Sunday, January 5, 2014

Big Sky Power Rankings: Post Week One

Each team has played two Big Sky games, and the opening week was filled with some surprises, most notably Northern Arizona taking down Montana in their opener. Let's do some power rankings and use it as a springboard to talk about each team and how things look early.

1. Northern Colorado (2-0) - The Bears looked like the most impressive Big Sky team in the non-conference portion of the schedule, and they backed that up with two impressive wins to start the conference season. It wasn't so much that they beat North Dakota and Southern Utah, it was the dominating manner in which they did it. They have a bunch of depth right now, the ability to hurt you on the inside or outside, and athletic big men that really allow them to do a lot of things defensively. Their home stretch this week against Weber State and Idaho State will be VERY intriguing. They can win both of those games at home.

2. Weber State (2-0) - For all of the struggles to begin the year, the Wildcats are off to a 2-0 start, while their nemesis in Montana has already lost. That has to fell good. Jordan Richardson is coming to life, as he has six threes in the first two conference games, including four against Portland State. The other big key is Jeremy Senglin, who has 11 assists against two turnovers over the last two games, showing signs of becoming a more complete PG over the second half of his freshman season. As mentioned above, Weber coming to Greeley to take on Northern Colorado will be a fascinating matchup telling us if there is a new favorite in the Big Sky.

3. Idaho State (2-0) - There is no denying the impressive start of Idaho State, who is the most improved team in the Big Sky (and it's not even close). They continue to play at a much faster pace than last year, and their offense is looking solid. Quietly, newcomer Jeffrey Solarin has been awesome for Bill Evans' club, shooting 59% from the floor and rebounding 20.8% of offensive rebounding opportunities, second in the nation. With guys like him, Tomas Sanchez, Chris Hansen, and Andre Hatchett, ISU is just a solid, and is really establishing themselves as a potential player for a top 5 seed.

4. Montana State (2-0) - Stop me if you have heard this - the Bobcats are off to a nice start. The key for them, of course, is to sustain it. Mike Dison was key down the stretch against NAU, making the game-winner. Right now, MSU is getting by with a lot of balance - nobody on the team has played even 70% of the team's minutes, and their rotation can go 10-11 deep. The other key for them is that opponents rebound only 24.2% of their misses against MSU, giving the Bobcats the fifth best mark in the country. That has really helped their defense this year.

5. Northern Arizona (1-1) - They lost a tough one to Montana State, but I'm sure if you told them they would leave the Montana roadtrip at 1-1, they would have taken it. Even after shooting 0/7 inside the arc against MSU, Max Jacobsen shoots almost 60% on the year on two-point attempts, and he was particular great against Montana, where he scored 21 points on 10/13 FG. NAU does need to take better care of the ball, as their TO Rate is 21.8%.

6. Montana (1-1) - Their is some reason for concern in Montana, and it mostly stems from its defense. The Girzzlies give up 1.10 PPP so far this year, and a horrific 1.14 PPP in their first two conference games (and those didn't exactly come against offensive juggernauts). Plus, that number is even helped by the fact that opponents are shooting 58.8% on free throws against them this year, lowest in the NCAA. Montana is currently the worst offensive rebounding team in the country, and their defensive rebounding isn't too much better. They will score points with guys like Kareem Jamar, Jordan Gregory, and some talented role players, but if they want to have success, things need to change defensively.

7. Eastern Washington (0-2) - An 0-2 start is never good, but the road swing at Weber State and Idaho State could be the toughest in the league this year. They have now lost six straight overall, and need some positive momentum. They have also struggled defensively, and have struggled to force any turnovers. Last year they were one of the best shot blocking teams in the country, but that hasn't been the case this season. However, they played Weber State tough in Ogden, and had an off shooting night in Pocatello (14/38 from deep). If they struggled at home against the Montana schools there will be more reason for concern, but it's no time to panic yet.

8. North Dakota (1-1) - There is not a good way to say - North Dakota is not a good basketball team right now. They were never really in the game against UNC, and struggled to beat Southern Utah at home. As has been documented, once you get past their pressure defense, the help on the interior is just not there, which is why opponents shoot nearly 58% on twos against them. The flow in the half-court game has not been there either, as they are struggling to get consistent outside shooting, which really opens driving lanes for their guys. There is still plenty of talent, but they have some things they need to work out.

9. Portland State (0-2) - Aaron Moore missed the Weber State game due to a suspension, and there is a rumor (unconfirmed) that he might not be with the team anymore. With Tiegbe Bamba still out due to injury, their frontcourt depth is very thin. After initial signs that they might be improved defensively, time has shown that early good play to be fool's gold, as they are allowing 1.14 PPP, 336th in the country. Based on their track record the past few years, that might not improve.

10. Sacramento State (0-2) - Surprisingly for a team with Dylan Garrity running the point, they have not been very good offensively. Garrity has been solid, and Mikh McKinney has been ok, but they haven't gotten a lot from the rest of the guys. Junior forward Zach Mills is getting more time, and that is a positive development for them, as he shows some nice shooting range, and a good ability to rebound the basketball. Beyond him, they have struggled to get much out of the frontcourt, as was the worry before the season.

11. Southern Utah (0-2) - Probably they will win a few Big Sky games, but it won't be easy. They don't have any offensive firepower, as their 0.88 PPP is third to worst in the country, and they shoot just 37% on two-pointers. There are no easy baskets to come by here. They are also turning the ball over too much, and they don't get many second-chance points. They are one of the youngest teams in the country, and they are giving a lot of guys minutes to get some valuable experience, but unfortunately positives have been tough to come by in the early going.

Anything else stick out to you after the first two games of conference play?

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