Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ken Pomeroy's Rating and the Big Sky

Last weekend, Ken Pomeroy released his rankings for the upcoming season, and if you read the post about Dan Hanner's predictions, you may notice some similarities. Here is the projected order, along with projected conference records, and national rank.

1. Weber State (16-4, 94)
2. Montana (14-6, 139)
3. Northern Colorado (13-7, 184)
4. North Dakota (11-9, 274)
5. Eastern Washington (9-11, 274)
6. Northern Arizona (9-11, 284)
7. Portland State (8-12, 291)
8. Idaho State (8-12, 300)
9. Sacramento State (8-12, 305)
10. Montana State (7-13, 313)
11. Southern Utah (6-14, 326)

- Like Dan, KenPom's predictions have Montana State and Sacramento State a lot lower than many are thinking heading into the season. With so little separation among teams in the middle of the pack, it's not hard to envision a scenario where these teams finish 6th or 10th. There's just not much difference.

- This model also has Montana second, but surprisingly has Northern Colorado very comfortably ahead of North Dakota. That is interesting.

- The model projects Weber State to have the best offense (by a wide margin) and best defense in the league, which is what actually happened last year. It projects Southern Utah to have the woret offense, and Portland State to have the worst defense. Both PSU and MSU are projected to have bottom give defenses in the country.

The season can't get here soon enough!

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Big Sky Recruiting Rankings

It could probably be said that coming up with recruiting rankings, especially for a small conference, is an exercise in futility. Consider the following:

- Each team has a different number of guys to sign. How do you compare a team like Northern Arizona or Idaho State which signed a ton of guys, with North Dakota, who signed a couple?
- I've personally never seen any of the recruits play before they come to the Big Sky. There are plenty of recruiting analysts out there, but I am not one of them. My rankings are based mostly on things I've read, stat lines, etc. So there is a lot of guesswork involved. Heck, there'd be a lot of guesswork involved even if I had seen them all play!
- It's not always easy to figure out who should be included. If a guy transfers in, I suppose technically that doesn't count as a recruit being signed. But why not? It's a new guy coming to the program. Similarly, would you count him in the year he signed, or the year he is eligible to play?
- It's very possible that I miss some guys here and there. Figuring out who signed for what team takes a lot of time, and it's certainly possible I am missing some people that should be included, or counting somebody I shouldn't be. All I can say is my apologies on that.

So, why would I do a rankings like this? Mostly for fun. Also to familiarize myself with everyone coming into the conference, and perhaps provide a little insight for you guys. As always, feel free to chime in... especially because I know there are a lot of you out there who know more about specific guys than I do. If possible, temper your anger at where a team is ranked... as I said, I am mostly just guessing. If I would look back at this list in a couple years and find that I was completely wrong, the person least surprised would be me.

For the specific recruits, I am using my list compiled here.

1. Northern Arizona
This class had a little bit of everything, but freshmen with solid potential to impact junior college transfers. Two of my favorites are Ako Kaluna in the frontcourt and Kris Yanku in the backcourt. Kaluna is a true big man that plays bigger than his 6'7'' height. He averaged 16 and 10 right away, and has the body to be able to compete for minutes and add depth right away. Yanku is a guy that got universal praise from scouts for his intangibles and ability to lead. Josh Gershon of said  "not too many players out west in 2013 are winners like Kris Yanku," calling it a steal for the Jacks. He could step in and PG from day one.

Yet, I was told privately that Quinton Upshur might be their most talented pickup. He is a 6'4'' guard that will be a junior, and played his freshman year at VMI. Add these three to guys like Zach Reynolds, Travis Meeker, and Chris Miller, I think this is the best class in the Big Sky.

2. Montana
I think PG Mario Dunn will be the jewel of the class. He is a dynamic point guard that will contribute on both ends. His jumpshot is still a work in progress, but he should be able to contribute right away, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him starting by the end of the season. He is far from the only guy brought in. Junior forward Chris Kemp will start at forward, and from all accounts he has looked explosive this preseason. He is their best eligible big man right away. Their best big man might be Martin Bruenig, a transfer from Washington. He has to sit out this year, but will be a big part of the frontcourt next season.

Brandon Gfeller has turned a lot of heads this preseason, and he is a great shooter. He might contribute even sooner than many people expected. Riley Bradshaw will also factor into the rotation when he becomes eligible, and could be a needed scorer off the bench. Jack Lopez is far from a finished product, but the early word is that he will become a solid, polished wing man for them. Upon hearing preseason reports, this ranking was bumped up a couple spots from where I initially had them pegged.

3. Weber State
The star of this class looks like guard Jeremy Senglin, who could start from day one in Ogden. Other teams that were in the final running for Senglin included Nebraska, TCU, Tulsa, Richmond, and Colorado State. He is an excellent shooter with deep range, as well as solid athleticism and a good handle. He could be the Wildcats next backcourt star. Joining him is Richaud Gittens, who excels in transition and is a great athlete. He averaged over 17 points per game last season, and looks like the future backcourt mate along with Senglin.

Josh Fuller is a guy that will be a redshirt freshman for WSU after serving a mission, and he should be ready to contribute in the frontcourt right away. Even in a loaded frontcourt, he should play right away with his versatile game. Freshman guards Christian McDonald and JC Kennedy are walk-ons that will provide practice depth, while McKay Cannon is a recruit that will be serving his Mormon mission. The class isn't quite as deep as NAU's or Montana's (in part because it didn't need to be) but has great talent at the top.

4. Eastern Washington
Jim Hayford grabbed two international guys this signing class, as well as a JUCO PG that should step in and start immediately. Drew Brandon averaged 15.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game last year at Sierra College, and should slot in the one spot. He should add some seasoning and experience to the position that was lacking a bit last year.

Felix Van Hofe (Australia) and Ognjen Miljkovic (from Serbia, but played the last two years in California) hope to follow in the footsteps of Venky Jois and make an impact right away. Both are forwards with versatile inside-out games. Both guys should fit in very well for the Eagles, and potentially will give EWU one of the deepest frontcourts in the league. Sir Washington is a 6'3'' guard that fills the stat sheet and can hit shots from anywhere. He will redshirt this year but should have a nice future in the program.

