Friday, March 28, 2014

Postseason Stuff

My wife and I are on vacation this upcoming week, and then I have a few posts planned for when I get back. Here is what I am still planning to post before the offseason:

- My Big Sky Awards (Pt 2)
- Idaho primer
- Early rankings for next year
- Update recruiting roundup

Anything else you want to see before the blog goes into hibernation mode?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Big Sky Awards, Part 1

The Big Sky awards were revealed a couple of weeks ago, and for the most part, I think they were good choices. However, I still wanted to go through and give my thoughts on the awards, who I'd choose, and the other top candidates.

Player of the Year
Actual Choice: Davion Berry, Weber State
My Choice: Davion Berry
Other Candidates: Kareem Jamar, Troy Huff, Derrick Barden
Comments: It was almost a foregone conclusion that Berry would win the award, as it usually goes to the best player on the best team, but should he have? Berry and Jamar are basically neck and neck, so neither would be a bad choice, but I pick Berry for a couple reasons:

- Statistically, a big edge for Jamar is that he grabs 17.9% of defensive rebounds, while Berry is at 12.8%, a big difference. However, Berry plays alongside an elite rebounder in Joel Bolomboy, while Jamar does not, which makes it easier for him to grab rebounds.
- They are about equally good shooters and passers. However, Berry is a little better from downtown, shooting 40% on threes compared to 34% for Jamar.
- Berry is better at getting to the free throw line which gives him more opportunities for freebies. Also, he is an 82% foul shooter compared to 71% for Jamar.

Either way, both guys would be good choices, but I would choose Berry. Derrick Barden would be another solid option for his efficient offense and rebounding, but I think Berry does more things at a high level. Similarly, Troy Huff is not a bad pick as he is a better rebounder than Berry/Jamar and led the conference in steals, but he loses some points for his offensive efficiency and the fact that he is a far worse passer than the other two guys.

Newcomer of the Year
Actual Choice: Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona
My Choice: Quinton Upshur
Other Candidates: Kyle Richardson of Portland State
Comments: Upshur had an excellent debut season for the Jacks, and got better and better as the season went on. He has deep range, and shoots efficiently inside the arc as well. He pokes away some steals as well, with a 3.4 steal percentage. He is not a great passer or rebounder, but he is a very good scorer for them. Certainly a case could be made for Kyle Richardson of Portland State, who was really one of the best big men in the conference by the end of the year, but I think Upshur was the right choice.

Freshman of the Year
Actual Choice: Jeremy Senglin, Weber State
My Choice: Jeremy Senglin
Other Candidates: Jordan Wilson of Northern Colorado, Kris Yanku of Northern Arizona, Mario Dunn of Montana
Comments: Senglin had a steady debut season, showcasing some offensive skills (including 40% shooting on threes). He needs to become a better passer, but he showed he is capable of running the offense and should be slotted in for the Wildcats. He played almost 75% of the team's minutes and started from day one on the conference champ, which tells you what the coaches think of him. You could make a case for the other PGs as well. Dunn is the best defensive player of the group and will be an all-conference guy eventually. Yanku got better as the season went along and is perhaps the most important guy in NAU's program right now. Wilson was great for UNC as a freshman, showing some signs of good offense, as well as excellent on-ball defense. All four guys are worthy, and the fact that four PGs like this enter the Big Sky as freshmen is a great sign, but I would give Senglin the nod.

Sixth Man of the Year
Actual Choice: Jamal Webb of North Dakota and DaShaun Wiggins of Portland State
My Choice: Tim Huskisson, Northern Colorado
Other Candidates: Wiggins
Comments: Neither of the choices were bad at all. Webb was a steady guard off the bench, after starting the previous three seasons. Wiggins was even better... he was one of the best in the country at drawing fouls, and was a super efficient offensive players. He was a fine choice. However, my selection would be Huskisson, who started 12 of 32 games for the Bears. He was an efficient scorer and versatile defender. He still struggles at times with consistency, but he still has the ceiling of being a star.

Defensive Player of the Year
Actual Choice: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
My Choice: Joel Bolomboy
Other Candidates: Jamal Webb, Derrick Barden
Comments: Bolomboy is an excellent anchor of the defense, with his size, quickness, and leaping ability. He gobbles up every rebound (28.2% DR%). His blocks were down, but he still impacted many shots. Bolomboy could be a POY as soon as next season in the Big Sky.

Coach of the Year
Actual Choice: Randy Rahe, Weber State
My Choice: Jack Murphy, Northern Arizona
Other Candidates: Rahe, Brian Katz
Comments: I can't argue with Rahe too much, as he is a great coach, but Murphy would have been my choice. It is simply about expectations vs actual results. Weber State was predicted first, and that is where they finished. However, NAU was predicted near the bottom of the conference, lost their best returner right before the season... and still finished third with a ton of newcomers. He did a great coaching job this season.

What are your thoughts? In the next week or two I should have time to go through and give my all-conference teams, and I suspect I will have a lot more differences compared to what the actual selections were than I do here.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Weber State Battles, But Falls to Arizona

In the end, Weber State was not to be the first 16 seed to topple a one seed, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Wildcats of Weber State battled down to the final buzzer, losing to Arizona 68-59 to end the Big Sky season. We talked about how Arizona is possibly the best defensive team in the country - and that was shown in this game - but Weber State was not intimidated, and even managed to make things interesting down the stretch.

Weber State shot 30% from the floor, and still found a way to make Arizona sweat. They should be proud of their efforts.

