Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Hope that you and yours had a great 2012 and have an even better 2013 in store! Thank you to all readers!

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Too Exhausted...

... From watching the Vikings beat the Packers to write!

SKOL VIKINGS!

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Wayne Tinkle's Success

There was a nice article on gogriz.com looking at the success of Wayne Tinkle, especially as it relates to his winning percentage and his ability to get Montana into the Big Dance by winning the Big Sky tournament.

Counting overall victories, whether conference or season total, to me seems mindless since of course the longer a coach is at the helm he's bound to acquire more wins when in fact the winning percentage is the way to measure apples to apples and not to oranges.

For example, Rahe has a conference winning percentage of .775, which impressively stands third behind the Wildcat's three-year coach Phil Johnson and Idaho's Kermit Davis who only remained at the helm in Moscow for two seasons.

Tinks meanwhile has won 69.4 percent of his conference matchups which also impressively stands eighth all-time.
Tinkle is a fantastic coach who likely one day will get swept up by a bigger program and move on (just like Larry Krystowiak before him and a slew of others before that), because that is how things work at the mid-major level. But I am sure Montana fans are enjoying him as long as he is there, and there is no doubt that the Big Sky conference is much better as a whole with Wanye Tinkle as a head coach in the conference.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Idaho State May Have Signed Asaad Woods

According to a tweet of what appears to be a former coach, Junior College wing man Asaad Woods may be coming to Idaho State next semester.


I am still trying to verify this, and figure out when he would be eligible to play.

He originally committed to Liberty University out of the Big South before transferring to Mesa Community College. He was reportedly drawing a lot of interest, including from the University of Montana. He is 6'5'' and averaging 13.6 PPG according to an article that I read.

Again from the linked article, here is a detailed scouting report on his game:

Woods is a rare find in the state of Arizona. Not just because of his variety of skill sets on the basketball court, but also because of his nice size and ability to play multiple positions on the floor. Woods has very good physical size and strength, already possessing a division-I ready body. Woods has a very good overall feel for the game, as he is capable of handling the basketball in the half-court set or in the open floor, and is also capable of scoring around the basket or away from the basket. A left hander, Woods shoots the basketball best from mid-range but is also capable of stepping out to three-point distance, although he needs more work in this area of his game to reach his full potential as a player. Shot selection can be questionable at times. Where Woods fourishes though, is in his ability to distribute the basketball to open teammates while drawing defenses to himself off the dribble. He is also a very unselfish player, which should fair very nicely at the collegiate level. Woods is also a very good rebounder, especially on the offensive end of the floor where he utilizes his strong body to gain good inside position. He is also an excellent on-the-ball defender and is capable of becoming a lock-down defender in college. A very good looking sleeper prospect.

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Northern Colorado Signee Jordan Wilson Impresses

Northern Colorado will be bringing in guard Jordan Wilson next year, and he appears to be playing some good basketball.


Jerome Green also chimed in:


Wilson will add quickness to the UNC backcourt next year, and should be a lot of fun for fans of the conference to watch and follow.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Northern Arizona Falls to BYU

It is never easy to go into BYU and win a game, and Northern Arizona found this out on Thursday night. The Cougars jumped out to a huge first half lead and never looked back, winning the game 84-54.

For the Lumberjacks, senior guard Michael Dunn was the only one producing. He finished with 17 points on 7/9 shooting. Nobody else scored in double figures.

DeWayne Russell had about as good of a start as you could ever hope for from a freshman, but has cooled down a bit in his past few games. He was just 4/14 from the floor, with 9 points and 4 turnovers. Those kind of nights will happen.

What has to be more concering for head coach Jack Murphy is the play of senior guard Gabe Rogers. He is among the Big Sky leaders in scoring, but don't let that fool you - he has struggled this season. He finished 2/13 on the night (0/6 from downtown), and had 10 turnovers. He was shooting 31% from twos and 32% from threes, and that was before the game. He doesn't create offense for others with his low assist rate, shoots a ton (18 highest shot percentage in the country), and has been extremely inefficient when he has shot. That is a bad combination all around.

For the game, NAU had 24 turnovers, and had no answer for Brandon Davies down low, who was 13/16 from the floor. They drop to 4-8 on the season.

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Should the Big Sky Look at Portland State's Scoreboard?

I should preface this by saying that I have never been to the Stott Center, so it's tough for me to give my opinion on this article. But Bob Meseroll (Montana beat writer for The Missoulian) watched the Weber State/Portland State game last week, and didn't like what he saw from the scoreboard.

If the Big Sky Conference has protocol on how and when scoreboards can be used, then it needs to revisit the issue. The worst offender is Portland State. PSU added a jumbotron-style scoreboard at Stott Center two years ago. The thing is ridiculously large for an arena that seats fewer than 2,000 people, but that’s not the point. The scoreboard is positioned so that it does not line up with the court, but it’s nevertheless in the line of sight for players on offense at that end of the court. While watching the Weber State-Portland State game last week, you could see the scoreboard flashing DEE-FENSE while Weber State had the ball. The green light was so brilliant it was reflected off the court. For Weber State, players to the left of the lane were shooting directly into the obnoxious flashing sign. The scoreboard should not be in use when the ball is in play.
I know the Stott Center has a good sized scoreboard, especially relative to the size of the gym. For those that have been there, do you see this happening (scoreboard flashing like that during the game) and do you think it is an issue? Would love to hear thoughts.