5. Northern ColoradoI really like the Bears class. The most important thing that they did was to shore up the point guard spot. Junior college guy Corey Spence looks like the frontrunner to start, and he brings a level of ballhandling and defense that they haven't had the last couple of seasons. Freshman Jordan Wilson is a good recruit, and he will have a bright future with the program. He has great quickness.

Forward Dominique Lee was the exact type of guy they needed in the frontcourt. He is versatile, athletic, and can defend multiple positions. He will sort of be like Derrick Barden Lite.  Lee is the type of guy they didn't have off the bench last season, and will be a big help. Jeremy Verhagen is a developmental guy, but looks to have good potential. He will make an impact in time on the program.

6. Idaho State
It was hard to know how to rank the Bengals class, because it was huge. They signed eight guys, though one of them is still qualifying, and a couple will be redshirting this year due to NCAA rules. The guy they might need most right away is big man Ajak Magot. He is 6'11'' and still a little bit raw, but can help defensively and on the glass. The Bengals are dying to have someone step into that role, since it was lacking for them last season. Elsewhere in the frontcourt, Scotty Tyler could play early, after picking ISU after an offer from Penn State. Justin Smith has played on talented teams, and should be able to fit in as soon as Bill Evans wants to put him in there.

Andrej Slavik won't be eligible this year, but will have a big role in the future of the program. The class will look even better if Marcus Bradley becomes eligible, as he could play right away. Another immediate factor might be Jeffrey Solarin. He is 6'4'', but plays forward and is an excellent rebounder, as he nabbed 8.9 boards per game last year. He is a junior that has a chance to start right away. I like ISU's depth, but not sure if there is a top-line player in the class.

7. Portland State
The guy I am most interested in is Tiegbe Bamba, who looks like a great athlete and could fill the undersized four man role that has been so good for the Vikings over the past few years. He should get a chance to play early and often. Kyle Richardson is a transfer from Long Beach State with one year remaining, and his experience should be valuable this season for Tyler Geving. Kyle Benton and Zach Gengler are two freshmen signed by Geving, after he signed no freshmen last season. Benton in particular looks like he could grab some early minutes, with some athleticism and positional versatility.

In the backcourt, DeShaun Wiggins is a JUCO guard that looks like he could play either guard spot and could be dangerous for a team that likes to get up and down the court. He has a chance to be a really good scorer. Rounding things out is wing man Sebastian Suarez, who could be one of the best shooters entering the conference.

8. Southern Utah
The Thunderbirds signed six guys, and it will be interesting to see who contributes right away. Juwan Major should play a lot of minutes right away, after leading Las Vegas Prep with over 14 PPG. He will be counted on to score right away, as he can create some things off the dribble. He might have the highest ceiling of anyone on the roster. Another early contributor will be guard Trey Kennedy. He can do a bit of everything, and should be one of the team's best players from the get go. Race Parsons in the backcourt averaged 27 PPG last year, and could be a sparkplug for them throughout his career. McKay Cannon is a pass-first PG that is a solid defensive prospect. Finally, Casey Oliverson should provide some frontcourt depth as he enters as a sophomore.

9. North Dakota
I like the guys they got, it just wasn't a big class (since they didn't lose many guys). The jewel of the class is guard Quinton Hooker. UND was very excited when they got him, and the word is that he will be tough to redshirt even in a crowded and experienced backcourt, because he simply is playing so well. Either way, he will be one of the leaders once the current crop of seniors graduates, and will be a huge part of the bridge after they are gone. Big man Chad Calcaterra is a transfer from Colorado State who could get immediate minutes in the rotation. Then there are two transfers... Estan Tyler will not be eligible next year, while they are hoping Cole Stefan will be eligibile. Both players provide offensive firepower with their ability to shoot the basketball.

10. Sacramento State
The best guy in this class looks like Eric Stuteville, who could have a chance to contribute right away in the post. He put up big numbers in high school, and has a versatile offensive game. Zach Mills is a junior college guy that can play the three or the four, and should put up solid numbers as a versatile guy for Brian Katz. He should play a lot of minutes, whether he is starting or quick off the bench. Another guy that can play multiple positions is 6'5'' Nick Hornby. He is a freshman that might see time at the two, three, and four, and can do a lot of things well. Rounding out the class is guard Case Rada, who will have three years of eligiblity. He is an excellent shooter who originally committed to Boise State.

11. Montana State
It was a small class, and I am not sure how much instant impact they will have. Junior college wing Terrell Brown should be in the mix to start right away, and could provide some quality minutes. Their other signees were guards Stephan Holm and Vance Wentz. My guess is Holm will have a better chance to play right away, but I'm not sure either guy is ready for big minutes. Both could develop into solid role players for the Bobcats.

Your thoughts?

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Big Sky Answers From Dan Hanner

Dan Hanner of each year posts his projections for all 351 teams in college basketball, with the same statistical bent of Ken Pomeroy, whose work I trust a lot and use very frequently throughout the season. So, when Dan posted his projections, it was of great interest to me, and quite honestly has caused me to re-think many of my projections heading into the season.

From his article on ESPN, here is how he ranks them, along with their national rank:

1. Weber State (95)
2. Montana (134)
3. North Dakota (197)
4. Eastern Washington (250)
5. Northern Colorado (251)
6. Northern Arizona (291)
7. Portland State (299)
8. Idaho State (307)
9. Montana State (308)
10. Sacramento State (315)
11. Southern Utah (319)

I was quite intrigued, and fortunately Dan was gracious enough to let me pick his brain and ask a few questions about the rankings and how he views some of the teams. Here is the transcript (my questions in bold):

1) Heading into the season, the coaches and many pundits (myself included) like North Dakota as the second best team in the conference over Montana. However, your model has Montana, and it's not even really all that close (Montana is projected 134th, while North Dakota is 197th). What does your model love about Montana? Does it have to do with Wayne Tinkle's ability to coach defense and his outstanding track record?

First, this isn't a knock on North Dakota. Last year North Dakota was 242nd in margin-of-victory and I am expecting the team to make a big jump to 197. But Montana was 136th last season, and I don't see North Dakota quite reaching Montana's level.