Weber State got off to an early 7-0 run, but Arizona moved quickly to take back the lead, going on a 32-13 run the rest of the first half. For long stretches, Weber State was just not able to get enough buckets to stay in the game. However, they just kept attacking. Davion Berry was just 5/20 FG, but he made shots down the stretch, and stayed aggressive going to the hoop, finishing with 10 free throw attempts. It was a nice end to a great two year career in purple for him, as he was clearly not afraid of the big stage.

Another guy that showcased himself was big man Joel Bolomboy, who finished with 16 rebounds, seven of them offensive. As we have said really since he got to Weber State - his offensive game is not polished, but he is an NBA level rebounder and athlete in the frontcourt. Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the game he thought Bolomboy would be an NBA player, and it's hard to disagree.

It was an up and down year for the Big Sky, as evidenced by the 16 seed that Weber State received. However, the Wildcats represented themselves and the Big Sky well, playing a great team very tough, never backing down, and never letting up, even when the Arizona lead grew in the second half. It was a great learning experience for the young guys (Jeremy Senglin was the freshman of the year in the conference, but fellow freshman Richaud Gittens could be an all-conference player very soon), and a great showcase for the program, especially after they came up just short the last couple of seasons.

In the end, perhaps the highest praise came from Miller, who said this after the game:

"Weber is one of the best teams we've played all season," Miller said. "We've played some of the great teams in college basketball and I don't care what the name of their conference is or what they say on their shirt."
Great game, and an excellent season for a great program.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

What Can Weber State Do To Have a Chance?

Obviously, you know that a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. The odds are not just stacked against Weber State, they would have to make history to advance and beat Arizona. On paper, certainly, Arizona is the heavy favorite, but that's why they play the games. Here are some keys for the game that would help give Weber State a puncher's chance:

- Make outside shots - This is key for anyone trying to pull off a big upset - you have to be able to hit shots. Arizona is perhaps the best defensive team in the country - you are not going to break them down and get to the rim. Weber State is a very athletic team, but Arizona is even more athletic. Teams shoot 40.5% on twos against Arizona, second lowest rate in the country. To have a shot, Weber needs to make some threes, and they do have the shooters to be able to do that.

-  Force Arizona bigs into foul trouble - Without Brandon Ashley, Arizona is perhaps most susceptible if you can get their big men into foul trouble (especially Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon). Weber is a good team at drawing fouls, especially Davion Berry. I know I said they need to make a lot of threes, but they could also benefit from Berry trying to get to the rim, and ideally forcing some fouls.

- Don't let Arizona get second chance shots - Weber State is not a team that forces turnovers, and that will not change today.But, they are a good defensive rebounding team, and that trait needs to hold today. Once they force a miss, they HAVE to get the defensive rebound - you can't give up free baskets to teams as good as Arizona. Joel Bolomboy is one of the best rebounders in the nation, and he'll have to show it today.

- Survive the first ten minutes - I know that Weber State is confident they can go in there and shock the world - you simply wouldn't be a competitor if you didn't believe that no matter the odds. But if Arizona gets off to a big start right away, some of that belief could fade a little bit. They have to start out strong, and be at least even or close to it after the first ten minutes. Build up a little momentum, and the crowd will be on your side, at least the neutral fans that are in the house.

That is the anatomy of a Weber State upset. Ken Pomeroy's odds give them a 4% chance to win the game. If they are going to shock the world, these four keys will likely be a big part of it.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brad Huse Resigns as Montana State Head Coach

In a surprising turn of events, Montana State head coach Brad Huse has resigned. He signed a two year contract extension after last season, but the Bobcats missed the conference tournament after a 9-11 Big Sky mark.

From the Montana Standard:

Brad Huse has resigned his position as head coach of the men’s basketball team at Montana State University, the school announced today.

Huse made the move after meeting with athletic director Peter Fields earlier in the day.

“Brad offered his resignation during a meeting this morning and I have accepted it,” Fields said in a statement. “I want to thank him for his effort, dedication and integrity. I wish Brad and his family nothing but the best.”

Huse recently completed his eighth year as the Bobcats’ head basketball coach, amassing a 107-133 overall record. The Bobcats finished with 14-17 record this season.

Fields said that a search for Huse’s replacement will begin immediately. He hopes that the process will not take long but said that, “hiring the right person is the most important factor.”
No matter your thoughts on Huse as a coach (and Montana State fans have plenty of things to say), from all accounts Huse is a stand-up guy, and we wish him well.

I thought there would be a good chance we would have no coaching openings in the Big Sky (unless Wayne Tinkle or Randy Rahe leave for greener pastures), but suddenly, the Montana State job is open.

If I had to speculate, it was more of a firing than a straight-up resignation, but I have no inside information there - just guessing. Not many young coaches resign one year into a two year deal.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Big Sky Teams Postseason Tournaments

We know about Weber State in the NCAA Tournament, but they are not the only team that will be playing postseason basketball.

Big Sky runner-up North Dakota will be playing in the CIT for the fourth straight season. In the opening round Wednesday, they will take on Nebraska-Omaha.

Northern Colorado also got a berth in the CIT, and they will get to host a game to boot. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi will come to Greeley on Wednesday night.

Last, Portland State also got the invite to the CIT, and they will travel to take on San Diego on Tuesday night. The berth is great validation for Tyler Geving and his club, who has such a strong finish to the season.

The focus this time of year is on the NCAA Tournament, but it is a good sign for the Big Sky that three other teams are playing in postseason tournaments. We'll be following along with everyone here!