EDIT: Below is a picture taken by Brett Hein of The Upset, which gives a good indication of the glare on the court:


And here is a reaction I got off Twitter:


EDIT 2: Just going to quote Brett Hein again, because he stated the point succinctly on twitter:

"The issue isn't with the board itself. It's with the graphics being used during play... when just showing video, it's okay. But flashing DEFENSE graphics affect the game... and are of course not going to be used when PSU is on offense facing that basket"

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Southern Utah Signs Juwan Major

Late last week, Southern Utah coach Nick Robinson added to a solid recruiting class with the addition of guard Juwan Major out of Las Vegas. By my count, Major is the fourth member of the Thunderbirds recruiting class.

Despite not visiting the Cedar City, Utah, school, Major had no reservations about committing. Southern Utah coaches had been to a few Las Vegas practices and sold him on his chances of thriving in their program. And, more important, the school is about a three-hour drive from his home base in Southern Nevada.
He also had an offer from Portland State, and apparently received some interest from Arizona State and Detroit. He follows his twin sister (women's basketball) and older brother (football) as scholarship athletes for Southern Utah.

He is a 6'3'', lefty shooting guard with good length. He has good athletic ability, and uses a quick first step to be able to score off the dribble. He is also a solid passer which is big when combined with his ability to get to the rim off the dribble. He will need to work on his outside shot, as it is a bit inconsistent at this point in his young career.

He is a nice pickup for Nick Robinson, who is looking to restock the backcourt, since he will be losing Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

No Place Like Home For The Holidays

We are headed back to the promised land (aka North Dakota) for Christmas, so as you might expect things will be a little sparse around the blog. Hold things together and if I don't get to post before then, hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Weber State's Balance is Their Strength

Last year, Weber State had Damian Lillard (one of the best players in the country) and a bunch of guys they hoped would contribute around him, with a roster that was hit very hard by injuries. This year, this is no one star, but their strength is that they have a lot of guys that contribute.

Nine guys average in double digits in minutes played, and a tenth (Byron Fulton) will likely join that club as he gets healthier. They have a lot of guys that pitch in, which was never more evident than their Big Sky opener.

They beat Eastern Washington 74-53, as ten guys played double figure minutes. Seven players scored at least seven points, with nobody above 15 points. Jordan Richardson led the team with 15 points... before the year, many thought he would be coming off the bench behind Gelaun Wheelwright.

 The leading scorer on the season is Davion Berry, at 13.6 PPG. Fresh off a 25 point game against BYU, he had just nine points...but pitched in seven assists. Their leading rebounder was freshman Joel Bolomboy. In 22 minutes, he had 9 points, 12 rebounders, and 4 blocks. He is already one of the best defensive rebounders in the country (his DR% of 29.5 is sixth in the country), and he is a good offensive rebounder as well. He is already a high impact player whose biggest problem is difficult finding minutes because of WSU's depth up front.

Speaking of Bolomboy, he is a poster boy for what looks to be a trend in the Big Sky - Weber State is recruiting better athletes than everyone else. With him, Kyndahl Hill, Royce Williams, Richaud Gittens, and Jeremy Senglin among the recruits brought in over the past couple of seasons, it is soon going to be extremely difficult for any team in the conference to match up with the Wildcats athletically.

The Wildcats are 5-3 overall and 1-0 in Big Sky play, but I have a feeling (and I am sure the coaching staff does as well) that they will do a lot of improving this year. There is no elite team in the Big Sky yet this year, but WSU has a chance to be one by the end of the season.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Montana and Sacramento State Start Big Sky Play 1-0

I haven't been able to write as much this week due to some long workdays, but wanted to post some links to last night's Big Sky games.

Montana beat Northern Arizona 62-56, moving the Grizzlies to 1-0 in conference play, and dropping the Lumberjacks to 1-1.
- Here is Montana's athletic site write-up, and here is Northern Arizona's write-up.
- Here are some postgame comments from Montana beat man Bob Meseroll.
- Here is the article from The Missoulian.
- Jack Central takes a look at the game.

In the other game of the night, Sacramento State held off Montana State, putting the Hornets 1-0 in conference play while dropping the Bobcats to 0-2.
- Here is Montana State's write-up, and here is Sacrameno State's.
- Sac State Sports notes that this is the first time the Hornets have won their conference opener since 2005-06.
- Gidal Kaiser from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle types up his thoughts.

Any thoughts on the games?

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Southern Utah Beats North Dakota in Battle of Newcomers

It was the first Big Sky game for both Southern Utah and North Dakota, with the Thunderbirds starting off conference play on the right foot. SUU rode 12 blocks on their way to a 79-67 over North Dakota on Monday night.

The Thunderbirds led early and never gave it up, though North Dakota did have the deficit as low as 62-59 late in the second half. However, SUU just wouldn't let them get easy shots, and they hit just enough big ones themselves to get the victory. 

