Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Hope that you all have (or did have) a Happy New Year!

My wife and I are celebrating New Year's in Times Square, which is either the best or worst decision of our lives! So, it will be one more quiet week at the site. When I get back, conference play should be starting to get into full force, and things will accordingly pick up here!

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Northern Colorado Makes Big Statement in Victory Over North Dakota

Northern Colorado has had an impressive season so far, knocking off Kansas State on the road, and giving New Mexico State and Colorado State all they could handle on the road. But their most impressive game of the season came on Sunday in the Big Sky opener, as they took down North Dakota 84-66.

It was an impressive effort that saw UNC take care of business in all facets of the game. They shot 60% from the floor while holding UND to 39% shooting. They outrebounded UND by 16. At one point in the first half, they turned an 11-7 deficit into a 32-11 lead thanks to a 25-0 run. Their gameplan was sound, and they executed it perfectly.

North Dakota came into the game allowing opponents to shoot 57% on two-pointers, and they showed today that was not a fluke. They constantly took chances defensively (and to their credit, they did force 20 turnovers), but when they didn't cause a steal, it would often result in open lanes for the Bears, who got a ton of easy looks. At times, North Dakota looked hopeless on help defense, and guys would drive from the three-point line all the way in for an open layup, which simply shouldn't happen. The Bears shot 22/36 inside the arc.

On the contrary, Northern Colorado played excellent defense all day, holding the powerful duo of Aaron Anderson and Troy Huff to 20 points on 5/21 FG. They switched all ball screens, which is a luxury BJ Hill has with big men as agile as Derrick Barden and Dominique Lee, who were both outstanding. North Dakota got some open looks outside, but they are at their best when they are able to attack the rim and score in transition, and the Bears packed things in so that UND wasn't able to get to the rim often. It was a great defensive performance, and at times UND simply had no answers in the half-court offense.

Another nice thing that UNC showed was a three-quarter court trapping press, similar to one that Montana uses. While they didn't really force a lot of turnovers, it really slowed North Dakota down and made them take a lot of time to get into their sets.

Derrick Barden was the star of the day, with 18 points and 14 rebounds, five of them offensive. He made great decisions all day, and was just relentless on the glass, as always. A guy his size should not be able to rebound the way that he does, but he is a special player at the Big Sky level.

One bright spot for North Dakota was the play of Jaron Nash, who consistently finished well at the rim, as he was able to create angles using his athleticism. He finished with 22 points on 10/14 shooting.

North Dakota will have better days than this for sure, but for one day at the start of the conference season, Northern Colorado looked every bit the conference title contender that the non-conference season showed that they could be. It's back to the drawing board for UND, especially defensively, but for now, Northern Colorado will wake up on Monday morning as the Big Sky leaders.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Friday, December 27, 2013

Northern Arizona Might Be Better Than You Think

Most observers of the Big Sky know two things about Northern Arizona. One is that leading scorer DeWayne Russell transferred from the program right before the start of the season. Two is that the team is 3-8 heading into conference play. Based on those things, it would be reasonable to assume that the Lumberjacks will be closer to the bottom of the conference than competing for a conference tournament spot.

However, they are a team that could be right in the thick of things for the number six seed.

Like Weber State, most of their losses have come against quality competition, and they have not looked terrible against that competition. Among their losses:

- A four point road loss to USC (KenPom ranking: 100) in a game they led by 10 at the half.
- A 12 point road loss to Loyola Marymount (142), who is 8-4. This was also a tight game throughout.
- A four point road loss at Fresno State (142) in overtime, in a game that they also led heading into the final ten minutes.
- A 10 point home loss to Hawaii (113) in a game that was tied at the half. Hawaii just beat St. Mary's and Oregon State.

Obviously, it would have been nice if they could have won a couple of these games. But, they are staying in close games against solid competition, often on the road. That could be a positive harbinger for a better than expected conference season, because eventually some of the luck is going to go their way.

