Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weber State Moves to CIT Finals

After initial reports suggested that Weber State would be at home for the CIT semifinal, they wound up traveling to take on Northern Iowa in the semifinals. It turns out, it didn't matter where the game was, because Weber State went into UNI and got the win to advance to the CIT Finals.

It was a back and forth game throughout the second half, with the Panthers leading 53-49 late in the second half, and then tying the game at 55. However, it was Davion Berry hitting a jumper with 4:12 to play to give the Wildcats the lead that they would hold the rest of the day, eventually winning 59-56.

“This was an extremely tough game against a really physical and talented team in a tough environment,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe who returned to his home state of Iowa and picked up his 150th career win. “We played really tough and really hard and I was so proud of how we fought. We missed some shots but kept fighting and found a way to do it against a really tough opponent. I’m so proud of our team for not giving up. It’s been a remarkable run and 30 wins is a phenomenal accomplishment.”
Frank Otis led the way in this game with 13 points (on 5/8 shooting) and 11 rebounds, ensuring that he has one game left to play in his career. Scott Bamforth had 14 as well (including four more treys), and Davion Berry scored 15 points. The Wildcats held UNi to just 38% shooting, including 3/18 from downtown.

30 wins is a great accomplishment, as is the fact that they have continued to play hard even after the disappointment of the Big Sky tournament.  By my count, just seven other teams, gotten to the 30 win mark this year. Let's hope they can make it to 31!

The CIT finals will be in Ogden on Tuesday, where Weber State will take on East Carolina.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Brad Huse Will Return as Montana State Coach

Throughout this season, Brad Huse for Montana State was squarely on the hot seat. He was entering the last year of his deal, and the results of his tenure had been mixed. Lots of promising finishes had ended with big collapses in the second half of conference play, and the fan base was getting a bit tired of him.

Apparently though, he did enough this season to extend his coaching career in Bozeman. The Bobcats finished the year 13-17 overall, but they were 10-10 in conference play (including a win over Weber State), and finished with the fourth seed in the conference before falling to Northern Colorado in the first round of the tournament. However, Gidal Kaiser reports that MSU and Huse are working on a contract extension of some type:

No deal has been struck, but Director of Athletics Peter Fields and MSU’s Board of Regents are discussing the parameters of a deal that would bring the men’s basketball coach back for an eighth year — and possibly longer, Bill Lamberty, the school’s assistant athletic director of media relations, confirmed Thursday.
Huse is 93-117 overall in his MSU tenure, including 55-61 in Big Sky play and 2-7 in the conference tournament in his seven years. Those are not terrible numbers by any means (heck, the 2-7 record means that they have been to the conference tournament every season), but it's not really enough to excite the fan base (just check out a message board for the team). This past season, MSU had an average attendance of 2,523 fans per game, which doesn't come close to filling the 7,200 person capacity in Worthington Arena (in fairness, that home attendance was the fourth highest mark in the Big Sky).

What this means is that there is a chance that all Big Sky coaches will return for next season. There are no other obvious candidates to be fired (I think Brian Katz and Tyler Geving should be safe for at least another year), so probably the only change would come from either Wayne Tinkle or Randy Rahe moving up. In an industry of lots of changes, that stability could be a really good thing.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weber State Beats Oral Roberts to Advance to CIT Semifinals

For the second time this season, Weber State has beaten Oral Roberts. The first time, it was during Bracket Busters. This time, it was to advance to the semifinals of the CIT. Weber State led the whole way, but it was close throughout, as the Wildcats won it by a final score of 83-74.

Weber State was led by a huge performance from Davion Berry, who finished with 27 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds. He had some help also from Kyle Tresnak (19 points, 8 rebounds) and Scott Bamforth (18 points). Those three guys have been playing at a high level lately, and Tresnak is showing more consistency as the excellent big man that his talent suggests he can be.

“I couldn’t be more proud of how our team fought and played together against a really good team,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “The whole team really stepped up and we had lots of guys contribute. We came out with really good energy in the second half.”

Weber State moves to 29-6 on the year, which is pretty remarkable! They will try to reach the 30 win mark on Friday, as they head to take on Northern Iowa on the road in the CIT semifinals. If they win, they would play the winner of East Carolina and Evansville.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weber State Advances in the CIT

Weber State got another home game on Saturday night, as Air Force came into Ogden. Air Force was playing without Michael Lyons, its leading scorer at 17.7 points per game. Weber State took advantage, never trailing in the game. They led by 6 at the break before jumping out to an 11-2 run to kick off the second half, eventually winning 78-57 to advance in the CIT. They will play in Ogden again, facing the winner of the UC Irvine and Oral Roberts game on Wednesday night.

A couple of records were broken in this game as well:

The win breaks the WSU school record of 27 wins set by Phil Johnson’s squad in 1968-69 and is also a new Big Sky Conference record for wins in a season.

“Reaching that record is terrific for our program and I’m really happy for our players,” Rahe added. “I think it really speaks volumes for our players and how tough they have worked. It’s a great accomplishment and it’s something they will never forget.”

WSU also had another school record broken Saturday night. WSU senior Scott Bamforth knocked down five three-pointers and became the Weber State career leader with 247 three-pointers, breaking Damian Lillard’s previous record of 246. Bamforth is now tied for fifth in Big Sky history in career three-pointers.
Scott Bamforth finished the day with 21 points, and kudos to him for breaking that record (which Lillard held for one year). Bamforth came into the conference as just a great shooter, and he will leave it as an all-around great Big Sky player.

Kyle Tresnak also had 21 points (on 9/10 shooting) and finished with five rebounds.

No matter who they take on Saturday, it will be a rematch for Weber State. They beat UC Irvine 65-51 earlier this year (in Ogden) and beat Oral Roberts 70-66 in  Bracket Busters as well (that was in Tulsa).

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Montana's Season Ends With With Tournament Loss

Montana went 19-1 in the Big Sky this year, and won their second straight Big Sky regular season and tournament title. But the ending to their year is worse than any Montana player or fan's worst nightmare. We knew that, on paper, Syracuse was not a good matchup for Montana, with their length and athleticism. That said, I am not sure anyone was ready for the carnage that took place on Thursday night.

Syracuse got out to a fast start and never looked back, winning by a shocking final margin of 81-34. There are a lot of stats that could be used to point out how bad Montana's night was, but that will do no good. The Grizzlies got punched in the mouth at the beginning of the game, and they simply had no answer at either end of the court. They are obviously a lot better than they played against the Orange, but that is of little consolation to themselves or their fans. It was a bad night.

The bottom line is this - Montana had a great year. With the obstacles they overcame this year - from Marko Kovacevic losing eligibility before the year, to Will Cherry missing time, to Mathias Ward getting hurt - they had no business going 19-1, winning the Big Sky regular season and conference tournament. They simply didn't have the talent (again, with injuries and defections) or depth as they did last year, and that is combined with Weber State being an improved team. The fact that they accomplished what they did is a testament to guys like Will Cherry, Kareem Jamar, Wayne Tinkle, and the program that they have built.

One game does not define a season. Montana will look back on this game with some rough memories, but hopefully they don't let it take away what they accomplished this season.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Round CIT Action - Weber State Cruises

Two Big Sky teams qualified for the tournament, and both had their opening round matches on Wednesday night.

In one tilt, Weber State absolutely obliterated Cal Poly, despite some concern that they might not play their hardest due to being relegated to the CIT. The Wildcats jumped out to a 45-18 halftime lead en route to a 85-43 victory. Among Weber's dominance... they shot 60% from the floor (compared to 30% for the Mustangs), were 10/22 from behind the arc, and held Cal Poly to 3/14 from downtown.

There were many stars for Weber. Scott Bamforth was a ridiculous 7/9 from downtown, finishing with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Kyle Tresnak was 10/11 from the field, finishing with a cool 20 points and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes. Off the bench, Joel Bolomboy had 10 points and 8 rebounds in 17 minutes. Iit was an overwhelming performance from Weber State.

It's not like Cal Poly is a pushover either. They were 18/13, finished 12-6 in the Big West, and lost a close game to Pacific in the conference tournament (Pacific is in the NCAA tournament now). Weber State just crushed them from the get go. I am not sure who Weber State will play in the tournament, but the second round game will be between March 22-24. If I had to guess, my thinking is they will play the winner of the Air Force vs Hawaii tilt.


In the other game, North Dakota's season came to an end against Northern Iowa, as they fell to the Panthers for the second time this season. They trailed by 13 at halftime before losing 77-66.