Jackson Stevenett led the way with 21 points in 37 minutes, shooting 9/19 from the floor. He also had 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals, showing that he is one of the best and most complete players in the conference when he is on his game. Wade Collie had a career high 18 as well, and showcased a pretty good offensive game.

The Thunderbirds have been average blocking shots all year, but 12 of them in this game was obviously huge. Big man Jayson Cheesman could be in the running for defensive player of the year in the conference... he came into the game with a 14.0 Block Rate (12th in the country), and had three more tonight. He is a stout defender and rebounder (22.7 DR%), and he really was a great recruiting get for head coach Nick Robinson.

For North Dakota, they simply weren't getting many looks. The guard play was supposed to be the strength of the team, but they miss Troy Huff a lot. In particular, Jamal Webb continues to give them poor play. He was 2/9 from the court, finishing with four points and five turnovers. His ORtg was already a dismal 74.1, and it could go down after this game. He has been a turnover machine, which I don't have to tell you is not a great trait for your starting PG.

Southern Utah is 1-0 in conference play, while North Dakota is 0-1. UND is now 2-20 on the road over the past two years.

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Northern Arizona Starts 1-0 in Big Sky Play


Last season, Northern Arizona won just a single Big Sky game, finishing with a 1-15 mark in the conference. This year, they have matched that mark after just one game.

Northern Arizona started fast and held on for an 87-80 victory over Montana State in head coach Jack Murphy's first career Big Sky game. Surprisingly, it wasn't the guard play that was the difference, but the play of big man Max Jacobsen. He came into the game averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game on the year.

Against the Bobcats, he was good for 22 and 9, icnluding 9/12 shooting from the court. He also had a couple blocks for good measure. He was the difference with key post points when MSU was making their second half surge (it was an 18 point game at half, but the Bobcats cut it to as low as five in the second frame). Jacobsen was a star, and if he continues that, NAU is a legit threat in the Big Sky.

DeWayne Russell was solid but not spectacular. He had 12 points at the break before finishing wiht 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. All five NAU starters finished in double figures. Senior PG Stallon Saldivar picked up his 400th career assist in the game as well.

For Montana State, they drop to 2-6 on the year, and they didn't look great in this game. They struggled in a major way defensively, and only looked good offensively in spurts. Antonio Biglow had 15 points, but they need him to be a guy that gets easy baskets for others as well. He had three assists compared to two turnovers. Xavier Blunt and Jamie Stewart are other guys with the talent to take over stretches and get others good looks, but they didn't do that in this game.

It's a big year for Brad Huse, but I have a feeling he still doesn't know what he has in his team. On the other side, we know what Jack Murphy has - a program on the rise.

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Eastern Washington Likes to Shoot Threes

Since the start of the Jim Hayford era last season, Eastern Washington has been a team that loves the three ball. Last, year, they were tied for fourth in the country in three point attempts per game. This year, they will be first after Monday night's game.

In tonight's game against UC Davis (an 87-65 loss), EWU took it to an extreme unlike that which you usually see. Here is a look at the boxscore.

3/19 on two-pointers
8/10 on free throws
17/41 on three-pointers

No, that is not a typo. At the half they were 10/24 from downtown, and 1/10 from inside the arc.

The funny thing is, hoisting up that many shots wasn't the reason they lost. When you shoot 41.5% from the outside, it is good to shoot a lot. The bigger reason was that they were shooting bricks inside, and couldn't get to the line (which, I will grant, is a function of shooting so many threes). Their defense wasn't so good either.

 But that is a shooting disparity you don't see much in basketball.

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An Update on Collin Chiverton

Just wanted to give a quick update on what I heard in regards to Collin Chiverton and his return for Eastern Washington.

If you have not heard, within the span of a few weeks both Chiverton's mother and best friend passed away, and he has been away from the team dealing with all of that. I was told that during this time he has been taking care of his studies as well, leaving him on track to graduate normally (he is a senior).

I heard that Chiverton will be rejoining the team next week, but won't play until after Christmas. This should make his first game back on January 3rd, when the Eagles will travel to take on Montana. Hopefully enough folks will be aware of what has happened that Chiverton could get a nice ovation, even though it is a road game for the Eagles.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Montana's Rebounding is a Major Issue

On Saturday night, Montana hosted South Dakota State in a game that they could win, and would be big for their resume and for the conference (SDSU is ranked 14th in the mid-major poll). However, for Montana, the issue again was rebounding the basketball, which was a key factor in a 68-67 double OT loss. They had their chances:

The Jackrabbits jumped to a 59-53 lead with 3:01 left in the first overtime on a lay-up by junior forward Chad White. The Griz cut SDSU's lead to one (59-58) on a three-pointer by Weisner and a lay-up by senior forward Mathias Ward with 1:35 left to play.

Once again the Griz had a chance to take the lead, but junior guard-forward Kareem Jamar made just the first of his two free throw shots, and his charity shot knotted the game up at 59-all with five seconds left in the first OT. UM sophomore guard Keron DeShield fired up a desperation three-point attempt, but it was long and off to the left, forcing the second overtime.
On a more macro level, rebounding continues to be their Achilles' heel. The Jackrabbits had a 46-31 rebound advantage, including 14 offensive rebounds (leading to a 22-4 edge in second-half points for SDSU). As Bob Meseroll writes, in the Grizzlies' four losses, they are an astounding -50 in rebounding. They have an OR% of 16.6%, which is dead last in the country (347 out of 347).