Since we agree that North Dakota will be better, the more controversial part of the question is Montana. Why does the model think they can be about as good as last year? Certainly the loss of stars Will Cherry and Mathias Ward could be devastating. But they still have one of the best players in the Big Sky in Kareem Jamar. His rebounding, passing, and scoring numbers were extremely impressive last season. And we saw enough from 4 other rotation players last year for the model to be confident in their ability. Guards Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields, and forwards Michael Weisner and Eric Hutchinson are all projected to have ORtgs above 100 this year.

If that lineup projection is right and Weisner and Hutchinson do play more minutes, that would also be a taller lineup than the team used last season. A taller lineup will generally cause a slight tick up in defense. Plus, as you note Tinkle's track-record on defense is pretty outstanding. It took him awhile to get his players, but since he got things rolling, his team's have been fairly consistent in that area.

As far as the bench, Montana adds Mario Dunn at PG. Dunn was someone that both Scout and Rivals liked quite a bit and gave a 3 star rating to. In the Big Sky, that's the kind of player who can usually contribute early. Throw in Riley Bradshaw (the Utah St. transfer who is eligible in December) and the 7 footer Andy Martin who could make a bit of a sophomore leap to relevance, and Montana won't have to rely heavily on any 2-star freshmen. Montana retains a solid rotation, and with a minimally higher expectation on defense, this should continue to be a very strong team.

2) Two other teams that seem lower than would be expected based on the polls are Montana State (308th overall, 9th in the Big Sky) and Sacramento State (315th, 10th in the Big Sky). What do you think is the biggest issues for these two teams?

Last year's conference records were a little deceiving in the Big Sky. This league was very tightly bunched below the top with teams 5 through 11 having nearly identical margin-of-victory numbers on the year.

Montana St. won 10 conference games last year, but 8 of those were by six points or less or in OT. They were very fortunate to finish in 5th place. And Christian Moon (by far Montana St.'s most efficient offensive player) is gone.

Meanwhile, Sacramento St. loses over half of its minutes from last season, and only two players are now projected to be efficient offensive starters.

3) Weber State is number 95 in your projection, but they have a best case scenario of #59. What do you think their ceiling is in terms of the Big Sky (Montana has gone 19-1 each of the last two years, can WSU reach those lofty heights?) and nationally?

Montana was very lucky to finish 19-1 last season. I think Randy Rahe has said it in interviews, but normally if you go 18-2 in conference, that is good enough to win the league. But last year was just one of those odd years. The reason I love Weber St.'s upside is Davion Berry and Kyle Tresnak. No one else in the Big Sky has too aggressive shooters who are this efficient. The hard part for most teams is finding star players, not role players. And if Weber St. can just find the right rotation around Berry and Tresnak, they can absolutely finish with outstanding margin-of-victory numbers.

4) Finally, it's no secret within the Big Sky that the last couple of years have been pretty ugly in terms of depth. At times, it has almost looked as though Montana and Weber State were varsity teams playing against the JV. Do you think this year can bring better depth and balance across the league, or will it again be a very top heavy league?

Just by chance, the bottom of the league should pull a few more upsets this year. And Eastern Washington, which gave a lot of minutes to freshmen last year, should make a nice leap forward. But the reality is that Weber St. and Montana are on another level right now.

Thanks again to Dan! Any thoughts from the readers?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Some Idaho State Roster Updates

Within the past few weeks there have been some happenings on the Idaho State roster, and they are not positive for this year's team.

- It seems as promising recruit Marcus Bradley did not qualify academically, and will miss at least the first semester. It is possible he could join the team in the second semester, but would possibly redshirt if that happened. He is no longer listed on ISU's roster.

- The word is that forward Andre Slavik and Ben Wilson possibly played in unauthorized overseas tournaments, costing them each a year of eligibility. Slavik in particular looked like he could be an impact post, and Wilson was a good glue guy.

- Senior forward Nnamdi Ezenwa appears to be redshirting. Not entirely sure why at this point.

I was projecting Bradley to be a starter up front, but it wouldn't have been a surprise to see Slavik start some games as well. Those are big losses for the Bengals this season.

ISU fans, thoughts? Are you hearing the same things regarding these guys?

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Kareem Jamar and Chris Kemp Solid at Montana Scrimmage

Montana has their Maroon-Silver Scrimmage on Tuesday night, and the reports are good about Kareem Jamar and Chris Kemp.

"Kareem was Kareem, " said eighth-year Griz head coach Wayne Tinkle. "He makes plays for us no matter what position he's at. He set up a bunch of our bigs for guys for shots, plus he made a few of how own, and we're going to need that from him day-in and day-out."


"I thought Chris played well offensively, and I think we will see that defensively he needs to get a little bit better," Tinkle said. "He didn't rebound as well as he can, but he's going to be a force for us."
Jamar is the best player in the Big Sky, so it's no surprise that he looked good. The encouraging sign for Montana is Chris Kemp. The Grizzlies need the junior college transfer to be big for them (no pun intended), and to anchor their frontcourt. It looks like he is off to a fine start, as he looked very explosive from all accounts.

The Grizzlies message board also has some good info on the scrimmage.

Montana fans, anything you noticed?

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Northern Colorado Point Guard Options

Over the last couple of seasons, point guard play has been one of the biggest things holding Northern Colorado back. They have struggled with consistency from that spot. Holdover starter Tevin Svihovec has been up and down, Paul Garnica could never get the trust of the coaching staff before he transferred, and James Davis was a little too raw offensively to provide much impact last season.

This year, they have some more options, and that should make their PG play a bit stronger. Let's take a look at some of their options for the PG spot.

Tevin Svihovec
He is not a natural ballhandler, and this is why he will likely see a lot more time off the ball this season. He is a good shooter and solid scorer, but never appeared to be all that comfortable setting teammates up. While his Assist Rate jumped to 21.1% from 16.4% as a freshman, his TO Rate jumped a bit as well. He is good at getting to the line, and gives good effort defensively, but I'm not sure he's quick enough to guard the top PGs out there. A move off the ball makes a lot of sense, as the coaches know. Still, I would expect him to get some minutes at the one, especially if Wilson redshirts.