In the final game of the year, Troy Huff was again stellar, finishing with an efficient 22 points and 4 steals. He will enter next season as one of the conference player of the year favorites. Jamal Webb also had a solid game, scoring 11 points (all in the second half) while getting 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

UND simply couldn't stop UNI in this game, as the Panthers shot 51% from the floor, made nine threes, and got to the stripe 25 times.

North Dakota finishes the year with a record of 16-17. Though they couldn't reach the .500 mark for the year, there was a lot of good things for them to build on for next season.

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Some Stats for Montana/Syracuse Matchup

Bob Meseroll and The Missoulian has put together a nice little piece looking at some of the stats on Montana and Syracuse. Some of my favorite nuggets from the piece.

– The eye test tells you that Montana has tightened its defense the past couple weeks. And at least one stat confirms it. The Grizzlies have held their past four opponents to less than one point per possession, their longest such streak this season.
– OK, forget numbers. There’s the Vermontana factor. The last time Syracuse faced a 13 seed in the tournament, it lost to upstart Vermont. And you can’t spell Vermont or Montana without “mont.” Just a thought.
Hopefully the "Mont" factor is working again!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

5 Questions With a Syracuse Blogger

If you follow Syracuse basketball, then you know the blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. It looks to me like the premier Syracuse blog out there, and fortunately the creator, Sean Keeley, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Syracuse. In turn, he has asked me some questions on Montana which will appear over there in the next couple days.

My questions are in bold, his answers in regular font.

1) Jim Boeheim is famous for his zone defense. Can you give us a quick rundown of what makes the Orange's zone so effective?
Like most things with Syracuse basketball, the zone is always only as effective as the athletes playing in it. Last year when Syracuse lost only three games all year, their zone defense was smothering from top to bottom. Quick guards up top neutralized transition, the wings took away the deep threat and the big in the middle changed the way other teams attacked the rim.

This year, the Orange haven't had all the tools most of the time. Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita aren't the imposing threat that Fab Melo was and Brandon Triche & Michael Carter-Williams aren't quite as steal-happy as Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters were.

That said, this team is still talented enough to cause havoc and force opponents to beat them with the three-ball or to try and overpower them inside. If you can't do either, it's trouble.

2) 10 seconds left, tie game. Who on Syracuse is getting the ball?
Good question. Michael Carter-Williams is probably going to get the ball and from there, he's going to do one of three things. He's either going to iso his man and drive himself, or he's going to create an opportunity for C.J. Fair or James Southerland. Southerland is our big-shot threat but Fair is the most consistent shooter and clutch player we have. If you're asking me who I WANT with the ball, it's Fair.

3) Syracuse started the year 22-4 before finishing 4-5. Is there a reason for the drop off, or was it just the grind of the Big East?
I think you can blame a little bit of it on the grind of playing some really top-tier teams but this Syracuse team has a lot of flaws that got exposed at the same time. There just hasn't been much consistency from the frontcourt, especially on offense. The shooters are very streaky and oftentimes guys like Southerland and Triche go ice-cold at the same time. Finally, the team really seemed rudderless at times. Brandon Triche was expected to be a bit more like Scoop Jardine was last year, lead the team on and off the court, and that just hasn't been the case. I think the team lost its identity mid-way through the season and is only now starting to find it again.

4) As a fan of college basketball, I see the name Michael Carter-Williams all the time on my twitter feed, more than anyone else on Syracuse. Can you talk briefly about his game?
You know how Michael Carter-Williams is having a good game? When he has more assists than points. MC-Dubz, as we call him, is a supremely-talented guy full of potential, which is probably why he'll be a lottery pick this year. However, it's hard to tell that from the stat sheets. But when he's focused on feeding his wings, creating plays for his offense and playing within himself instead of forcing the issue, he makes the Syracuse offense unstoppable. It's when he gets it in his head that we need him to score 15 points that he gets himself, and the Orange, into trouble.

5) If Syracuse makes a deep run in the Tournament, it will be because of _________?
Michael Carter-Williams took over, James Southerland continued to shoot lights out and Baye Moussa Keita/Rakeem Christmas kept their heads above water.

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ESPN Doesn't Like a Montana Upset

If you have read a lot about the NCAA Tournament over the past few years, you have probably read something from Peter Keating. He writes for ESPN leading up to the tourney, and has a series on Giant Killers, and teams chances for an upset. He does not like Montana's odds.

No. 4 Syracuse Orange (92.1) No. 13 Montana Grizzlies (4.6)

Upset chance: 4.6 percent

What's this? Montana has already become something of a trendy upset pick? How many ways do you want us to take apart that silly idea? First, while Syracuse isn't quite as strong as the squad that earned a No. 1 seed last season, it's built according to the same basic blueprint. Offensively, the Orange are highly efficient, scoring 114.2 points per 100 possessions, because they're monsters on the offensive glass (ORs on 39.8 percent of missed shots, fifth-most in the NCAA) and their 2-point shooting and turnover rate rank in the top third of the country.

On defense, Syracuse doesn't collect many rebounds, but who cares? The 2-3 zone has enabled the Orange to rank 10th in the country in steals (13.5 percent of opponent possessions) and 24th in turnovers (23.4 percent). They don't rely on free throws, and they've played Killer-like nonconference opponents for target practice. They're not only a very good team, they're a Giant wearing a bulletproof vest.

As for Montana, if you don't even attempt to grab offensive rebounds (25.1 OR percentage, 335th in the NCAA), you had better be trying to cook up some other recipe for adding possessions to your column, but the Grizzlies also force very few turnovers (18.5 TO percentage, ranking 253rd). Maybe you don't need extra possessions when you're playing the 283rd-strongest schedule in the country -- quick, where is Minot State? What about Carroll College? -- but trust us, a few more balls in hand would be handy in the NCAA tournament.

We will stipulate that Kareem Jamar is an exciting player who can post up or shoot from behind the arc, and that the Grizzlies have no fewer than four players shooting 40 percent or better on 3-pointers (in 55 to 93 attempts apiece). But come on. Syracuse outscored opponents by nearly 25 points per 100 possessions while playing in the second-strongest conference in the country. Montana outscored opponents by 1.9 points per 100 possessions while playing in the 27th-strongest conference in the country. (Read those last two sentences again.) They're not just a Killer lacking a second shot, they're a mediocre team.

P.S.: Including "secret sauce" points gained or lost for playing like past Killers and Giants, the average gap in overall strength between 4-seeds and 13-seeds is 19.8 points per 100 possessions this year, according to our spreadsheets. That's actually higher than the average for 2-15, 3-14, 12-5 and 11-6 matchups. Which means that even though a few 13-seeds have popped through in recent years, 2013 is precisely the wrong spring to be hunting for upsets on the 4-13 line.
Hopefully they can prove him wrong!

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Wayne Tinkle Is The Big Sky Coach of the Year

For the second straight year, Montana's Wayne Tinkle is the Big Sky Coach of the Year.

For the second consecutive season, Montana’s Wayne Tinkle has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year by his peers.

Tinkle guided Montana to 19-1 conference record and the program’s second consecutive regular-season conference title. The Grizzlies won their second straight Big Sky Championship last week, downing Weber State 67-64 in the title game.

Montana will take a 25-6 record into the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday as the Grizzlies face Syracuse of the Big East Conference.
Tinkle is the best coach in the conference, and this honor is well deserved. Grizzlies fans would be thrilled if he sticks around to try and make it a third straight award, as he is sure to draw some interest.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Syracuse Scouting Report

After taking a quick look at Syracuse yesterday, let's dig in a little bit further.

The first thing it seemed that you notice about them is their length. Here is the height of their starters - 6'4'', 6'6'', 6'8'', 6'8'', 6'9''. They primarily run a zone defense, so this length comes in handy. The stereotype is that against a zone, you are going to shoot a lot of threes, and that is true against Syracuse. Typically, almost 40% of opponent's shot attempts are three-pointers, one of the highest rates in the country. However, that has not exactly been a successful strategy against the Orange. Opponents have shot just 29.8% from downtown against Cuse, the 19th lowest rate in the country.

If you go inside, you're not likely to have more success. Syracuse has the highest block rate in the country, led by guys like Rakeem Christmas (11.1%), reserve Baye Keita (8.2%), CJ Fair (3.7%), and James Southerland (3.7%). Cuse is also very good at forcing turnovers, as they have a top 25 rate in that department. If they have been susceptible anywhere, it is allowing offensive rebounds, as their opponents have a 34.4% offensive rebound percentage. Unfortunately, this is not the strong point for Montana, one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country.

All of these things combine to make Syracuse the 23rd best defense in the country, according to KenPom's numbers.

