Monday, September 30, 2013

Big Sky's Top 50 Moments

The Big Sky Conference is celebrating their 50th anniversary, and they are celebrating by unveiling their top 50 athletes and top 50 moments.

In the first wave, one of the top 50 moments was Montana State emerging from the 7th seed to become the 1986 basketball champions. It looks like they will releasing more moments/athletes every Thursday!

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Top Departing #2: Scott Bamforth

I am counting down the top 20 players that are departing the Big Sky via graduation, transfer, or any other way.

This past season, one Big Sky head coach told me (when discussing the development ability of the Weber State staff) that when Scott Bamforth came to the Wildcats as a junior, he was mostly a three-point specialist, and by the time he left Weber State, he was a complete player, including a solid defender. I truly think he was one of the more underrated players in the country, and a guy that the Wildcats will miss.

If all Bamforth had done in his career was be a three-point specialist, he still would have been a heck of a player. He was consistently one of the best shooters in the country over his three seasons.

2011 - 48.7% 3s / 86% FTs / 65.5 TS% (17th in the country)
2012 - 40.1% 3s / 87.5% FTs / 62.1 TS% (75th in the country)
2013 - 45.6% 3s / 86.3% FTs / 67.1 TS% (9th in the country)

Interestingly enough, Bamforth seemed to play better when he was not flanked by Damian Lillard. Even though he was not a guy that was great at creating his own shot, he was a good ballhandler, and I think having the ball kept him more in the flow of the offense (when Lillard was healthy, he was the main component of their offense, for obvious reasons). He was a good and willing passer that also took good care of the ball.

By the end of his career, he was a good defender on and off the ball. He never got many steals, but played great defense within the team concept and knew where to be at all times. But, make no mistake, his biggest weapon was his shooting. He had a quick release which helped him get get looks even though everyone in the gym knew about his ability. He attempted over six threes per game, which is highly advantageous for an offense when you shoot the percentage that he did.

It was a tough call not to put Bamforth #1 on my list, and his contributions will be missed. He was one of the better shooters and offensive players in the conference, and a guy that got better and added more facets to his game as his career went on. He was fun to watch.

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Who Will Join Aaron Moore in Portland State's Frontcourt?

Last season, Aaron Moore was a revelation for Portland State, as one of the best newcomers in the Big Sky. He was an efficient offensive player and one of the best rebounders in the conference. Clearly, he is the centerpiece of what the Vikings will try to do in the frontcourt this season.

But who will join him upfront? Let's take a quick look at the other pieces that PSU in the frontcourt.

I think the most likely to start might be newcomer Tiegbe Bamba. Bamba is 6'6'', an undersized but athletic four man in the mold of many guys that Tyler Geving has had over the past few years. Last year at Midland College, he averaged over 11 points and 7 rebounds per game. He is said to play above the rim, and is a high energy guy. While not an overly skilled offensive player, I think he has a chance to make a big impact.

Another newcomer is Kyle Richardson, a transfer from Long Beach State. While he put underwhelming numbers last season, he did start five games for a good team last year. He is eligible to play right away after completing his degree at LBSU. He should provide nice depth for the Vikings, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him start with his experience.

Lamont Prosser will be a senior this year, but had a disappointing first season with PSU. He is 6'8'' and 275 pounds, with bulk that not a lot of guys in the conference have. He needs to get into better shape, and he could have a chance to start. Even though he didn't always show it last year, he has some good offensive skills and has the talent to be a good contributor.

The other returnee is Brandon Cataldo, who is a junior in his fourth year in the program (He broke his leg in his senior year of high school which caused him to redshirt his first year). He is starting to get back full movement and dexterity, and should get better. He is a skilled player with a solid post game and good passing skills, but he also struggles with some conditioning. He has the potential to be a solid starter, but I'm not sure if he will ever get there consistently or not.

The other possible contributor is freshman Kyle Benton, who should contribute right away. He has inside/outside versatility, and can step out and hit the three ball. He put up big numbers in high school (over 12 rebounds per game), and should be a very good player in time. He might not start this year, but he could be their next frontcourt star.

Any thoughts on the Vikings frontcourt?

