The opening weekend is past us, and 9 of 11 Big Sky teams have played (with the exception of Montana and North Dakota). So, let's take a quick peek around the league to see some of the interesting happenings of opening weekend.
- Montana State struggled mightily (more on that in a bit), but everyone else has some encouraging performances, especially among teams projected to be near the bottom of the conference. We knew that things were unsettled after the top five, but after one weekend at least, it seems like every single one of the bottom six teams in the preseason polls could be in a dogfight for spots six through eleven.
- The Bobcats lost 84-55 at home to Cal State Fullerton, and it wasn't just one thing that ailed them - it was everything. Their defense which was bad last year... looked even worse in the debut, giving up 1.35 points per possession. Fullerton shot 55% on twos, made 9/18 on threes, and grabbed 37% of available offensive rebounds, while turning it over only eight times. Offensively, the Bobcats shot 2/20 from three-point range, and had six assists against 12 turnovers. Brad Huse was excited about the continuity of the team from last year, but this was an all-out miserable performance in the season opener. Back to the drawing board for the Bobcats.
- Bill Evans said before the year that Idaho State would play at a faster pace, and he was true to his word in the opener. The Bengals played at an 80 possession pace in the opener. Last year, the highest was 78 possessions in an OT game against Southern Utah, and no other game even cracked the 80 mark. Scoring won't come quite as easily when they are playing someone other than an NAIA team, but they appear to be committed to a faster pace this season.
- It's certainly no time to panic for Weber State after a season-opening road loss to BYU that contained plenty of positives, but it was a rough game for senior PG Jordan Richardson. In 28 minutes, he was 0/4 from the field with three assists. We have talked about how PG could be an issue for Weber State, but it was presumed that Richardson would be steady for them. It's just one game and most likely a blip in the road to start the year, but they do need him to perform. From my understanding (I didn't get to see the game), a lot of the ballhandling responsibilities fell to freshman Jeremy Senglin, which is certainly an interesting thing to watch.
- Northern Colorado had the biggest win of the weekend with the victory over Kansas State, but new PG Corey Spence struggled in his first game for the Bears. In 17 minutes, Spence was 0/3 from the field and 0/2 from the FT line, missing the front end of two straight one-and-ones down the stretch to give the Wildcats some hope. Spence also turned it over 4 times. Backup PG Jordan Wilson had a solid debut as a freshman - eight points, three assists, and no turnovers in 24 minutes. That PG battle will be one to watch.
- In the past, Portland State has historically been all offense and no defense. So of course, it makes no sense that against UNLV, they were actually solid defensively, but miserable on the offensive end. They allowed only 0.92 PPP, which would qualify as the best mark in the conference last season if they continued, but only scored a measly 0.66 PPP. It was an odd result for them, but the defensive effort is something to build on. They have enough talent offensively that they should be fine on that end in time.
- Not a bad sophomore year debut for Venky Jois - 22 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks. Between him and Drew Brandon (in his EWU debut - 14 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 5 steals), there are some stat sheet stuffers in Cheney.
- Southern Utah got encouraging performances from two freshman guards - Trey Kennedy and Juwan Major, two guys I have been hyping up this preseason. Kennedy found a way to get to the line eight times, and had five assists vs two turnovers. Major showed good scoring punch, with 12 points in 21minutes. I think it might be a matter of time before both guys are starting (Kennedy got the start in the opener, with Major off the bench).
- I praised Northern Arizona's offensive balance on twitter, and that was nice, but defense was the more impressive thing in the opener. They allowed just 0.86 PPP, mainly by having UTSA shoot 2/14 from downtown. Another key for NAU was their ability to grab offensive rebounds - 12 of them. That will be key, as I think they might have to manufacture some things offensively at times. Getting easy putback buckets would be big for them.
- Sacramento State pounded UC Santa Cruz 73-43, really cruising on both ends. I'm not really qualified to gauge the competition level when it gets to these lower programs, but it was impressive at how easily they commanded this game. If there was any concern, it was with turning it over 13 times, but it looks like a lot of those were from the bench guys after the game was well in doubt.
Any other impressions from the opening weekend of play?
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