The bad news for Montana is that as good as Syracuse's defense has been, their offense has statistically been even better, as they are 16th in the country. They are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, with their 39.8% rate ranking fifth in the country. It will be important to always get a body on Christmas and Keita.

Elsewhere offensively, they can hurt you in different ways. Forward James Southerland made headlines with his three-point shooting during the Big East Tournament, and he shot 41% from downtown this year (and 53.1% inside the arc). CJ Fair might be even better. He can hit the three (27/55 this year), but it also an aggressive offensive player that can get to the line often. He is their leading scorer and rebounder at 14.1 PPG and 7.1 RPG.

Their guards are adept at getting to the line (between them, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche get to the line a combined nine times per game), and it so it will be important to stay in front of them and force jumpers. MCW shot just 28.2% from behind the arc this year, while Triche was at 28.5%.

Carter-Williams is one of the best passers in the country. He had an assist rate of 41.7, and tallied a third-in-the-NCAA 7.7 assists per game. He is a willing and creative passer, but he will turn it over too. His TO rate is 24.3 (Triche is 20.5), meaning there could be an opportunity for Montana to create some turnovers.

By average height, Syracuse is the second tallest team in the country, which will pose problems for Montana and their lack of frontcourt depth. Later this week, we will look at some of things Montana needs to do to combat the size of Syracuse.

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A Cool Story About Frank Otis

Saw this cool story about Frank Otis, by someone writing into the Standard-Examiner:


I am a Montana Grizzly fan who traveled to see Weber State play the Grizzlies in the conference tournament championship. It was a great game by both squads, but that is not why I am writing. After the game, with the Montana team and students celebrating on court, I witnessed a classy act by Wildcat Frank Otis.

I know the loss must have been a bitter pill for Otis, who played ferociously along with his teammates. Despite his disappointment, he walked over to Grizzly senior Mathias Ward, who was standing off to the side with his foot in a cast from his heart-breaking and career-ending injury.

Otis shook Ward's hand and gave him a hug. It was a moment of grace in adverse circumstances that makes you proud to be a sports fan.
It's good to see that Otis is as good of a guy as he is a player!

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Montana vs Syracuse Logistics

Much thanks to the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician for compiling a lot of this info. We will try to ask him some Syracuse questions later this week to get a better feel for The Orange.

The tip-off time for the Syracuse Orange's second-round NCAA Tournament contest against the Montana Grizzlies has been announced, and the No. 3-seeded Orange will play the No. 13 Grizzlies at approximately 10 p.m. ET in San Jose, Calif. on TruTV.
If you are scoring at home, that makes it an approximately 10pm local start time for Syracuse, and 8pm for Montana. Throw in the fact that San Jose is a lot closer to Missoula than Syracuse, and it could be an advantage for Montana.

The announcers for the game will be Brian Anderson and Dan Bonner.

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North Dakota Earns Third Straight CIT Berth

The last two years, North Dakota earned a spot in the tournament based on their winning The Great West. This year, there was no guarantee, but they will be heading to the CIT once again. They will travel to take on Northern Iowa, in a game scheduled for Thursday night.

This will be UND's second trip to play in the McLeod Center this season as the Panthers (18-14, 11-7 Missouri Valley) knocked off the Green and White 72-47 on Nov. 17. That was the second of an eight-game stretch that UND (16-16) played without leading scorer Troy Huff, who returned to health to lead the Big Sky in scoring with a 19.2 ppg average.
UND head coach Brian Jones is a Northern Iowa grad, while Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson is a North Dakota graduate. The connection between these programs runs deep, so it is fitting that they will meet for the second time this year!

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Weber State Will Host Cal Poly in the CIT

Weber State has found out where they land in the postseason shuffle, and unlike last year, they will be hosting a first round game in the tournament.

Weber State's season will continue. The Wildcat men's basketball team has accepted an invitation to play in the Postseason Tournament for the second-straight season. Weber State host Cal Poly on Wednesday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the Dee Events Center.
Cal Poly is 18-13 overall and finished 12-6 in the Big West.

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A Quick Primer on Syracuse

There will be much more to come this week, but let's take a brief look at Syracuse and what they have accomplished this year.

In case you have somehow missed, Montana is a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they will be taking on Syracuse.

The Orange finished the Big East tournament with a record of 26-9. During the regular season, they went 11-7 in the Big East, which earned them the number five seed in the Big East tournament. Once there, they made it to the final of the tournament, before running into a buzzsaw in Louisville in the second half.

They are 16th in the country in offensive efficiency, at 114.2 (by comparison, Montana is 129th at 103.5). They are 23rd in the country in defensive efficiency at 89.8 (by comparison, Montana is 175th at 101.6). Syracuse is first in the country in block percentage, at 19.1%. They also excel on the offensive glass, which could be an issue for Montana.

Last, Syracuse is known for playing probably more zone defense than anyone in the country. The Grizzlies will have to be ready to play zone offense, and will need to be hitting their shots.

Much more as the weekend continues.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wayne Tinkle's Pregame Speech

That's how you get a team ready to play... love the chest bumping with the players!

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Montana is The Big Sky Champion

Stop me if you have heard this before - Montana has beaten Weber State to win the Big Sky Championship. It has to be like a bad, recurring dream for the Wildcats, who have now been ousted by the Grizzlies in the Big Sky tournament for four straight seasons.

It seemed like it was going to be the time that Weber State finally beat Montana and erased the demons. Montana was playing without Mathias Ward, their leading scorer. Will Cherry was not far removed from re-injuring his foot to the point where it was feared it was broken. Statistically, Weber State was the better team this year, with better offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. Matchup wise, it seemed like they had a huge edge upfront that would be tough for the Grizzlies to overcome.

None of it mattered. Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar simply would not let the Grizzlies lose.

Cherry struggled from the field in the first half, but made big play after big play in the second half. He finished with 18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. In a two point game late, it was Will Cherry hitting his only three pointer of the game to give Montana a five point lead. It was Cherry hitting the last two free throws to put Montana up four with 10 seconds left. Time and time again, it was Cherry going to the rim and finishing strong in traffic. He was not going to be denied.

Of course, he had help from Kareem Jamar, the Big Sky Player of the Year and Tournament MVP. He finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He was aggressive time and time again, overpowering Scott Bamforth (an excellent defender) on the drive and in the post. He was 9/13 from the floor, and make countless big plays in the second half. Jamar and Cherry were the best players on the court.

As always, I am in awe of Wayne Tinkle. Last year, when Montana went 15-1, it was impressive. This year, going 19-1, battling through the injuries and the lack of depth and experience upfront, it was simply an incredible coaching job.All of the credit in the world to Montana. For the second straight year, they are going to the Big Dance. After picking Weber State to win the tournament, I have a lesson learned - never go against Will Cherry, Kareem Jamar, and Wayne Tinkle. Those guys just don't lose.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Montana Extends Home Winning Streak to Advance to Title Game

Our dream Big Sky finals matchup awaits us: Montana vs Weber State, part 3. How did they get there? On Friday night, Montana took some punches from Northern Colorado, but wound up with a 14 point win.

Counting conference tournament games, make that 30 straight home conference victories for Montana. Behind a raucous crowd, they got off to an 11-0 start against Northern Colorado and never trailed in the ballgame. The Bears fought back all night, but the Grizzlies just seemed like they would not let them get closer than about six after the early stages of the second half, eventually winning 70-56 after extending the lead in garbage time.

Before the game, we talked about how the Bears might have the advantage down low, but they would need to slow down the quicker Montana guards. That did not happen in this game. Will Cherry (21 points, 3 assists) and Kareem Jamar (19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) seemed to go anywhere they pleased in this game, and they were just too quick and physical for Tevin Svihovec and Tate Unruh. On the other wise, Unruh and Svihovec couldn't get things going offensively.

Unruh did not play a bad game, his shots were just not falling. He finished 2/11 from the floor, including 2/10 from downtown. He is a guy that keeps shooting, and that is the gameplan. He still had six rebounds and four assists, but the fact that he wasn't hitting was big. Svihovec struggled all game. He was 1/9 from the floor, finishing with six points. He also had four turnovers, and was making poor offensive decisions all night. His development this offseason will be the key for UNC next season.

Connor Osborne played great in this game, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He was a force. Derrick Barden had 18 points and 7 rebounds, but it was a quiet 18 and 7. Montana's bigs played well enough to get the win, while UNC's guards did not. That was the difference in the game. Andy Martin had some productive minutes in the second half, while Eric Hutchison had some in the first half.

So, it all adds up to Montana hosting Weber State for the Big Sky championship. Again. 7pm mountain time on Saturday night - it is going to be a fun one, that is for sure.