They struggled rebounding last year, but there were a couple differences. One, Derek Selvig was there. He was much maligned in his career, but he was the best defensive rebounder on the team. Two, Will Cherry being out hurt, because he was a good rebounder from the PG spot and DeSheilds/Gregory aren't as good. It is not a great sign when getting your PG back will really help your rebounding woes, but that is the case for Montana.

Kareem Jamar is the team's best rebounder, and it's not even really close. Here is a look at the rebounding rates of everyone 6'7'' or taller on the Grizzlies:


By comparison, Konner Veteto of Sac State leads the conference with a 14.9 OR%, and Joel Bolomboy of Weber State leads with a 29.2 DR%. Montana's big men's rebounding numbers aren't just bad, they are terrible. They simply can't beat good teams if they continue to rebound like this.

The solutions are not obvious. Mathias Ward is their best big man because he is a really good offensive player, but he has shown throughout his career he doesn't add anything on the glass. Eric Hutchison showed flashes of being a good defender and rebounder last year, but those flashes haven't been there this season. Andy Martin can contribute in spurts, but he is probably a year or two away from being a guy they can really count on. Same for Jake Wiley.

The key might be Spencer Coleman. He is just 6'6'', but was a good rebounder at the JUCO level. He is a very talented player but has struggled making the transition to the DI level. Getting Will Cherry back will help, but the Grizzlies could really use Coleman turning into a legitimate Big Sky starting forward. The talent is still there to win the conference, but they need someone in the frontcourt to step up. So far, that hasn't happened.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

James Douglas Struggling Post-Northern Arizona

One interesting thing about Idaho State's loss to Cal State Fullerton last night was another look at former Northern Arizona guard James Douglas.

Douglas was one of the best freshmen in the conference last year, scoring 11.8 games for the Lumberjacks. He made 38% of his threes, and played 29.1 minutes per game. This year for the Titans, he is playing a lot less (about 14 minutes per game), and not really showing that he should be playing a lot more. His ORtg has dropped from 96.9 to 77.9, partially because his turnover rate has more than doubled. There may be some sample size issues, but it is still a rough beginning.

Douglas is a talented guy, and I am sure he will go on to have a fine career for the Titans. In the end, this may work out for the best. Douglas wouldn't have had the same role this year as he did last year, and judging by the recruiting classes brought in by new head coach Jack Murphy, he is probably not losing any sleep over the transfer.

The lesson though, I think, is that life is always better in the Big Sky.

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North Dakota Wins; Idaho State Needs Offensive Answers

There were two Big Sky games on Thursday night, and the losing teams of the two games combined to score 85 points.

First, North Dakota took down Presentation College by the score of 74-32. Just a few stats, since gaudy numbers are to be expected in a game like this.

At the half, the score was  28-10, as Presentation was just 4/18 from the field. UND shot 55% from the floor for the game, led by Alonzo Traylor scoring 17 points on 8/8 shooting. Amazingly, there were only 13 fouls called in the game, and Presentation was 0/2 from the stripe. From that standpoint, that was about as clean of a game as you could get.

One area of concern for UND continues to be the turnovers of Jamal Webb. He committed six of them in this game, and the starting guard now averages 4.6 giveaways per game.

Now, the important thing.... who is Presentation College? Their nickname is the Saints, and they are now 4-6 on the year with losses to teams like Minnesota-Morris, Trinity Bible College, Valley City State, and Oglala Lakota College. It appears they compete in the D3 ranks. In other words, this probably won't do wonders for UND's RPI, but it is a win.

-----

In the other game of the night, Idaho State went to play Cal State Fullerton and lost by a score of 66-53. The loss drops them to 1-7 on the year.

As has been the case all year, their struggles were mostly with putting the ball in the basket. They shot 38%, including 4/14 from downtown. Tomas Sanchez was their only real threat, as he scored 17 points on 6/10 shooting. He also had five rebounds, three assists, and three steals.

Apart from Sanchez and Andre Hatchett, the rest of the team shot 7/27 from the floor. Starting PG Melvin Morgan was 1/9 from the floor, with one assist to three turnovers. Guard Chris Hansen was supposed to provide long-range shooting, but he is just 16/44 from downtown this year.  The team as a whole is shooting 27% from three-pointers on the young season. If they are going to be more than a bottom Big Sky team, that number has to improve.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Portland State Falls to Pac-12 Team

It was a rare case of a Pac-12 team visiting the home gym of a Big Sky team, and for a while it looked like Portland State might pull off the upset. They jumped out to an early lead over Oregon State, leading 22-13 after 11 minutes, as they were forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball.

However, it was then that the Beavers put on a 1-3-1 trap and did some other things to put pressure on the Vikings, which allowed them back in the game. Eventually, it was Oregon State winning 79-74.

