 80-64 win in Ogden), WSU remarkably had only four turnovers.

Montana is a fantastic team, and it would surprise nobody if they emerged Tuesday as the Big Sky conference winner, but if I had to choose, I would take Weber State to be celebrating. WEBER STATE 72, MONTANA 68

Your thoughts? Who wins?

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Big Sky Weekend Storylines

First off, just wanted to say thank you to everyone for their kind comments and support after my last post… we had a safe, good trip. Funerals are always tough, but it was great to gather with friends and family and get some closure on everything.

In the meantime, there was a lot that happened in the Big Sky over the weekend, magnified by the fact that there are just a few games left in the regular season. Let’s take a look at the biggest storylines coming out of the Big Sky from the past few days…

1. We have our dream Montana/Weber State Matchup
Both teams have made it to the final game of the season at 14-1 in the Big Sky, and both teams are playing great basketball. Montana has won 11 straight games (and 17 of 18), while Weber State has won seven straight games (and 17 of 18)... needless to say, there is no better way to end the season in the Big Sky than this. Weber State won their first meeting, but Montana is looking tough. I will have more later tonight about the ramifications of this game, but safe to say, it is huge!

2. All of the tournament first-round matchups are set
With the way that things played out over the weekend, Portland State locked themselves into the three seed, which is easy to see when looking at the standings. Less easy to see is that Montana State will wind up sixth, meaning they will travel to Portland for the first round on Saturday. That leaves two things to be determined about the Big Sky tournament. First, who will be the top seed and who will be number two (see storyline 1), which obviously has huge implications. The other thing is determining if Eastern Washington or Idaho State will be at home on Saturday (see storyline 4), which is also big. But there remains no more drama on who will make it, and we are able to focus on the first-round matchups themselves.

3. Portland State is getting hot at the right time
Everyone has been focusing on Weber State and Montana, but Portland State is slowly becoming the darkhorse in the Big Sky. They have won five straight conference games, and they seem to be the only team with the offensive firepower to possibly stay with the top two teams, if they make it past the quarterfinals. If they advance, it would make for a fun semifinal matchup against whoever winds up at the two seed, since that would be a neutral site game.

4. Eastern Washington and Idaho State will play for homecourt advantage
It is an odd end to the year for these two teams... they met on February 23 in Pocetello (won by Eastern Washington), they will meet again on February 28 in Cheney, and then will meet again on Saturday at the homecourt of whoever wins tomorrow. Needless to say, it will be a big game tomorrow night. Almost as important, the winner will move to .500 for the conference season, which would be a really nice accomplishment.

5. Northern Colorado will not be defending their crown
After their loss to Weber State on Thursday, their chances of making the Big Sky tournament got thin. They basically needed everything to go right, and things did not break their way over the weekend. Thus, there is no way they can win the tiebreaker and sneak into the tournament as a six seed, and they will be on the outside looking in, unable to defend their title from last year. It is not a big surprise, but does come as a disappointment to a lot of Northern Colorado fans. They should be back strong next year, and at this point look like they could be a top 3 Big Sky team in my opinion. They still have a chance to build some momentum and finish with what would be a nice road win over Portland State.

6. Sacramento State ends the year on a high note
It has been an up-and-down season for the Hornets, and one that began with high expectations of getting back to the Big Sky tournament. That didn’t happen, but they were able to end the year with a win and finish over .500 for the second half of the conference season, which should provide the program with some nice momentum for a change. They finished 5-11, which is more Big Sky wins than they have had since 2007. They return almost everyone, so they should be improved next season.

Any other big storylines I missed?

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Friday, February 24, 2012

On Sports and Loss

Earlier this week, my grandmother passed away at the ripe old age of 83 years old. We are traveling today to her funeral, so it goes without saying that posting over the weekend will be somewhere in the range of minimal to non-existent.

It has been a rough and long week, and being that I write a college basketball blog, it made me think about sports in a time of loss and grief. On the one hand, it really drives home the point that the results of these sporting events are pretty meaningless. For instance, I am a huge Minnesota Vikings fan... every Sunday during the football season, I live and die with whether they win or lose. However, that certainly gets put in perspective quickly, and you realize that things like that simply don't matter in life. Either way, the sun will come up the next day.

On the other hand, sports is great in that it provides an outlet, a relief from everything else. My wife and I went to the Weber State/Northern Colorado game, and for 2.5 hours I did not think about the passing of a loved one, travel arrangements, work, or anything else. I just thought about the great game of basketball, what was happening out on the floor, and took in all I was seeing. It was healing in a way that sometimes only sports can be. Those who do not follow sports often dismiss it as being pointless, but they don't understand the beauty of the game like we do.

Basketball sure is a great game.

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Weber State Has Too Much Offense for Northern Colorado

I finally got to watch Weber State in person, and came away very impressed. It was a desperation game for Northern Colorado, and one they needed to win to feel decent about their chances to make the Big Sky Tournament. They have a good effort, but in the end Weber State was too deep, and Damian Lillard was too good for an upset to happen.

With 15 or so NBA scouts in attendance, Damian Lillard delivered a show. He dropped 30 points for the eighth time this season, and did it in a variety of ways. He made 5/10 from downtown, and got to the line 14 times (making 13 of them). Even more than the points though, is that he was in complete command of the game. He had eight assists with one turnover, and got his teammates multiple easy baskets, including a couple off of in bounds plays. It was clear to see that he was the best player on the court.

Northern Colorado was not happy with the way that Lillard was officiated, and while there were no blatantly bad calls from my point of view, it did seem like Lillard was getting the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Lillard shot 14 free throws, and UNC shot 19. In the past couple games, Lillard has been having some tough calls go against him, so I suppose this was things evening out. All that being said, there is no doubt that Damian is masterful at creating contact.

One guy that was big for WSU which I did not expect was Gelaun Wheelwright. He has been looking better and better all year, but he was huge for them tonight. He had 11 in the first half (including 3/3 from downtown) and finished with 15 points. He is the clear #1 guard off the bench for WSU right now, and certainly looks in line to start next year, assuming Lillard leaves. He has a ways to go to becoming an all-around point guard and playmaker, but he has great quickness and puts pressure on a defense.

Down low, I got a good look at Kyle Tresnak, who had 14 points in 20 minutes. There are still some things he doesn't do very well (like rebound), but strictly as a low-post scorer, he is one of the best of the Big Sky. He has a nice baby hook, and he knows how to handle himself around the basket. Kyle Bullinger and Darin Mahoney are not guys that jump out at you for the Wildcats, but they may be the toughest duo in the conference.