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Weber State Wins in the Best Big Sky Game of the Year

Our dream Big Sky finals matchup awaits us: Montana vs Weber State, part 3. How did they get there? On Friday night, the road wasn't as easy as some might have expected, especially for Weber State.

In one of the most exciting games of the Big Sky season, Weber State clawed back from a 12 point second half deficit to beat North Dakota 76-74 and clinch their spot in the Big Sky championship. It was everything you would want in a game of this magnitute. North Dakota played their best game of the year, but just couldn't pull it out, thanks to Weber State making a ton of plays down the stretch, as you would expect them to do.

UND pulled up 52-40 at the 17 minute mark, though you need the Wildcats would not go away. That they did not was in large part due to the play of Davion Berry and freshman Joel Bolomboy. To me, Bolomboy was the player of the game. He had 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks, continually making an impact on both ends of the court. He showed more post moves than he has all season, and showed more of the potential that he has hinted at this year. He was outstanding.

Berry paced the Wildcats with 25 points, though he was just 7/19 from the floor. He attacked relentlessly, earning himself 12 trips to the free throw line. He also pulled down six rebounds.

In the last minute and a half, though, it was neither of those guys making the big plays for Weber State. Scott Bamforth had a quiet 10 points before hitting a corner three to tie the game late. That was just a senior making a huge shot when his team needed it the most. Then, on the Wildcats last possession, with the game tied at 74, they went inside to Kyle Tresnak, who had a nice baby hook for what wound up being the game-winner. Tresnak played 18 minutes because of foul trouble, but he was the man that Randy Rahe trusted with the final shot, and he delivered.

North Dakota certainly has nothing to hang their heads about, as they gave a really good team everything they could handle and then some. Troy Huff led the way with 22 points and 8 rebounds, getting a head start on his 2014 Big Sky POY campaign. He was seemingly everywhere. Guys like Aaron Anderson, Brandon Brekke, Mitch Willmer, and Jamal Webb also had solid games, but UND just wasn't able to finish it out. They turned it over just five times in the game, but struggled to get good looks at times in the second half, with a lot of credit for that going to WSU.

North Dakota finishes the year at 16-16, though there is a chance they could make it into a small tournament. Weber State moves to 26-5 as they prepare for the Big Sky title bout.

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What Needs to Happen for a Semifinals Upset?

The Big Sky semifinals are tonight, and both games have a clear favorite. It would be an upset if either Northern Colorado or North Dakota win, but certainly anything can happen in a one game format (just ask the WAC). So with that said, what do those teams need to do to pull an upset? Here are some key things to look for:

Northern Colorado
- Create second chance opportunities. Northern Colorado averaged 17 offensive rebounds per game in the two meetings between these clubs during the season, and so you know this will be a point of emphasis for the Grizzlies. When Derrick Barden and Connor Osborne are active, they are the best offensive rebounding duo in the conference, and Montana is susceptible to allowing offensive boards. The Bears have to get some cheap points off offensive rebounds.
- Tevin Svihovec has to be strong with the ball. Svihovec has been up and down this year, and hasa 22.9 TO Rate, higher than you would like for a PG. He will be matched against Will Cherry, who happens to be one of the best in the Big Sky history at getting steals. Taking care of the basketball will be paramount for the Bears.
- Avoid defensive breakdowns. At times this year, UNC has had a tendency to lose track of their guys, but you can’t do that when you are facing guys like Cherry, Kareem Jamar, and Jordan Gregory. The Bears have looked better defensively in recent weeks, but they have struggled against Montana. In their first meeting, the Grizzlies scored 1.44 points per possession, in the second meeting it was 1.06 PPP. They cannot allow any easy looks.

North Dakota
- Make threes. UND often beats teams with their athleticism, which is why Weber State is a tough matchup for them, because they are one of the few Big Sky teams that can athletically matchup with Troy Huff, Aaron Anderson, and Jamal Webb. To combat that, UND needs to hit threes, which won’t be easy against the Wildcats. In the first two meetings between these teams, UND was a combined 5/18 from deep. That has to change if they are going to have a chance.
- They need strong post defense without having to help too much. In the first meeting, Kyle Tresnak had a huge game, in the second, it was Frank Otis. UND sometimes likes to play four guards at a time, but you can’t do that against WSU or Otis/Tresnak can almost score at will. UND needs guys like Mitch Willmer and Brandon Brekke to step up defensively and stay out of foul trouble.
- Find a way to slow down Davion Berry. He scored at least 20 points in both meetings this year, and makes the Wildcats tough to stop when he is on. WSU has a lot of options, but when you have to put extra attention on Berry, he can hurt you because he is such a good passer as well, and he will find the open guys. I am guessing the assignment will fall to Troy Huff… and he has to do a decent job of containing Berry without help, otherwise the Wildcats are going to score in bunches.

Thoughts? Do UND or UNC have a shot tonight?

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Northern Colorado Outlasts Montana State

Coming into the Big Sky tournament, it looked like the 4/5 game between Northern Colorado and Montana State had the potential to be a really close, entertaining battle. For the first half, it looked that way too, as the Bobcats took a 30-28 lead into intermission, despite foul trouble from Antonio Biglow and Flavien Davis.

The second half, however, was a totally different story. The Bears ratcheted things up defensively and stayed aggressive offensively, outscoring MSU 41-26 in the second fram en route to a 69-56 victory.

The Bears blocked seven shots in the game, including three from Connor Osborne, who also finished with nine rebounds. The Bobcats went long stretches without getting good looks, and it showed up with their 39.6% shooting from the floor.

The Bears didn't get a huge day from Derrick Barden, but won from getting some contributions from everyone. Tate Unruh led the way with 21 points. Tim Huskisson had 14 and 7 and seemed to be everywhere on the court. Tevin Svihovec had 12 points, going 8/9 from the stripe. Paul Garnica hit two threes off the bench. It was an excellent team effort.

For the win, they play Montana in the semifinals. They have the talent to give the Grizzlies a game, especially if Derrick Barden and Connor Osborne can impose their will down low. They need to hit threes, and they need great defensive effort by the guards. It will be interesting.

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My Old High School Pulls A Valpo

State tournament... down 3... 2.4 seconds left. Channeling Bryce Drew.

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North Dakota Advaces to Semifinals

Through one half of play, it looked like we were in for a tightly contested battle in the second Big Sky quarterfinal. But early in the second half, North Dakota made it well known that such a close game was not to be.

UND used a 14-0 run to spark a dominant second half, riding it to a 69-52 victory over Southern Utah to advance to the Big Sky semifinals to play Weber State. There was a stretch of time where it seemed that North Dakota could not miss, while Southern Utah wasn't able to get any type of decent looks. UND was smothering defensively, holding the Thunderbirds to just 28.8% shooting on the night, including 5/19 from downtown.

Offensively, UND broke a SUU zone by constantly getting open looks from the three, especially from the corners. Josh Schuler was a key in the second half run, and he finished with 10 points off the bench. 

Troy Huff did a little bit of everything for North Dakota, showing why he was a unanimous first-team Big Sky selection. He started the second half with five straight points, finishing with 15 on the day. He also pulled down seven rebounds, dished out four assists, and finished with four steals. SUU was unable to contain him on either end. Mitch Willmer is another guy that had a big day - probably the best of his career. He finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks.

For SUU, it was always going to be a struggle to score enough points if their stars had off nights, and that is what happened. Jackson Stevenett had a strong start, but finished with 15 points on just 5/18 shooting. Damon Heuir had eight points on 1/10 shooting. There is no way that SUU will win when that happens.

The Thunderbirds finish the year 11-20. North Dakota prepares to play Weber State in the first semifinal on Friday night.

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Weber State Rolls to Opening Round Win

The first game of the Big Sky tournament was a 2 vs 7 matchup, as Weber State took on Northern Arizona. It was not long ago that NAU gave the Wildcats a huge scare, so there was thought in some corners that this could be a competitive game. However, that was not to be.

Weber State jumped on NAU right away, scoring the first nine points of the game and never looking back. It was 36-21 at halftime, and 84-58 by the time the game was over. Any WSU fans worried that the Wildcats might come out complacent need not to have been alarmed. The Wildcats are the more talented team, and they showed it.

NAU had no real way to slow down Weber, as the Wildcats shot 54% from the floor, and 19/23 from the free throw line. Frank Otis led the way with 16 points on 7/10 shooting, while Davion Berry (13), Kyle Tresnak (12), and Scott Bamforth (12) were also in double figures. 0n the whole, ten players scored for Wever State, with six guys scoring 8+ points. It was a balanced effort.