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A Brief Look at Arizona

By now, you know that Weber State drew the 16 seed in the West, and will take on Arizona in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Let's take a brief look at Arizona, and what we know of them.

For a lot of the year, Arizona was ranked #1 in the country, as they started things off by winning 21 straight games. They finished 30-4, losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament final.

Star forward Brandon Ashley (sidenote: Arizona has a lot of stars) got hurt in the 22nd game against California. It might be worth noting that Arizona was 21-0 with him, and 9-4 without him.

Arizona is led by Nick Johnson, a first team All-American and a guy that is really an excellent player. This year, he averaged 16.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 2.8 APG. He can score from the outside (36%), inside (49% on twos), and is good at getting to the free throw line (169 attempts this year, shooting 77%). Other guys to watch for include Aaron Gordon (a super athletic freshman who will be a high draft pick this year), and TJ McConnell (a transfer from Duquesne who is an excellent passer). As you would expect from a number one seed, Arizona has no shortage of talent, athletes, or depth in a game like this.

In terms of defensive efficiency, Arizona is the best defensiv team in the country, allowing 0.87 PPP (by comparison, Weber State allows 1.06 PPP). Teams shoot just 40.5% on twos against them, second best rate in the country. Also, the Wildcats are great on the defensive glass, and opponents have the sixth worst offensive rebounding percentage against them of any team in the country. Baskets will be tough to come by.

Offensively, Arizona is 35th in the country at 1.13 PPP (again for comparison, Weber State is at 1.06 PPP). Their best weapon as been scoring inside the paint... they aren't a great three-point shooting team, and they get 57% of their points with two-pointers. They will look to go inside.

Obviously, Weber State will have their work cut out for them. No 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed. The Wildcats are 30-4 for a reason! As the week goes on, though, we'll look at what Weber State has to do to have a puncher's chance in this game.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where Will Weber State Get Seeded?

Now that we know Weber State is going dancing, the next intrigue comes from wondering if they can stay off the 16 seed line. According to a lot of the bracket experts I am seeing, that will be tough.

I asked a couple bracket experts right after the game, and at that time, they had Weber State slotted as the highest rated 16 seed, and potentially looking at being out in the West bracket against Arizona.

As of the time of this writing (Saturday night), Jerry Palm at CBS has Weber State on the 16 seed line also taking on Arizona.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN has them as a 15 seed against Wisconsin in the West bracket.

We will find out on Sunday.

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Weber State Is Going Dancing

In their third straight Big Sky Championship game, Weber State was just not going to be denied. After their overtime win over Northern Colorado in the semifinals, there was some thought that they might be a little tired after having to go an extra frame in a physical game. However, they put any notions of that to rest very quickly.

Weber State beat North Dakota 88-67, and they are your Big Sky champions.

The Wildcats came out firing in this game, hitting their first six shots and 10 of their first 11. Before UND knew what hit them, the score was 18-6 and the crowd was very much in the game. North Dakota did a really good job of hanging around, but they could just never full recover, and were forced to play from behind the whole game.

Weber State got things going by hitting their outside shot, and that stayed with them the whole way. They finished 10/21 from behind the arc, and always seemed to have a big shot in them whenever one was needed. The defining moment of the game may have been at the end of the first half... UND scratched and clawed to get the game back to 41-34, only to see Davion Berry drain the three at the buzzer, and turn around to have Damian Lillard, sitting in the front row, there to high-five. It was that kind of night for Berry (19 points) and the Wildcats.

In the second half, with UND forced to respect the outside shot, it became the Kyle Tresnak show. He was unstoppable in the second half, playing perhaps the best game of his career. He scored a career high 27 points on 11/15 FG, and 5/5 from the charity stripe. He was great.

For North Dakota, it's a tough end for a great group of seniors who accomplished so much, but won't get a taste of the NCAA Tournament. Guys like Troy Huff, Aaron Anderson, Jamal Webb, Josh Schuler, and Brandon Brekke (though he battled injury problems) really lifted the program to another level. They have a lot to be proud of. In this one, Josh Schuler and Jamal Webb didn't play (well, Webb very sparingly) and that hurt them, but I'm not sure it would have made a difference with the way Weber State was playing.

Weber State had 55 wins the past two seasons but couldn't get over the hump in the championship game. This year, they did it emphatically. At 19-11, Weber State is going to the NCAA Tournament. They are a great program, and you have to be happy for those guys and the coaching staff! Now let's go win an NCAA Tournament game!

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Weber State Outlasts Northern Colorado

At times in the second half, it looked like Weber State was in control of the game. At the final media timeout, an and-1 by Richaud Gittens put Weber State up 55-48, and the light seemed to be closing on Northern Colorado. However, they scored the next seven points of regulation, and had the chance to win on a last second shot, but Tate Unruh's jumper rimmed out.

Overtime basically followed the same pattern. Davion Berry led with five straight points, and the Bears were playing from behind again. Just when things started to look bleak, down seven with a little over a minute left, they clawed back. Derrick Barden hit a three. After Jordan Richardson hit one of two, Barden scored again. Tevin Svihovec forced a turnover, and then hit a bucket. Just like that, it was 64-63.

But then Berry showed why he is the Big Sky Player of the Year... he hit an acrobatic driving shot, giving the Wildcats the 66-63 lead with 10 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, the Wildcats did a great job at denying Unruh the ball, and Jordan Wilson's prayer at the buzzer went unanswered. 66-63, Weber State headed to the Big Sky championship.