Corey Spence
Spence is a junior college PG out of Casper College, and his former coach Joel Davidson, is now an assistant with the Bears, which could give him a leg up. Last season, he averaged 11 ppg and 6.3 assists per contest, but his biggest contribution might come on the defensive end, where he should be a big improvement. He got over two steals per game last season, and he is the tenacious defender in the backcourt that the Bears have been missing. He might be the most important piece in determining how UNC does this season.

Jordan Wilson
I think Wilson is going to be a fine player for Northern Colorado, though I would be surprised if he beat out Spence for the starting job. He is a 5'7'' freshman that is very quick, and is said to have a killer crossover with a very good midrange shot. He excels in transition, which could be a big boost that looks like they will be able to run more than they have in the past. He will have a very good future for the Bears.

From what I hear (and confirmed in the thoughts of Spencer Tilus), Spence has the inside track at the starting PG spot. It will be an interesting thing to watch throughout the year.

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Big Sky Teams in First Mid-Major Top 25 has posted their first Mid-Major Top 25, and three teams are among the top 37.

Weber State checks in at number 15.
Montana checks in at number 20.
North Dakota is also receiving votes, effectively placing them 37th.

At times over the past couple of years, it has been a struggle for a team to put one team in the top 25, so this is some nice momentum heading into the season. Hopefully the teams can keep it up!

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Interview with Sacramento State Head Coach Brian Katz

Last week on Epic Rant Radio, they had an interview with Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz.

Among other things, Katz talked a little bit about how Cody Demps might be the starting three man for the Hornets. Demps is a little on the small side to play that role, but I know the Hornets love his ability and versatility (raving last year about his ability to play multiple positions), so obviously he is a guy they want to get on the court however they can.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Comparing the Three POY Favorites

Going into the season, three guys seem to be the forerunners in the early race for the favorite to be Player of the Year in the Big Sky Conference. There is the reigning champion, Kareem Jamar of Montana. There is the best player on the best team, Davion Berry of Weber State. And there is the most explosive player, Troy Huff of North Dakota.

You could pretty easily make an argument that any of these guys should be the favorite going into the season, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. So, let's take a look at these guys' case.

Kareem Jamar
Argument for: He does more things well than anyone else in the conference. This season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jamar lead the Grizzlies in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He has always been a good three-point shooter in his career, and he supplements that by being a very good post player. He is one of the best passers in the conference, and had a 26.1 Assist Rate last season. He is a solid rebounder who had a 16.3 DR%. He is an efficient scorer that takes good shots, and had a 58.8 True Shooting percentage last season.

Argument against: He can sometimes be so unselfish that he can blend in a bit. Last year when Will Cherry was out to start the year, they arguably needed Jamar to score more, but his game stayed the same and he was not more assertive offensively. I'm not sure yet how he will do as the main focal point of the offense without guys like Will Cherry or Mathias Ward around him. His TO Rate last year was 20.9, which is a little bit high for an elite guy.

Davion Berry
Argument for: Like Jamar, Berry excels in many areas. He shot 52% on twos and 41% on threes last year, while also getting to the line a ton, making him one of the best and more complete scorers in the conference. He has an excellent midrange game. He posted a 23.1 Assist Rate last year, and his 15.7 TO Rate was solid. He is a solid defender. With the talent around him, he seems to have a good knack for knowing when to get his own shot and when to find a teammate. He is the best player on the most talented team in the conference.

Argument against: He is the worst rebounder of the three (1.7 OR%, 13.1 DR%), though he is the only one that has someone like Joel Bolomboy snatching up all available rebounds. He struggled against Montana in the Big Sky title game, shooting 4/10 from the floor and 3/6 from the line while turning it over five times, which some voters might remember (it's worth noting he had some excellent games in the postseason after that Montana game). With the talent around him, he doesn't have to do as much, which could be a reason his efficiency numbers are as good as they are.

Troy Huff
Argument for: He might be the most athletic player in the conference (just watch this), and can do things that Berry and Jamar cannot do. He bumped up his three-point shooting percentage from 20% to 36%, and another bump would make him extremely difficult to guard offensively. He excels in transition. He may be the best rebounder of the three, or at least on par with Jamar. His TO Rate of 13.2 is excellent, meaning he takes care of the ball very well. His steal percentage of 4.4% led the conference, and he could be a defensive POY candidate.

Argument against: Even though he scored more points per game than the other guys, that was more a product of volume than efficiency. His true shooting percentage of 52.6% was far lower than Jamar and Berry, as he only shot 66% from the free throw line. He is also not nearly the passer that the other two are, with a 10.1 Assist Rate (note: it was 16.3 his sophomore year).

If I had to rank them, I would probably go:
1. Kareem Jamar
2. Davion Berry
3. Troy Huff

However, as you can see, a reasonable argument could certainly be made for any of these guys. How do you see them?

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Weber State Ranked Number 1 In Coaches and Media Polls

The Big Sky released the preseason coaches and media polls, and in no surprise, Weber State was ranked first in both polls. Here is a look at how they shake out:

Coaches Poll
1. Weber State (10)
2. North Dakota
3. Montana (1)
4. Northern Colorado
5. Eastern Washington
6. Montana State
7. Sacramento State
8. Portland State
9. Northern Arizona
10. Idaho State
11. Southern Utah

Media Poll
1. Weber State (31)
2. Montana (3)
3. North Dakota
4. Northern Colorado
5. Montana State
6. Eastern Washington
7. Northern Arizona
8. Sacramento State
9. Portland State
10. Southern Utah
11. Idaho State

My Poll (Full Disclosure)
1. Weber State
2. North Dakota
3. Montana
4. Northern Colorado
5. Eastern Washington
6. Montana State
7. Sacramento State
8. Northern Arizona
9. Idaho State
10. Portland State
11. Southern Utah

- Reflected in the coaches poll is something I said last month, have said on twitter, and will say again in my previews here in a few weeks - North Dakota is the biggest challenger to Weber State this season.
- The biggest difference between the coaches and media polls is Northern Arizona (7th in Media, 9th in Coaches). That is the only team with two spots difference. I suspect head coach Jack Murphy will use the Coaches Poll when trying to motivate the team.
- I have Portland State down at 10th, while the coaches slot them 8th, which makes me rethink my spotting of them a little. They have the offensive firepower to be a good team (and they play well at home), the key for them this year will be defense, where they have been bad the past few years. If they can even become an average defensive team, a top 5 question is definitely possible.