On the other side, NAU couldn't make shots or get anything going. They shot 37% and had 17 turnovers. DeWayne Russell had 21 points, but a lot of them came in the second half when the game was out of reach. Gabe Rogers caps off a great senior year with 12 points.

Weber State will play North Dakota if they win, or will play the winner of the MSU/UNC game if Southern Utah wins.

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I Talk Tournament and Awards With Gidal Kaiser

As we try to do often throughout the year, Gidal Kaiser of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and I got together on a podcast and talked Big Sky basketball.

This time, we talked awards, surprises, and of course, the tournament.

Listen to the podcast here and let me know what you think!

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Weber State's Three Point Shooting Edge

There are many interesting things about Weber State this year, but one of the most interesting is the huge edge that the Wildcats have had with three-point shooting.

When you consider the following four facts, it is not hard to see why Weber leads the Big Sky in both offensive and defensive efficiency:

1. They lead the country in three-point field goal percentage at 43.3%.
2. They lead the county in three-point field goal percentage against at 28.0%.
3. They are second in the country in allowing the least amount of three point attempts per game.
4. They are first in the country in 3PA/FGA allowed, as just 21.8% of the opponent's field goal attempts are threes (the next lowest is 24.1%).

What does it all mean?

If it's not obvious, the rub is this - they shoot a great percentage on their threes, they hold their opponents to a terrible percentage when shooting threes, and they don't allow their opponents to get off threes.

They stress this, sometimes at the expense of going after turnovers (their defensive turnover rate is 318th in the country), but achieving the goal of not allowing an opponent good looks from deep. Before the question gets posed, it is not a case of Big Sky teams just not shooting threes. Here is how teams look in terms of the percentage of their shots that are three-pointers (national rank in parenthesis):

Eastern Washington - 42.8% (13)
Montana State - 36.1% (87)
Idaho State - 35.9% (94)
Montana - 35.2% (111)
Northern Colorado - 33.1% (166)
North Dakota - 32.8% (175)
Sacramento State - 31.1% (230)
Northern Arizona - 30.7% (239)
Southern Utah - 28.3% (290)
Portland State - 25.5% (320)

Looking at these numbers, it's a little easier to put into context how Weber State has won 11 straight games, sits 18-2 in the Big Sky, and has a chance to be a giant killer if they can make it into the NCAA Tournament.

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Mid Major Madness Previews The Tournament

Brett Hein has previewed the Big Sky Tournament over at Mid-Major Madness, and it is most definitely worth a read.

TITLE CHANCES: Probable. Montana has quite a streak to continue, despite injuries. The Griz are 36-2 in the last two seasons of Big Sky play when including last year's conference tournament. Tinkle has created a program with which to be reckoned, and it's hard to ignore. That 36-2 conference record includes a mark of 20-0 at home, and three of those home wins are against Weber State (the only two losses are from Weber State, too). In the end, I won't believe Montana will lose at home until someone actually makes it happen.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gabe Rogers Wins The Scoring Title

Gabe Rogers of Northern Arizona won the Big Sky scoring title this year, so wanted to write just a few words about him.

He averaged a league-leading 18.1 PPG for whole year, and upped that to 20.1 PPG during conference games. At times, it seemed that he was the only offense for Northern Arizona, and defenses keyed on him for most of the year (I remember seeing a box-and-one used to try and contain him). Still, he was consistent for the Lumberjacks, and the biggest reason that they made the conference tournament.

There was good and bad things about his game, but let's focus on the good for this post. Despite all of the attention, and the fact that at times there was not a lot of other guys that were shot-creators on the team, NAU was in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive efficiency in the Big Sky. That was in large part due to Rogers.

His shooting percentages don't look great - he shot 42% from twos (bad) and 37% from three (not bad). But I think that part of those percentages are skewed because of the fact that he had to take a lot of shots for them, during times when the shot clock was winding down, etc. He scored 22+ points in 11 of the Jacks last 14 games.

Rogers was a first-team Big Sky player, a nice reward for a stellar senior season. He will be missed big-time by Northern Arizona next season.

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Ken Pomeroy's Big Sky Odds

If you haven't heard of Ken Pomeroy, you should learn about him. Each year, he puts the statistical odds out for each team's chances of winning their conference tournament. This year, things are split between Montana and Weber State... with everyone else having small odds to win. Which is basically as you would expect. Here are the odds:

                                 Semis Final Champ
2 Weber St.                 92.8   82.4  48.5
1 Montana                   100    87.6  46.2
5 Northern Colorado   65.4  12.4   2.5
3 North Dakota           59.4   8.0    1.5
6 Southern Utah          40.6   4.8     0.7
4 Montana St.             34.6   4.1     0.5
7 Northern Arizona     7.2     0 .7    0.09
Apologies for formatting.

Here is his explanation:

Montana and Weber State have combined to go 64-2 against other Big Sky foes the last two seasons. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that these two teams account for 95% of the possibilities for the conference champion. It might be a bit of surprise, though, that these two teams nearly split those chances even though Montana gets to host the event and they need to play one fewer game to earn the title. Weber State has generally been shredding its opponents worse than Montana and thus is viewed as the better team in this analysis. Montana is battling injuries, with point guard Will Cherry and forward Mathias Ward suffering foot injuries late in the season. Cherry is back but Ward is done for the season. All in all, it should be a competitive matchup if the two meet in the title game as expected.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Kareem Jamar is the Big Sky Player of the Year

Kareem Jamar has been named the Big Sky Player of the Year. If you read my article last week, I had Jamar as my POY as well, so I agree with that selection.

Here is the full rundown of the awards:

Most Valuable Player – Kareem Jamar, Montana
Newcomer of the Year – Davion Berrry , Weber State
Freshman of the Year – Venky Jois, Eastern Washington
Defensive Player of the Year - Will Cherry, Montana

First Team All-Big Sky Conference
Kareem Jamar, Montana (unanimous)
Troy Huff, North Dakota (unanimous)
Davion Berry, Weber State
Derrick Barden, Northern Colorado
Scott Bamforth, Weber State
Gabe Rogers, Northern Arizona
Will Cherry, Montana

Second Team All-Big Sky Conference
Mathias Ward, Montana
Jackson Stevenett, Southern Utah
Tate Unruh, Northern Colorado
Kyle Tresnak, Weber State
Aaron Anderson, North Dakota
Damon Heuir, Southern Utah

Honorable Mention All-Big Sky Conference
Christian Moon, Montana State
Flavien Davis, Montana State
John Dickson, Sacramento State
Dylan Garrity, Sacramento State
Chris Hansen, Idaho State
Jordan Gregory, Montana
Stallon Saldivar, Northern Arizona
Aaron Moore, Portland State
Frank Otis, Weber State

I will eventually have a lot more to write about when it comes to the awards... but upon first glance, I can't see anything at all that seems outrageous and noteworthy. All the selections seem rather sound.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 Big Sky Tournament Preview and Predictions

The pairings are set for the 2013 Big Sky Tournament, so let's take a look at things with a preview and some predictions.

Montana was the regular season champion for the second straight season, with their only loss coming on the road to Weber State. The Wildcats finish second, with their only losses coming at Montana and on the road against a lesser opponent. If this sounds familiar, it should - it is essentially the same script from last season.

Last year six teams made the Big Sky tournament... three of the other four teams from last year's tournament are out, meaning there are lots of new faces. Among them is North Dakota and Southern Utah, who are in their first seasons in the Big Sky. Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona are back after one year absences, while Montana State joins UM and WSU as returning participants.

BIG SKY TOURNAMENT FORMAT - 4 things to know
1. Seven teams make the conference tournament out of the eleven in the conference. That means that four teams - Portland State, Eastern Washington, Idaho State, and Sacramento State will be watching this at home.
2. Since Montana is the regular season champion, they get a first round bye. Even more importantly, the tournament will be in Missoula on their home-court. Given their home-court dominance (more on that later), this is a huge edge for them.
3. After the first round, teams get re-seeded to ensure that the top seed plays the lowest possible seed.
4. All games except for the final are available to watch for free on Big Sky TV. The championship will be on ESPNU.