They are still finding their offense (0.96 PPP against DI competition), but their defense has been surprisingly okay. They are allowing 1.05 PPP, which is actually fourth best in the Big Sky. They are especially doing a good job of forcing turnovers, with an 18.8% turnover rate forced.

They have an excellent inside scorer in Max Jacobsen, who continues to shoot over 60% in the post. Junior guard Quinton Upshur has struggled with his outside shot, but he can be a dynamic weapon if his jumper gets a little more consistent. Guys like Aaseem Dixon and Gaellen Bewernick are talented as well.

NAU's record at 3-8 is not where they would want it to be, obviously. They have a lot to figure out still, especially on the offensive end. But don't sleep on the Lumberjacks, because they are better than you think, and they just might be a Big Sky tournament team once again, which would be a nice feat for Jack Murphy in a rebuilding program.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Look At The Big Sky Title Contenders

With conference play almost upon us, it looks like there is a clear divide between the top five teams in the conference and the rest. With that being the case, let's take a look at those five teams, and compare the case for them and the case against them.

EASTERN WASHINGTON
The case for: When they are on, they might have the most explosive offense in the conference. Tyler Harvey has taken the next step in the backcourt, and Venky Jois is still one of the most productive big men in the Big Sky. Last year they had so many PG struggles after Justin Crogsile left, but Drew Brandon has stabilized that position nicely so far this year. They have shot the three-pointer well so far, and when guys like Harvey are shooting well, they can beat anyone.

The case against: Despite that offensive power, they really haven't been consistently excellent on that end of the floor. They only shoot 61% from the FT line, and they don't get their very often with their style of play. Their two-point shooting has been average. They rely heavily on the three-point shot, which is not a bad strategy necessarily, but leaves them vulnerable if they have an off night or play a team that can take that away. Defensively, they have given up 1.06 PPP in DI games, 223rd in the nation. They have been poor at forcing turnovers. They are still a young team (only three members of the rotation are juniors, and none are seniors), so they are still growing a lot from game to game.

MONTANA
The case for: This is the same as we thought in the preseason - they have the best player and the best coach in the conference. Over the past two seasons, they literally have not lost a Big Sky game that they shouldn't have. When they are supposed to win a game, they do, and no other team can say that. Also, Kareem Jamar is playing the best basketball of his career, and so far looks like the conference POY again.

The case against: It's still hard to say where the interior production comes from. Among the five guys that get the most minutes for the Grizzlies, Michael Weisner is the only one over 6'5'', and he is more of a three-point specialist than inside player. They don't get offensive rebound and they don't get easy baskets off post play. Defensively, they haven't forced turnovers (14.5 Turnover % forced - 336th in the country), and teams have shot the ball very well against them. We'll have to see is that regresses to the mean, but so far they have missed Will Cherry more defensively than offensively.

NORTH DAKOTA
The case for: Athletically, they still match up favorably to everyone in the conference. That is why they have to be included in this list even though they only have one win against DI competition. They have played a tough schedule and not really been up to the task, but they are still contenders. Troy Huff has been his usual self, and looks like the second best player in the conference after Jamar. Defensively, they do a good job of using pressure to force some turnovers, with guys like Huff (5.0 Steal %), Jaron Nash (4.1%) and Jamal Webb (3.6%) all excellent at forcing turnovers.

The case against: The easiest case against them comes from checking out their numbers defending at the rim against two-pointers. Opposing teams are shooting 57.3% percent on two-pointers against UND, one of the worst rates in the country. On twitter, I have seen it described that once you get past UND's first line of defense, it's like a layup line. They are struggling to find consistency in terms of the frontcourt playing alongside Jaron Nash (another big concern), and it is showing up here. The other secret is that despite all of their talent and athletes, they haven't been a great offensive team the last few years. They score 1.01 PPP against DI teams so far, and even though that is a big improvement over their last few years, I'm still not sure that's good enough to win the conference.

NORTHERN COLORADO
The case for: So far, they have looked like the most impressive Big Sky team. For the past couple of years, they have struggled at the PG spot and with depth on the wing, but their signing of guys like Corey Spence and Jordan Wilson killed two birds with one stone, as Tevin Svihovec has thrived moving from the PG to SG. Their biggest strength is still Derrick Barden, who is among the biggest game-changers in the conference. He is one of the handful of guys that can take over a game. UNC is one of the most talented, balanced, and deep teams in the Big Sky.