There are many stars for UNC (Cody McDavis playing the best game of his career), but a quick word on Tate Unruh and Derrick Barden. Since I live a little over an hour from Greeley, I've seen them in person 20 times over the last three years. Each of these guys had great UNC careers. Barden's athletic ability was almost unreal at times, and Unruh had the purest shooting stroke I've seen. I'll miss watching those guys.

For Weber State, I'm sure they'll be the first to tell you it wasn't their best game. They couldn't get buckets inside in the second half (Kyle Tresnak was scoreless after halftime), but it's all about surviving and advancing. Freshmen like Richaud Gittens and Kyndahl Hill made big plays, and they'll be great players sooner rather than later. Berry made the plays when it counted. In the end, all that matters and all they care about is they are playing in the title game on their home court, with a trip to the Big Dance on the line.

It is games like this where you are reminded that sports is a zero sum game. Northern Colorado deserves better than a loss and a heartbreaking end to their season, but that is unfortunately what they get, because somebody always has to lose. There are no moral victories in March, but eventually they will be proud of the effort they gave in this game.

That was a heck of basketball game.

Saturday night - North Dakota vs Weber State. Everything the teams have been working for, all comes down to that game. Can't wait to get it started!

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North Dakota Advances to Big Sky Title Game

In their second year in the Big Sky, and second year of full DI eligibility, North Dakota will be playing for a spot in the Big Dance. In the first semifinal, they beat Portland State 79-63, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back.

UND jumped out of the gates by pounding the ball inside with great efficiency, and hitting the glass whenever they missed. They couldn't hit outside shots all game (1/9 from three), but they still scored 79 by getting it down low, and grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. Early, it was Jaron Nash (13 points, 6 rebounds and Alonzo Traylor (8 points - all early) that led the way, getting UND a big start.

As the game wore on, PSU had a tough time containing Aaron Anderson, who was brilliant once again. He had 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, constantly getting to the bucket with his quick acceleration. Troy Huff struggled from the floor again (3/14 FG), but his aggressive attacking at the basket led to a 12/15 night from the charity stripe.

All night, North Dakota never let up offensively. Though their field goal percentage doesn't look great, their offensive rebounding and free throw totals tell the story. They were constantly attacking the basket and getting it inside, and PSU just couldn't find ways to slow them down with their four-guard lineups.

It's a tough end to the season for Portland State, thought there are still many reasons to be proud. When they were sitting at 6-8 in the conference with a tough schedule down the stretch, I'm not sure anyone expected that their season would end in the Big Sky semifinals. Though they need to find some frontcourt players, they will still return a lot of talent next season.

But this was North Dakota's day. They played without key reserve Josh Schuler (out after McKinney's foul last night), but it didn't matter. On Saturday night, they play for their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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Big Sky Semifinals Preview

And then there were four. Let's take a quick preview of each game.

(1) Weber State vs (6) Northern Colorado
In their first meeting, UNC ran the Wildcats out of the gym, using pressure defense and great offense to blow them out in the second half. In the second meeting, it was Weber State who won comfortably, making 12/20 threes. As I said last night, this game will come down to which Northern Colorado team shows up - the one that dominated NAU on both ends for 30 minutes, or the one that nearly blew a 20 point lead in 9 minutes. We have seen both iterations this year.

Things start for the Bears on the defensive end, where they have allowed 1.13 PPP in conference play, second to last. They simply haven't been able to get stops over the second half of the conference season, which is bad because Weber's offense has been getting better. On the other side, UNC is an excellent offensive team, and they shoot 54.9% on twos in Big Sky play. However, Weber State has solid interior defense, led by the Defensive POY in the conference in Joel Bolomboy.

For UNC, the key is to take at least one of Weber's big men out of the game, either by foul trouble or by wearing them down. The second key is to force the young backcourt into making some mistakes. That is what happened in the first meeting between the teams. However, I think the Wildcats have outgrown some of those issues. The Bears can hang in this for awhile because of their offense, but I don't think they can get enough stops, especially on the road. Weber State 77, Northern Colorado 67.

(2) North Dakota vs (5) Portland State
UND probably did not expect that Portland State would be their opponent, but it sets up an interesting match and what should be a great game. KenPom pegs it as almost even, and it's hard to argue. They split their season meetings, and both looked impressive yesterday.

The key to this game could be turnovers. Both defenses are at their best when they are pressuring teams and forcing turnovers, as they have the two highest turnovers forced rates in the Big Sky during conference play. Both teams defenses break down after the initial line of defense (if you get in the lane against UND, two points can basically be put on the board), so it's important to force turnovers.

To me, North Dakota has the slight edge in this game because they are a little better offensively. Troy Huff struggled yesterday, but he will be the best player on the court. Additionally, a lot of UND role players are really stepping up - I can't say enough about Aaron Anderson (who is always underrated), and guys like Josh Schuler and Cole Stefan are playing well. Both teams have their defensive struggles at times, but when one team needs a few buckets during the doldrums of the second half, I trust UND a little bit more to get those baskets. North Dakota 79, Portland State 75.

Your predictions?

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day One Is In The Books

With three quarterfinal games of the Big Sky tournament on Thursday, we knew we'd get some great games. Fortunately, we were treated to all three games coming down to the end. Let's take a quick recap of what happened.

North Dakota 79, Sacramento State 76
This one was consistently entertaining from start to finish, with both teams making plays offensively throughout. The Hornets build up a lead in the second half, but North Dakota stayed right in it, made some free throws down the stretch, and got a stop when they needed it. The Hornets were led by their strong backcourt, as always. Mikh McKinney led the way with 24 points and 7 assists, practically living at the foul line in the second half. His backcourt mate Dylan Garrity had 18 points and six rebounds, draining all four threes that he attempted. Cody Demps was big as well, with 15 points.