For UNC, it was an emotional night for them, and senior Mike Proctor played very good ball in his final home game. He had a line of 15 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, and really gave it his all out there. As the only senior on the team, he was the leader, and he will be missed. He was a lot of fun as a fan to watch, because you know he gave 100% at all times. We wish him the best of luck in the future.

The Bears also showed a lot of promise, and a lot of what makes fans so excited about the team in the upcoming years. They got to within three points in the second half, but they ran out of gas. They went to some zone at times, which Coach BJ Hill said was in part to try to save their legs. Tevin Svihovec, Tate Unruh, and Paul Garnica are all guys with potential to be above average (and perhaps all-conference) players in the Big Sky, and the word I am hearing is that redshirt James Davis is a guy that athleticism and defensive tenacity that has been missing a bit in the backcourt. Their future is bright.

For the present, it is Weber State who is king, as they sit at 14-1 with just a roadtrip to Montana remaining. The Grizzlies moved to 13-1, and should be 14-1 by the time the teams meet. Both teams are playing with tons of confidence, and playing great basketball.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thursday 2/23 Predictions (Part 2)

Yesterday we did the first part of our predictions for Thursday's games, and now it is time to take a look at the other two games that will be on tap.

Weber State @ Northern Colorado
This is a must-win game for the Bears, as a loss will make things very difficult for them to make the tournament. They have been playing pretty solid basketball lately, but they have lost a couple tough games that they had a great chance of winning. They need to take care of the ball, as that has been a big problem for them this season. It is not known for sure yet whether Tate Unruh will play, but I have a feeling that he will be on the court, which is a nice boost for the Bears.

For Weber State, they have to be careful not to look ahead to their finale against Montana. UNC is only 5-9 in conference, but they have a lot of talent and will have plenty of motivation. Damian Lillard should have a big day, because the Bears sometime struggle with athletic players. It will be interesting to see what types of defenses the teams play. Weber State had trouble with UT-Arlington's different looks, and the Bears have used the press effectively at times. The Bears have also struggled offensively to take care of the ball, so we may see more pressure from the Wildcats in this game. I think this will be a lot closer than people think, but Lillard is the difference. WEBER STATE 79, NORTHERN COLORADO 74

Eastern Washington @ Idaho State
This is perhaps the biggest game of the day. With a win, Idaho State can basically clinch a first-round home game, an idea that would have been unthinkable two months ago. Eastern Washington, on the other hand, still needs wins to guarantee that they make the Big Sky tournament.  They need Cliff Colimon and Collin Chiverton to both play well in the same game, which hasn't always happened for them this year. They will try to get up and down the court, as they are a little deeper than the Bengals and should be able to tire them out.

ISU got Chase Grabau back last game, and that is a huge boost for them. He is one of the most versatile guys in the league, and adds a lot to them on both sides of the ball. We know what he will bring, and Kenny McGowen has also been a consistent threat for them, but a key is Melvin Morgan. At his best, he is a dangerous offensive player with tons of range. When he's not at his best, he can turn the ball over and take bad shots.

This should be a tight game, but I think there is something positive about Idaho State this year. They seem to have more confidence than EWU does right now, which will serve them well at home. IDAHO STATE 72, EASTERN WASHINGTON 70

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Northern Arizona Coaching Search

Not much has come out of Northern Arizona regarding their search for a new head coach, but there was a nice article by Brett Murdock on Northern Arizona News.

So far, there have been three names to pop up in recent weeks — ASU assistant Scott Pera, Oregon State assistant David Grace and current Grand Canyon University head coach Russ Pennell.

All three have their merits: Pera has been at ASU for five years now and recruited current NBA player James Harden to the Sun Devils, Grace is in his fourth year at OSU and has been a successful head coach at every stop he’s made and Pennell took over for Lute Olson at Arizona during the 2008-09 season, leading the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 appearance before being hired at GCU.
There is no doubt that NAU brought in Dave Brown as a stopgap for the rest of the season to try to soothe some of the bad wounds left from previous head coach Mike Adras. From all accounts, Brown is the opposite in almost every way as a coach from Adras.

But as Murdock mentions, Brown obviously has no chance to have the interim tag removed from his title. NAU will be going in a different direction, and it is good to see at least some names emerge. While this season has been very bad, NAU certainly will have some talent on the roster for whoever becomes the new head coach.

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Scenarios for Northern Colorado

Brendan Loy from Mile High Mids nicely lays out the scenarios for Northern Colorado to make the Big Sky Tournament.

I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this and calculating it, and I believe there are precisely two scenarios in which UNC can lose to Weber, yet make the conference tournament. Both scenarios involve a ton of results breaking precisely the right way. Both are therefore unlikely to happen. But hey, you never know.
He shows why he is an attorney, as is his aptitude (or, patience) (or, both) is greater than mine in figuring these scenarios out. Check out his article for a better understanding on the Big Sky tiebreakers.

UPDATE: Roy Burton lays out all of the scenarios over at the WSU Sports Blog.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thursday 2/23 Predictions (Part 1)

There are four games on Thursday night, and we are into the crunch time of the year. Each game matters in some way, so let's break it up and preview in two parts.

Northern Arizona @ Montana
We will start with the game that on paper will be the most lopsided of the day.  Montana has won nine straight games, and Northern Arizona has run their losing streak to 14 games. In theory, there is no real way that the Lumberjacks should stay in the game.

Montana once again has the best defensive club in the conference, and their offense has been playing better and better as the year has gone on, culminating with their 94 point effort against Hawaii. Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar have been playing basketball at a caliber that makes it fair to question if they are the best backcourt in the Big Sky. They bring it on both sides of the ball. Wayne Tinkle has a team where everyone knows their role, and they do it well.

NAU, on the other hand, is playing like a team that has nothing to play for. They are guaranteed to finish last in the Big Sky, and they are playing for a coach that has no chance of being there next year. They only have one senior that plays big minutes (Durrell Norman), so even that sense of urgency is not there. I am afraid this one will not end well for them. MONTANA 78, NORTHERN ARIZONA 49

Portland State @ Sacramento State
In theory, the Hornets have a chance to still make the tournament, though their hopes were probably extinguished with their loss last Thursday to the Vikings. Still, they have a chance to get to six wins in the Big Sky, which would be their most since 2006 and give them a lot of momentum heading into next year, when they return almost everyone. Portland State still has high stakes. They are currently in a tie for third, and still need to lock up a home game in the Big Sky quarterfinals. Plus, a three seed is more likely to draw a reeling team like Montana State, as opposed to a potential sleeping giant in Eastern Washington.