Thursday, March 14
(2) Weber State (18-2) vs. (7) Northern Arizona (8-12 - 3:00 PM Mountain
(3) North Dakota (12-8) vs. (6) Southern Utah (8-12) - 5:30 PM Mountain
(4) Montana State (10-10) vs. (5) Northern Colorado (5-5) - 8:00 PM Mountain

Friday, March 15
(1) Montana (19-1) vs. lowest remaining seed - 8:00 PM Mountain
Second highest seed vs. third highest seed - 5:30 PM Mountain

Saturday, March 16
Big Sky Championship - 7:00 PM Mountain (ESPNU)

(2) Weber State vs (7) Northern Arizona
First two meetings: Weber State won by 13 in Ogden, but needed a miracle finish to beat NAU in Flagstaff in OT.
How Weber State wins: They have to take care of the ball. They had 19 TOs in that game in Flagstaff, while forcing only 12. They have the superior talent, they just need to avoid making silly and careless mistakes that could happen if they start to look ahead.
How Northern Arizona wins: Gabe Rogers needs to have a big day, and he needs help. He has been on a tear the second half of the year, but he has sometimes had to do it alone. Max Jacobsen (playing great of late) and DeWayne Russell need to play their best games of the year.

(3) North Dakota vs (6) Southern Utah
First two meetings: SUU won the first meeting in Cedar City by 12, while UND won last week's matchup by 7 in the regular season finale.
How North Dakota wins: Slow down Jackson Stevenett or Damon Heuir. In the last meeting, Stevenett had only seven points, and the Thunderbirds offense was stagnant all game. UND also has to hit some outside shots, because I am guessing we will see SUU come out and play some zone.
How Southern Utah wins: Find some scoring. Since the suspension of Wade Collie, SUU has had trouble finding offense outside of Heuir and Stevenett. If one of those two guys is having an off night, the Thunderbirds struggle to score enough to win games.

(4) Montana State vs. (5) Northern Colorado
First two meetings: Each team won on each other's home court. MSU beat UNC by 3 in Greeley, while UNC won by 13 in Bozeman.
How Montana State wins: Get some stops. They are 338th in defensive efficiency, which makes it tough to win big games. They also need Flavien Davis and Paul Egwuonwu to keep bringing their A games - both guys have been excellent in the past couple weeks.
How Northern Colorado wins: Take care of the basketball, as this can sometimes be their Achilles heel. Defensively, they have to pay attention to their assignments, as they have a tendency to lose their man. Tevin Svihovec and Connor Osborne need to show up and play big. BJ Hill knows what he will get from Tate Unruh and Derrick Barden, but the play of Osborne and Svihovec is the difference for them.

Just for fun, here is how I see things shaking out.

(2) Weber State over (7) Northern Arizona - This game should be interesting due to the fact that NAU made it such a game in their last meeting, but the Wildcats are just too talented to lose this on a neutral court.
(3) North Dakota over (6) Southern Utah - In the regular season finale, UND was locked into the three seed while SUU realistically thought they may have to win to get in. UND's second leading scorer Aaron Anderson played just four minutes. And North Dakota still won. They have more firepower right now, especially with Josh Schuler back in the lineup.
(5) Northern Colorado over (4) Montana State - MSU is a team that is capable of making a long run or losing in the first round. It's hard to know what to expect from them. UNC has looked better defensively in the last couple of weeks. Lack of bench production is a concern, but I like UNC to eek out a win in what should be a very competitive, entertaining game.

(1) Montana over (5) Northern Colorado - The Grizzlies will be well rested, while UNC will have played the night game the previous night. Derrick Barden will pose problems for the Grizzlies (he averaged 19 and 11 in their two meetings), but the Grizzlies are not going to lose this game.
(2) Weber State over (3) North Dakota - Weber State is a bad matchup for UND. With Troy Huff and Jamal Webb, North Dakota is more athletic than a lot of teams, but WSU is not one of those teams. Weber State should win this one handily.

(2) Weber State over (1) Montana - This would be an exorcism of a lot of demons for Weber State, who have lost to Montana the past three seasons in the Big Sky tournament, including the Anthony Johnson Game. This game is in Missoula, so why the pick of Weber State? Two reasons:

- In the second meeting between these teams (which Weber State won by 24), the Wildcats followed a formula that I think will serve them well again - pound the ball inside. In that game, Kyle Tresnak had 19 points on 8/10 shooting, while Frank Otis had 14 points on 5/7 shooting. Montana has no answer for Weber down low.
- Mathias Ward is out, and Will Cherry may not be 100%. Ward was their leading scorer, and provided a nice complement to the games of Cherry and Kareem Jamar. Cherry missed the start of the year due to a foot injury, got back, re-injured it again, missed four games, and made it back to play in the finale, scoring 14 points. UM needs Cherry and Jamar to be on the top of their games to win this, and that might be too much to ask of them.

- Will Cherry is playing for Montana, but Mathias Ward is not - It was originally thought that Cherry would miss the rest of the season with a broken foot, while Mathias Ward might make it back for the tournament. Well, Ward had season-ending surgery, while Cherry made it back for Senior Night.
- Ken Pomeroy's rankings say Weber State is the best team - Montana has overtaken the efficiency lead for offense (though Weber State has been the best during conference play), but Weber State is far an away the best defensive team in the conference. Weber's defense 3PA/FGA is best in the country - they just don't allow teams to shoot the three ball against them. The Wildcats also lead the country in 3point shooting percentage. Their KenPom ranking is 90, while Montana is 147.
- Montana is hard to beat at home - By my count, including tournament games, Montana has won 29 straight home conference games. Considering that they will be playing at home for this tournament, that is a pretty important fact.
- Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are trending in the wrong direction - SUU has lost four straight games, and seven straight Big Sky games. Northern Arizona has lost three straight, and is 2-5 in their last seven. If you believe in momentum, this is a bad sign for these teams.
- Montana State could be a darkhorse - I have them losing in round one, so why do I say this? Well, look no further than the top two teams. Other than Montana, MSU is the only team to beat Weber State, as they beat them in Bozeman. Nobody other than Weber State has beaten Montana, but MSU got close. Montana needed a late three to send their game to OT before winning it in the extra frame in Missoula. They will not be intimidated by the top two teams.

What are your thoughts and predictions? Would love to hear what everyone thinks!

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Big Sky Tournament Is Set

The field has finally been set. As explained in the tiebreaker scenario post earlier, Sacramento State loses the tiebreaker on the three team tie at 8-12. That leaves things looking like this:

(2) Weber State (18-2) vs. (7) Northern Arizona (8-12 - 3:00 pm mountain
(3) North Dakota (12-8) vs. (6) Southern Utah (8-12) - 5:30 pm mountain
(4) Montana State (10-10) vs. (5) Northern Colorado (5-5) - 8:00 pm mountain

(1) Montana (19-1) vs lowest remaining seed - 5:30 pm mountain
Second highest seed vs. third highest seed - 8:00 pm mountain

Big Sky Championship

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Saturday Night Big Sky Tiebreak Scenarios

Two games are in the books today - North Dakota beat Southern Utah, and Montana State beat Sacramento State. This means that the first five spots are all set in the Big Sky.

1. Montana
2. Weber State
3. North Dakota
4. Montana State
5. Northern Colorado

The final two seeds are up for grabs. Tonight, Northern Arizona travels to Montana, while Eastern Washington travels to Weber State. Northern Arizona, Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, and Southern Utah are all battling for the last two spots.

Based on my understanding, here are the possible scenarios, and what happens in each of them:

Northern Arizona wins, Eastern Washington loses
- NAU is the 6 seed based on their record.
- SUU and Sac State would be tied at 8-12, and the Hornets would win the tiebreaker and be the 7 seed based on the fact that they are 1-1 against Montana State while SUU is 0-2.

Northern Arizona wins, Eastern Washington wins
- NAU is the 6 seed based on their record. 
- EWU, SAC, and SUU would all be tied at 8-12. Record within themselves - Sac State is 3-1, SUU is 2-2, EWU is 1-3.That means Sacramento State is in.

Northern Arizona loses, Eastern Washington wins 
- All four teams would be tied at 8-12.
- Records within themselves - SUU is 4-2, EWU is 3-3, Sac State is 3-3, NAU is 2-4. Southern Utah would be 6 seed, NAU would be out.
- That would leave Sac State and Eastern Washington tied. In this case, I think Sacramento State would win the tiebreak by virtue of going 1-1 against North Dakota while EWU was 0-2.

Northern Arizona loses, Eastern Washington loses
- EWU is out based on their record.
- Three way tie between NAU, Sac State, and SUU with all teams at 8-12. Record within themselves - SUU is 3-1, NAU is 2-2, SAC is 1-3. Therefore, Sacramento State would be the odd team out, SUU would be sixth, and NAU would be seventh.

Please correct me if you find anything wrong!

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Montana State Has Clinched A Tourney Spot

I guess my post about Saturday night is already a little bit outdated. As it turns out, after reviewing all of the potential tiebreakers, the Big Sky Conference has announced that Montana State has indeed clinched a spot in the Big Sky tournament.