But North Dakota just had too many weapons in this game, and hit lots of big shots down the stretch. The star at the end was Aaron Anderson, who kept making plays. He finished with 16 points and four assists. The other guy that I thought really stepped up for them was Josh Schuler, who had 11 points and four assists off the bench, and just kept making big play after big play. The senior was huge when UND needed him most. He did get tackled a bit by McKinney at the end of the game (McKinney was desperately trying to foul, not a dirty play at all, just had a bad ending), so it remains to be seen his status going forward.

For the Hornets, it's a bitter loss since they were so close to the win, but they can at least take solace in the fact that they should be back next year, and be one of the favorites in the Big Sky. North Dakota advances to play another day, and that's all you can ask for at this point in the season!

Northern Colorado 62, Northern Arizona 60
For a while, it looked like the Northern Colorado club we saw to begin the conference season - the one that was obliterating opponents, unstoppable on offense, and relentless on defense. With nine minutes to play, they led by 20. But NAU is a resilient club, and they just kept chipping away, until suddenly it was 62-60 and the Jacks had the ball with the chance to tie or win. Quinton Upshur's shot at the end didn't fall, but it was a great effort getting back in the game. NAU fed big man Max Jacobson all game, and he was excellent in his swan song, with 18 points. Aaseem Dixon was another star, with 20 off the bench, keying the comeback with three pointer after three pointer. Like Sac State, they will be back and even better next season.

For the Bears, if they play like they did the first 30 minutes, they absolutely can beat Weber State. If they play like they did down the stretch, they'll get blown out. Tevin Svihovec led the charge early, and finished with 14 points. Derrick Barden had 15, and Tate Unruh had 12 points. They remain, even now, a mystifying team, and that was certainly on display on Thursday. Hopefully we will see the "Good UNC" on Friday, because when they are clicking, there is not a more fun team to watch in the Big Sky.

Portland State 70, Montana 63
Just like that, Montana's title defense is over. Portland State did something nobody has been able to do for a couple years... beat Montana in the Big Sky tournament. Montana led much of the first 30 minutes or so, but this was a close game throughout. With four minutes left, the game was very much in doubt... but from then on, the Vikings could do no wrong.

Montana struggled from the outside, shooting 1/10 from three-point range. Kareem Jamar was 0/5 from deep, and just couldn't get a jumper to fall all game, though he still finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He had an amazing career (hopefully I will write more on that soon), but it was a tough final game. Credit should go to PSU defensively... it was the best defensive game I've seen them play. They were flying around, and packing the paint.

Offensively, the Vikings were excellent as well, and hit a lot of tough shots, and attacked the rim hard. Kyle Richardson continued his string of great performances, finishing with 19. DaShaun Wiggins had 18 off the bench. Gary Winston had 11. The Vikings struggled offensively early, but really found their groove in the second half. They absolutely can win the Big Sky tournament the way that they are playing right now.

Still, it was odd to see Montana fall. Since I started writing this blog, they have reigned supreme in the Big Sky, winning the title each of the last two seasons. Their string of four straight conference title game appearances is outstanding. It has been fun watching Kareem Jamar throughout his career. In applauding Portland State for their win, we must applaud the Grizzlies on their way out.

The semifinals are set -

(1) Weber State vs. (6) Northern Colorado
(2) North Dakota vs. (5) Portland State

Previews to hopefully come in the morning! Any thoughts?

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scouting Report: Montana vs Portland State

The final opening round matchup features the fourth seeded Montana Grizzlies against the 5th seeded Portland State Vikings. Their two meetings this year were pretty epic.

First meeting in Portland - Portland State beat Montana 81-78 in three overtimes!
Second meeting in Missoula - Montana won 82-76 in overtime. You may remember the end of regulation.

So, will the third matchup live up to the great games we saw in the first two meetings?

Why Montana Can Win:
Before losing their finale against Northern Arizona, the Grizzlies had won five straight games. Offensively, we know they'll be able to get buckets against the Vikings. While they scored just 1.01 PPP in the first meeting, they had 1.22 PPP in the second meeting. During conference play, Montana had the second best offense in the conference, while PSU's defense was seventh. Moreover, PSU's strength as a defense is in forcing turnovers, but the Grizzlies had the lowest turnover rate in the Big Sky thanks to their many ballhandlers. They can handle any Vikings pressure, and should be able to break down the defense and get to the hoop, with no real rim protectors for the Vikings.

Defensively, the Vikings aren't built to take advantage of Montana's weaknesses - in the post and on the glass. PSU is not a good offensive rebounding team, which is good for Montana because they are the worst defensive rebounding team in the conference. While Kyle Richardson could have a big game for PSU, no other big is able to take advantage of Montana's lack of frontcourt power.

The other factor is simply that Montana plays their best in the conference tournament. They are the two time reigning champion, so you know they'll be confident heading into this game. Wayne Tinkle is a great coach, and he should have a great gameplan ready. Kareem Jamar has had some of his best games when it matters most, so you know he will be bringing it. That experience will be huge.

Why Portland State Can Win:
Of all the first round matchups PSU could have drawn, Montana might be the best. For the same reasons that PSU isn't really built to take advantage of Montana's weaknesses, the reverse is true. PSU will sometimes play four and five guard sets, and the Grizzlies don't have any big men skilled enough to take advantage of that. Heck, the Grizzlies would probably prefer to play four guard sets themselves with Kareem Jamar at the four! That suits Portland State just fine.