When they met last week, Chehales Tapscott had one of the best games of his career, with 17 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, three steals, and three assists, showing every side of his versatility. PSU led by 27 at the half, and completely dominated in every phase of the game. Sacramento State will play a lot better at home (they can't really play any worse), but their production down low has been down a bit in the last couple games. To beat quality teams, they need Konner Veteto and John Dickson to play good basketball. They have been very average lately, and I don't think the Hornets have enough talent to overcome that if it happens again. I see Chehales Tapscott having a big day once again, and clinching a return to the Big Sky tournament for the Vikings. PORTLAND STATE 77, SACRAMENTO STATE 71

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Kareem Jamar is Big Sky POW (And Other Notes)

No big surprise that Kareem Jamar was named the Big Sky Player of the Week after notching a triple double in Montana's win over Hawaii on Saturday.

Jamar, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward from Venice, Calif., recorded 21 points, with 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Grizzlies’ 94-79 non-conference victory over Hawai’i on Saturday in Missoula. Jamar made 5-of-8 shots from the floor, was 2-of-4 from 3-point range, and 9-of-13 from the free-throw line. The 11 assists were a career-high. His 11 rebounds was his second-highest single-game career total. It was his fourth career 20-point game.
Jamar is a sensational player that is only going to get better. Montana fans are rightfully very excited to have two more seasons of Jamar after this one.

Other candidates: Cliff Colimon (EWU), Melvin Morgan (ISU), Shawn Reid (MSU), Durrell Norman (NAU), Tevin Svihovec (UNC), Chehales Tapscott (PSU), Jackson Carbajal (SAC), Byron Fulton (WSU)

In other interesting tidbits, from the Big Sky Conference's news release yesterday:

NCAA RANKINGS: For the first time since early in the season, Weber State’s Damian Lillard is not the national leader in scoring. Lillard, who is averaging 24.5 points per game, dropped to second behind Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton (25.1 points per game). Lillard ranks eighth in the nation in 3-point field-goals per game, and is ninth in 3-point field-goal percentage. Eastern Washington’s Collin Chiverton is fifth in 3-point field-goals per game. Weber State’s Scott Bamforth (13th) and Lillard (17th) both rank in the top 20 in free-throw shooting percentage. Sacramento State freshman Dylan Garrity is sixth in assists per game at 6.8. Montana’s Will Cherry is sixth in the nation in steals per game (2.6). Northern Colorado continues to lead in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage at 45.4 percent. Weber State is ninth at 40.7 percent. Weber State continues to lead the nation in free-throw shooting at 80.9 percent. Weber State is third in the nation in 3-point field goals per game (9.3), and is followed by Eastern Washington. Weber State’s winning percentage of 84.6 percent is 11th in the nation.
VOTES FOR WEBER: Weber State received two votes in this week’s USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll. Weber State was 14th among those receiving votes outside the top 25. Weber State was the last Big Sky team to receive votes in a major poll. The Wildcats received votes in the Coaches’ Poll and the AP poll in March of 2009.

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Big Sky Freshmen Rankings

Back in Mid-December, I created my first rankings of the freshmen in the Big Sky. With the season near the end, it's time to take another look at things (and we probably will at the end of the year too). As always, top five in the conference.

1. Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State) - 7.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG
Garrity continues to lead the conference in assists, he is sixth nationally, and highest among all freshmen in the country. He has come in and led the team from day one, and that is impressive to do. His assist rate is eleventh in the country, and he has logged a ton of minutes for the Hornets. It is clear what he needs to do to get better - cut down on turnovers (three per game), improve his outside shot (31%), and bulk up a bit - but it is also clear that Sacramento State has a very nice leader for their offense.

2. Tevin Svihovec (Northern Colorado) -10.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 SPG
The last time I did this list he didn't even make the top five, which shows how much he has gotten better as the year has gone on. He is the Bears' go to player offensively, and usually has the ball in his hands if it is late in the game. He has been a very efficient scorer, as he shoots 80% from the stripe, 50% inside the arc, and 43% from downtown. Those are great numbers. He is going to be a great player for UNC by the time he is done there.

3. James Douglas (Northern Arizona) - 12.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.2 SPG
He has had to shoulder a lot of the offensive load, as Gabe Rogers has not returned to be the offensive threat he was before he hurt his shoulder. Douglas has struggled at times and been more of a volume scorer, but has shown a lot of ability. He has good range on his jumper, and solid quickness off the dribble. He could be one of the leaders scorers in the conference as early as next year, depending on what type of system a new coach brings in.

4. Parker Kelly (Eastern Washington) - 4.4 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 41.% 3PT
Kelly has come on of late and hit a lot of big shots, most notably against Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona. He is an excellent shooter, and at this point in his career that is about all he does. Still, for a walk-on freshman he has had an impressive season, and is a nice piece for a team that will lose a lot of talent this year. He is Jim Hayford's type of player - smart, doesn't make a lot of mistakes, and can knock down shots.

5. Gaellen Bewernick (Northern Arizona) - 5.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG
Bewernick is an undersized forward in the mold of Chehales Tapscott of Portland State. He is a great rebounder for his size (and has very nice rebound percentages), scores efficiently down low (shooting nearly 60%), and can make some things happen defensively. Whoever the new coach of Northern Arizona is, the cupboard should not be bare, despite the poor record. They have some solid, young talent.

Also Considered: Gary Winston (Portland State), Tim Huskisson (Northern Colorado), Gelaun Wheelwright (Weber State)
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Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: "The Last Shot" by Darcy Frey

Last month when I made a list of the ten best high school and college basketball books I had read, I also asked for some suggestions. One of the ones that kept coming up was The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, by Darcy Frey.

After reading what the book was about, it seemed right up my alley, so I got it and just finished reading it. For anyone that loves basketball, or a look at the inner city, or especially both, this is a fantastic read. Frey does a great job of capturing what life is like for four teenagers in Coney Island in the mid-90s. He gives the setting in this paragraph, and I can only hope that at some time I write something as good as this paragraph.