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Good Montana Preview has posted an excellent and thorough preview of the Montana Grizzlies this season, and it is well worth a read. It can be found here. A few of the nuggets:

- Mario Dunn should see minutes right away, and Montana coaches except that within four or five games, he will be ready to contribute consistently. I wouldn't be too shocked if he pushes Keron DeShields for the starting spot. We should also see some Kareem Jamar at the one, showcasing his great versatility.

- It sounds as if fellow freshman Brandon Gfeller will redshirt this year, just from the quotes from Wayne Tinkle. Tinkle did call him, "As good a shooter as I've seen."

- The other freshman is Australian Jack Lopez. In a perfect world, I think he would redshirt. However, it sounds like will play and be a backup at the two and three spots. He is a solid shooter, but doesn't seem ready to contribute in more than a bit role.

- Junior college forward Chris Kemp will be counted on right away. At 6'6'', 240 pounds, and a big body who will get rebounds and make opponents work in the post. I have a feeling he will begin the year at the four spot. Jake Wiley could also be in the mix, but it looks like Kemp's job to lose.

- Riley Bradshaw, transfer from Utah State, will be eligible to play around Christmas. He could give them a big boost in conference play with his offensive ability.

- It sounds as if Mike Weisner will play a little more at the three than we have seen the past couple of seasons. Though his shooting can provide matchup problems at the four and five spots, his body type is probably better suited for the three if he can add some quickness.

- Eric Hutchison should begin the year starting at center, but I expect we will see something of a time split with him and Andy Martin. Martin had some nice moments as a freshman, but is still probably a little too limited to play more than 15 minutes a game consistently. We will also likely see Kemp at the 5 spot when they want to go a little quicker.

Any other thoughts on the Griz?

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Big Sky Prospectus Is Released

Each year, the release of the Big Sky Prospectus is a sign that the start of the season is getting closer. The Conference has released their Prospectus for this season, featuring rosters, schedules, stats, and a look back at last season. It can be found here.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spencer Mathis Commits to Northern Colorado

Last week, Northern Colorado got a commitment from forward Spencer Mathis from the class of 2014. Mathis is listed anywhere from 6'5'' to 6'7'', but is a SF that hails from Las Vegas. Mathis picked UNC over Santa Clara, Cal State Fullerton, Idaho State, and Southern Utah, per Nevada Preps.

“UNC recruited me the hardest through this process, and the coaching staff is unbelieveable,” Mathis said. “They told me I will get better, and I honestly believe them. I believe I will grow as an individual and get better as a player just by the coaching staff.”
Last season, Mathis averaged 15.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 1.9 APG. Here is the ESPN scouting report on him:

Mathis caught our eye with an ideal frame that should fill out nicely for the next level. He has long arms and overall good length. The most impressive aspect of his game is his evolving skill set. He exhibited a high basketball IQ with his passing and his jump shot looked smooth. He gets nice lift on his shot and his range is solid.

Mathis is a solid athlete but not elite. He needs to continue to improve his ball handling against pressure, especially going left. In addition, he needs to get stronger while defending physical wing-types.

Bottom Line:
Mathis is a solid looking prospect for the next level. It will be interesting to see how his frame and overall game develop during the regular season as he tries to shed the sleeper tag.
The Bears will lose a lot of experience after this season, making their 2014 recruiting class a very important one. I'm not sure that Mathis has the ability to step in and be an impact player from day one, but certainly he is a guy that looks like he will develop and being a solid rotational player as he gets experience. He is a nice addition for the Bears, especially with his shooting ability.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Tyler Rawson Commits to Southern Utah

Southern Utah got a commitment last week from 6'8'' forward Tyler Rawson, the first recruit for their 2014 class. Rawson's stats as a junor do not jump off the page - he averaged 9.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 3.2 APG - but his scouting reports say good things about him.

ESPN ranks him as a 3 star recruit, and there are not a lot of guys rated that highly that come to the Big Sky. Here is their scouting report on him:

Rawson has a decent frame with good length and he is fairly bouncy as well. He has excellent timing (quick off the floor) around the basket and a nice overall feel for the game. He has good feet, nice pivot moves, and excellent fundamentals. He understands how to seal opponents and he knows how to run the pick-and-roll or the pick-and-pop. He has soft hands and a nice shooting touch out to the elbow to boot.