Portland State is a good but not great outside shooting team (though they do have a few guys that can hurt you if you give them looks) but they have been excelling at getting easy baskets. They have shot 54.0% on two-pointers in Big Sky play, second best in the league. Montana's defense has been allowing teams to shoot 53.4% on twos, third worst in the league. You can make the connection. Without much in the way of interior defense, PSU will have opportunities to get to the rim and get easy baskets in the half-court.

Last, momentum is an overrated concept, but the Vikings do come into this game playing their best ball of the season. They won 5 of 6 just to make the tournament, including three of four away from home. They really have a nice rotation now that Richardson has established himself in the post, and they have a lot of guys that can hurt you around him. They know they can win this game.

Final Verdict:
This game will be fun because the teams are almost mirror images of each other. Both are very guard-oriented, both have struggle defensively, and both have a lot of backcourt options. We could see 8-9 guards on the court at times. Both meetings were epic this year, and another great battle should be coming. I'll take the Grizzlies for two reasons. One, as mentioned, they have the best coach in the Big Sky and a ton of experience in this spot. Many of PSU's guys have not played in the Big Sky tournament, while Montana obviously has won it two straight years. Second, I think Montana's offense is a little bit better than the Vikings. They will have the best player in this game in Jamar, and I think when things get bogged down, they are more equipped to deal with it. For those reasons, Montana is the pick. Montana 75, Portland State 73.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Scouting Report: Northern Colorado vs Northern Arizona

Let's continue our journey through the first round of the Big Sky tournament with a look at the three seed Northern Arizona Lumberjacks taking on the six seed Northern Colorado Bears.

First meeting in Greeley - Northern Colorado won 87-72
Second meeting in Flagstaff - Northern Colorado won 74-59

Why Northern Arizona Can Win:
Nobody is playing better than NAU coming into the conference tournament, as they come in as winners of four straight. Guys seem to have found their roles, and the freshman are playing better and better. Athletically, they can match up with the Bears. Defensively, a key for NAU will be on the glass. UNC is very good at getting second chances, but NAU was the best defensive rebounding team in the conference during Big Sky play, so they should be able to limit those second opportunities which are so important for the Bears.

The other thing in NAU's favor is that UNC has been playing miserably on defense for the past month or so. During Big Sky play, the Bears are allowing 1.13 PPP (2nd last in Big Sky), and opponents are just killing them inside the arc, shooting 54.2%. There will be plenty of opportunities for the Jacks to get easy baskets, and look for them to attack right at the heart of the Bears defense. UNC has great rebounders and athletes in the frontcourt, but no defensive imposers, and you can attack them down low.

Why Northern Colorado Can Win:
For one thing, they know they can beat NAU, since they have done it twice, winning by 15 points both times. By the seeds, UNC is the underdog, but this is actually a pretty good matchup for them. One thing NAU struggles with defensively is giving up too many open three-point looks (opponents shoot 40.2% from downtown against the Jacks, 4th worst in the nation), and the Bears have plenty of shooters to be able to take advantage of that. UNC had the best offense in the Big Sky, and they have so many different guys that can hurt you, that it will be a challenge for NAU.

When the teams met in Greeley, the Bears were able to use pressure before halfcourt to force NAU into turnovers, and to get them out of their offensive rhythm. I am sure they will be bringing more of that pressure, because NAU struggles at times to take care of the basketball. For a UNC team that has struggled defensively, that could be a way for them to stay in the game.

Final Verdict:
The thing to realize about the Big Sky tournament is that there are no upsets, especially in the first round. All of these teams are very even, and it all comes down to matchups. In this game, I think Northern Colorado's strengths match up better with Northern Arizona's weaknesses better than the other way around. We should be in for an entertaining, efficient offensive games. Even though NAU is undoubtedly the hotter team right now, I like the seniors of Northern Colorado to put together a good tournament game and pull out the win. Northern Colorado 75, Northern Arizona 71.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Davion Berry Named Big Sky Player of the Year

There will be no repeat Big Sky Player of the Year, as Davion Berry of Weber State has been named the conference POY. The award often goes to the best player on the best team, so his winning is no surprise... it is a nice individual achievement for a great senior season from Berry.

Berry was outstanding in every phase of the game, as he was an efficient scorer (64.7% True Shooting Percentage, 31st in the country), a good rebounder (13.7 DR%), excellent passer (28.5 Assist Rate), and solid defender. He has no real weaknesses, and was a big reason why the Wildcats won the regular season title.

Other awards handed out on Tuesday went to Jeremy Senglin (Weber State) as Freshman of the Year, Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona) as Newcomer of the Year, and Joel Bolomboy (Weber State) as Defensive Player of the Year. I hope to do a more thorough look after the season, but upon first glance, it's hard to find fault with any of the selections.