The experiment of public housing, which has worked throughout the country to isolate its impoverished and predominantly black tenants from the hearts of their cities, may have succeeded here with even greater efficiency because of Coney Island's utter remoteness. On this peninsula, at the southern tip of Brooklyn, there are almost no stores, no trees, no police; nothing, in fact, but block after block of gray-cement project - hulking, prisonlike, and jutting straight into the sea. Most summer night now, an amorphous unease settles over Coney Island, as apartments become stifling and the streets fall prey to the gangs and drug dealers. Options are limited: to the south is the stiff gray meringue of the Atlanic; to the north, more than ten miles away, one can just make out the Statue of Liberty and the glass-and-steel spires of Manhattan's financial district. Officially, Coney Island is part of the endless phantasmagoria that is New York City. But on a night like this, as the dealers set up their drug marts in streets and alleyways, and the sounds of sirens and gunfire keep pace with the darkening sky, it feels like the end of the world. (3-4)
The most famous player that Frey writes about is certainly Stephon Marbury, and it helps you understand why he turned out the way he did. He was a freshman at the time, and has a large sense of entitlement (most famously when he orders McDonald's and just assumes that Frey will be paying for it). But looking at the circumstances described by Frey, it is hard to blame him. He is enabled by coaches at all levels, and given everything he wanted because of his basketball skills. That is the way that the system is set up.

Without a doubt, the most heartbreaking part of the story is He is a kid that gives maximum effort - while other kids are playing pickup games, he is doing individual drills; while other kids are eating lunch, he is studying for the SAT. But he is hamstrung by the fact that his education was so poor early in life that he does not have the basic knowledge and foundation that most people do. He lives in the worst part of Coney Island. He comes from a single parent home. He is the character that you root for all book long (and I don't want to say anymore because I don't want to spoil it!)

If you like books about basketball, if you like books about society, this is a book I would highly recommend. If I were to remake my list, this book would probably come in number four.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Big Sky Bracket Busters Rundown

Nine games were on the docket on Saturday (docket is a fun word to say... I think people become judges simply so they can talk about what's on their docket. But I digress), so let's take a look at the games, ranked by most impressive Big Sky performance to least impressive.

1. Montana 94, Hawaii 79
The Grizzlies had perhaps their best offensive performance of the season, led by one of the best performances individually by anyone in the conference all year. Kareem Jamar posted a triple double with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists; and as Bob Meseroll points out, the scary thing is that he is just a sophomore. It was the Grizzlies first triple double in over 30 years. Will Cherry also had 24 points and five steals, as the Grizzlies shot 58% from the field. Seriously, just go ahead and clear February 28th on your calendar.

2. Weber State 72, UT-Arlington 70
I tweeted a bunch about this game, so you can check out my timeline for more thoughts if you so desire. This game was a battle throughout... Weber State kept knocking down big threes, and UT-Arlington kept responding. In the end, WSU escaped with a two point win, and were glad that there weren't a couple more minutes on the clock. Damian Lillard had a solid night with 17 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, but was limited by some foul trouble (mostly on questionable offensive foul calls). WSU had trouble with UT-Arlington's pressure, and uncharacteristically had 19 turnovers. It was tight, but they will take the win, their 16th straight at home. It was easy to come out of this game impressed by both teams.

3. Northern Colorado 81, Cal Poly 73
The bright future of the Bears program was fully on display in this game, led by redshirt freshman Tevin Svihovec, who had 34 points for the Bears, and has certainly joined the freshman of the year discussion in the Big Sky. He was fantastic, shooting 11/16 from the floor, and 10/11 from the foul line. He does not have great athleticism, but he has a great understanding of the game and how to get his shots. He is a pleasure to watch. Emmanuel Addo was also solid, with 13 points and five rebounds. He is one of the most versatile big men in the conference. The crazy thing about UNC is that they will lose only one player this year (Mike Proctor), and they still won't have any senior on next year's roster (assuming a couple juniors currently suspended don't come back). Tough to see them lower than three in preseason polls next year.

4. Pacific 66, Idaho State 64
Idaho State obviously lost in an excruciating manner on Saturday (though some other Big Sky teams may say they got what was coming to them, after ISU has won a few games in similarly dramatic fashion), but they battled well. They took a lead with 4.3 seconds left on a Melvin Morgan free throw, but Pacific took it the other way for the game-winner. It was good to see Chase Grabau back and playing, and he had six steals on the night. One concern continues to be ISU's lack of depth - they played six guys last night. Six. Abner Moreira and Andre Hatchett both went the full 45 minutes.

5. Idaho 77, Portland State 68
PSU finds themselves at fifth on this list almost be default, as they did not play a great game. Idaho led by as many as 19 in the second half, though the Viks should be commended for continuing to fight. Kyle Barone had a great day for the Vandals, surprisingly having his way with PSU's big men. Charles Odum led the team with 17, and Renado Parker continued to show why he is going to be the centerpiece of next year's team, as he had 14 points on 7/11 shooting.

6. UC Irvine 78, Eastern Washington 73
This was a tight back and forth game that featured 12 lead changes, but ultimately the Eagles came up a bit short. EWU did a good job of forcing turnovers (23 of them) but they could not stop UC Irvine from putting it in the basket when they did shoot - the Anteaters shot 62% from the floor. The Eagles had five guys in double figures, but shot just 34% from the floor. When you compare the shooting difference to the point difference, it is obviously that EWU dominated a lot of phases of the game. Alas, it was not enough, as EWU falls to 12-15 on the year.

7. San Jose State 79, Sacramento State 67
The Hornets led by six at the break, but as has been the case at different times this year, they were not able to hold onto the lead.  They got a career-high 24 points from Jackson Carbajal and 12 more assists from Dylan Garrity, but just couldn't put enough stops together for the win. Garrity now is averaging 6.8 assists per game, and continues to lead all freshmen in the country in that category.

8. Cal State Fullerton 80, Montana State 66
CS Fullerton is a good team, and there is no shame in losing to them, but MSU looked so bad in the first half. They were on the wrong end of a 23-2 run in the first half, and ended it down 47-24. They battled in the second half to make the final score look respectable, but the outcome was long determined. MSU's problem right now is that with their current roster, they need both Shawn Reid and Christian Moon to be stars for them to have a chance against good teams. That is simply not their games, especially Moon, who has been struggling in recent weeks.

