Thursday, February 27, 2014

Out and About

I will be out of town for a wedding starting Thursday, and returning Sunday. Who cares, you ask? Well, you probably won't see any new posts here until Monday, and tweeting about the games will be minimal to none! It's an unfortunate weekend to be gone, with only two weeks left in the Big Sky season, but unfortunately my buddy getting married was unable to change the dates!

Have a great weekend and I'm sure we'll have lots of stuff to talk about next week!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How Did Sacramento State Turn Their Season Around?

On January 25th, Sacramento State fell to Northern Colorado in Greeley, dropping their record to 6-11 overall, and 2-6 in the Big Sky. It looked like another lost season for the Hornets. Since then, all they've done is win 7 of 8, putting them at 9-7 in the Big Sky and on the verge of a conference tournament berth. In that time, they shocked Weber State, and beat North Dakota and Northern Colorado (convincingly), who have often looked like the second and third best teams in the Big Sky.

So, how have they done it?

The first factor, and perhaps the biggest, has been the schedule. The early portion of their Big Sky slate was tough, with six of their first eight on the road, including road trips to Montana and to the UNC/UND swing. The fact that they were 2-6 during that time (they played two home games, beating EWU and losing to PSU in overtime) is not that big of a surprise, because that is a tough slate.

Things obviously got easier. Of the 7-1 stretch, they have played six home games (6-0) and two road games (1-1). They avenged their loss to Portland State (but lost at EWU, the reverse of what happened when they hosted the teams), and then won six at home. As noted, it wasn't an easy stretch of home games, as they beat arguably the top three teams in the conference not including themselves, but they did benefit from a long stretch at home.

The other difference has been simple - they have become an offensive machine during the past eight games. According to my calculations, here are the differences in games against DI opponents:

6-11 start (which was really 4-11, since two of those wins were against non-DI teams) - 0.991 PPP
7-1 recent stretch - 1.166 PPP

To put it in perspective... that 0.991 PPP would be 8th in the Big Sky for the year, while the 1.166 PPP would be far and away the best in the conference. Using conference play only, the 0.991 PPP would rank 10th in the Big Sky, while the 1.166 PPP would be a close second behind Northern Colorado. If they had a 1.166 PPP all year, that would rank in the top 20 in the nation.

The defense has gotten a little better too, going from 1.106 PPP before the steak, to 1.053 PPP since the streak started. In the Big Sky this year (which is scoring at 1.09 PPP for the year, second highest in the NCAA among any conference), that 1.05 mark is actually pretty good.

It's not hard to see their strengths - they have the best backcourt in the Big Sky, with both Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney putting up great junior seasons. Garrity has been fantastic throughout his career (he is a great shooter and solid distributor), so his stardom is no surprise. He has increased his three-point percentage to a deadly  46% rate, while shooting it more than he ever has. That has been huge for them, because every shot he takes is a good shot for them, for the most part.

McKinney has been more of a surprise... in his first season last year, he showed flashes of being a nice off the dribble with a outside shot that was at least good enough to keep defenses honest, along with a good ability to get to the line. This year, he has grown in many ways, and might be one of the more improved guys in the Big Sky. While his outside shot hasn't been falling (hi 3PT% is down from 37% to 31%), but he has become a better finisher, shooting 54% on two-point attempts, up from 41% last year (that is HUGE). He has maintained his excellent ability to get to the line (and shooting 85%). He has also grown to be more of a distributor... while Garrity's assist rate has dropped, that is due to McKinney taking on more playmaker duties, as his Assist Rate jumped from 20.2 to 29.2, another huge jump.

The frontcourt has always been a question mark, but that has picked up recently, as Zach Mills has played well, and Eric Stuteville is becoming the reliable option we thought he would be.

So, will the success continue? Yes and no. They travel to take on Weber State and a desperate Idaho State team this weekend, and 1-1 would be a success. Then they are at home to take on the Montana schools. The guess here is they finish 11-9, around the 5th seed in the Big Sky tournament.

Going forward, they have a chance to make some noise in the Big Sky tournament, because they have a great backcourt duo, and an emerging frontcourt. They are an offensive machine over the last month, and the defense has looked better too. They aren't getting a ton out of their seniors either, so it's not out of the question that they could be a favorite heading into the Big Sky next season, a thought that would have been inconceivable a month ago. It's been a rapid rise for the Hornets, and the best should be yet to come.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Vote Dylan Garrity for Play of the Year

Obviously, Dylan Garrity's 75 foot game-winner against Weber State earlier this year was amazing.

If you don't remember it somehow - here it is.

Now, you can vote for it for the Geico Play of the Year. Sac State's website has all of the details on how you can vote here, or you can go directly to their Facebook page and vote.

You should vote.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Portland State Beats Eastern Washington To Keep Their Season Alive

If the game had gone as expected, Eastern Washington would now be 9-7 and be close to locking up a Big Sky tournament spot, and Portland State would be just about eliminated from tournament contention. Instead, after an upset win, Portland State and EWU are now part of a four-way tie for sixth place, and with each team having a difficult schedule down the stretch, they each have some work to do.