First Team
- Davion Berry (Weber State) - 2nd straight year
- Kareem Jamar (Montana) - 3rd straight year
- Troy Huff (North Dakota) - 2nd straight year
- Mikh McKinney (Sacramento State)
- Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington)
- Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona)

Second Team
- Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado)
- Gary Winston (Portland State)
- Kyle Tresnak (Weber State)
- Chris Hansen (Idaho State)
- Tate Unruh (Northern Colorado)

Honorable Mention
- Venky Jois (Eastern Washington)
- Keron DeShields (Montana)
- Jordan Gregory (Montana)
- Flavien Davis (Montana State)
- Aaron Anderson (North Dakota)
- Jamal Webb (North Dakota)
- Max Jacobson (Northern Arizona)
- DeShaun Wiggins (Portland State)
- Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State)
- Joel Bolomboy (Weber State)

A few quick thoughts:
- I would have put Barden on the first team over Upshur, but I can understand why things were voted the way they were.
- Southern Utah is the only team with no members on any of the all-conference teams. Frankly, it'd be tough to argue otherwise.
- I am not positive when Coach of the Year is awarded, but to me, Jack Murphy should be a shoo-in for that award.
- I think it is kind of a crime that Joel Bolomboy was only an honorable mention. I understand he's not a great offensive weapon, but he is far and away the best rebounder in the conference, and was voted the best defensive player as well. What does a guy have to do to get love on the first two conference teams?

Any other thoughts?

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Scouting Report: North Dakota vs Sacramento State

With the conference tournament this week, we'll take an extended look at each game, and give a little preview. Let's start with the second seed North Dakota taking on the seventh seed Sacramento State.

First Meeting in Grand Forks - North Dakota won 82-71
Second Meeting in Sacramento - Sac State won 71-65

Why North Dakota Can Win:
For starters, they have been here before and have a lot of positive experiences in conference tournaments. In 2011 and 2012, they won the Great West tournament. Last year, they led Weber State for much of the game before falling in the semifinals matchup. They have a ton of seniors, and so the stage will not be too big. Contrasting that are the Hornets, making their first trip to the Big Sky Tournament in a while.

North Dakota should be able to attack the Hornets offensively, and be able to get into the lane and score. Teams are shooting 52.8% on two-pointers against Sac State this year (316th best in the country for the Hornets, while North Dakota is 58th in the nation shooting 51.5%. They should be able to get some easy buckets. In the teams' first meeting, UND shot 22/30 on twos and got to the free throw line 31 times... if those numbers are close to duplicated, they will win going away.

On that note, North Dakota has been effective at drawing fouls and getting to the line, while the Hornets have struggled to keep opponents away from the charity stripe. UND has the chance to get easy points there. If Troy Huff makes seven of more trips to the foul line, that is a key indicator on if UND is being aggressive going to the rim, in which case their offense is likely very effective. If they are forcing threes, they will likely lose.

Why Sacramento State Can Win:
North Dakota's defense is at its best when it is speeding teams up and forcing turnovers, as UND's turnover rate forced of 21.2% is in the top 30 nationally. When North Dakota is not forcing turnovers, their defense is not very good. That could be good news for the Hornets, who have two excellent ballhandlers in Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney, and have generally been good at taking care of the ball this year.

Once they break UND's pressure, it should be easy buckets galore. Teams this year have shot 55.1% on twos and 37.5% on threes against UND this year, and the Hornets are above average offensively in both phases. They are especially good from behind the arc, making 36.7% of their shots this year. Guys like Garrity, McKinney, and Zach Mills will have some open looks from outside, and if they are falling, the Hornets should have no trouble scoring.

As mentioned in the North Dakota section, the Hornets need to do whatever they can to pack the paint and force UND to take outside shots. In the first meeting, UND was 4/15 from behind the arc, but was so good inside it and at the foul line that they still won. In Sacramento, the Hornets held them to 6/21 from outside while doing better work at not fouling and contesting shots. The Hornets need to force UND to beat them from outside at any costs. If guys like Huff and Jaron Nash starting hitting threes, you have to live with that.

Final Verdict:
This game should be excellent because both teams will be able to attack the other offensively. They will both have opportunities to score, and be scored on, and the game will come down to whoever can get the other out of their normal offensive gameplan. When in doubt, I'll go with the team that has plenty of big game experience throughout their careers, and that is North Dakota. I think they'll be a little better in this game, but the Hornets should take solace in the fact that they will be back even better next season. North Dakota 77, Sacramento State 72.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Big Sky Tournament Matchups Are Set

After Saturday's games, the Big Sky tournament matchups are officially set.

Condolences to Eastern Washington, who loses the tiebreaker for the final seed in the tournament to Portland State and Sacramento State. Their only solace is that they have no seniors on the roster, and they should be very good next season. Also, missing out were Idaho State, Montana State, and Southern Utah.

Here are the matchups:

(1) Weber State - bye

(2) North Dakota vs (7) Sacramento State
Regular season meetings: They split their two meetings, with each team winning on their home floor.

(3) Northern Arizona vs (6) Northern Colorado
Regular season meetings: UNC swept the season series, winning by 10 in Greeley and 15 in Flagstaff.

(4) Montana vs (5) Portland State
Regular season meetings: They split their season meetings... PSU won in 3 OT's in Portland, and the Grizzlies won in one OT in Missoula.

As a reminder, the semifinals get re-seeded, so Weber State will take on the lowest seeded winner, whoever that may be. If all the seeds hold, we would get treated to a Weber State/Montana semifinal, which would be fun!