"Everything went the way we wanted it to go the first 10 or 12 minutes," said Viking Coach Tyler Geving but acknowledged his team's downfall. "You can't simulate their length and quickness (in the 1-3-1 zone). We got in trouble against it even though we worked on it (in preparation). When (Moreland) is at the top of that thing it is hard to go from one side to the other and attack gaps. All of a sudden they are trapping you with two big, athletic guys."
Portland State did some things really well. They shot 56% from the floor, with guys like Renado Parker (16), Lateef McMullan (16), and Aaron Moore (14) providing efficient scoring threats. They rebounded well, staying even with the Beavers in that category. They forced 18 turnovers.

However, they also turned it over 19 times, including 4 from PG McMullan.They made just 2/11 from downtown, and struggled to get to the free throw line (just 4/7 on the night). When you aren't hitting from outside or getting easy points at the line, that puts a lot of pressure on the offense to keep hitting their shots. Even though they did, they couldn't overcome the -14 advantage that OSU had at the line.

The Vikings fall to 1-5 on the season with the loss.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kyle Tresnak is Big Sky Player of the Week

Kyle Tresnak for Weber State got off to a little bit of a slow start this year, but it's safe to say that is in the rearview mirror.

The junior big man has been named the conference Player of the Week after scoring 18 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game in two wins.

Tresnak has scored at least 16 points in each of the last three games — all WSU victories. After six games, he is averaging 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He is also third in the Big Sky in blocks at 2.0 per game.
If he is on track, he can be a potential kryptonite versus Montana, because on paper, he should be able to score in bunches against them inside.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Big Sky Poll - Who Will Lead The Conference in Scoring?


The Big Sky has a poll out there asking the question, "Of the league's five leading scores, who is the most likely end the season as the Big Sky's scoring champion?"

It lists the current top five options, along with an other category. Of the options, here are my thoughts:

DeWayne Russell (NAU) - He was my pick. He is the current leader in scoring, and has looked like an all-conference player. He is efficient, with a 112.8 ORtgm sgiitubg 53% from twos, 43% from threes, and almost automatic from the stripe. His usage should get higher too as he gains more experience.

Gabe Rogers (NAU) - He is currently third, but has a great chance to lead the conference in scoring thanks to a high volume. He takes 35.9% of his team's shots when he's on the court, the ninth highest rate in the NCAA. He is only shooting 33% from twos and 32% from threes, but he takes so many shots that he could lead the Big Sky if he just improves those percentages a little bit.

Justin Crogsile (EWU) - He should have a good shot because he plays PG for a team that likes to get up and down the court and take a lot of threes. The Eagles play a faster pace than anyone else in the conference, which is big. His numbers could take a hit though when Collin Chiverton returns. Chiverton has missed the past few games dealing with personal issues, after losing both his mother and best friend this year.

Kareem Jamar (MT) - He hasn't taken a ton of shots, but has been excellent when he has. He has a 119.3 ORtg, a testament to the fact that he does everything well. The burden to carry the offense will be taken off when Will Cherry returns, but Jamar doesn't really take bad shots, so he should continue at a similar clip to now, where he is at 14.9 PPG.

John Dickson (SAC) - He is currently second in the conference, but I think that could drop a little bit. Nothing against Dickson, but he is playing a little over his head shooting wise, which I expect will drop closer to his career averages. Plus, the Hornets have good balance and a lot of scoring options, which could further push his average down a bit.

Others - Chiverton was my pick before the year, but as mentioned he has been dealing with quite a few personal issues. Will Cherry has the ability to lead the conference, but I am not sure he will quite get there. Another darkhorse is Jackson Stevenett. He is tenth in the conference with 13.4 PPG, but he has been struggling with a shoulder injury. That average should slowly increase.

Go vote in the poll here.

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Freshman Reigning in the Big Sky

It is early in the season, but an interesting trend is starting to emerge in some statistical categories in the Big Sky. Here is a look at some numbers as of the end of Tuesday, December 10th.

In scoring, DeWayne Russell leads the conference at 17.1 points per game. Venky Jois is ninth with 13.6 per game.

In rebounding, Jois is leading the conference at 9.3 per game. Joel Bolomboy is second at 8.5 per contest. Bolomboy's is astounding because he is playing just over half the minutes for the Wildcats (21.8 per game), and is still putting up those numbers. He has a DR% of 30.5, which is good for fourth in the country (and his offensive rebounding percentage is top 200 nationally).

Russell is also fourth in the conference in assists (3.9 per game), tied for first in steals (2.0 per game), and third in free throw percentage (94.1%).

If you haven't picked up on it right now, all three of these guys are freshmen. The Big Sky is having a down year so far (though I do think things will pick up), but the future looks bright, in part because of guys like these three.

If you follow the Big Sky, these are three names that you are going to be hearing an awful lot for the next four years.

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Weber State and Montana Receive Votes in Mid-Major Poll

The Mid-Major Poll is out, and two Big Sky teams are receiving votes.

Weber State has 12 votes (which would tie them for 36th), and Montana has 8 votes (which has them 41st) in the poll. I don't believe any Big Sky teams has been ranked in the top 25 all year.

For Weber State, the road win over Dayton has earned them a lot of respect(rightfully so), and I think the case could be made that they should be a lot higher than they are. For Montana, the return of Will Cherry should help them win more games and climb up the charts.

