Conference season is in full swing, which means we have five games Thursday night and five more on Saturday night. If you like Big Sky basketball, it's really a fantastic slate of games. So, let's take a look at each matchup on Thursday night and make some predictions.
Sacramento State (0-2) @ Northern Arizona (1-1)
After an 0-2 start, the Hornets desperately need some positive momentum. Starting the non-conference season with a four game road stretch is tough, but they should have a chance to steal a game or two (they play Southern Utah on Saturday). However, they will need to find a way to slow Max Jacobsen, as they allow opponents to shoot 54.5% on two-pointers this year. Northern Arizona has been liable to turn the ball over too much this year, but Sac State doesn't necessarily have the defensive playmakers to take advantage of that. This should be a close game, but in Flagstaff, I like the Lumberjacks to move above .500.
Northern Arizona 68, Sacramento State 62
Montana State (2-0) @ Portland State (0-2)
As mentioned, PSU will be without arguably their most talented guy, as Aaron Moore was dismissed from the team.Most of their problems this year, again, have stemmed from the defensive side of the ball, as they are allowing 1.13 PPP against DI opponents. MSU doesn't really have the capability to take advantage of that, as they have struggled offensively (and been surprisingly good on the defensive side of the ball). Montana State has been excellent at forcing turnovers, but the Vikings have strong guard play, and should be able to take care of the ball well enough to claw their way to a home win.
Portland State 70, Montana State 65
Idaho State (2-0) @ North Dakota (1-1)
This is an interesting match, because it's hard to say what we have in each of these teams. The Bengals are impressive at 2-0, but they aren't flawless. They are giving opponents too many open looks from deep, and allowing teams to shoot 41.5% against them from downtown. Additionally, the Bengals have a 19.6 TO Rate, which is below average. Unfortunately for them, the one thing UND does well defensively is force turnovers, as their steal rates are in the top 20 nationally. I like UND to force ISU into mistakes offensively, and hold serve on their home-court in a game that will be a lot more competitive and entertaining than we thought it would be at the start of the year.
North Dakota 81, Idaho State 74
Montana (1-1) @ Eastern Washington (0-2)
Both teams have had disappointing starts relative to some of their expectations, but both are good enough that they can quickly get over them. For Montana, it is the shock of losing a conference game, especially at home. The Eagles losses were easier to swallow, being that they were on the road against good teams. Quietly, Montana has actually been a really good offensive team this year - they aren't turning it over, they shoot 37% on threes (78th in the country), and 56% on two-pointers (7th in NCAA)... their problem has been defense. One struggle has been rebounding, and you can bet that Eastern Washington is going to hit the offensive glass hard. How well the Grizzlies rebound defensively could be the key to the game. Chris Kemp is a guy that is playing more for them, and I think that will be a big key for a road win.
Montana 81, Eastern Washington 76
Weber State (2-0) @ Northern Colorado (2-0)
This will be the marquee game of the night, featuring what look like the two best teams in the Big Sky. This will be the first big game where Northern Colorado has a great chance to win, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to any type of pressure from that (even though it is only the third game of the Big Sky season). Traditionally, Weber State has been a tough matchup for the Bears, because they are such a good three-point shooting team, and Weber State is better than just about anyone else in the country at taking that away from an offense. That will put the onus on guys like Tevin Svihovec to be able to create things off the dribble, and I think he can have success there, as Weber State hasn't shown a great ability yet to pressure opposing guards. This one should come down to the wire and be a very entertaining game, but I think UNC shows they are for real.
Northern Colorado 72, Weber State 69
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