Any other thoughts on the polls?

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Look at North Dakota's Bench

Over the past couple of seasons, North Dakota has had an excellent starting lineup, but there has been a drop-off when they have gone to the bench. This season, that has the chance to be different. UND has their deepest team in a long time, and that depth will be a big help. So, let's take a look at the bench and see who the key contributors might be.

When assessing the bench, it's obviously important to know who the starters will be. For the purposes of this post (I don't know what the lineup will actually be), here is the starting lineup I am going with:

G Aaron Anderson
G Jamal Webb
F Troy Huff
F Jaron Nash
C Brandon Brekke

At the PG spot, the most likely guy to see minutes behind Webb is junior Lenny Antwi. Antwi is a good outside shooter (36% from three), but has some holes in his game. His Assist Rate was 7.0 compared to a TO Rate of 22.0, which is a really bad ratio for a ballhandler. He also shot just 50% from the stripe (7/14) and 35% on twos, so there is room for improvement all around. He could be pushed for minutes by freshman Quinton Hooker. UND is very high on Hooker, and while it might make sense to redshirt him, we still might see him out on the court. He earned a lot of high school accolades in the Twin Cities area.

At the two and three spots, the first backup would be senior Josh Schuler. He has started at many points in his career, so it wouldn't be a shock to see him in the starting lineup somehow, but it makes more sense to bring him off the bench. He shot 37% from downtown last year, and has always taken very good care of the basketball. He is a guy that can provide an offensive spark. Even if he doesn't start, he will see starter-type minutes. Another guy in the mix is sophomore Shane Benton. It took Benton a while to get comfortable last year, but he scored in double digits three times in conference games. I'm not sure how many minutes they will have for him this year, but he is clearly a big factor in UND's plans going forward.

Another guy to watch is Cole Stefan, if he gains eligibility this season. He is an excellent shooter that will be a big boost for the lineup. My current guess would be if Jaron Nash didn't get eligibility last year, Stefan may not this year... but it is something to watch.

In particular, the added depth should be huge upfront for UND, which has been very thin in this area in recent years. Alonzo Traylor was ineligible for the second semester last year, but I really liked his game when he did play. He was a versatile frontcourt scorer, and scored 30 points in his last two games last season. He is an excellent rebounder, and had a 13.8 OR% and 21.6 DR% in his time. Against SUU in his final game last year, he had 13 points and 11 rebounds. As long as he is eligible, he would be a capable starter for them.

Chad Calcaterra is a transfer from Colorado State and Western Nebraska CC. He does have some NCAA tournament experience for the Rams, and averaged 3.6 PPG last year for Western Nebraska. Ryan Salmonson redshirted last year, and provides nice depth after averaging 9.5 PPG and 5.3 RPG at a junior college in his sophomore season.

Who do you guys think will be the biggest contributors?

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Kyle Tresnak Article

Jim Burton at the Standard-Examiner has posted a nice article on Kyle Tresnak and his development.

Weber State senior Kyle Tresnak spent part of the off season trying to improve his left-hand game. It's not as though he doesn't understand the importance of balance in his game, but in preparing for the 2013-14 season the 6-foot-10 center figured he could elevate his low-post play by strengthening his left hand.

"In the past I've kind of favored going to the right hand, shooting with that," he said last week. "But I've been trying to open up my game as much where I can take what the defender is giving me instead of trying to make my own move."

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Profile on Kareem Jamar

Rob Dauster at College Basketball Talk has a nice profile up of Kareem Jamar, who is the reigning Big Sky Player of the Year.

That’s exactly what happened with Jamar. He’s solidly-built, moderately-athletic 6-foot-5 guard that is talented enough to score and unselfish enough to make the right pass instead of force a tough shot. He’s not a layup line scout. He’ll be the best player on the floor, but you won’t realize it until you look at the box score and see his 15 points, six boards and four assists.

Montana was one of just a handful of schools actively recruiting Jamar, and while they were able to get him to make the trek up north, the Grizzlies didn’t get a commitment until the day after the fall signing period. “We were like, ‘that’s never going to come through,’” Montana head coach Wayne Tinkle told “He’s going to have a great senior year, everyone’s going to jump on board, and we’re going to miss out.” It didn’t help matters that Jordin Mayes and Dwayne Polee, two highly sought-after recruits, were in the same class as Jamar at Westchester.
Jamar's POY award was well deserved, and it will be fun to see what he does for an encore. He is a great player, and the conference is made better because he is in it.

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Troy Huff Named to Lou Henson All-American Team

Each year, the Lou Henson Award recognizes standout players at the mid-major level. This year, Troy Huff was one of 25 players mentioned to this year's preseason All-American team.

I'm sure he'll like it even more if he gets postseason honors, but a pre-season award is always a nice vindication of the things you have done.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

College Basketball Talk Big Sky Preview

College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster has posted his Big Sky Preview. Here is how he sees things:


1. Weber State
2. Montana
3. North Dakota
4. Eastern Washington
5. Northern Colorado
6. Montana State
7. Northern Arizona
8. Sacramento State
9. Portland State
10. Idaho State
11. Southern Utah

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Jake Wiley Leaving Montana Program

Sophomore forward Jake Wiley has decided to leave the Montana program, citing personal reasons.

"Jake has decided not to play any longer with the Grizzlies for personal reasons, and obviously we honor that decision," Tinkle said. "Jake is a great young kid with a promising future, and we wish him well."
As a true freshman last season, Wiley played in 20 games, averaging 0.9 points per game and 0.6 rebounds. He was raw and not really ready to contribute, and likely would have gotten a redshirt if the Grizzlies had a little more depth upfront.