Hopefully by year end we will have at least two teams ranked in this poll, though it ultimately doesn't really mean anything.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Another Double-Double for Venky Jois, But EWU Loses

Suffice to say that the season has not gone exactly as Eastern Washington would have liked. The Eagles are now 2-7 after a 75-69 home loss to Seattle.

As is often the case when EWU loses, their problems came from shooting the basketball. They were just 6/27 from downtown, including 1/8 from reserve guard Parker Kelly. “I thought we executed well,” said Hayford. “I didn’t think any of the 21 misses from three were bad shots. We just have to make them.”

A birhgt spot, as has been the case often this year, was big man Venky Jois, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds. However, he also had 7 turnovers, and shot just 2/6 from the free throw line. Jois had been leading the conference in rebounding at 9.0 per game. Now, his average will jump to 9.3 per game. He is also in the top ten in scoring and field goal percentage.

Ultimately, EWU's style of play could cause them to win some games they should lose (if they are shooting well), and lose some games they probably should win (when they are shooting poorly). This was one of the former. They didn't play great defensively, but the reality is that if they make three more treys and shoot 33% from outside, they win.

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North Dakota Falls to Rival NDSU

This game happened last night, but wanted to talk a little about it since it is such a big rivalry game. North Dakota and North Dakota State are constantly comparing themselves to each other, and it's a great rivalry (now we just need to see it again in football)!

North Dakota went down to Fargo on Sunday night and lost 72-52 to the Bison. Things were already going to be tough without Troy Huff, who is still out with an injury. They were made even tougher by the loss of Brandon Brekke, who suffered a concussion three minutes into the game. Without him, UND's already thin frontcourt struggled on the glass, as NDSU had 18 offensive rebounds.

The biggest reason for the loss, it seems, was North Dakota's inability to hang onto the ball. They turned it over 19 times (compared to 6 for NDSU) compared to just six assists. Starting guards Aaron Anderson and Jamal Webb combined to cough it up 8 times. UND gave it away in six of their first eleven second half possessions, pushing a 30-24 deficit into double digits, a lead that stayed in double digits the rest of the way.

Jamal Webb in particular has struggled this year, with a 31.8 TO Rate, which is really, really high for anyone, let alone a PG. This is nothing new, as he posted 30.0 and 28.9 TO Rates in his first two seasons. So far this year he has a whopping 4.3 turnovers per game. That is going to be tough for any team to overcome.

The loss drops UND to 1-6 on the young season.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Northern Arizona Recruit Ako Kaluna Shatters The Backboard

Northern Arizona recruit Ako Kaluna is strong. Very strong. If you want to see proof, watch #12 on the video... Kaluna gets the ball on a putback and powers it through, taking down the rim and shattering the backboard in the process.



The crazy part (or, the crazier part), comes from this nugget from the LA Times:

The powerful Kaluna broke a rim at West Ranch last year, and the school has ordered more than one rim in case his strength comes into play again.
He shattered the backboard, and it wasn't even his first experience doing this. He is averaging 19.3 points and 14.7 rebounds per game this season, and at this point looks like an absolute steal for head coach Jack Murphy.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

A Look at Southern Utah (With Help Of KenPom)

I will be honest, the team I know the least about in the Big Sky is Southern Utah. My guess is that among Big Sky fans, I am not alone. So I decided to take a look at the Thunderbirds, with the help of kenpom.com.

Through their first eight games, SUU is 316th in the country in offensive efficiencyy (89.6), and 282nd in defensive efficiency (104.7). In the Big Sky, that makes them tenth best offensively, but sixth best defensively.

On offense, their problem has been twofold. For one, they have turned the ball over far too often. Their TO Rate is 28.6, which is 342nd in the country (out of 347). PG Damon Heuir had a 23.5 TO Rate, but the frontcourt has been a big part of the problem. Starting forwards Wade Collie (35.4) and Jaren Jeffery (36.1) have sky high rates. Jackson Stevenett is one of the lone exceptions, as he has taken care of the ball despite a high usage rate.

Their other offensive problem is outside shooting, where they have hit just 25.8% from downtown. That is a tough thing to overcome, as it clogs the middle, as well as not allowing you to reap the benefits of threes. This is not a big part of their offense attempts-wise, but it would be big if someone can become a threat from out there.

Defensively, teams are shooting the lights out against them, as opponents have a 45% three-point percentage against SUU. I don't expect that will continue unless the TBirds are extremely unlucky, so that should be an outlier that will slowly adjust closer to the mean. They have struggled to force turnovers as well, as opponents have a 16.0 TO Rate, 325th in the nation. That discrepancy between how many TOs they commit versus how many they force is a big reason why they are 2-6.

Two things they do well is rebound the basketball defensively and block shots. Jayson Cheesman has been particularly solid in both areas, and has been a great signing by Nick Robinson. Cheesman has a 22.7 DR% and a 14.0 Block % (which is 13th in the country). The big guys are mostly unheralded, but they do a nice job of protecting the rim, which will further be a boost for their defense when teams stop hitting so many threes against them.

Southern Utah or Big Sky fans, anything else to add about them?

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Vacation

One of our best friends is taking her vows to become a nun this Friday, meaning I will be out of town Thursday through Saturday! I will still have a couple posts up (look for a more in depth look on Southern Utah tomorrow), but won't be able to respond to any email or tweets for the next few days!!