The case against: Corey Spence was supposed to answer their PG questions, but he has mostly struggled, and Jordan Wilson got the start last game. Spence has the potential to be a really solid PG, but he has to cut down on turnovers and make some more shots (he is shooting under 39% this year) or the move to Wilson will be permanent. At the five spot, Connor Osborne has struggled majorly - he is shooting 37% from the line, and his offensive rebounding numbers are a little bit down, and that is the best part of his game. Dominique Lee should continue to grab more minutes there. Also, over the past couple of years, UNC has been very inconsistent, and there are some signs of that this year, with some harder than they should have been wins over Bethune Cookman, Prairie View A&M, and UC Riverside. But if they can bring it every night (and they should be able to - they are a very veteran team), they absolutely can win the Big Sky.

WEBER STATE
The case for: They have been the most disappointing team so far due to their lack of a big non-conference win (their best win is against San Jose State), but that can be partly due to a tough schedule, and still figuring things out in the backcourt. The reason for optimism is the same as it was before the year - they are, on paper, the most talented team in the Big Sky, and they have a track record of winning. Davion Berry playing well again, and taking up some of the distributing role. Kyle Tresnak and Joel Bolomboy have been a little up and down, but they are still the most imposing frontcourt duo in the conference. As the young guys continue to mature (Jeremy Senglin, Bolomboy, Richaud Gittens, Kyndahl Hill), the team should get better and better as the conference season goes along.

The case against: For the past three years, we have been talking about all of the talent for Weber State, but they haven't broken through and won the conference. A 2-5 start is distressing for any team, and they might be feeling a bit of pressure heading into conference play. The biggest issue, I think, it's that it's starting to be fair to wonder if Jordan Richardson will be able to transition to the off guard. He has continued to struggle... he has only taken nine two-pointers this year, and is shooting just 23.5% from downtown. It might be just a shooting slump, but they need him to play like they thought he would this year. Defensively, most of their struggles have come from not forcing turnovers (which has never been their strength), and not rebounding the ball well, which is a surprise. Opponents are rebounding almost 36% of their misses - last year they were a top 10 team in the nation in this mark.

Thoughts? Who is the favorite heading into conference play?

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Under the Radar Big Sky Players

Sometimes I find myself talking about a lot of the same players on this blog. So, I wanted to take a post to talk about some of the more "under the radar" guys on a few clubs, and take a look at their games. No real rhyme or reason, just some guys that don't get a lot of mentions, but could be interesting to take a look at.

- Tim Huskisson (Northern Colorado) - After starting the first two years of his career, he is unexpectedly UNC's sixth man so far this year, but has responded by playing his best per-minute basketball so far. Huskisson has always been a big talent, with some of the best athleticism in the Big Sky, along with a good outside stroke. He has always been efficient inside the arc, but this year he is 25/37, shooting 68% on twos. One aspect to his game that he has added is the ability to get steals, as he has a 4.5 Steal percentage, third in the Big Sky. He also has the best assist rate, and lowest turnover rate of his career. He is really developing in an all-around solid player, and that is a big reason why UNC has to be considered contenders this year. The key for him, as always, is consistency, but when he is playing well, he can be one of the best players in the Big Sky.

- Casey Oliverson (Southern Utah) - Oliverson is a sophomore in his first year with the Thunderbirds, and should have a nice career as a rotation guy for them. So far, his best skill is his offensive rebounding, with a 9.9% OR%, ninth in the conference. He has also flashed a little bit of skill as a shot-blocker, as he had three blocks against UC Riverside. He hasn't been a huge offensive threat so far (though he had a career-high ten points against Northridge), but he could be a nice fit for them as a rebounder.