Rawson needs to continue to add strength. He has solid length, but he does have narrow shoulders. He needs to continue to add strength to finish through contact and while rebounding in the paint.

Bottom Line:
Rawson is a good looking 4-man for the next level. He has the skills, basketball IQ, and savvy, to be an excellent prospect for the mid-to-high major level.
His athleticism is evident when looking at his football stats. As of this post, he was sixth in the country with almost 17 tackles per game, playing the linebacker position. Now that is impressive!

By himself, Rawson is not a program-changing recruit. But he looks to have the ability to be an above average starter, and maybe even an all-conference type of player by the end of his career. He has skills and athletic ability to be an impact player, and his recruitment is a good sign for Nick Robinson in year two of his tenure. The Thunderbirds may struggle this season, but the arrow is pointing up.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Idaho State Gets Commitment From Geno Luzcando

Last week, Idaho State got a commitment from guard Geno Luzcando from Utah. I saw it first reported by Michael Clay of RM Hoop Review:

Last season, he averaged 12.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, and an astounding 4.9 steals per game. From that same link, here was a scouting report from an opposing coach:

“Geno is one of the most athletic players I have seen this year. The first time I watched him play was against West Lake; he stole the pass at the wing and took it the length of the court and slammed it hard. I just looked at my coaching staff and said, "How do you want to guard this guy" He is another versatile weapon on the Wasatch Academy roster.”
As an already excellent defensive player, he should excel playing under ISU coach Bill Evans. Evans is a great teacher of defense. With a big recruiting class coming in this season, Luzcando is another nice piece to the puzzle as the Bengals rebuild. Luzcando should be a big contributor who will fit in nicely under Evans.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ghassan Nehme Commits to Montana State

Montana State got a commitment from a guard from the class of 2014 last week, as 6'3'' Ghassan Nehme from Colorado Springs announced via twitter that he will be playing his college ball in Bozeman.

Nehne posted big numbers as a junior, per Gidal Kaiser:

Nehme’s Cheyenne Mountain Indians went 19-7 in 2012-13 and lost to Lewis Palmer in the Class 4A quarterfinals. He averaged 18.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals. Nehme also shot 35 percent from 3-point range (44 of 124) and 79 percent from the free-throw line (88 for 111).
He had offers from teams like Idaho State, Northern Colorado, and Wyoming, while Colorado and Boise State also showed interest. His father attended UNC, but that was not enough to make him a Bear.

He has a pure stroke, and showcased solid athleticism and passing ability (as his highlight video can attest). He's a complete player that looks like he could step in and play right away for the Bobcats. It is a big-time commitment for MSU. It makes them a bit guard-heavy starting next year, but the biggest thing is talent, and Nehme is talented. He looks like a steal for the Bobcats.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Can Jordan Gregory Become a Star?

Last year, one of the overarching storylines for Montana was the health of Will Cherry. He missed the start of the season with a foot injury, and missed time later in the year as well. Still, the Grizzlies went 19-1 and won the Big Sky. One of the biggest reasons was the emergence of Jordan Gregory, who filled in admirably when Cherry was out, and really had a solid sophomore season. If the Grizzlies are going to contend again this season, they will need Gregory to be a star for them.

He grew into a versatile offensive weapon for Montana as a sophomore, posting an ORtg of 120.0, which was 71st in the country. He shot 42% on threes last year, one of the best marks in the conference. Though he took a lot of threes in comparison to twos (98 three-point attempts compared to 62 two-point attempts), he still got to the free throw line at a decent rate, taking 67 of them on the year. He should look to get to the rim more often, as he is a strong finisher (52% on twos), and one of the better free throw shooters around (88%). Add it all up, and he had a true shooting percentage of 64.1% last year, which was a top 25 mark in the country.

He had a relatively low usage rate last year, which is something I would expect to go up this season, as he will have to shoulder more of the offensive load with Cherry and Mathias Ward graduated. If he can maintain those percentages and that level of efficiency with a higher usage, he could be one of the better scorers in the conference, and a candidate to be a first-team guy.