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NAU Recruit Kris Yanku Has A Big Day

Kris Yanku is part of an impressive six man recruiting class for Northern Arizona next year, and he is playing well early in his senior season.


Yanku is a 6'4'' G, and his commitment was heavily praised as a great pickup for NAU by recruiting experts when he committed. Certainly he is a guy that could come in and immediately have a big impact in the Big Sky.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Damon Heuir's Rejection

Damon Heuir of Southern Utah may be a PG, but he might have had the block of the year so far in the Big Sky, when he rejected San Diego's Mike Davis.



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Venky Jois is Big Sky POTW

Without a huge surprise, Eastern Washington freshman Venky Jois has been named the Big Sky Player of the Week. In last Friday's victory over Cal State Fullerton, he tallied 22 points and 13 rebounds on 10/14 shooting.

He has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the Big Sky this season, and currently leads the conference in rebounding. He has three double-doubles on the season, and is doing it all as a true freshman. Coach Jim Hayford has a great building block for the program for the next four season.

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Southern Utah Falls 67-53 to San Diego

Southern Utah had started the season 3-0 at home, but a poor start made sure they wouldn't be 3-0, as they fell 67-53 to San Diego on Tuesday night.

After falling behind early against San Diego on Tuesday night, Southern Utah started the second half on a 17-3 run to bring the game back within three. That is as close as the Thunderbirds would get however as the visiting Toreros held on to win by a final score of 67-53.
The Thunderbirds got a stat sheet filling game from Damon Heuir (17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists), though unfortunately one of the categories he filled was turnovers (6). He is having a solid year but a TO rate of 23.5 is a little higher than you would like to see from the point guard.

There were some encouraging signs, such as the TBirds outrebounding the Toreros 43-31, getting good contributions from everyone. They also had an impressive ten blocks. But they struggled from the outside (3/21 from three-point range, which isn't really their specialty), while turning it over 16 times.

They now have almost two weeks off, as their next game will be December 17th, when they will welcome North Dakota to Cedar City for both teams first Big Sky game.

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Excellent DeWayne Russell Article

DeWayne Russell has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the early Big Sky season, as the true freshman has been playing at an all-conference level to begin the season.

Now, the Northern Arizona website has a great article up on him. Russell has originally committed to USC (much like Gelaun Wheelwright, a key piece for Weber State), but then changed his mind.

However, Russell, who moved to Arizona from Philadelphia, Pa. at nine years of age, had a change of heart. USC started recruiting another guard, he didn't feel comfortable about going anymore and his family thought that maybe USC wasn't the best situation for him.

Enter Murphy and the retooling Lumberjacks.

"Through the decommitment process, I met Coach Murphy and he was so real with me and my family thought that it would be good if I stayed close to home," Russell said. "I came up here for a visit and fell in love with the campus and the people and I love it here. Ever since I moved here I've loved the state. I loved playing at my high school, Peoria High, and I thought it would be good to stay close to home."

With a senior trio of guards – Michael Dunn, Gabe Rogers and Stallon Saldivar – Russell joined his Lumberjack mates this fall with a lot of leadership and experience to draw from in the backcourt. While he's just seven games into his collegiate career, Russell has shown to be a blend of all three of his mentors, showcasing the scoring prowess of Rogers, the innate passing ability of Saldivar and the aggressive perimeter defense of Dunn as evident by his team-leading 16.3 points, 3.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Despite standing at just 5-11, Russell even has collected the third-most rebounds on the team.
He is worth the price of admission.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Will Cherry Could Play Saturday

According to reporter Shaun Rainey (with a quote from Wayne Tinkle)...


This is big for Montana, which has struggled a bit without Cherry. If he can be 100& and back in the swing of things by conference time, the Grizzlies will have to be feeling very good about things.

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Big Sky Early Season Surprises and Trends

With Big Sky teams having anywhere from four to seven games under their belts, let's take a look at some of the early season surprises, trends, and noteworthy/interesting items.

- DeWayne Russell and Venky Jois - In my preseason preview under the top newcomers section, these two guys are the top freshman listed (Jois is #4 newcomer, Russell is #9), so they are not coming out of nowhere. But it certainly qualifies as a surprise at how well these guys are playing. I hope to write more about them in the coming weeks, but a quick peek shows that Jois is averaging 13.6 PPG and a conference leading 8.9 rebounds per game while shooting 55% from the field. Russell averages 16.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, shooting 47% from the floor and 44% from downtown. Jois has an ORtg of 107.9, while Russell checks in at 110.9. They could be all-conference players already.

- Struggles of the Big Sky - It's not a surprise that the conference is struggling a bit, as some of the top teams are dealing with issues, such as Montana (Will Cherry's injury), Weber State (finding their way after Damian Lillard), and Eastern Washington (Collin Chiverton has gone through the deaths of two people close to him). But still, only one team (Sacramento State) is over .500, while two other teams are .500. Five teams have just one victory. Some of it is early season guarantee games, but there have been some missed chances.