- Brandon Gfeller (Montana) - He was too good for Montana to redshirt this year, and he is proving himself to be a reliable weapon off the bench. At this point in his career, he is just a shooter - but that is valuable for them right now. Gfeller is 11/24 from three-point range so far this year. He has only taken three twos (made all three), and he doesn't get many assists or add much defensively, but his range will be a nice asset for them this season.

- Max Jacobsen (Northern Arizona) - Don't look now, but Jacobsen has been the best post scorer in the Big Sky. He was one of the most improved players in the conference last season, and is showing that that improvement was no fluke. He has shot an astounding 63% on two-pointers (and it's not a sample size fluke - he is averaging almost 10 attempts per game), up from an already excellent 59% last year. He is not a great rebounder or defender, but if you get him the ball, he'll get you buckets. In a league without a lot of post scorers, that is huge.

- Andre Hatchett (Idaho State) - Hatchett is a guy that simply slots in for the Bengals wherever he is needed. In past years, he played a lot at the four spot. This year, he has been able to play a little more naturally at the three thanks to the addition of Jeffrey Solarin. While he has struggled this year offensively (only shooting about 40%), he has been a great defensive rebounder, which has been key for a team that struggled in that area last year. Still, like Gaellen Bewernick from NAU two years ago, I have a soft spot for undersized who do whatever the team needs. Hatchett is that guy.

- Cody Demps (Sacramento State) - Demps is an interesting player. He is 6'4'', but starts at the three spot for the Hornets, and does a lot of the little things for them. He rebounds 17.2% of available defensive rebounds, which is 11th in the Big Sky, and best on the team among guys that play at least 40% of the team's minutes. He is a solid passer and defender. However, there are still a lot of holes in his game. He turns the ball over way too much, with a 29.4 TO Rate. He is also still finding his way offensively. He is 14/28 on two-point attempts, but 4/15 from downtown, meaning he takes over two threes a game. For someone that is 9/35 in his career, that is way too many threes to take. He is a talented guy that can do some things, but until he finds a way to take better shots and take better care of the basketball, he is really holding the Hornets offense down.

- Terrell Brown (Montana State) - Brown has quietly been one of the better newcomers in the conference this year. While he is not shooting the three ball well so far this year, he has otherwise been efficient offensively. He has made 24/27 FTs, and 50% on two-point attempts. He doesn't turn the ball over. While he could be a better rebounder, if his outside shooting improves (and I think it will), he is an excellent complementary offensive weapon for the Bobcats.

Anyone else deserve a mention that doesn't get talked about much?

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Friday, December 13, 2013

North Dakota's Continued Defensive Struggles

Back in November, when North Dakota beat North Dakota State, it looked like they might be the best team in the Big Sky. Three weeks and five losses later, they don't look right now like they are a top 4 team in the Big Sky.

While they are having some offensive issues (namely with ball movement and outside shooting), I think the biggest concern has to be with their interior defense. While they have been able to pressure guards and force some turnovers (12.0 steal percentage, 25th in the nation), once offenses get past that first line of defense, things have just been too easy.

Against DI opponents, teams playing North Dakota are shooting 58.4% on two-point attempts, which is 346th in the nation. UND does not have anyone that can challenge shots down low, as they have a 4.5 block percentage, 333rd in the country. They have 17 blocked shots through eight games, so opponents know that if they take it to the rim, they are not going to meet a challenge from UND.

A lot of this is partially due to the fact that they play a lot of small ball. Of the five guys leading them in minutes played, only Jaron Nash (6'8'') and Troy Huff (6'5'') are taller than 6'1''. While that small lineup makes them hard to match up against because of all the quickness they can put on the floor, they are obviously having a hard time matching up against opponents.

What is the answer? I am sure Brian Jones and staff are hard at work figuring that out. It seems as though they need to find at least one of their big men that they can trust - among Alonzo Traylor, Chad Calcaterra, and Ryan Salmonsen - and give them more minutes. Of the three, Calcaterra has played the most, but that has been about 1/3 of the team's minutes. Perhaps they will need to scale back the attacking style as well - they have played at the ninth fastest pace in the country so far.