9. UC Davis 70, Northern Arizona 65
The worst part is that after the first half, it looked like NAU was going to be one of the most impressive teams in the conference for the night. Then, the second half happened. NAU had a 45-26 lead headed into the break, but UC Davis outscored them 44-20 in the second half of play. That is not good against a 5-22 team at home. The Lumberjacks did get two bright performances. Senior Durrell Norman was fantastic on senior night, finishing with 26 points and seven rebounds. Norman is a guy I enjoy watching, so it is sad to see his career come to an end. The future was shown as well, as freshman Gaellen Bewernick had 14 points (7/8 FG) and 13 rebounds, nine of them offensive. He is a nice building block for whoever the next coach will be.

What do you think of the order, and of the games this weekend?

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trevin Harris Buzzer-Beater for Pacific to Beat Idaho State

Will have more to say, but wanted to put video out of this amazing game-winner by Trevin Harris of Pacific to beat Idaho State. It was a twisting, leaning, desperation three... that fell at the buzzer to give Pacific the 66-64 victory.

Thanks to Steve Chen of the Big West Conference for sending the video link.

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Bracket Buster Opponents Previews

With all nine teams in action on Saturday, it is a rare day for the Big Sky. All teams have a Bracket Buster matchup, so let's get a paragraph preview of all of their opponents, with lots of help from

TX-Arlington @ Weber State
They enter the game on a 15 game winning streak, one of the longest streaks in the nation. They play a fast pace (17th fastest in the country), which is usually indicative of offenstively-minded teams, but their strength lies in their defense. They are one of the top ten teams in the country forcing turnovers. They also are adept at getting to the FT line, particularly LaMarcus Reed, who leads the team with 16.8 PPG.

Hawaii @ Montana
They aren't big threats from the outside, but they are a decent offensive team because they make their twos and they can get to the foul line. They also hit the offensively glass hard, with a 36.3 OR% (42nd in the country). Defensively, they are not bad expect in that they simply do not force turnovers. If you give people enough possessions, they will score on you. Big man Vander Joaquim could create problems for the Grizzlies, as he is an efficient scorer, excellent rebounder, and solid defender for the Rainbow Warriors.

Portland State @ Idaho
The Vandals are 1-2 against the Big Sky this year, losing to Eastern Washington and Montana, beating Montana State. They like a slow pace, which will be an interesting contrast against a PSU team that doesn't mind getting up and down the court. Idaho is a good offensive basketball team, as they shoot the ball well (both inside and out) and get to the foul line with regularity. Defensively, they are about average, though again hurt by the fact that they don't force many turnovers. This should be a well-played offensive game.

Eastern Washington @ UC Irvine
They enter the game on a four-game losing streak, and sit at 9-17 on the season. They don't really stand out in any area very well. They play fast, but they are a bit below average offensively and defensively. It will be an interesting match of UC Irvine's youth versus the Eagles experience - Irvine doesn't have one contributor that is a senior. They have been susceptible to giving up the three ball, which is something that EWU specifically looks for offensively.

Idaho State @ Pacific
Both teams had losing records out of conference, but have played better of late. Pacific takes care of the basketball very well. Defensively, they allow opponents to get quite a few threes up - 36% of their opponents points come from behind the arc, seventh most in the country. Ross Rivera is a solid contributor for the Tigers, and he scores efficiently and should have a bright future as a sophomore. He is fresh off a game-winner last Saturday.

Cal Poly @ Northern Colorado
Unlike their opponents in this game, Cal Poly does a good job of taking care of the basketball, and they limit opponents possessions by not turning it over a ton and by crashing the offensive glass, giving them more opportunities.  UNC is good at preventing offensive rebounds, so that will be a key battle to watch. Cal Poly has been better than average at stopping opponents from getting a lot of three-point opportunities, which is key to stopping the Bears. Will Taylor is a guy to watch for the Mustangs, as his game could be a problem for UNC. He is a great rebounder and solid inside scorer.

Montana State @ CS Fullerton
These are two teams going in opposite directions - CS Fullerton has won five straight games, while Montana State has lost six straight. The Titans are an excellent offensive team, as they are great three-point shooters (almost 43% on the year), get to the line, and are good at creating second chances. They will be a tough team for the Bobcats to slow down. Their two top scorers are Kwame Vaughn and DJ Seeley, who can score in a lot of ways. MSU is going to need to slow the game down in this one.

San Jose State @ Sacramento State
The Spartans took Weber State to two overtimes, but are now struggling at 1-9 in the WAC.  They look to score from the outside, as they really have just one inside scoring threat in senior Wil Carter. They are not a great outside shooting team, but they take a lot of them.. The Hornets should be able to exploit them a bit down low and get some buckets down there.

UC Davis @ Northern Arizona 
I suspect the only people watching this game will be the fans of the two teams. UC Davis just recently ended their 17 game losing streak (and have won two of three), while NAU is in the throes of a 12 game losing streak. UC Davis relies heavily on the three-pointer, as only one team in America gets more points out of it than they do. Defensively, they don't do a lot of things right, going against a Lumberjacks offense that doesn't do a lot of things right. It should be a close game.

Which matchups are you excited to see?

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Good Article On The Hurley Brothers

Obviously not Big Sky related, but ran across a really good article on the Hurley Brothers, Danny and Bobby Hurley.

Danny is the head coach of Wagner College, while Bobby is his assistant (though you probably know him from this playing days), and both are sons of one of the best high school coaches of all-time, Bob Hurley.

The article is well worth a read.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chehales Centurion Tapscott Is The Best Name In College Basketball

Before the season began, Chehales Tapscott of Portland State was named to the "B.I.A.H Namesmith Award Watch List."

And that was before we knew his middle name.

He revealed during a Q&A with Jon Kasper of the Big Sky Conference that his middle name is Centurion.

Q: Tell us about your first name. We have never heard of anyone else named Chehales (pronounced shuh-HAY-less).
A: I’m just special, ha ha. My father is the architect behind my name; he was a high ranked Vietnam veteran soldier that believed one day I would follow in his footsteps. My first and middle name (Centurion) mean, “leader of the sand warriors.” My father did predict that at this time in my life the military would be fighting in a war in the sand.
Chehales Centurion Tapscott. That has to be one of the best names in America.

Of course, the best part is that he is one heck of a player on the court. He is an undersized but athletic four man, and he is a man that fills the stat sheet. He is currently seventh in the Big Sky in scoring (14 PPG), first in rebounding (9.3), first in blocks (1.9), second in steals (1.9 - trailing only Will Cherry, only one of the best perimeter defenders in America), and fifth in FG percentage (54.5%).

Tapscott will be a first-team Big Sky player, and we will miss him after this season.

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Vote For Damian Lillard

Do your Big Sky civic duty and vote for Damian Lillard.

Voting is for the under-the-radar player in college basketball. At the moment, Lillard is third behind Isaiah Canaan of Murray State and Nate Wolters of South Dakota State.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Northern Colorado Loses A Heartbreaker

When these two teams met in Greeley in January, it was Eastern Washington that was on the wrong end of a stunning, heartbreaking loss. On Wednesday night in Cheney, they returned the favor to the Bears.

Northern Colorado led by as many as 17 in the second half and looked like they were firmly in control of the game, but EWU would not go away. The Eagles chipped away and chipped away, finally breaking through on a Parker Kelly three-point dagger from the corner to put EWU up 74-72. On the ensuing possession, Mike Proctor was called for traveling with 4 seconds left. EWU made one FT, and that was the final.

75-72 Eastern Washington, and a crushing blow dealt to Northern Colorado's hopes of defending their conference title in the Big Sky tournament. UNC came into the game 5-8, trailing EWU by a half game for the final tournament spot. With a home game against Weber State and road game against Portland State, they face an uphill battle.

Cliff Colimon led the Eagles with 22 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds. He was the man that passed it up to find Parker Kelly for the game-winning basket, and should be praised for his unselfishness there. Kelly is a freshman, but has shown a knack in the past few weeks for hitting big shots. It looks like Jim Hayford has found himself a hidden gem. Kelly only had 9 points, but they came on three big treys late in the game.

The Bears started the game hot, making seven of their first eight from beyond the arc. The rest of the way, they were 3/8, and EWU should be commended for tightening up. Connor Osborne led the way with 17 points, and he was solid all night. Tate Unruh had 16 points, but 12 of them came in the first few minutes - he was quiet after that.

Close only makes it all the tougher for Northern Colorado, as they had a potential season-changing win right within their fingers, and they let it slip through. Barring a miracle, their season will end in two weeks at the end of the regular season and UNC will have to hang up their t-shirts until next year. They are a young team and they will be strong next year, but it will sting for a long time.

For Eastern Washington, winning close games has been a problem for them all season long, which has to make this one especially sweet. They are in a great position to make the tournament, and they have the talent to win a game or two when they get there.

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Weber State Moves to 13-1

With Weber State traveling to take on a Montana State team that has lost five straight games and would be without its best player, it wasn't expected to be a close, competitive game.

For the first half, it wasn't. Weber State led 42-24 at the break, and they looked like they were going to run away with a blowout victory.

But then MSU showed a lot of pride and toughness, crawling back to make it a battle in the second half, and giving the Wildcats a legitimate scare. At one point, the Bobcats went on a 12-0 run to cut the lead to 48-46, and both Damian Lillard and Scott Bamforth were on the bench with four fouls.

However, it was then that the Wildcats showed that even if Lillard does go to the draft, they will be a solid team next year. They got a big three from Jordan Richardson (to get the lead back to five), and got some big shots by Byron Fulton. Both players are sophomores. Fulton finished with 17 points and got way too many open looks - he is simply too dangerous as a set shooter to leave him free. Gelaun Wheelwright also gave them very nice minutes off the bench, and I really like his game as long as he is not trying to do too much..

Shawn Reid has a career-high 31 points on 12/15 shooting for Montana State, and at times he was the offense. Two of their best outside shooters (Jeff Budinich and Christian Moon) were a combined 2/20 from the field and 0/16 from downtown, so this would have been a blowout were it not for Reid. If there is a silver lining to the Blount incident, it is that Reid will have a chance to be the guy as a sophomore, and he has the talent to grow into that role.

On a night that Damian Lillard did not play particularly well (for him), and the Wildcats were in foul trouble for most of the second half, they have to be encouraged that they were still able to come out of the game with a road win. It wasn't pretty, but 13-1 is still 13-1.

For the Bobcats, they came into the game just needing something positive to happen, and they got that. They shot the ball poorly, particularly from deep, and they still hung in it against perhaps the best team in the conference. That is at least something to build on, which is something they haven't been able to say much lately.

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Seven Teams Will Make Big Sky Tournament Next Year

With North Dakota and Southern Utah joining the Big Sky next season, we knew there would be changes. There was already talk that the conference season would expand to 20 games, and now we have learned that the tournament will feature seven teams, rather than the six that make it now.

The top seed will still get a bye, and the tournament will still be played at their site, but the second seed will not longer automatically advance to the next round.

In the postseason tournament, the top seed will get a first-round bye in addition to hosting the tournament. The three first-round games will pit the No. 2 seed vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6, and No. 4 vs. No. 5. The top seed will face the lowest remaining seed in the semifinals, with the remaining two teams squaring off.
I like the new format, because I like rewarding the regular season champion. For a one bid league, it is much more beneficial to send your best team to the NCAA tournament (should get a better seed, more likely to pull an upset, etc), and this format it set up for the top seed. Not only will they now be the only team to get a bye (instead of the top 2 teams), but all three rounds will be played at their home gym on consecutive days.

That means that when they play their first game against a 4 or 5, they will have played the day before, rather than having a 2-3 day break, like the current format calls for. It also means that if they make the title game, they will be on their second game in two days, while their opponent will be on their third game in three days. That is huge.

One interesting tidbit from The Missoulian was that coaches were pushing for all 11 teams to make the tournament:

Tinkle said the coaches had pushed for a league tournament that involved all 11 teams.

"If you look around the country, it's an exciting time of the year where you get everybody at one location, all the teams you compete against all year long," Tinkle said. "You're there and it's a true championship. Maybe that's something they'll look at down the road once they see how the seven-team goes.

"I like that all three rounds now are going to be at one location because you get some of that feel. It'll feel like a real championship."
All teams making the tournament would have been really interesting, and hopefully is something that the conference will consider in the future. It would take away some of that aforementioned top seed advantage, but it would make for one exciting tournament.

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Little More on ISU Coaching Search

This time from HoopDirt, which lists some of the candidates for the job. While he omits Chris Jones, whose name appeared in a recent SL Tribune article, the post seems well researched and to have some solid connections.

Deane Martin – Current Interim Head Coach at Idaho State. Has a legit shot to have the interim tag removed. Ripped off four wins in a row before a loss on Monday to Montana. According to my source, AD Jeff Tingey has been impressed by how the team has responded to Martin.
I will admit as an outside observer, I would like to see Martin get the job. He seems like a personable guy, has been a grinder in the coaching ranks, and has proven this year that he can at least coach (don't know how well he recruits).

It will be a very interesting coaching search, and you have to be impressed at the homework ISU is doing to try and find the right man for the job.

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Will Cherry Named Big Sky Player of the Week

In no surprise, Will Cherry was named the Big Sky Player of the Week.

Cherry, a 6-foot-1 junior guard from West Oakland, Calif., averaged 22.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3 assists and 4.3 steals per game, leading the Grizzlies to wins over Idaho State, Northern Colorado and Sacramento State. Montana has won eight straight games and is tied for first place with Weber State at 12-1 in the conference standings. During the three games, Cherry shot 57.9 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range, and 81.8 percent from the free-throw line. He also averaged just two turnovers per game.
Cherry was simply outstanding against Northern Colorado, and also helped them win two other games this week. His play has helped the Grizzlies win eight straight, and could set up a huge showdown with Weber State in two weeks.

It was the second time he won the award this season.

Other candidates: Parker Kelly (EWU), Kenny McGowen ISU), Gabe Rogers (NAU), Shawn Reid (MSU), Tate Unruh (UNC), Chehales Tapscott (PSU), Damian Lillard (WSU), Joe Eberhard (Sac)

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Tonight's Previews and Predictions

Three games on tap this evening, and each becomes more important than the last. A look at the three games on tap, in a special edition of Wednesday night conference play in the Big Sky.

Sacramento State @ Portland State
This is a must win for the Hornets if they want to remain viable contenders to make the Big Sky tournament. Such is the hole they dug after starting 0-8. Portland State has to see an opening for third place. Currently Idaho State is 7-6, while Montana State likely is out of the running for third. With a win, it is right there for the taking for the Vikings. This should be a competitive game because the Hornets are still playing well, but the Viks will be tough at home with a lot at stake. PORTLAND STATE 75, SACRAMENTO STATE 70

Weber State @ Montana State
This was a tough game for Montana State even before the Xavier Blount Situation, now, it looks dire for the Bobcats. Weber State is playing well, and they are a tough matchup for the Bobcats. MSU is suddenly thin in the backcourt, which is not a good thing when you are facing Damian Lillard. I can't see MSU generating enough points or stops in this game. WEBER STATE 81, MONTANA STATE 66

Northern Colorado @ Eastern Washington
This is the biggest game of the night, as EWU leads UNC by half a game for the sixth seed, which of course is the final seed that qualifies for the Big Sky tournament. Northern Colorado played well this last week against Montana, and had a very nice comeback win over Montana State, but things could be a bit tougher on the road. EWU is one of the most athletic teams in the Big Sky, which tends to give the Bears a bit of trouble. Ironically, it could be an Eagle that would fit perfectly in the Northern Colorado offense that could be the difference, as Parker Kelly has been on a roll lately. EASTERN WASHINGTON 72, NORTHERN COLORADO 67

Any other predictions?

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Monday, February 13, 2012

MSU's Xavier Blount May Be Out Rest of the Year

An already bad second half for Montana State got a little bit worse over the weekend. The Bozeman Chronicle reported that junior wing Xavier Blount was involved in an altercation outside of a bar on Saturday night, and had to be hospitalized.

Blount, a junior from Virginia Beach, Va., was taken to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital with shoulder and facial injuries, his stepfather told the, Chronicle.

The injuries were not life threatening, Bozeman police officer Jonathan Barge said Monday morning.

In a statement released Monday, MSU sports information director Bill Lamberty said the injuries were “severe” and that they may end Blount’s season.
Many things come to mind after something like this, but the first is the wish for a speedy and full recovery for Blount. You obviously never like to hear about a guy getting sent to the hospital with neck and facial injuries.

The second thought that comes to mind is a hope that Blount (and others) learn from this incident. Off the court, Blount got charged with disorderly conduct and minor in possession. He also obviously has to deal with the injuries, and hopefully they won't cause any long-term damage. On the court, at the very minimum it appears that his junior season is over. It wouldn't be a surprise to see further ramifications from this.

MSU Athletic Director Peter Fields said (via the Bozeman Chronicle), “We are cooperating as Bozeman and Montana State University police and the MSU Dean of Students Office investigate this matter. The behavior alleged is unacceptable. We will not stand for it and will deal with it in an appropriate manner through our Student Code of Conduct and Student-Athlete Code of Conduct.”

These types of incidents are a black mark to the university in general and to the basketball program in specific. Charles Barkley doesn't like athletes being role models, but the fact is that when a lot of people think about Montana State, the first thing that comes to mind is the athletes. They are ambassadors of the university, and they are people that kids in the community look up to. It is more than a little disconcerting when something like this happens.

The third thought is that this is a big blow to the MSU basketball team. Blount was the team's leading scorer and arguably their best player. For a team on a five game losing streak and struggling for their Big Sky lives, this is a back-breaker. Their depth was already being tested by the removal of Jamie Stewart from the team due to academic issues, and they will be even thinner going forward.

Just a sad situation all-around.

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Damian Lillard Interview With Trevor Amicone

Fantastic interview of Damian Lillard by Trevor Amicone was posted over the weekend... here is the video description from Youtube.

Trevor Amicone sits down with Weber State super star Damian Lillard for an in-depth interview about the Wildcats, what it was like growing up in Oakland and how he made it to where he is now as the nation's leading scorer and one of the best basketball players in the country.
Excellent stuff that you should check out to learn more about Lillard and what makes him so special (on and off the court).

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Photos From Past Couple Games

A few photos that my wife took from Northern Colorado games versus Montana and Montana State (photos can be enlarged by clicking on them)!

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weber State, Montana Remain Tied at Top

We are moving closer to the Big Sky dream scenario of a regular season finale featuring 14-1 Weber State traveling to take on 14-1 Montana, as both teams took care of business on Saturday night.

Weber State hosted Eastern Washington, and won a hard-fought contest 84-75 over an Eagles team that could have really used the win. It was the type of game that showed why Eastern Washington could be a dangerous team in the Big Sky tourney if they make it.