If there is an area he could improve, it is in his ball distribution. While not a traditional point guard, at 6'2'' he will likely see a lot of lot of ballhandling responsibilities. While his TO rate was solid, he had an Assist Rate of 10.1, which is not very good for a guard. The final step to becoming a complete offensive player is to be able to distribute and get open looks for others. This will be especially important this year, as he will likely be the second focus of opposing defenses, after Kareem Jamar.

Gregory is a strong player, and perhaps nobody in the Big Sky was more improved than he was last year. If he can make a similar leap in his junior year, he has the chance to be a big-time star, and Montana will again be in the thick of things in the conference.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

A Look at Marcus Colbert

Last year, Marcus Colbert was a pleasant surprise for Montana State as a freshman. For the year, he played over half of the team's minutes, and started a fair number of games. He provided steady play in the backcourt for them last season, but will be counted on even more heavily this year. Is he up to the task, and what areas does he need to improve on?

Even though he took pretty good care of the ball, you would like to see the 20.7 TO Rate drop a bit. That is a little bit high for a PG. Similarly, his 19.4 Assist Rate is not bad, but for him to take the next step and become one of the best PGs in the Big Sky, you'd like to see that higher. Those are good numbers for a true freshman, but there is certainly room for improvement there.

He shot a solid 40% from three point range last season, a great number that should make defenses respect his jumpshot. When they start to do that, he needs to be a bit better at finishing at the rim. He shot just 39.1% on twos last season, and only made 32 trips to the free throw line all season. Those are the numbers of a guy settling for mid-range jumpers instead of trying to make it all the way to the rim and getting either a higher percentage shot or a trip to the charity stripe. He needs to make that leap to become a more polished and complete offensive player.

He has the speed and quickness to be an above average PG in the Big Sky, he just needs to add some strength. He has a solid 2.6% steal percentage as a freshman, showcasing his quick hands. He has the ability to be above average both offensively and defensively, which would make him very valuable.

Marcus Colbert had an excellent freshman season in Bozeman, but there is room for him to take the next step and become a top half PG in the conference. His development will be key for MSU, and will be fun to watch as a fan.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hayden Hunter Commits to Weber State

Weber State's Texas connection has come through again, with 5'11'' G Hayden Hunter committing to the Wildcats, per Texas Hoops.

Hunter is the second Texas guard to commit to WSU for the class of 2014, as Jeremiah Jefferson decided to come to WSU last week.

Last season, Hunter averaged 14.0 PPG and 2.2 APG, shooting 33% from downtown. He also had 1.5 steals per game. He did turn the ball over more than he had assists, which will be a key point for his development as a PG. He is from Richland Hills, near Dallas, in Texas.

While Jefferson looks like a guy that will step in right away and play big minutes, Hunter looks more likely to provide depth for a Weber State that needed more bodies at the PG spot. In addition, he adds yet another recognizable face coming from Utah to Texas, where they have nabbed guys like Jefferson, Joel Bolomboy, Jeremy Senglin, and Kyndahl Hill just within the last three years.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

James Hajek Out A While

Last week, it was revealed that Weber State big man James Hajek would have surgery for a dislocated knee, and would try to return for conference play.

Hajek later tweeted that the surgery went well. Hopefully he will recover quickly!

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Monday, September 9, 2013

JC Washington Commits to Northern Colorado

With Derrick Barden and Connor Osborne as seniors this season, BJ Hill and Northern Colorado need to re-stock the frontcourt. They took a big step in doing that this past week with the commitment of forward JC Washington. It was first reported by Jim Hicks:

Different sites list Washington as being anywhere from 6'4'' to 6'7'', but one thing is clear - he is a guy that brings a high motor, the ability to rebound the ball well anywhere on the court, and the ability to defend multiple positions (sounds like Barden).

Here is a scouting report from June of this year:

Tough as nails power forward rebounds in and out of area. Scores in and around the lane on put backs and short jumpers. He is a good straight line driver and dives on the floor, takes charges and blocks shots on the ball and coming to help from the weakside. Does the dirty work to help is team win. Great motor, energy and effort at all times.

Washington not only must add strength but develop his perimeter skills and back to the basket moves in addition to his ball handing under intense pressure. Continue to improve overall ball skills.