Going forward, I'm not sure he would have had a huge role this year, though certainly bigger than last season. He was arguably more athletic than anyone else on the roster, and should have been a big part of the Grizzlies future. Reportedly his departure has nothing to do with off-court trouble or grades, he simply decided to move on.

For this season, his loss will be manageable even though it will hurt. Going forward, it's another hit to frontcourt depth, after the loss of Billy Reader last season, and Spencer Coleman earlier this offseason.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

College Hoops Daily Interviews Big Sky Coaches

Within the last site, the website College Hoops Daily had a couple of interviews with head coaches in the Big Sky. One was with Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford, and the other was with Southern Utah coach Nick Robinson. Here is a snippet from each:


Over half of your 13-man roster hails from foreign countries (Australia/Germany/Serbia), how have you been able to bring in so many players from overseas? I looked at some models of success at the mid-major level, and I saw how Coach Randy Bennett was able to rebuild the St. Mary’s program by recruiting Australian players. Coaching here in Spokane has allowed me to meet some coaches from Germany who had players end up attending Gonzaga.


Your non-conference schedule includes games against Cal, UNLV, and San Diego State, which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? I think each of our games will be a test in its own way. Cal and San Diego State are road games, but all three of the teams you mentioned have top-25 potential so they will all be a challenge. One of the things we struggled with last year is winning on the road so we want to be challenged early and often.

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Potential Breakout Sophomores in the Big Sky

Each year, I like to take a look at the potential breakout sophomores in the Big Sky. I think I had solid success last year, but let's take a look at this year's crop.

The fact that DeWayne Russell (Northern Arizona) and Venky Jois (Eastern Washington) aren't on this list is a compliment to them, because they have already established themselves. Jois led the conference in rebounding, and Russell was the #2 option for NAU last season. Both these guys can play at a very high level.

Joel Bolomboy (Weber State)
You might be wondering why he doesn't fall in with Russell and Jois, since he ranked fourth in the conference in rebounding last season. Simply put, I think Bolomboy has just scratched the surface of his potential, and think he will even be a lot better this season than he was last year. Last year, he has a 15.1 OR% and 24.1 DR%, making him one of the best rebounders in the country. He shot 58% from the field, and that was without a post game, just mainly on putbacks or lobs. His 7.4 Block % was in the top 100 in the country. With an expanded role this year, he could challenge the nation lead for rebounding, while doubling his scoring average. I'm not sure that's out of the question.

Andy Martin (Montana)
In a perfect world, Martin would have redshirted last year, but the Grizzlies were so thin upfront that they needed him. While he lost a year of eligiblity, he did gain a year of experience playing, and that should serve him well this year. Eric Hutchison may be the nominal starter for the Grizzlies at center, but Martin is the guy with the higher ceiling and should be the better player by the end of the year. He posted an excellent block percentage, and shot an encouraging 80% from the line (in only 24 attempts). He looked clumsy at times last year, and he needs to add some bulk, but he has a good skillset, and should be much improved as a sophomore.

Marcus Colbert (Montana State)
Colbert was one of my favorite players to watch last year, because he was a freshman PG that played like he was an upperclassmen. He needs to improve in taking care of the ball and being more efficient inside the arc, but he does a lot of things well. He shot 40% from three-point land last year, had a solid assist rate for a freshman, and was good on the defensive end. I'm not sure he'll ever be an all-conference guy, but he will be a solid player for the Bobcats for four years.

AJ Hess (Southern Utah)
I talked a bit about him earlier this week, but he is someone that SUU will be relying on heavily. He could be their #1 scoring option, which will be a big step up. The tools are there - he is 6'6'', can shoot from the outside, and gained confidence as the year went along. He posted a 103.2 ORtg last year, now it will be interesting to see if he can keep that up with more minutes and more responsibility.

Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington)
Harvey was one of the big surprises in the Big Sky last year. He wasn't expected to contribute that much, and he didn't at the start of the season. For the year, he played just 23.4% of the team's minutes. However, the last 6-8 games of the year he played a ton (in their final four games, he played an average of a shade under 38 minutes per game), and he responded well. In fact, he was sensational down the stretch. He shot 60% from twos, 43% from threes, and had a 26.3 ARate. Can he keep that up over a full year when teams will be expecting him? If he can, he's an all-conference guy.

Just missed:
- Shane Benton (North Dakota) - He simply won't have a chance this year, with all the guys in front of him. He should figure prominently for UND next year, if only because so many in front of him will be graduating.
- Danny Robison (Montana State) - I like him. He had solid numbers in his limited minutes, but I think he needs some more polish before he gets consistent minutes.
- Jordyn Martin (Northern Arizona) - He rebounded well last year, but has a way to go offensively. With so many new faces around NAU, I'm not sure he'll get enough minutes to really breakout.
- Cody Demps (Sacramento State) - He showed glimpses last year, but not quite enough to make the list. The coaches speak very highly of him though, so this could be a miss on my part.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Brian Katz Contract Extension

I realize I am over two months old on this news... but just noticed that Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz got a five year contract extension through 2018, extending him through 2017-18.

Since Katz took over the men's basketball program prior to the 2008-09 season, the team has improved its conference record every year, defeated two Pac-12 Conference opponents on the road (Oregon State and Utah) over a three-year span, and has set or tied numerous school records.

"We've been pleased with the progress our men's basketball program has made under Coach Katz," Wanless said. "His first five years have shown increased success, and we want to give him and his staff every opportunity to build the program we envision at Sacramento State. Coach Katz has been extremely committed to Sacramento State, and we wanted to show how committed we are to him.
Congrats to Coach Katz. There aren't many tougher jobs out there than Sacramento State, and the program is definitely in better shape now than when he got there.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What Will Sacramento State's Frontcourt Look Like?

Last season, Sacramento State had one of the most experienced frontcourts in the conference, with senior starts Konnor Veteto, Joe Eberhard, and John Dickson. The flipside is that this year, with all of those guys gone, there is not a lot of certainty in their frontcourt heading into this season.

Like we did with Southern Utah's scoring, let's just take a rundown of some of the guys that might be involved.