Portland State couldn't be stopped in this game, as they scored 87 points on 1.24 PPP, getting buckets however they wanted. They shot 19/37 inside the arc, 11/25 outside it, and shop 21 free throws. While Eastern Washington uncharacteristically struggled from the outside (4/15 threes), scoring 1.09 PPP should be enough to win most home games.

PSU was led by senior Kyle Richardson, who has been excellent from about the midpoint of the season on. In this game, he was their only big man that played more than two minutes, and he responded with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks, against a good EWU frontline. Richardson was far from the only star for the Vikings, however, as four other guys were in double figures, with a fifth scoring nine points. It was a balanced effort for PSU in this season-saving game.

Going forward, each team has the same schedule, so we'll see who can rise above.

At North Dakota and North Colorado
Home against Weber State and Idaho State

Neither team will be favored more than once the rest of the way, meaning they'll need to pull at least a little bit of an upset to increase their odds, if indeed 10 is the magic number.

The other big winners, in addition to PSU, is the other main contenders for the final spots in the tournament - Northern Arizona, Montana State, and Idaho State, because it now seems that everyone will be fighting for the final two spots rather than the final one spot.

The lesson, as always, you never know what to expect in the Big Sky this season, and things are always interesting.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Big Sky Standings Breakdown

Normally after a week of games, I like to do power rankings to break the team's down, and any notable things that happened during the week. However, at this point in the year, what's most important is where teams sit in the standings, and what position means relative to making or not making the Big Sky tournament. So let's jump in.

As a reminder, here are the tiebreaker rules.

1. Weber State (12-4) - Despite the loss to Idaho State last Monday, they are still in good shape. To lose the top seed, they would have to lose twice, and have UNC win out, and then lose a tiebreaker - It's unlikely. What is more likely is that they fall once more, and win the Big Sky at 15-5, putting the conference tournament in Ogden.

2. Northern Colorado (10-6) - Their loss to Sac State likely cost them any shot at the conference title, but they are still in a good spot for the second seed. They play two at home (which won't be easy, against EWU and PSU), before finishing at North Dakota and Southern Utah. If they go 3-1 and lose to North Dakota, they are still in good shape, because they would own the tiebreaker over UND (since they have a win over Weber, and UND does not). It's unlikely anyone else would finish with 13 wins.

3. Montana (9-7) - They escaped Idaho State, and that most likely means they'll be in the Big Sky tournament. They have two winnable home games this week (SUU and MSU), and then go on the road to Sacramento and Flagstaff. If all goes as planned, they won't need either of those wins, but it sure would be nice to get them and snag a top 3 seed (and avoid a potential Weber State semifinal matchup).

3. North Dakota (9-7) - They look to have a great shot to land a 3 seed with their schedule. They host Portland State, Eastern Washington, and Northern Colorado - having three home games left is huge. Their road game is at SUU, the best possible draw. They have shown they can drop winnable games at home (Montana State), but they should have a good chance at winning out. As mentioned in the UNC section, they would lose a tiebreaker with the Bears if both teams were tied.

3. Sacramento State (9-7) - With their sweep of UNC and UND (juxtaposed with NAU getting swept), they should feel pretty comfortable, even with a tough slate down the stretch. They travel to Weber State (never a good thing) and then a desperate Idaho State, before ending the year hosting the Montana schools. They are also in good shape in any head to head tiebreakers with their win over Weber State. I have a feeling 10 wins could be the magic number, and they will hit that.

6. Eastern Washington (8-7) - If they take care of business against Portland State Monday night, they should feel good about their positioning as well, with 9 wins. If they lose, suddenly things get dicey, as they travel to Greeley and Grand Forks (toughest roadtrip in the conference), and then host Idaho State and Weber State. They won't want to go into that stretch at 8-8.

7. Montana State (8-8) - They have to beat SUU at home on Thursday, because they end the year with three straight road games, compounded by the fact that they are all within six days of each other. The big one could be their meeting on March 6 with Northern Arizona - that one could be a de facto play-in game for the final tournament spot.

7. Northern Arizona (8-8) - They looked safe a couple weeks ago at 8-5, but that seems like a long time ago. They travel to Pocatello and Ogden this week, and it would not be a surprise to see them drop both games. They follow that up by hosting the Montana schools in the final week. They are also hurt by the fact that if they are in a tiebreak with MSU, the Bobcats win over UNC (who NAU dropped two games against) could look large and give a tiebreak edge to the Bobcats.

9. Portland State (7-8) - If they can upset EWU on Monday night, they still have a chance. If they lose, I think they are done, because there are not three more wins to find on their schedule. They travel to UND/UNC this week, and then host Weber State and Idaho State in the final week. Going 2-2 against that stretch would be tough, and 3-1 is not happening. They have to win Monday to keep their hopes alive.

10. Idaho State (7-9) - I understand why only seven teams make the Big Sky tournament, I do. But this year, that stinks, because it could mean that the Bengals are left at home, and they are absolutely good enough to be going. All of their conference losses have been within seven points. They have no depth, but they are a good team, and they could absolutely pull an upset in the Big Sky tournament - if they make it. But they have a tough schedule down the stretch (though it could be worse), and they need to sweep Sac State and NAU at home. If they do, they're still in the race. Anything less than that, and they're probably not making it.

11. Southern Utah (0-16) - Unfortunately, it ain't happening. I have grown less optimistic that they will win a game, but I am still hoping...

If I had to guess how it would play out, I'd say -
1. Weber State (15-5)
2. Northern Colorado (13-7)
3. North Dakota (13-7)
4. Montana (11-9)
5. Sacramento State (11-9)
6. Eastern Washington (10-10)
7. Northern Arizona (10-10)
8. Montana State (9-11)
9. Idaho State (9-11)
10. Portland State (8-12)
11. Southern Utah (0-20)

Who gets those final spots? Any guesses?

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thursday Night Preview and Predictions

Six games remain for each team, and with everything so close, EVERY game takes on added importance. Literally, every game potentially has huge implications in who makes the conference tournament, and who doesn't. So, let's take a look at each game on Thursday night, with some predictions.

Portland State @ Southern Utah
This game features the two Big Sky teams with conference records under .500, but that doesn't mean it's devoid of storylines. Portland State has to have a win or they will be eliminated from the conference tournament race, and this could be the Thunderbirds best shot at a win this year. PSU is the type of team that SUU can match up against, because the TBirds physical style will disrupt the Vikings offensive flow. I think that the time has come. Southern Utah 64, Portland State 62

Idaho State @ Montana State
Idaho State got their biggest win of the season over Weber State, but they can't afford to celebrate or it will be for nothing. Both teams are at 7-7, and know that a loss puts them outside where they need to be. I'll take Montana State for two reasons. One, the game is at home, which we know is huge in the Big Sky. Two, ISU has little depth, and coming off an emotional win three days ago, it will be tough to bring the same energy. The Bobcats appeared to figure some things out offensively last week, let's see if it lasts. Montana State 67, Idaho State 64

North Dakota @ Sacramento State
This one should be a fun game, as both teams have been playing well offensively, especially the Hornets. Sac State should get ample open looks, and I think Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney could both have big games, which has been the norm for them lately. On the other side, it's hard to see how the Hornets slow down Troy Huff, Jaron Nash, and the frontcourt athleticism that UND has. Look for an entertaining, back and forth game, with the Hornets making just a couple more plays down the stretch. Sacramento State 78, North Dakota 74

Northern Colorado @ Northern Arizona
Northern Colorado regained second place, but let's see if they can hold it, and reverse their road struggles (2-8 this year). When the two teams met in Greeley, UNC was just the better team, and was more talented, experienced, and polished. However, they aren't the same team away from home, and NAU is playing good basketball. Quenton Upshur has been one of the best players in the conference lately, and I think he'll have a big game, and the Bears' two guards struggle to guard him. This should be another close one, but I'll take the home team. Northern Arizona 75, Northern Colorado 73

Weber State @ Montana
While this game doesn't quite carry the glamour of previous years meetings, it's still a big game in the conference landscape. Weber State is 11-3, though they still hold a two game lead and are still the favorite. Montana is battling for its conference tournament life (and position) at 7-7. Lately, the Grizzlies have looked like the second best offensive team in the conference (after UNC), but they still have major struggles defensively, which Weber should be poised to pounce on. Look for the Wildcats to pound the ball inside early and often, and see if Montana can stop them down low. It was a close Weber win when the teams met in Ogden, and I think the result will be the same even in Missoula. Weber State 70, Montana 66

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Big Sky Power Rankings

With another weekend in the books, let's take a quick rundown of the Big Sky picture, along with how many games the teams have at home and on the road remaining.

1. Weber State (11-2, 2 Home/5 Away) - We can quite hand them the Big Sky yet, because they could still reasonably lose three more games this year. But let's be honest, it would be a major surprise if the Big Sky tournament is anywhere other than Ogden.

2. Northern Colorado (9-5, 2H/4A) - As expected, they bounced back with two home wins, although neither one was easy. If they can beat Northern Arizona Thursday, they should basically have a top three seed locked up, but since this is the Big Sky, expect NAU to win that game! They continue to struggle mightily defensively (they allowed 1.23 PPP and 1.14 PPP in two games last week), but their offense is the best in the Big Sky, which has allowed them to overcome that to a degree. They have two road wins this year - Kansas State and Montana - and have lost their other 8 road contests. I'll let you figure that one out.

3. Montana (7-7, 4H/2A) - They lost two straight road games, but they were hard-fought games against Northern Colorado and North Dakota, so that's understandable. Here is how tight things are - if they beat Weber State at home on Thursday, they're in great shape for a top 4 seed. If they lose, they'll be sweating things out in the final weekend, possibly needing a win to make the conference tournament. They can't rebound, and they don't defend well, but their offense is explosive enough that they are a tournament darkhorse.

4. North Dakota (8-6, 3H/3A) - They are like Jekyll and Hyde. For 25 minutes against Montana State, they looked pitiful, trailing by 20 early in the second half. Then they kicked things in gear, and cut the lead to three, but couldn't quite overcome the Bobcats. They could give Weber a run for their money in the Big Sky tourney, or lose in the first round - sometimes it seems like there is no in between for them.

5. Northern Arizona (8-6, 4H/2A) - They would have liked a better showing at EWU, but they got a road split out of the weekend, which is all you can ask for. There are no gimmes left on the schedule, but with 8 wins already and four more home games, they should be safe. One thing to watch is that they are going small more often, as they are trusting freshman Kris Yanku more and more off the bench.

6. Eastern Washington (7-7, 3H/3A) - It was an impressive showing last week for the Eagles, as they easily dispatched Sac State and NAU, both playing well. If they can take out SUU on the road and PSU at home, all of a sudden we need to start talking about them in the top 4 seeding range. Their offense has been really clicking the last five games, and that's a scary thought for the Big Sky, because when it's at it's best, it has five guys that can score 20 points in a game.

7. Sacramento State (7-7, 4H/2A) - After a road win over Portland State, they are suddenly in good shape, though it's a tough schedule down the stretch even though they have 4 home games (they play UND, UNC, Montana at home, and Weber State/Idaho State on the road). With their win over Weber State, two wins might be enough to get in, pending the Weber/ISU game Monday night. With three wins, they'd almost certainly be in.

8. Montana State (7-7, 3H/3A) - It was a great roadtrip for them, beating UND and then playing well at Northern Colorado. It was one of their best two-game stretches offensively all year long, and shows that they have a nice ceiling when they are playing well on their end. Of course, this is Montana State, so there is no predicting what happens from here on out. They host ISU and Weber this week.

9. Idaho State (6-7, 3H/3A) - They have a tough one against Weber State Monday night... if they can somehow win that, we'll have a legit 9 teams battling for seven spots, and nine teams that are .500 or better, which is crazy to think about. If they lose, they face an uphill battle because there are no gimmes the rest of the way. They are a good team, and it would be a shame to see them miss the conference tournament, but that is potentially where we find ourselves.

10. Portland State (6-8, 2H/4A) - They really needed to win both of their home games, and instead they went 0-2, losing to Northern Arizona and Sac State. That might spell doom for the Vikings, who will only be favored twice more this season. More than any other time this season, there's another team in addition to SUU who looks like it has very long odds to play postseason basketball.

11. Southern Utah (0-14, 4H/2A) - Despite two home games, they weren't too close to getting a win, though they played ISU tough. Next up is home games against PSU and Eastern Washington... this Thursday against Portland State could be their best chance for a win the rest of the way.


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Some More Great Big Sky Finishes on Thursday Night

There were five more Big Sky games on Thursday night, which means that there was madness, and a ton of implications across the conference. Let's take a look at some of the biggest storylines and key takeaways.

- It looked like Northern Colorado and Montana had potential to be the best game of the night, and it lived up to the billing. Battling to keep at least a share of the second seed, they played a great game in Greeley, having to go to OT to settle it. Once there, it wasn't decided until Jordan Gregory missed a three in the closing moments, sealing the 89-86 win for UNC. It moves the Bears to 12-0 at home, snaps their four game losing streak, and snaps Montana's four game winning streak. Four players on each team scored in double figures, and Montana stayed in it despite allowing Northern Colorado to shoot 60% and grab 11 offensive rebounds.

- North Dakota was starting to look like they had an in on the second seed in the Big Sky... and then they promptly lost to Montana State at home in a game where they trailed by 20 in the second half, cut the lead to three, but could never get over the hump. As I said Monday, they have potentially the highest ceiling in the Big Sky, but also the lowest floor among the top teams, which they showed in this one. For the first half and the early part of the second half, they looked listless. While they got it together, they dug themselves too big of a hole. They spent too much time jacking threes (11/32), and not enough time attacking the basket.

- We have to obviously give credit to the Bobcats as well, who came up with a huge road win. They played one of their best offensive games of the year. They were nearly flawless from the free throw line (28/32), especially down the stretch when they put the game away. They consistently found Flavien Davis when he had a matchup edge, and were able to get big baskets from guys like Marcus Colbert and Antonio Biglow down the stretch. If MSU played like that every game, they could be conference contenders, but they always seem to lack consistency.

- Eastern Washington jumped out to a huge lead on Sacramento State, withheld a nice run by the Hornets, and still got the relatively big win, 85-72. Not to toot my own horn, but I did say they could score 85 in this game! The Hornets could not slow down EWU offensively, and that was the difference. Eastern Washington gets the big home win to move to 6-7, while the Hornets fall to 6-7.

- Not much to see as Weber State moved to 11-2 with a 75-55 win over Southern Utah (0-13). The TBirds cut the deficit to 6 early in the second half, but it was all Wildcats after that.

- In the nightcap, Northern Arizona got more heroics from freshman Kris Yanku, who had the game-winning follow to give the Lumberjacks the 65-63 road win over Portland State. It was Yanku's second game-winner in February, and moves the Jacks to 8-5, while dropping the Vikings to 6-7. It is time to take them more seriously in the Big Sky, and that goes for myself as well. That's not an easy thing to do, to go into Portland and get the win!

- Here is how things look after Thursday:

1. Weber State (11-2)
2. Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona (8-5)
4. Montana, North Dakota , Montana State (7-6)
7. Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, Portland State (6-7)
10. Idaho State (5-7)
11. Southern Utah (0-13)

As always, we are in for a great final month!

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Big Sky Power Rankings

We are one game away from everyone having eight games remaining, and we know two things:

1. The Big Sky Tournament appears almost a lock to be played in Ogden, as Weber State now has a three game lead on the field.
2. Everything else is going to make for a great race!

After Weber State, four teams are tied for second thru fifth... then the next five are within a game of each other. Oh yeah, and only seven teams make the conference tournament. It will be great.

The home teams are now 49-16, and that 75.4% winning percentage is the highest among any conference in the country. So, behind the team's record, I'll put how many home and away games they have remaining, as it seems to be extremely relevant.

My criteria for ranking these teams is based on if the games were played at a neutral court, who would be who? Otherwise, I would essentially just be putting them in order, but this allows me to give me feelings a little more.

1. Weber State (10-2, 2H / 6A) - Ho hum, the Wildcats are having another outstanding season. They are doing it right now with defense, which is the best in the Big Sky. As has become a hallmark for them, they don't allow opponents to shoot a lot of threes (22.9% of opponent's shots against them are threes, the second lowest rate in the NCAA), and they rebound misses. Joel Bolomboy has double digit rebounds in the last seven games, and 12 of the last 13. He averages 11.2 boards per game this year (6th in NCAA), and is just tenacious on the glass.

2. North Dakota (7-5, 5H / 3A) - They are a tough team to predict, because they potentially have the highest ceiling of any team in the Big Sky, but they might have the lowest floor among the top four. They are playing well now though, and you can't help but be impressed by their 2-2 performance on a tough roadtrip (the same one that saw UNC go 0-4). Quietly, after having depth issues the last few years, they have perhaps the best bench in the Big Sky, with key contributions from Jamal Webb, Cole Stefan, and Alonzo Traylor. They are dangerous.

3. Northern Colorado (7-5, 4H / 4A) - It's very easy to overreact to their four game losing streak, but again, they are a different team at home - I would expect they will right the ship with two home wins this week. However, the defense continues to be a concern, as they have allowed 1.10 PPP in conference play, third worst in the Big Sky. They have the talent to be better there, but teams just get too many open looks and shoot too well against them. If they fix that, they can win the conference. If not, they could lose in round one of the tournament.

4. Montana (7-5, 4H / 4A) - They are the hottest team in the Big Sky with four straight wins, though none of those wins was easy. They beat SUU by 8 on the road in a game that was close the whole way, Montana State by 4 on the road, they beat PSU by thismuch at home, and EWU by 5. Similar to how we can't overreact to UNC's 4 game losing streak, let's not say Montana is back quite yet. But there are at least promising signs, mostly on offense. They are scoring 1.12 PPP in Big Sky play, third best in the league, and Keron DeShields is really getting better and better (They would not have beaten Portland State without him). They have a deep stable of guards and shooters, and they are always well coached.

5. Northern Arizona (7-5, 4H / 4A) - Despite being 7-5, they definitely can't rest on their laurels. They travel to Portland/Cheney this weekend, and then host Northern Colorado and North Dakota, who both beat them soundly earlier in the year. Once they escape that, they travel to Ogden and Pocatello. It's a very difficult six game stretch that will decide if they're in and dangerous, or on the conference tournament bubble. The good news is that Quenton Upshur seems to be getting better and better - he has scored on double figures all but twice this year. They have a ton of athleticism, it's just about finding the consistency for NAU with such a young team.

6. Eastern Washington (5-7, 5H / 3A) - They would have liked to have found a way to beat Montana, but they got a split against the Montana schools, and that is good enough in the Big Sky. They sit at 5-7 but the door is open for them - 5 more home games and one of their road games is at SUU. They brought Parker Kelly off the bench last game to try and provide some type of bench spark, and it will be interesting if they go back to that. Tyler Harvey continues to look like an all-conference guy, following up a 38 point performance last week with 22.5 PPG on the two game roadtrip. Over the last three games, he's averaging a cool 40 minutes a game (one went to OT).

7. Portland State (6-6, 4H, 4A) - They possibly should be ranked higher, considering they lost two road games that they could have won. However, they're eighth in conference play in offensive efficiency, and eighth in defensive efficiency. Kyle Richardson has been stepping up his game of late, with two straight double-doubles, which is a big development for them with their lack of depth up front. Their change to playing a ton of guards at a time (part out of necessity) has been working very well for them. They host NAU and Sac State this week, and those should be two great games.

8. Sacramento State (5-6, 5H / 4A) - Overlooked in their stunning win last week over Weber State is that if they are in tiebreakers, holding a win over the top seed will be huge. Quietly, their offense has been awesome of late, averaging 1.13 PPP in Big Sky play, best in the conference (unfortunately, they've also allowed 1.12 PPP, worst in the Big Sky). They have a big win at home tonight against Southern Utah, a team that is pesky and physical enough to beat them if they don't bring their best. The guard duo of Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney has been killing opponents of late.

9. Idaho State (5-7, 3H, 5A) - The home loss to North Dakota was really tough for them, especially after their nice victory over Northern Colorado. Simply, they have a tough slate down the stretch, with just three home games left, and one of them against Weber State. They continue to struggle with opponents killing them with threes, as they allow teams to shoot 40.3% from downtown on a lot of attempts. I do need to note Jeffrey Solarin here for his outrageous performance against North Dakota... 23 points, 20 rebounds (12 offensive). He outrebounded the entire UND team.

10. Montana State (6-6, 3H / 5A) - There is just something about them that I am not optimistic about. Their offense has been second worst in the Big Sky (above SUU), and it's not even all that close. They've scored 1.00 PPP in Big Sky play, and 0.94 PPP throughout the year. They turn the ball over a ton, don't get second chances, don't get to the line, and are average at shooting the ball. They have played well defensively, but they need to see improvement from the offense with a tough schedule down the stretch.

11. Southern Utah (0-11, 6H / 3A) - I will be honest, I am openly rooting for them to get off the schneid and get a win. Their last six losses have all been within eight points. Their offense continues to rank last in the NCAA in efficiency, but they are getting better and better defensively, though they still send teams to the foul line far too much. The win will come, as I'm not sure anyone plays harder than these guys. They are the most enjoyable 1-19 team to watch ever.


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Friday, February 7, 2014

An Update on Montana's Replay System

Last night in my post, I incorrectly stated that it was the replay monitor for Montana that was broken and needed to be fixed. As it turns out, that was not exactly right.

I received some clarification from the Big Sky Conference:

It’s not the “monitor” that is broken at Montana. That could easily be fixed. The replay system on the school’s tricaster had a catastrophic malfunction last week. The entire replay system can’t be used – not on the in-screen video board, not on our Watch Big Sky broadcast. A replacement has been ordered, but they’ve been told it will take at least four weeks to get it.
That at least makes much more logical sense.

They also noted that they reviewed the play, and say the officials got it right. Even though the ball was out of his hands before the backlight went on, it did look like the officials got the call right, and that the clock and light just were not in sync.

I wanted to make sure I passed along the clarification I got there.

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Tomas Sanchez Game-Winner Against Northern Colorado

Montana wasn't the only place with drama in the Big Sky on Thursday night. We also had some in Pocatello.

After Tate Unruh hit a lean-in jumper with just under 40 seconds left to play, Northern Colorado led Idaho State 70-68. Idaho State had the ball back, and eventually the ball made its way to guard Tomas Sanchez, who buried a three-ball with just over 10 seconds to play.

Here is the best video I can find, courtesy of Brendan Loy.

As I said last night on twitter, if you had to pick one guy from the Big Sky to take a shot at the end of the game, Sanchez might be that guy. He always seems to be calm at the end of games, and it was huge in this game.

Tevin Svihovec got a good look on the other end but couldn't put the shot down, giving the Bears their third straight defeat, and meaning that if they want to have a chance at a conference title, they need to win in Ogden on Saturday night.

For the Bengals, the win moves them to 5-6, which puts them in a tie for both 7th and 10th, and one game behind 3rd. It's a wacky year in the Big Sky.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Montana's Replay Monitor Needs To Be Fixed

At the end of the Portland State @ Montana game tonight, it was coming down to the last possession. With the score tied at 69, PSU had the ball with 11 seconds to play.

Tim Douglas got the ball, and eventually made a drive to the hoop. He threw up an off-balance shot (in the interest of fairness, he seemed to travel before the shot, but it wasn't called) and missed badly. The rebound came to Kyle Richardson, who put it back up quickly and made it. However, the refs whistled that the shot came after the buzzer. Watching live, I thought it was good, and I wasn't alone (others on twitter said the same thing). I was confused that the refs didn't at least review it, until I learned that Montana's replay monitor is broken.

I assumed it had broken earlier in the game, but was shocked to read this tweet from Shaun Rainey:

Are you kidding me? The monitor is broken and will not be functioning the rest of the season? Is it really that hard to repair or replace the replay monitor, to ensure proper calls? As we saw tonight, it's quite possible that this cost PSU the game, and I would be extremely upset if I were them.

I will try to confirm this with someone from Montana or the Big Sky... but if this is true or unless I am missing something, it is a pretty absurd situation, in my opinion.

EDIT: A lot of folks on twitter are complaining about the refs or calling it home cooking, and to clarify, I don't think either of those things are the case in terms of this call. I'm not saying the refs made the wrong call - only that it looked like they very well could have. Watching it live, you couldn't really say if it was right before or after the buzzer. Also, the fact that it benefited Montana was just pure happenstance... if the same situation but roles reversed, it could have gone against Montana. The issue is that it was a potential game-deciding, bang bang play, and the refs were not afforded the opportunity to check a replay to make sure that they made the right call. And that is not right.

EDIT 2: Great shot and tweet by Connor Ballantyne, showing that it appears the officials did, just barely, get the call right:

It still doesn't excuse the fact that they didn't have a chance to review it, but that is good that it doesn't appear to have cost Portland State the game.

EDIT 3: Another angle from Shaun Rainey shows the ball out of Richardson's hands, and the red light not on. Hmmm...

EDIT 4: And here is a video from Rainey, which shows the ball out of hands before the red light came on, but from what we can tell, the light and clock were not in sync. The video also shows the very clear travel by Tim Douglas!

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Top Freshmen in the Big Sky

Last year, we had a top heavy freshmen class. Guys like Venky Jois, DeWayne Russell, and Joel Bolomboy had huge impacts early. This year, no one is really putting up numbers like those guys were, but there are a ton of solid contributors who will be great players in the future in this conference. I thought about ranking them, but there's not enough separation between guys to really do rankings, because it will change a hundred times between now and the end of the season. Instead, let's take a quick look around the league at some of the freshman and what they do well, to familiarize ourselves with the next cast of Big Sky stars.

- Jeremy Senglin (Weber State) - Senglin has played a lot of minutes as a true freshman in a successful program, and has represented himself well. He has a nice outside shot (36% threes), while also showing an ability to finish and make free throws. He is a solid passer with a 17.9 A Rate, though he needs to improve to become above average as a playmaker. He takes good care of the ball for a freshman. Guys like Jordan Richardson and Davion Berry shoulder a lot of the ballhandling load, but Senglin is the next backcourt star.

- Jordan Wilson (Northern Colorado) - Wilson will be in the discussion for freshman of the year, as he has played a big role on a solid team. He keeps defenses honest with his outside shot, and has become more assertive looking for shots as the year has gone along. He does a nice job taking care of the ball and staying in control, with a 16.1 TO Rate. His quickness allows him to be a good on-ball defender, and he makes life tough for opposing PGs. As he gets more and more comfortable, he should be a star in the conference and one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the Big Sky.

- Mario Dunn (Montana) - Dunn came into the year with big hype, and he hasn't disappointed, taking on bigger and bigger importance for the Grizzlies. He doesn't shoot the ball from the outside much, and will have to work on increasing his range. However, he is a good finisher (54% on twos), and has shown a nice ability to get to the line (although he only shoots 57% on free throws). He also has the potential to be an elite defender at the Big Sky level. The talk before the year was that Montana had found their next star in Dunn, and that is not any less true halfway through the Big Sky season.

- Ognjen Miljkovic (Eastern Washington) - He missed some time at the beginning of conference play, and he was missed by the Eagles. Like other Eagles, he has range to the three-point line, and is an effective shooter for his size/position. He is also a good rebounder, grabbing 16.5% of available defensive rebounds. He is becoming a versatile offensive weapon for the Eagles, and it wouldn't surprise me if he is EWU's second leading scorer next year (after Tyler Harvey).

- Quinton Hooker (North Dakota) - Hooker is not asked to do a lot for North Dakota, but he is a solid contributor with a bright future. He needs to work on his outside shot, but he has made 17/36 from inside the arc. Like other UND players, he has been adept at forcing turnovers, with a 3.2 steal percentage, which is in the top 170 in the nation. He has also shown an ability to be a playmaker, with a solid 22.3% Assist Rate. He is a good rebounder as well for his position. His role will be much bigger next year when all the seniors graduate, and he is getting a lot of valuable experience.

- Kris Yanku (Northern Arizona) - Yanku always seems to be steady and in control, such as when he made the game-winner last Saturday. He is not a great finisher yet (he shoots 37% on his two-point attempts), and will need to get stronger to finish plays at the rim. He turns it over a bit much, but that is a problem for a lot of NAU players. However, Yanku is a playmaker, and I think he could lead the conference in assists at some point in his career. He is also a crafty defender, with a 3.0% steal percentage. He has great moxie for a freshman.

Other solid contributors:
- Richad Gittens (Weber State)
- Kyndahl Hill (Weber State)
- Eric Stuteville (Sacramento State)
- Trey Kennedy (Southern Utah)
- John Marshall (Southern Utah)
- Ako Kaluna (Northern Arizona)

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Writeup on Montana State Recruit

The Denver Post has a nice article which includes some blurbs about incoming Montana State recruit Ghassan Nehme.

About 70 miles south along Interstate 25, Cheyenne Mountain’s Ghassan Nehme has also been racking up points at a torrid pace. Since moving from shooting guard to point guard two weeks ago, the Montana State-bound senior is averaging 32.2 points over the six-game span since Jan. 14. This includes a 43-point performance against Lewis-Palmer on Jan. 17 and a 39-point game versus Vista Ridge on Jan. 28.

“When he gets going he’s very good,” Cheyenne Mountain coach J’on St. Clair said. “… With the ball in his hands, he’s a rhythm guy. He doesn’t have to be a catch-and-shoot guy.”

Cheyenne Mountain has a 4-2 record since the move.

On the year, Nehme is averaging 27 points, tops in Class 4A and second-best in all classifications. Collier is averaging 24.6, best in Class 5A and fifth overall. Akron’s Brady Baer is leading all scorers with an average of 31.1 points.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Look Out For Montana

It has been an up and down season for Montana. They were 5-4 in non-conference play, and then surprisingly dropped their home opener against Northern Arizona once Big Sky play started. After a home loss to Northern Colorado, they were 2-4, and need a furious barrage of threes in the second half to take down Idaho State to avoid falling to 2-5.

But yet, after close road wins against Southern Utah and Montana State, the Grizzlies are 5-5 in the Big Sky, and I can't shake the feeling that when the dust settles, they will be in third or fourth in the Big Sky.

As I have documented here before, they have their issues. They are not a good defensive team, giving up 1.09 PPP in conference play, which is 8th in the Big Sky. Their frontcourt issues are well documented - their most used lineup features four guards playing. But I think they are getting better, and it wouldn't surprise me if they kept getting better - that's just what Wayne Tinkle's teams do.

Their struggles have masked the fact that they are actually pretty good offensively. Against DI opponents this year, they shoot 38% on threes and 53% on two-pointers, both top 50 marks in the country. They are able to get to the line, but also shoot a lot of threes, which is a nice combo for a good-shooting team. They have a top 50 mark in the country in terms of taking care of the basketball, with a solid 16.1% turnover rate.

They are still led by Kareem Jamar, who is carrying a big load but playing excellent basketball. He shoots 52% on twos and 38% on threes, while maintaining his great assist rate and solid rebounding rate. This season, he has dramatically cut his turnover rate even as his assist rate and usage rate has jumped. He's not getting as much hype this year because of the struggles of the Grizzlies, but he better than ever.

Jamar isn't doing it himself though, he is getting help from his backcourt mates. Jordan Gregory has been as good as predicted, maintaining his great efficiency even with increased minutes and usage. He is a fantastic scorer for them. Keron DeShields was a question mark coming into the year, but he has been a good player for them, hitting shots and taking care of the ball. Mario Dunn is getting better and better as the season goes along, and will be a vital part of the rotation as the year goes along.

All year long, most (myself included in this) have mostly been talking about Montana in terms of what they cannot do, and what their limitations are. However, it might be time to start talking about their strengths, because with six home games left in the final ten, they could be a factor in the Big Sky.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sacramento State Beats Weber State At The Buzzer

A lot happened before the final 15 seconds of this game, but they weren't nearly as exciting as the final 15 seconds. Let's run down the scene:

- Weber State had the ball, trailing 71-70. Davion Berry had the ball up top, and they called a handcheck foul on Sacramento State (which did seem to be a weak call). Sac State coach Brian Katz protested on the sideline, and got called for the quickest technical I've seen in a while. With the technical and the foul call, Davion Berry went to the line shooting 4.

- Berry missed the two technical foul shots, but then made the two foul shots. 72-71, 15 seconds left.

- The Hornets took the ball down to the other end, and tried to do a handoff at the top of the key. The ball was fumbled, and there was a scramble on the floor, and the whistles blew. I am still not totally sure what the actual call was. Anyway, Randy Rahe started protesting, and he got whistled for a technical foul call that was as quick as the one on Katz. Additionally, Weber State called a timeout when they had no timeouts, resulting in another technical.

- For the second time in 10 seconds, someone was shooting four free throws. This time, it was Mikh McKinney, who made all four. Hornets led 75-72 with just over 6 seconds left.

- Davion Berry got the ball for Weber State, and with 0.7 seconds left on the clock, he drained a 30 footer to tie the game at 75, presumably sending it to double OT.

- Dylan Garrity said not so fast, draining the 75 footer.


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Dylan Garrity Makes 75 Footer To Beat Weber State

The game was unreal. More to come, but here is the final shot, courtesy of the twitter account of Brandon Fessler:

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