Another Thursday night, another five Big Sky games. Let’s make some predictions.
@ Northern Colorado 75, Portland State 74
This is essentially a pick’em in my eyes. Portland State has performed better this season, but UNC is at home and they will be desperate, because they know that at 1-5 they need to start winning games. A fun matchup to watch in this game will be Derrick Barden versus Aaron Moore. Both are junior college transfers that started the year relatively slowly, but have become two of the very best rebounders in the conference over the past 2-4 weeks. At one point Moore had three straight double-doubles, while Barden is coming off a monster 21 point, 15 rebound game against Montana (on the heel of 14 and 11 against Montana State). Both guys are vital to their team's success, and interestingly enough, if you look at Derrick Barden's KenPom profile, the player he is most similar to is... Aaron Moore.
@ Weber State 81, Northern Arizona 61
After some road games that were a little closer than expected, Weber State returns home against Northern Arizona in a game they should win fairly handily. Weber State has excelled defensively this year because they are so good at not allowing teams to shoot threes (and teams are shooting a poor percentage on threes, but that should regress a little closer to the mean). WSU is best in the country allowing just 19.6% of 3PA/FGA. Offensively, all they’ve done since losing the best PG in the country is continue to be the best offensive team in the Big Sky, as they do it with a ton of balance and a rotation that can go at least 10 deep. There will be a day soon where NAU will be able to go into Ogden and play a very competitive game, but that day is not Thursday.
@ Montana 76, Southern Utah 66
On paper, this should be a bigger margin than ten points, but the Thunderbirds have a way of making games close, as their three conference losses are by a combined 13 points (and one of the games was at Weber State). Still, two stats stand out on the Thunderbirds resume that makes them hard to think of as a contender for the three seed. One, they hack a lot. You should remember the time Sacramento State shot 55 FTs against them, and they are second to last in the NCAA in FTA/FGA. Second, they are in the bottom five nationally in turnover percentage, which is probably music to Will Cherry’s ears. Nick Robinson’s bunch is scrappy enough to keep things interesting, but Montana is too talented, especially at home.
Sacramento State 62, @ Idaho State 57
At times, it seems like the Hornets are poised to be the number three team in the Big Sky, and at other times it seems like they are going to struggle to make the conference tournament. This is a good chance to get a road win in the Big Sky, as Idaho State is coming off of a Monday game (and their offensive deficiencies have been well documented). The key for the Bengals seems to be Melvin Morgan, in part because he takes a ton of shots (his shot percentage is 13th highest in the country). If he is on his game, ISU can beat a lot of teams because he takes a bunch of threes. When he is shooting poorly (which seems to be more often than not), it’s very tough for them to generate enough offense.
@ North Dakota 72, Eastern Washington 65
Other than the home court advantage, I like UND in this game because of the stars of each team. For North Dakota, Troy Huff is rounding into form after missing time because of injury, and in the past couple games has looked like the guy we thought he would be, with the talent to be one of the best players in the conference. On the other side, Collin Chiverton remains a bit of an enigma. He has the talent to score 20 points on any given night, but he is just as likely to score five points on about 1/8 shooting in 15 minutes.
Last Picks: 3-2
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