‎#BigSkyMBB: The Big Sky has reviewed potential tiebreakers involving Montana State, and we can indeed say the Bobcats have clinched a spot in the postseason tournament.
Congrats to the Bobcats, who can breathe a little bit easier. It could be good news for Sacramento State as well, if it takes a little bit of MSU's motivation away.

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Big Sky Saturday Night - All You Need to Know

Saturday is the last day of the Big Sky regular season. Here is what we know right now:

- Montana and Weber State will be the top two seeds, in some order.
- North Dakota is the number three seed.
- Northern Colorado is in the tournament. At this point they are the four seed, but that could change if MSU wins. However, they won’t be lower than the five seed.
- Of all the teams that haven’t clinched, Montana State has the clearest path in. They need to win, or have either Northern Arizona or Southern Utah lose. If either of those things happen, they’re in. If MSU loses and SUU/NAU both win, it goes to a tiebreaker.
- If Sacramento State, NAU, and SUU all lose… they would all be tied at 8-12 with only two teams making it. Based on my understanding of the tiebreakers, Sac State would be out.
- Eastern Washington has a chance if they can upset Weber State and two of NAU/SAC/SUU lose. That would put multiple teams at 8-12, and it would go to a tiebreaker.

I am sure I have missed something! With all that said, a look at the games and I see them shaking out.

Northern Arizona @ Montana
What’s at stake: Montana needs a win and they clinch home-court advantage. They can still get it with a loss, but they don’t want to mess around with that. NAU would feel good about making it if they win, because they swept Sac State, and a win over the Grizzlies would be a huge tiebreaker help.
Who wins: NAU has come close to beating Weber State and Montana State in their last two games, but haven’t been able to get over the hump. I think it will be the same story this time. The Grizzlies want a second straight outright title, and they are not going to give that up playing at home. It’s been a long time since they’ve lost a conference game in Missoula, and that streak won’t end on Saturday. Montana wins.

Eastern Washington @ Weber State
What’s at stake: Weber State is the top seed if they win, Montana loses, and Montana State loses. That is not exactly an easy road, but it will keep them motivated for this one. EWU has a small chance to sneak in if they can win and get some help.
Who wins: Eastern Washington has shown flashes of the talent they possess and will show in coming seasons, but they don’t have the ability to hang with Weber in Ogden. This won’t quite be a rout like Thursday night against PSU, but I think Weber State will win this game comfortably.

Southern Utah @ North Dakota
What’s at stake: For UND, nothing. They are locked into the three seed. For SUU, a win will make them feel pretty comfortable that they are in, while they need some help if they lose.
Who wins: On paper, UND is the better team and playing at home. However, I’ll go with the more desperate team. The Thunderbirds have to win this game, and they know. With seniors Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir, I think Southern Utah guts out a tough road win to keep their season alive.

Sacramento State @ Montana State
What’s at stake: Tons. This could be the biggest game of the night. If MSU wins, they are in. If they lose, things still look good. For Sac State, a win most likely means they are in. A loss, and things get interesting. They have poor records against Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, meaning that the tiebreak scenarios don't seem to be in their favor. They badly need a win or there is a good chance their once promising season will end.
Who wins: The Hornets need it more, but the Bobcats have been playing better lately. Antonio Biglow turned in his best performance on Thursday, and junior Paul Egwuonwu and Flavien Davis are peaking at the right time. Xavier Blount is out with an injury, which hurts MSU, but I think Montana State has enough to get the win at home.

Portland State @ Idaho State
What’s at stake: Well, nothing. Pride, I guess.
Who wins: As a general rule, if you are down 41-13 at the half (even on the road against the best team), you might have given up on the season. I see Idaho State, at home, winning to end the year on a high note.

If this is how things shake out, here is what the final standings would look like (based on my tiebreaker knowledge):
1. Montana (19-1)
2. Weber State (18-2)
3. North Dakota (11-9)
4. Montana State (10-10)
5. Northern Colorado (10-10)
6. Southern Utah (9-11)
7. Northern Arizona (8-12)
8. Sacramento State (8-12)
9. Eastern Washington (7-13)
10. Idaho State (5-15)
11. Portland State (5-15)


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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Will Cherry Could Play Saturday

I mentioned this in my review post, but it was worth it's own spot here. From Bob Meseroll comes some great news for Montana fans, and really for fans of the Big Sky.

Montana will honor seniors Mathias Ward and Will Cherry in its regular-season finale Saturday night against Northern Arizona. Ward is done for the season after having surgery on his injured left foot on Wednesday. Cherry, who has missed three straight games with an injury to his right foot, was in uniform Thursday night, but did not play. Rumor has it Cherry will see some minutes on Saturday.
Obviously if he is at the point where he may see minutes Saturday, that bodes well for his chances of playing in the Big Sky tournament. That could change things dramatically. Without Cherry or Mathias Ward, Weber State would likely be a big favorite in the tournament no matter where it is played. If Cherry is back, that could change everything.

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Montana State Close to Clinching (and the Rest of the Action)

There were big game on Thursday night, but perhaps the biggest was between Northern Arizona and Montana State. With both teams knotted at 8-10 in the conference, a win would come close to guaranteeing a spot for the winner, while a loss creates a must-win for the loser on Saturday.

MSU looked like they might run away with it in the first half, as they led 47-35 at intermission. But NAU stormed back with a huge second half to send the game to overtime. In the extra frame, it was MSU taking care of business at home, getting a pivotal 83-79 win. MSU was led by a career day for Antonio Biglow, who finished with 27 points and seven steals. He played 43 minutes, and this is the Biglow that everyone expected all season. Huge performance from.

MSU also got 19 from Paul Egwuonwu and 18 from Flavien Davis. The two JUCO transfers were a bit slow adjusting to DI, but both have been playing great basketball lately. NAU was led by Gabe Rogers, who seemed to will the team to come back in the second half. The scoring title is his to lose, but the bigger prize for NAU is a win on Saturday night against Montana.

Montana State needs either a win, or a loss from either NAU or SUU, and they are in the Big Sky tournament.


There was no drama at the top of the Big Sky standings. Montana took care of business at home, taking down Sacramento State 63-52. The win moves Montana to 18-1, and one win away from a second straight outright Big Sky title.

The biggest news out of that game is that Will Cherry was in uniform (though didn't play), and could possibly see some minutes on Saturday night. Obviously you do not need me to tell you how huge that would be for Montana.

The other team battling for the top spot, Weber State, obliterated Portland State in Ogden. The score was 41-13 at the half. That is probably all you need to know about that one. The Wildcats need a Montana and a Montana State loss in order to win the Big Sky (along with a win). Good luck.


In the final game, Eastern Washington went into Pocatello and won 87-73 over Idaho State. The Eagles made 14/26 from three-point range. Parker Kelly was 6/10, while Tyler Harvey was 5/9 from deep. Something to watch - if Eastern Washington can somehow win on Saturday at Weber State, they have a chance to join teams in a tiebreaker at 8-12 in the Big Sky. It's a long shot, but something to watch.

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Northern Colorado Punches Ticket

I was at the Northern Colorado/Southern Utah game tonight, where UNC punched their ticket to the Big Sky tournament with a 66-58 win. As always I could talk at length about the game, but just wanted to separate out two quick things to talk about (because there were four other important games!)

- On Monday night against Montana, SUU PG Damon Heuir had 29 points, and kept the TBirds alive in the second half. In this game, he was 0/1 and scoreless at half, and finished with four points on 2/8 shooting. How did the Bears do it? It wasn't just that Heuir had an off night - he simply had no openings.

Tevin Svihovec was really solid, it was the best defensive game I have seen him play. UNC switched every screen where Heuir had the ball, knowing that he has a quick first step and the ability to angle past defenders and use his strength to get to the lane. So they switched and made sure that Heuir did not have anywhere to go right off the screen (SUU like to screen for him at the top of the key). Of course, it's tough to say that this strategy would have worked as well as it did if Derrick Barden wasn't frequently the guy switching. As good as he is in other areas (18 points, 10 rebounds), his defense gets overlooked. He can guard basically anyone in the Big Sky, from ones to most fives. UNC was keyed by their defense in this game, which is not a statement that has been said a lot the past two years.

- It was my first chance to watch Jackson Stevenett in person, and boy, he is impressive and fun to watch. He finished with 25 points and 7 rebounds, even though he was battling some foul trouble throughout the game. He has such a high release that it seems like he can get off a shot off almost anytime that he wants. Nobody in the Big Sky uses the backboard as well as he does, and it's not even close. His midrange jumper is really good, and he has a knack for getting an open look.  It is too bad that the Big Sky only got to enjoy him for one season.