- Joey Quigley - Of their returners, Quigley logged the most minutes among those vying for frontcourt roles, so that seems to put him at the top of the list. He is a versatile guy that seems to have the skillset to play inside and outside, but he struggled last season as a junior, his first year in the program. He shot just 31% on twos, and 4/16 from deep, not really dishing out assists or grabbing any offensive rebounds, making him a serious liability last year. He did grab a solid number of defensive rebounds (15.3% DR%), but he needs to improve offensively. The skills appeared to be there, so maybe he can be more comfortable as a senior.

- Jordan Salley - He was efficient when he shot, at 22/36 for the year, but didn't get a ton of time as he was very turnover prone and only an average rebounder. Those things have to improve for him to be a good starting frontcourt player. He has the athletic ability to play and be effective, but he needs to clean things up around the edges of his game.

- Ryan Okwudibonye - He missed almost all of last season because of a knee injury. His numbers from junior college suggest that he could be a frontcourt rotational player that can get some rebounds and defend, but is probably not a guy that will be counted on to play heavy minutes.

- Alex Tiffin - He sat out last season after transferring from UC Davis, and he could factor in for a starting role. Even though he didn't put up many numbers in his two seasons for the Aggies, the Hornets hope he can have a Konnor Veteto like impact in Sacramento, as Veteto improved a lot in his redshirt year after transferring.

- Eric Stuteville - He is the most intriguing guy in their frontcourt to me, a 6'10'' F that can play inside and out. Last year as a senior in high school, he averaged about 21 and 12 per game. He also averaged 3.5 blocks per game as a junior. He appears to have the most upside of anyone in the frontcourt rotation, and I think he could see big minutes early on in his career.

- Zach Mills - Mills is only 6'5'', but looks like he can play either the three or four spot for the Hornets. He is a great rebounder for his size, after grabbing over eight per game last season in junior college. He is in the mold of Joe Eberhard, a versatile player that can potentially fill in a lot of roles for Sac State.

Anyone stand out as someone that figures to get a lot of time for the Hornets?

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Where Will Southern Utah's Scoring Come From?

Last season during conference games, Southern Utah was ninth in the Big Sky in offensive efficiency, scoring 0.99 points per possession. Among the culprits - they shot a league low 42.7% on two point shot attempts, and had a 20.0 TO Rate, worst in the conference. Essentially, they could grab offensive rebounds, but arguably because they had so much experience at trying to rebound missed shots!

To make bad news worse for head coach Nick Robinson, gone are the Thunderbirds top four scorers, most notably Jackson Stevenett (17.6 PPG) and Damon Heuir (15.5 PPG).

Obviously, this is all leading up to the big question - where does Southern Utah get their scoring from? Here are a few of the most likely ones to provide the scoring punch:

- AJ Hess - The 6'6'' wing man got better as his freshman year went along, finishing with an average of 5.8 PPG, but scoring 24 points against Eastern Washington, 15 points against Montana, and 16 points against North Dakota, all within the final seven games of the year. Clearly, he got more comfortable as the year went along, and took on the role of third fiddle in the offense after Wade Collie was dismissed. He has a solid outside shot (33%), and is great from the line. The development of Hess is probably the TBirds best bet to have a true number one option this season.

- Chris Nsenki - Nsenki only averaged 2.3 PPG last season, but there weren't always a ton of minutes to be had behind Heuir. He scored eight points in 31 minutes in the Big Sky tournament loss to UND, so he could have a bigger role waiting for him. He shot 30.5% from downtown on 59 attempts last season.

- Jayson Cheesman - He is known primarily for his defense and rebounding (where he is one of the best in the conference), but he is the team's leading returning scorer, at 6.8 PPG. He wasn't efficient at all, shooting just 40%, but got buckets with his offensive rebounding ability. He needs to be more selective this season. He doesn't really have much in the way of post moves, but that is not his game.

- Juwan Major - He comes in from Las Vegas High, where he led that team with over 14 PPG. He is a lefty with a good first step and the ability to score off the dribble. With the TBirds looking for a spark, Major could provide one as a freshman, as his ceiling is arguably higher than almost everyone else on the roster.

- Trey Kennedy - He is a guy that I really like. While scoring isn't even necessarily his calling card (last year, he averaged 12.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 4.7 APG for Bishop Gorman), he has a lot of ability and versatility. He has experience playing a variety of roles (as a junior he came off the bench, as all of the starters were top 150 recruits), and has shown an ability to help his team in whatever way needed. Scoring will be needed this season, and Kennedy could provide it.

- Race Parsons - Another freshman, Parsons averaged over 27 PPG for his high school while getting some interest from Weber State and Utah State. He is a 6'4'' guard with a knack for scoring. In Utah high school basketball history, he is sixth in scoring, sixth in rebounding, and fourth in three-pointers made for his career. Not a bad pedigree.

Who else do you think will be in the mix to score for Southern Utah?

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cole Stefan Joins North Dakota Program

Late last week, it was announced that former Wisconsin Green Bay (and former LaSalle) guard Cole Stefan had joined the North Dakota program. I first saw it made official by Tom Miller.

Out of high school, he committed to LaSalle, and also had offers from schools like Auburn, Northern Iowa, USC, Utah State, and Nevada, a nice collection of schools. He left LaSalle after one season, citing medical reasons. He joined four others who transferred out of UWGB after last season, after an investigation in their head coach.

He didn't do a lot last season, scoring 3.4 PPG, shooting 34% from the field and 33% from downtown. He played about 14 minutes per game.

He will be seeking a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, and could play right away if he is granted that waiver, adding to UND's backcourt depth. With the high grades he got out of high school, it's clear he could be a big help, even though he has struggled through his first two years. It's a good pickup for head coach Brian Jones.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jim Hayford's Quotes on EWU Players

On Eastern Washington's website, one of my favorite things is that on each player's page, there is a quote from head coach Jim Hayford. It's usually a one or two sentence blurb on the player, and can give a good indication of how the coaching staff views them or what their role might be this season. I thought it might be interesting to post those quotes here, along with a few takeaways.

F Ognjen Miljkovic (Fr) - “Ognjen joins us after two years at one of the top high school programs in California at Bishop Montgomery High School. It is the same program from where we recruited Tyler Harvey from. We feel he is the type of player that will fit very well in our system. He is a big man who can shoot the three-point shot, but he has multiple offensive skills. Ognjen had a number of options of schools he could have chosen from, and we are excited he selected Eastern Washington.”

