Thursday, December 5, 2013

Big Sky Power Rankings

After a month of college basketball, it's debatable if we know more about the Big Sky than we did before the season began! There are still a lot of unknowns... but, let's still take a look at how things look right, and the order that I would put teams in right now if I was re-picking the order that things will finish in.

1. Weber State - The Wildcats are just 1-3, but the losses are two road losses to BYU and Colorado State, and a home loss to Utah State. But, it's certainly way too early to panic. They have some things to work on... their backcourt is unsettled as Jeremy Senglin is a freshman PG and Jordan Richardson is adjusting to his new role. But Davion Berry is still one of the best in the Big Sky, and the frontcourt of Kyle Tresnak and Joel Bolomboy is the best in the conference. There is enough talent and experience there that I still feel confident that they will figure things out.

2. Northern Colorado - If you look at just the results, the case could be made that no team has been more impressive than Northern Colorado. They are solid offensively, but look much improved defensively from the last two seasons. One key has been the moving of Tevin Svihovec off the ball, where he has been very solid. While his shooting numbers are down, he has shown a great ability to get to the basket and get to the free throw line. Now a junior, he appears more comfortable than he has throughout his career, and it has been big for the Bears.

3. North Dakota - If these rankings had been done before Thanksgiving, UND could have gotten the top spot. But after their three-game ugly showing in Oregon, it's far to have some worries about them. Troy Huff is great, and Aaron Anderson is pretty great too, but they need everyone else to step up too. Jaron Nash has been solid, but has struggled after a great start to his season. As mentioned earlier this week, the interior defense for UND has been atrocious so far this season, and that has to be a big-time concern.

4. Montana - I had a hard time figuring out where to rank the Grizzlies. For the most part, they have not been bad offensively, but that is because they are shooting 60% on twos, which will not continue. They don't get offensive rebounds, and they haven't been very good at getting to the free throw line, which is a concern long-term. Further, Kareem Jamar just carries such a huge load. He has played an unsustainable 93.8% of the team's minutes, and has been even better than advertised. But when you are relying so much on one guy, no matter how good he is, that's a recipe for trouble. Part of the reason for the big load has been an ankle injury for Jordan Gregory, but the Grizzlies need guys like Keron DeShields, Mike Weisner, and Mario Dunn to be able to contribute every night, and so far, that is not happening.

5. Eastern Washington - The Eagles are a tough team to rank right now, because on any given night, they could be the best and most talented team in the Big Sky. I have a feeling this number five ranking is too low, but I'm not ready to downgrade any of the teams above them quite yet. Offensively, they are scary. Tyler Harvey is second in the Big Sky in scoring with over 20 a game, with a ridiculous 68.3% true shooting percentage. Venky Jois is averaging 15 and 7, while shooting 63% on twos. PG Drew Brandon is the ultimate box score stuffer - 11.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG (5th in Big Sky), 6.4 APG (1st in Big Sky). The Eagles have a great, young core that is the envy of the conference.

6. Portland State - You cannot yet call the Vikings offense good, or even average, but it is showing signs of being improved, which would be huge for a program that has been one of the worst defensive teams in the country the past couple of seasons. Offensively, they haven't played great, but they look like they have a lot of guys that can contribute, and they should get better as the season goes along. Newcomer DaShaun Wiggins has drawn more fouls per minute than all but one person in the country, and looks to be a really solid all-around player for PSU.

7. Idaho State - They beat San Francisco on the road and almost beat Cal State Bakersfield away from home, so there is plenty to feel good about. They are forcing a lot of turnovers, and newcomer Evann Hall has the second highest steal rate in the country. They also appear to be a little bit deeper than last year, especially in the frontcourt. However, they still have trouble stopping teams inside, and they are turning the ball over too much. I think having them seventh may be overrating them just a little bit, but there can be little doubt that Bill Evans has things headed in the right direction.

8. Montana State - Only one guy has played more than 61% of the team's minutes so far, so clearly Brad Huse is playing around with some rotations and who plays well together, which is what the non-conference season is for. So far though, there are a lot of things that haven't quite been working. The Bobcats have been poor offensively, with only Marcus Colbert, Terrell Brown, and Paul Egwuonwu being above average on that end so far. There are reasons to think they will be ok - Flavien Davis will play better, and Antonio Biglow still has the talent to be really good on both ends, but I worry that their ceiling is limited.

9. Sacramento State - So far this year, things have been ugly. Offensively, they aren't getting easy baskets, they are turning it over way too much, and they aren't getting many second chance opportunities. Defensively, teams have shot almost 45% from downtown against them (which should regress to the mean), and they aren't stopping teams from scoring inside either (57% on twos). Some of those numbers are skewed by playing teams like UCLA and UC Irvine, but it has still been an opening month where they have realized there are a lot of improvements to be made.

10. Northern Arizona - After losing DeWayne Russell right before the season, they have struggled to find an offensive identity. Big man Max Jacobsen has continued to build on his strong last year last season, and is averaging over 16 PPG on 65% shooting on two-pointers. He perhaps trails only Kyle Tresnak (and even that is debatable) for the post true post scorer in the conference. There are high hopes for Quinton Upshur, but he has been uneven so far. They are a young team, and I think this 10 spot might be a bit low, but we've got to see some of the young guys and newcomers perform.

11. Southern Utah - I have a lot of respect for their program. I think Nick Robinson is a really good coach, and will do some really good things in his career. But this Southern Utah team is going to struggle to win games this year. They don't have offensive punch - they are shootting 35.5% on two-point field goals against DI competition, and not creating any second chance opportunities. They are one of the youngest teams in the country, and it is showing so far. The good thing is that they have building blocks - Trey Kennedy, Juwan Major, and AJ Hess are all really good players (or are going to be really good), and they are either freshmen or sophomores. But there will be plenty of growing pains this season.

Thoughts? How would you change things around?

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