North Dakota has played a tough schedule, the fact that they sit at 2-6 is not really the issue here. The issue is that they haven't even been all that close to winning a game in the last few weeks, and that their defense resembles a sieve at the moment. That can change - they literally have the talent to win the Big Sky - but they need to find some answers before the start of conference play.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Look at Tim Douglas For Portland State

Tim Douglas for Portland State sat out last season after transferring from Portland, but is playing a big role for this year's Vikings team, so I thought it would be good to take a little closer look at his game and what he brings to PSU.

Douglas plays the most minutes on the team, and has played 91.1% of the team's minutes so far this year, the 19th highest rate in the country. During his two years for Portland, he got a lot of assists but also turned the ball over too much - both of those rates are down this year. He has an assist rate of 23.3 (which is solid but not great for a PG), and a turnover rate of 20.5 (which is ok for a PG). While the assists are down, that TO rate has been cut by a third from what it was earlier in his career.

In a small sample size, he has shown an improved outside shot, as he had made 14/31 threes, or 45%. As a freshman he shot 36.5%, and that was down to 28% as a sophomore. He is shooting just 38% on twos, but that should get better, as he shot almost 50% on those shots as a sophomore. If he can maintain anything close to that three-point percentage while improving the two-point percentage, he will actually be a really solid and efficient offensive player.

He has been pretty good at drawing fouls, and is shooting around five free throws per game, making 76.5% of them. Adding that all up, he has been a solid offensive player so far this year, and there is reason to think he could get even better as the year goes along.

Defensively, he has a 3.0 Steal percentage, which is 11th in the Big Sky. As a team, PSU has been a little bit better defensively this year, and it's fair to believe that Douglas is a part of that. Against DI competition, PSU is allowing 1.11 PPP, down from 1.16 PPP last season.

It's early in the year, and clearly there are big sample size issues that will sort themselves out. But through seven games, Douglas has been a steady PG for Tyler Geving, and looks to be a good starter for the Vikings for the next two seasons.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Monday, December 9, 2013

Drew Brandon and Kareem Jamar - Stat Sheet Stuffers

So far this season, two guys have really stood out for their ability to stuff the box score in a variety of ways.

One of them is a guy that every Big Sky fan is familiar with - Kareem Jamar of Montana. The reigning Big Sky Player of the Year has been even better in his senior season, and is putting up some big numbers.

Jamar is averaging 19.6 PPG (3rd in the Big Sky), 6.4 rebounds (11th), and 5.6 assists per game (2nd). He is shooting 50% from the field, and getting to the free throw line (though that has been his one weakness - 60% shooting on FTs). He is grabbing 20.6% of available defensive rebounds this year, up from 16.3% last season. Lastly, he has a robust 33.8 Assist Rate (which ranks in the top 50 nationally) while taking great care of the ball - a 13.1 Turnover Rate.

Jamar has been an excellent scorer while also being one of the top distributors in the conference, and an excellent rebounder to boot. Montana is off to a slow start, but it is not Jamar's fault in any way.

One guy who has possibly been outdoing him is Drew Brandon for Eastern Washington. Though he struggled a little bit yesterday (along with the rest of EWU), he has been outstanding this season. He is averaging 11.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG (7th in the Big Sky - before yesterday he was averaging eight per game, which was 4th in the conference), 5.9 assists per game (leading the Big Sky), and 1.6 steals per game (top ten in conference).

As a scorer he has been a solid role player, showing an ability to knock down shots when needed. But he has grabbed 8.7% of available offensive rebounds - a solid mark for a big man, a downright ridiculous mark for a PG. His Assist Rate is at 28.8, and he sports about a 2.5:1 assist to turnover ratio. He has been a steadying PG for them, which is exactly what the team needed after last year.

It's always fun to check the box scores of the games these guys are in - Brandon has just missed on a triple double about three times this year, while Jamar has been very close a couple of times. Both guys are playing excellent basketball early on.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Friday, December 6, 2013

Updated Recruiting Tracker

If you had looked at my Big Sky recruiting tracker lately, you would have seen it was horribly out of date.