G Tyler Harvey (So) - “Tyler Harvey was the surprise of last year’s team. Now he will come in as a redshirt sophomore with three years of experience in the program and needs to validate the end of his freshman season. Tyler can shoot the ball from outside, he can score off the drive, and he is very respected by all his teammates. He is an outstanding young man that we are building our basketball program on.”

G Daniel Hill (So) - “Daniel Hill gives us depth in the backcourt, and he is an outstanding teammate. We look for Daniel to be a point guard in our system who gives us great shots and is able to lead our team while he is on the floor.”

F Danny Powell (Fr) - “Danny Powell redshirted last year as a freshman in our system. He is extremely talented and is capable of scoring inside and outside, off the dribble, facing the basket and with his back to the basket. I think he will bring us versatility in three positions. We are looking forward to Danny having an outstanding freshman season.”

G Parker Kelly (Jr) - “Parker is a team captain and he has the most experience of all of the players in the program. Both seasons Parker has been able to shoot over 40 percent from three-point-range. He had some very strong games at the conclusion of the conference season where he was scoring over 20 points. We need Parker to rebound more this year, and as his all-around game develops, he should have an outstanding junior year.”

G Sir Washington (Fr) - “Sir is a quality young man and a dynamic player. Sir will fit in well with our other young players to give us a foundation of five-year players in our program. This year he will concentrate on academic success and building physical strength.”

F Martin Seiferth (Jr) - “Martin returns as the leading field goal percentage shooter in the Big Sky, a top shot blocker and a top rebounder. As he is able to do those things consistently, he will prove to be a top big man in the Big Sky Conference. We are looking for Martin to have a consistent season as a frontcourt player for the Eagles.”

F Thomas Reuter (So) - “Thomas gained great experience last year. He had quality playing time as a freshman, and he had some standout games. The key for Thomas this year is to develop consistency. He can shoot the ball from the outside better than he did a year ago, and he will rebound better at his position. He has acclimated to a new country and to the U.S. college game. I expect him to have a much improved sophomore season.”

F Frederick Jorg (So) - “This year we will redshirt Fredrick Jörg. Fred has outstanding potential, and is committed to being the very best he can be. By redshirting him, it adds a year between Martin and him. That will be very helpful to our program, and to Fred his junior and senior years in terms of playing opportunity.”

G Drew Brandon (Jr) - “Drew comes to Eastern as one of the top junior college point guards on the West Coast. He came from a very successful program at Sierra College with an outstanding coach. What impresses us the most is that Drew is a three-dimensional player, meaning he can shoot the ball, he can drive the ball and he can pass the ball. Drew gives us great size at the point guard position.”

F Garrett Moon (Jr) - “Garrett redshirted last year in our program. He gives us great versatility and athleticism off the bench. Garrett is a defensive stopper, and he is a very capable rebounder. Garrett is well-liked by his teammates, and is respected for the hard work he brings every day.”

F Felix Von Hofe (Fr) - “Felix is a great shooter and solid all-around player. He has competed at the highest level for his country and is the most acclaimed international recruit we have signed. He is an excellent student and will be a great addition to our campus community.”

F Venky Jois (So) - “Venky returns as the Big Sky freshman of the year, a top rebounder in the conference, and an overall average of double digit scoring as a freshman. Venky taking the next step as a player is one of the key ingredients for us to take that next step as a team. He is a man of outstanding character. He is a team captain as a sophomore. I expect him to lead us to the next level of success in our program.”

Some thoughts:
- It should jump out at you how young the Eagles are. They have no seniors on the roster and only four juniors. They should be improved from last year, but still expect some growing pains. I expect that we will see them grow a lot as the year goes on, and be seen as a top four team heading into next season, similar to Northern Colorado this year.

- When Daniel Hill arrived, I thought he would be the PG of the future for the Eagles. However, he didn't really separate himself last year when he got the chance, and I suspect Drew Brandon will be the Eagles PG. In Hayford's system, the PG always has the chance to put up big numbers, so look for Brandon to do some nice things this season.

- Last year, Frederick Jorg was raw. He is big and fairly mobile for someone his size, but he needed to improve his skills. Unfortunately, there weren't many extra minutes to go around. That makes the decision to redshirt him a good one.

- There will be some strong shot blockers in the Big Sky this year, with two of the better ones residing in Cheney. Venky Jois (66 blocks) and Martin Seiferth (68 blocks) are both solid. After averaging 12 and 9 last year as a freshman, it will be very interesting to see what Jois can do for an encore.

- With guys like Danny Powell, Felix Von Hofe, and Ognjen Miljkovic, there will be no shortage of guys that can play the three or four spots alongside Jois and Seiferth. None of these guys are household names yet, but they will all make an impact by the team they are done. Any team in the conference would be thrilled with a stable of young, athletic forwards like the Eagles have, not even counting in the fact that all are freshman (Powell with a redshirt).

- I worry about their backcourt depth. Parker Kelly is a nice player, but he might be a little too one-dimensional to be a good starter on a really good team. He is a great shooter, but might be more suited for a role off the bench. That puts a lot of pressure on Tyler Harvey, though if Harvey can continue and build on what he did at the end of last season, he will be a really good player.

Any thoughts on EWU? Where do you peg them this season?

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Previews on ESPN Insider

As a guy that grew up in the 1990s, ESPN has been in my life for as long as I can remember. I used to watch Sportscenter before school every day, Baseball Tonight every night in the summer, and probably have single handedly kept in business with my pageviews. So, it was pretty neat to be able to write some short Big Sky previews which got posted on ESPN Insider on Tuesday. If you are interested, here are the links, in the order that I ranked the teams:

1. Weber State
2. North Dakota
3. Montana
4. Northern Colorado
5. Eastern Washington
6. Montana State
7. Sacramento State
8. Northern Arizona
9. Idaho State
10. Portland State
11. Southern Utah

If you don't have ESPN Insider... I'll post the articles here eventually, and I'll of course after a long preview like the last two years before the season begins.

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