Eastern Washington stayed in it despite a poor night from Collin Chiverton, who finished with just seven points. He found time to fire up 13 shots in just 17 minutes, missing 11 of them. Cliff Colimon led the team with 20 points, but he turned it over 7 times. Parker Kelly continued his ascent up the depth chart, as he may have been the best player for them on this night, finishing with 17 points on 10 shots (including 5/8 from downtown). The freshman walk-on has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the conference.

The Wildcats did not get a great shooting night out of Damian Lillard (4/13) but he found different ways to contribute. He got got to the line 12 times (making them all), so he finished with a game-high 22 points. He also had six rebounds and four assists. Continuing their run of nice balance, four other guys were in double figures, led by Byron Fulton's 16 points (and 9 rebounds).

Weber State is now 20-4 on the year. EWU sits at 5-7 in the Big Sky, just a half-game ahead of Northern Colorado, who they host on Wednesday night.


In the other game, it looked like Montana was in serious trouble against Sacramento State, but they battled back to win 67-58 to finish 7-1 on the road (their best since the mid 1970s). It was their eight straight win and 14 out of 15, stopping Sacramento State's streak of four straight wins.

The Hornets led 32-27 early in the second half, before the Grizzlies went on a 16-2 run helped by their 1-2-2 press, the same thing that was so instrumental in beating Northern Colorado. Eventually, Montana built the lead to 49-37 (helped by a Brian Katz technical), before the Hornets went on a 7-0 run to cut the gap to five. However, just when it looked like they were back in it, they made the kind of mistake that costs team's ballgames.

Konner Veteto swatted a Derek Selvig shot, then taunted Selvig, drawing a technical. As it turned out, that was all she wrote for the Hornets. Montana made the free throws and drained a three, and the lead was never lower than eight the rest of the day. Sacramento State fans are not happy with the refs, but I can't comment too much on that since I did not see enough of the early second half where many of the complaints come from. But it seems to me that Sac State was undone more by lack of composure, both with the Grizzlies press and with frustration by the refs.

Sac State did a nice job on Will Cherry (who still had 17 points) and Kareem Jamar, but it was the seniors that led Montana. Derek Selvig had 14 and 14, and Art Steward had 16 and 8.

The Griz improve to 19-6, and will finish out the regular season at home. The Hornets drop to 4-9 in the Big Sky, and every game is must-win from here on out. Even one more loss could end their chances of making the Big Sky tournament.

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Northern Colorado Stays Alive

Yesterday was an absolute must-win game for Northern Colorado if they wanted to have a chance to make the conference tournament. Sitting at 4-8, 4-9 would not have been a hole they would have been able to come back from, looking at their schedule. However, for 25 minutes, it looked like that was where they were headed, as Montana State led by as many as 16 points early in the second half, before UNC pulled it out for a 77-64 win in OT.

Some thoughts from the game (I was in attendance) in bullet point fashion.

- The key spark for Northern Colorado was that they got into a full-court press (54 press, they called it) early in the second half. BJ Hill said in an interview after the game that it was a staff suggestion, while a member of the staff told me that it was all Hill, and he was just being modest. Whoever's idea it was, it was absolutely huge, and may helped turn this around. Montana State led by 7 at half, and UNC seemed to come out very flat to me in the second half.

So the press did two things - one, it gave the Bears more energy. Coach Hill said, "It gave us some confidence that we could make plays and get some defensive stops which allowed us to get back in there." Two, it took the Bobcats out of their rhythm, and made them take some quick shots at times or hurry more than they would have liked.

- One thing I noticed from MSU, and Bobcats fans have noticed too, after they got a nice lead, they changed from being the aggressor to being a bit more tentative. One reason Hill said they went to the press was that MSU started to take 30 seconds per possession. It seemed like they were content often to do a three-man weave 40 feet from the basket for 20 seconds of the shot clock, eventually leading to a jacked up three (where they finished 4/24). Don't know why they got so tentative.

- Tate Unruh finished with 20 points, including a particularly big three in OT that knocked MSU out. He is fun to watch shoot because his stroke is so pure. He is 34/35 from the FT line, which, needless to say, would put him #1 in America if he had enough attempts to qualify. If he gets an opening, the shot is likely to swish through so well it will barely touch net.

- Mike Proctor had a nice day with 8 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists, but it was something that won't appear in the box score that may have been his best attribute on the day. You can clearly hear him in the back of the defense, communicating and talking with his teammates, telling them where he was, or if he saw a specific play coming. That is the kind of thing that coaches love.

- Paul Garnica provided a nice spark for the Bears in the second half with a couple nice assists and a couple of nice threes, probably playing the best game he has played in a while. He has a tendency to go for the spectacular play rather than the smart and solid play, which usually doesn't go over so well with coaches. In this one he did much better at playing within himself.

- Emmanual Addo showed the whole variety of his offensive game, and why he has the chance to be such a big-time player. He hit two threes, but also showed good fluidity and moves near the basket, finishing with 13 points and 5 rebounds. He still will make a couple head-scratching plays per game, but he has the talent to be one of the best big men in the conference, without question.

- For the Bobcats, for long stretches it seemed like Shawn Reid was their only offensive weapon. It seemed like their best plan of attack was to give it to him to take a stepback jumper with a hand in his face, which can only work so many times (though it was impressive how many times he did make that shot). He led the team with 18 points. I was excited to watch Christian Moon play, but he had no impact. He scored 4 points and finished 0/5 from downtown. He seemed to sit for long stretches, which I am not sure if that was a result of him jacking up a couple threes early in shot clocks.

- Xavier Blount struggled as well, only finishing with 8 points. It is hard to imagine, but the game and the following thoughts on the game would have been a lot differentif Blount had made an extra free throw. With a little under a minute to play and UNC up 55-54, Blount was sent to the line. He made just 1 of 2, and it went to OT tied at 55..

- I know that MSU fans aren't very happy with Rod Singleton at PG, but there are not a lot of options right now. Michael Dison played 19 minutes but had no impact. Without Jamie Stewart, it is tough for them to find the depth to have Blount play the PG more often. It is clear they could have used Antonio Biglow this year.

- In the overtime, MSU never had a chance, as they came out lifeless. Northern Colorado scored 22 points in the five-minute period and put any doubt to rest quickly about who would win. For MSU fans, it is deja vu. Another promising start to the conference season has led to another second half collapse. They should make the conference tournament (since they play one more against NAU), but it is hard to see them making a run.  UNC still has a long way to go to make the conference tournament, but they can at least take some positives out of this one. It is tougher to find them for MSU.


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