- Idaho State may be the country's most boring team - This is not an indictment on them, because I believe this gives them their best chance to win, but there is no question that the Bengals can be a tough team to watch. No opponent has scored more than 60 points against them, and they have scored less than 50 on four occasions. They are 318th in the country in pace, and their offensive efficiency is 325th. I think this grind it out style is going to win them one or two games this year that will surprise some people, but fans may have to cover their eyes.

- The lack of defense - Eastern Washington leads the conference in raw points per game allowed, giving up 84.0 per game. Adjusted stats show that they have not been the worst defensive team, but that high number is partly due to pace (they are the 19th fastest team in the country so far). Seven teams are 270th or worst in adjusted defensive efficiency so far, with four schools 300th or worse.

Eastern Washington - 106.3 (302nd)
Portland State - 107.1 (311th)
Montana State - 108.3 (323rd)
Sacramento State - 108.6 (324th)

It is not a great sign that the Hornets are 5-2, best record in the conference, but are last in defensive efficiency. Simply put, the conference is going to continue to have a low profile as long as teams struggle so much defensively.

- Top four rebounds are newcomers - I have already talked about Jois, the freshman who is leading the conference. After him is Joel Bolomboy, a freshman from Weber State who has pulled down eight per game. He has been the best rebounder in the conference so far, with an OR% of 14.3 (fourth in Big Sky), and a DR% of 23.5 (tied for Jois as best in Big Sky), but I am not sure he will get enough minutes to lead the conference. Derrick Barden (my pick to lead the conference) is third, while Martin Seiferth is fourth. There was a good infusion of rebounding talent this year.

- Dylan Garrity should shoot more - Last season, Garrity averaged 6.9 assists per game but was average in shooting the ball. This year, the assists are down to 5.4 per game, but he has been otherworldly shooting the basketball. His TS% is 78.2% (third in the country), putting his ORtg at 141.6. He has made 31/32 free throws, 73.1% of his twos, and 46% of threes. Obviously this won't keep up, but he is becoming a dynamic offensive force, equally adept at scoring or finding an open teammate.

Has anything else caught your eye early in the year?

*Photo taken from here.

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Big Sky Recruiting Tracker is Updated

I have updated the 2013-14 Big Sky Recruiting Tracker as best as I could.

If the player's name is highlighted, that is a link to an article off the team's official site announcing the signing. And then after their name, obviously, is a link to the article I wrote about the signing.

Please let me know if I have missed anyone!!

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Big Sky Preview

As I write this, Montana State, is trailing San Jose State by double digits near the end of the first half, so I won't include anything about that game in my preview. Here are a few things to look for on this Saturday in the Big Sky.

- Sacramento State looks for another Pac-12 win - The Hornets took down Utah earlier in the year, and now they will take a crack at trying to beat Arizona State. It won't be easy, as the Sun Devils are 5-1 and led by freshman Jahii Carson, who averaged 19 points per game. The record could be a little deceiving, as their only quality win was Arkansas. It will be tough for the Hornets, but if they can slow down Carson and get the ball down low, they can hang with them.

- Northern Arizona trying for win number three - Last year, NAU got their third win in game number 10 (and then only won two more games the rest of the year), while this year's version hopes to get it in game number seven. They take on Sam Houston State, who likes to slow the game down. NAU will need big games from their two high-scoring guards, Gabe Rogers and DeWayne Russell.

- Portland State will try and slow down Loyola Marymount - Defense has not been the calling card for Portland State, but they will need to do something to slow down an LMU team that averaged over 76 PPG. Apart from an opening season win against a lower-division opponent, PSU had allowed 81 points to Oregon, Portland, and Oklahoma State. Unlike last year, they don't have the offensive firepower to stay in games if they are allowing that many.

- Northern Colorado with a great chance for a road win - Road wins have been tough to come by for Big Sky teams this year, but UNC has a good chance for one against UC Riverside. The Highlanders are just 1-6, with losses against Texas State and Alaska-Anchorage. The Bears are coming off a well-played game against Colorado State, so they should have the confidence that they can win this game. If they play like they did against CSU, they will win this game.

Anything else going on?

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Eastern Washington Wins Behind Venky Jois

At the start of the year, I pegged Eastern Washington big man Venky Jois as the best freshman in the conference. Early in the season, it seemed I may have undersold him.

In his first seven collegiate games, he has scored in double figures in nine of them, posting three double-doubles. On Friday night, he had his best game yet, scoring 22 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 79-75 win over Cal State Fullerton. For the season he is averaging 13.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, shooting 55% from the floor.

The Eagles trailed 46-39 at the half, as the Titans looked to push the pace. However, EWU just kept coming and CS Fullerton wore down, as the Eagles held the Titans to just 28% shooting in the second half, outscoring them 40-29.

While Venky was a star, there was a lot of help in this one. Guard Justin Crogsile had 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. He had some issues with shot selection early in the year, but has tightened that up in recent games. Freshman Thomas Reuter had 16 points, as Coach Jim Hayford just said they simply found a mismatch where he could take advantage.

“We went to (Reuter) because we wanted to make them pay for having in four guards out there,” explained Hayford. “So Thomas was the mismatch.”
At times it has been a rough start for the year, as the Eagles have had some really difficult road games. But this game is just a small taste of the talent they have, and how good they can be when they finally get some experience. They will be a very dangerous team.

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