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Some Big Sky Power Rankings

With the season winding down, there is not a lot more time for Big Sky Power Rankings. However, two of the best Big Sky beat writers put out some rankings this week. They have the top four the same (and that order should be obvious based on the standings), but things diverse from there. Check them out:

- Gidal Kaiser of The Bozeman Daily Chronicle
- Bob Meseroll of The Missoulian

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Quinton Upshur Commits to Northern Arizona

I am not sure exactly when this happened, but 6'4'' JUCO wing Quinton Upshur has committed to Northern Arizona. By my count he is the seventh guy that NAU will be bringing in.

I haven't been able to find a ton of information about him, but it looks like he spent a year at the Virginia Military Institute before transferring to Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas. In his freshman year at VMI he played 18.1 minutes, averaging 5.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He also racked up 1.4 steals with a 4.2% steal rate, which was 28th in the country.

At Kilgore College, he averages 13.5 PPG and 5.1 RPG, shooting 34.9% from three-point range. From what I have heard about Upshur, he has a good chance of being the best player from the Lumberjacks big class. It will be fun to watch him the next couple years.

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Big Sky Thursday Night Predictions

With the exception of Northern Colorado and North Dakota (who have one game left), everyone in the Big Sky has two games left on their slate. Spots one and two are up for grabs, as are the last four seeds. In other words, a lot can and will happen over these next few days.

@ Northern Colorado 75, Southern Utah 68
UNC is playing their best basketball of the season, while SUU might be playing their worst. They lost a tough one on Monday night, meaning they absolutely have to win this game or Saturday against North Dakota, or their season will likely be over. The game has huge meaning for UNC as well... with a win they clinch a spot in the tournament, with a loss they are possibly subjected to the tiebreaker. In Greeley, I think the Bears are the better team.

@ Montana 68, Sacramento State 63
The Grizzlies gutted out two close games last week, and now they are back home. They are playing on a short week after a physical game, but there is something to be said for them knowing how to win games. The difference between Montana and a lot of Big Sky teams is that if the game is close, they expect to win. I think they make the plays down the stretch. Jordan Gregory is quickly becoming a really good player.

@ Weber State 81, Portland State 65
 It is the Big Sky's best offense (and best defense) going against the Big Sky's worst defense. And it's in Ogden. And the Wildcats have huge incentive to win, while the Vikings are mathematically eliminated. I could go on, but there is no need.

Eastern Washington 65, @ Idaho State 62
This is the rare Big Sky team where neither team has a lot to play for.  Even though EWU has lost three conference games in a row, I think they are getting better as the year has gone along. Between Venky Jois and Martin Seiferth, they probably have the top two shot blockers in the conference.

Northern Arizona 69, @ Montana State 66
I just have a feeling about this game. MSU is coming off a close loss to Montana, while NAU is coming off a devastating loss to Weber State, but I think NAU can go on the road and pull off the mini upset. Gabe Rogers is playing his best basketball of the season, continuing to score in bunches even though the defense knows that they stop him, they stop the Lumberjacks offense. With a trip to Montana to close the year, NAU knows they have to get this game.


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Mathias Ward's Career Is Over

There was hope that Mathias Ward would be able to return this season, but that is no longer an option, according to Montana.

Forward Mathias Ward, who was injured on Feb 16 in the University of Montana's 61-54 road win at Idaho State, had surgery Wednesday morning and will miss the rest of the season.
At the time of his injury, Ward was Montana's leading scorer, and a senior leader on the club. He showed great improvement throughout his career, and was a key contributor for the Grizzlies. From all accounts, he is also a great guy and the consummate student-athlete.

It's a shame to see his career end with an injury, most of all for him, because I'm sure he'd do all he could to get back out there. Best of luck in the future to Mathias.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Candidates for Big Sky Player of the Year

The race for the Big Sky Player of the Year is open. Will Cherry was the presumed winner heading into the year... but after missing most of the non-conference slate as well as the end of the conference season, he should not win the award. He is the best player when healthy, but it's hard to overlook the injuries. So that begs the question... who could or should it be?

I have never bought the notion for any sport that a guy has to play on the best team or one of the top teams in order to be a candidate or win an MVP or POY award. If he is the best player, he deserves the award. Let's break down who I see as the six best candidates (in no order):

Kareem Jamar (Montana)
Why he deserves it: When he is on his game, there is nobody like him in the Big Sky. This year he has shot 52.5% on twos and 38% on threes. He gets to the FT line better than almost anyone in the conference (50.0 FT rate). He is also Montana's best rebounder (16.9 DR%), best passer (25.7 ARate), and arguably the best offensive post player in the conference. He also has helped lead them to a 17-1 record even as Montana has dealt with injury issues.
Why he doesn't deserve it: He does a lot of things... but his 13.3 PPG are 14th in the Big Sky during conference play. He also doesn't crack the top ten in rebounds, and is eighth in assists. Sometimes the counting stats get a lot of weight. If they do here, Jamar may come up short.

Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado)
Why he deserves it: He is the best rebounder in the Big Sky, and has gotten better and better as the season has gone on. In conference play he is averaging 14.8 PPG (8th) and 9.9 RPG (1st), while also shooting 57%. He does a lot of his offensive work on offensive rebounds, an area he is very strong. He might be the biggest matchup problem in the Big Sky. Really, he is only 6'3'', but he is the best rebounder in the conference right now. He is also an underrated defender.
Why he doesn't deserve it: He is a good offensive player, but not a great one, and sometimes is more complementary than the main weapon for UNC on that side of the ball. He shoots 66% from the FT line, and is not a great passer.

Davion Berry (Weber State)
Why he deserves it: In conference play he is fifth in scoring at 16.1 PPG, sixth in assists at 3.9 per (fourth in A:TO ratio), and leads the conference shooting 49.3% on threes. He does everything well, and always seems to find a way to contribute. He takes great care of the ball. He is also a really good defender at the three spot, with athleticism and smarts at that position.
Why he doesn't deserve it: He is not as good of a rebounder as some of the other candidates. If you compare him to someone like Jamar, you would say they are both good scorers, but Jamar is a better rebounder and probably a better passer.

Scott Bamforth (Weber State)
Why he deserves it: His ORtg of 126.9 is 17th in the country and first in the Big Sky. He does so much for Weber State he might be one of the more underrated players in the Big Sky. He shoots 44% from threes and 89% on FTs. He is a good passer and takes very good care of the ball. He is also a crafty defender on the outside, an area of his game he doesn't really get a lot of recognition in.
Why he doesn't deserve it: He doesn't score a ton (just over 13 PPG during conference play) which might lose him some votes, since some may see him as a product of a really good Weber State team. While he is a good passer ballhandler, he doesn't get many assists. He might get the perception of being an undersized two guard who is an elite shooter but not great in any other area. Not fair, but that could be how he is labeled.

 Troy Huff (North Dakota)
Why he deserves it: During Big Sky play, he is second in the conference in scoring (20.0 PPG) and fifth in rebounds (6.9 per game). On the other side of the ball, he is tied for the lead in steals with 2.4 per game. In some ways he carries the offense (his % of shots is fifth most in the country), and he is battling with Barden for the title of the most athletic guy in the Big Sky. He has a really low TO rate for someone that has the ball as much as he does it. He has also gotten better shooting from the outside.
Why he doesn't deserve it: His counting stats are impressive, but you could argue they are inflated a bit due to the high number of shots he takes. He is only a 68% FT shooter, and doesn't get many assists compared to guys like Jamar and Berry. Also, he missed all of the non-conference slate and the start of the conference season due to injury.

Jackson Stevenett (Southern Utah)
Why he deserves it: He is efficient offensively, shooting 50% on twos and 89% on FTs. He is third in the conference in scoring during Big Sky play at 19.7 per game, and second overall at 17.8. Like others, he takes care of the ball even though he has it a lot. He is one of the best offensive players in the conference.
Why he doesn't deserve it: He is a good, but not great rebounder. He is not a great three-point shooter, and shot just 31% there on 67 attempts. He is only an average defender. After a strong start, SUU has struggled in the second half of conference play.

Also got consideration: Cherry (Montana), Mathias Ward (Montana), Aaron Anderson (North Dakota), Gabe Rogers (Northern Arizona), Venky Jois (Eastern Washington)

If I had to choose right now, I think this would be my top 3:
1. Kareem Jamar
2. Derrick Barden
3. Troy Huff

EDIT: After hearing some arguments, I am willing to concede that I might be criminally underrating Davion Berry, and he should be in the top 3. That is why this is subject to change!

I would really love to hear thoughts on this, since it is such a wide open race! Let me hear them!!

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