Bottom Line:
Washington is a super glue guy that does what ever he has to do to help his team. Scores in transition, around the rim or on the glass. Multiple position defender as well. Washington competes at a high level with matching productivity.
He should be able to step right in and contribute for the Bears. He looks like a higher caliber high school big man recruit than they have been getting in the past couple of years, which is a good sign that the program continues to be headed in a stable direction. Washington may be counted on to play some minutes right away, and he seems capable.

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Jeremiah Jefferson Commits to Weber State

Weber State is a little thin at PG, but they helped that out with the commitment of 2014 combo guard Jeremiah Jefferson. Near as I can tell, this was first reported by Texas Hoops:

On their website, they wrote, "Jeremiah Jefferson went on his visit to Ogden, Utah and saw first hand the player development from the coaching staff on the Weber State Wildcats. Jefferson liked the prospect of going to play for coach Randy Rahe in hopes of becoming an impact player."

From all accounts, he is an impact player, and has a chance to step in and start immediately. From Future 150:

Jeremiah has a jump shot that is a thing of beauty. Not only does he possess good mechanics on his shot, but he is the owner of an off-the-dribble shot that is deadly. He gets great lift with his legs making him nearly unblockable, and has an extremely quick release. Also a high energy player who is skilled at finishing with either hand at the basket on aggressive drives.

Needs to get stronger. Must use his quickness to and craftiness with the ball to make his teammates better. Needs to add double moves off the bounce and improve his mid range game. Must improve his on ball defense and desire to play defense.

College Projections:
High Major
According to another site I found, Jefferson was the Triple A Academy POY as a junior, averaging 20 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He can score in bunches, and should be able to impact the game immediately upon his arrival.

According to a source, Jefferson has the chance to be really special. With him and Jeremy Senglin, the Wildcats have their backcourt pretty well set for the next few seasons.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gelaun Wheelwright Will Reportedly Transfer From Weber State

Weber State was dealt a big blow when it was announced that junior guard Gelaun Wheelwright would be transferring from the Wildcats.

Wheelwright originally committed to USC before coming to Weber State. He had his ups and downs over the first two years of his career, but he looked to be a good bet to start the next couple of years in the backcourt. He was lacking in polish, but had excellent physical skills - he was perhaps the fastest player in the Big Sky. With that in mind, it seems like Weber State was the ideal spot for him - they developed Damian Lillard into a national star, and Jordan Richardson into one of the best PGs in the conference.

Arguably, there are few better spots to become a better PG, but it just never clicked for Wheelwright to become a star that his talent suggested he may be.

Last year, he shot 51.5% from twos and 33% from downtown, but struggled with ball security and initiating the offense. He had an assist rate of 13.4 and TO Rate of 27.3. While he has the size for the one, he was more of an undersized two guard.

His absence poses some interesting questions and thoughts for Weber State.

First is, who starts next to Jordan Richardson in the backcourt? Of the returners, Royce Williams seems like he could handle more minutes. In limited time last season, he was an efficient offensive scorer, shooting 50% both inside and outside the arc. Another option could see the Wildcats going big, with a lineup like:

PG Jordan Richardson
SG Davion Berry
SF Kyndahl Hill
PF Joel Bolomboy
C Kyle Tresnak

The amount of length and athleticism on that roster would be ridiculous.

In my opinion, the most intriguing option would have freshman Jeremy Senglin starting at the two guard, as there has been nothing but great things said about him. I suspect he will have a great chance at the starting spot if he has a great fall. Though with the lack of depth that this may cause, it may be better to have Senglin off the bench.

The second question is - who handles the ball when Richardson is out? There is no natural backup PG on the roster now, which is a concern this year and in the future for the Wildcats. Davion Berry is a guy that will probably be handling the ball a lot more this season.

In the end, it seemed like Wheelwright was coming into a great situation, but things never clicked 100%. At times, it seemed like he wanted to do his own thing, or make the fancy play rather than the simple one. However, he's very talented, and his absence will test the great depth the Wildcats would have enjoyed. It's not an insurmountable loss, but it's a blow for Randy Rahe.


EDIT: Per Roy Burton, Coach Randy Rahe said, "We both decided it was time for (Wheelwright) to have a change of environment and move on to a different situation.”

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