That should be mostly fixed now, though I am still working on linking to the official pages of their signings. But, if you notice anything missing, drop me a line! Check them out here.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts? How would you change things around?

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Snapshot of the Big Sky

I missed a lot over the Thanksgiving break, but it was a great holiday! However, rather than trying to go over everything I missed, let's take a snapshot of what happened for each team the past few days, and any trends that we can see.

Eastern Washington - On Friday, they got a win over a decent Seattle team, powered again by a great offensive performance, as they scored 1.17 PPP. Tyler Harvey led the way with 30 points, including 6/9 from downtown. Through seven games, he has already attempted 55 threes... but being as he has made 28 of them (51%), I am sure the EWU coaches would just like him to keep shooting!

Idaho State - The Bengals have had a nice long break, as they haven't played since November 23. As we have talked about often, all four of their game have been over 70 possessions, a remarkable turn from last year. They are fun to watch.

Montana - They lost by 11 to Hawaii, dropping them to 1-4 on the young season. Against the Rainbow Warriors, Kareem Jamar was merely good - 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists. To beat good teams, they need Jamar to be great at this point in the season. The Grizzlies are continuing to get little to no production from their frontcourt.

Montana State - The Bobcats beat Cal State Northridge last Tuesday, before falling big at Wyoming (which is to be expected). One of the biggest reasons they are struggling is that Flavien Davis (87.3 ORtg) and Calen Coleman (91.5 ORtg) are both struggling. They were both solid last season, so they should pick up... but they need them to be good for MSU to compete.

North Dakota - UND took their high of beating NDSU... and promptly lost to Cal Poly (by 27), Oregon (15), and Pacific (17). That's not a good look for them or the Big Sky. UND was BAD defensively in all three games, allowing over 90 to both Oregon and Pacific. DI Opponents are shooting 58.7% on twos against them this year, which is really, really bad. They need to clean that up.

Northern Arizona - The Jacks fell to 2-6 with losses to CS Bakersfield, Drake, and Fresno State, three games they could have been reasonably expected to lose. They are shooting just 25% on threes against DI opponents this year, led by the struggles of Quinton Upshur (28% on almost seven attempts per game) and Aaseem Dizon (33% on almost six attempts per game). Combined with too high of a turnover rate and not getting to the foul line, and they are struggling offensively.

Northern Colorado - The Bears won a way too close game against Bethune Cookman (65-60) and then beat Prairie View A&M over the weekend. They trailed Bethune Cookman by as many as 18 before a late comeback to win. They didn't really learn from that, as they trailed Prairie View by as many as 11 in the first half before winning by 17. They have the talent to compete for a Big Sky title, but have to find the consistency... and not have any games where they go through the motions.

Portland State - PSU lost to Boise State on the road, but now stand at 4-2. They have been forcing a lot of turnovers, having the 45th best rate at that in the country. If they can keep that up, that can help make the defense at least average, which would be a big step up from the past couple years and position them to nab a conference tournament spot.

Sacramento State - The Hornets eeked out a win in a rivalry game against UC Davis, and then got blown out by a pretty good UC Irvine team. It still feels like we don't know that much about the Hornets. Dylan Garrity is great, Mikh McKinney is good... but then what? We are still waiting to see which big men will step up and be consistent rotational players for them.

Southern Utah - Through the first few weeks of the year, they still look like they will probably occupy the cellar in the Big Sky. They look like one of the worst offensive teams in college basketball, failing to crack 0.90 PPP in any game against DI competition (and that is not a very high benchmark). They have some good pieces, but there's not enough of them, and they are still too young to make a consistent impact.

Weber State - The national nightmare is over, as Weber State got their first win - a comfortable victory over San Jose State. They are still looking for a consistent impact from Jordan Richardson at the two spot, and their forced turnover rate is still ugly, but they have the talent to figure those things out. Joel Bolomboy continues to rebound the ball, with an OR% of 12.1 and DR% of 23.1. Two interesting road games against UT-Arlington and Utah Valley await.

Anything important I have missed?

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball