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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