Any early predictions? We will have much more analysis and a breakdown of all the matchups as the week goes on.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Big Sky Scenarios

Well, let's take a crack at this thing. I will almost certainly get something wrong in this post, and I'm not sure I can be completely exhaustive of all the possibilities, so be sure to double check anything if you are unsure about it, and post any corrections. For a refresher, I don't think we'll need to go past these two tie breakers:

1. Head-to-Head Competition

a. Consider the head-to-head record during the Conference season. In double round robin play a team would have to sweep the opponent to break a tie with this method.

b. In the case of more than two tied teams, consider the Conference regular season record for head-to-head competition among all of the tied teams. This process is used to break ties between any of the tied teams with any remaining tied teams returning to the process at criteria 1.a. (above). (Example: Teams A, B, C, and D have identical record from a double round robin season. In head-to-head competition Team A emerges with 4-2 record against the other tied teams, team B and Team C have a 3-3 record and team D has a 2-4 record. Teams A and D can be placed in the final standings at that point while teams B and C return to criteria 1.a. If B and C have split their regular Conference season games, they will move to criteria 2. Performance against other teams in descending order.)

c. In the case of three or more teams having identical win-loss records, the normal tie-breaking procedure would be used. When one or more of these teams is eliminated by using the tie-breaking procedure, the remaining teams involved would then return to the criteria listed in a., above, to break the tie. This will be done until a team is established for that particular seeding position.

2. Performance against Conference teams in descending order of finish, beginning with the No.1 team. (Example: Teams B and C remained tied after head-to-head criteria from above. Team A has been declared the Conference Champion based on the above criteria. Team B has split the Conference season games with team A and team C has lost both of the Conference games to team A. Team B is now placed in second place ahead of team C.)

So, let's take a look at each team:

Weber State
- They have still clinched the top seed and home-court advantage, but are playing for the outright conference title.

- If they beat NAU, they are the 2 seed. If they lose, they fall to the 4 seed.

North Dakota
- They are done playing now. If Montana wins, UND is the 3 seed. If NAU beats Montana, UND is the 2 seed, so they are guaranteed a top 3 spot.

Northern Arizona
- With a win, they are the 3 seed. If they lose, where they fall will depend on tiebreakers. Either way, they are in the tournament.

Eastern Washington
- If they win, they are in.
- If they lose, they are still in if MSU wins or if UNC loses (or both). They swept both of those teams so they look good if it comes down to a tiebreaker. Consequently, they are out if with a loss and a UNC win, and a SAC win.
- If they lose, they should be rooting for PSU to win, because they don't fare as well in a tiebreaker against the Vikings.

Northern Colorado
- If they win, they are in.
- The biggest wrench in all of these scenarios involves UNC losing to SUU, which could set up 3 and 4 team tiebreakers. In these scenarios, they are out if they lose and at least one of EWU and PSU loses and Sac State wins, since they were swept by both of those teams.
- If they lose, they can survive if MSU wins, PSU wins, and EWU loses. In that case, MSU would be the team on the outside.

Portland State
- If they win, they are in.
- If they lose, they are out if EWU wins and MSU wins and UNC wins. That would put the tiebreaker between MSU and PSU, and PSU would lose.
- If they lose, they are still in good shape is MSU loses or UNC loses, since

Montana State
- Their simplest path in involves a win, and a loss by Portland State, and a win by Eastern Washington. They own the tiebreak with PSU, but would lose the tiebreak to EWU. By my calculations, they would lose the tiebreak if it was a 3 way tie.
- If they lose, they're out.
- They are in also with a win, and losses by EWU, PSU, and UNC. In that case, UNC would lose the tiebreak and be out of the tournament.

Sacramento State
- Their simplest way in is a win, and a loss by Eastern Washington. They would then beat EWU in head to head tiebreak.
- If they lose, they're out.
- They are in with a win and losses by UNC and at least one of EWU and PSU (if they both lose, that works for SAC as well).

Idaho State
-They are now out, with their loss and the wins by EWU and PSU.

I'm I will add more as the day goes on... but that is all the scenarios I can think of at the moment!

Many thanks to @corner3s who was a big help in figuring these all out!

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thursday Night Predictions

Almost all teams have two games left (UND and UNC have one each), which basically means that every single game the rest of the way will have major implications on the Big Sky tournament race. So, on the penultimate night of the Big Sky regular season, of course we'll break down the games and offer some predictions on what happens.

North Dakota (12-7) @ Southern Utah (0-18)
Southern Utah is down to two more chances to get a win and salvage something at the end of the year. They have lost 26 games, but it isn’t for lack of trying, so you know they’ll at least give it all they’ve got. North Dakota, meanwhile, knows that with a win and a Montana loss in either of their last two games, they will clinch the two seed. Either way, they’ll clinch a top 3 seed with a win, meaning they would avoid Weber State until the title game (if both teams made if that far). When the teams met in Grand Forks, SUU probably should have won, but UND snuck it out. This time around, North Dakota is playing a lot better basketball, and I think they should get the win more comfortably.
North Dakota 73, Southern Utah 63

Montana (11-7) @ Sacramento State (9-9)
Sacramento State is desperate and at home, which is usually a good combination for a win. Don’t be alarmed that they dropped two on the road last week – they are still a good team. This will be an interesting game in that it won’t be that high scoring (Montana is 344th in pace, and the Hornets aren’t that much faster), but it should be an efficient offensive game, featuring two good offenses and mediocre defenses. A Hornets win could set up a potential rematch next week in the 3 vs 6 game, which would be a fun one to watch. This will come down to the wire, but I’ll go with the playmaking abilities of Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney to pull out the big home win.
Sacramento State 68, Montana 65

Montana State (9-9) @ Northern Arizona (10-8)
Montana State is the toughest team to predict, because there is often no rhyme or reason to when they will perform well, or not perform well. NAU is similar... the last two weeks they lost two at home, and then followed it up by winning two on the road, ending Weber State's record long conference home winning streak. You can throw out any trends coming into this one, because they just don't matter. I do like NAU in this game, however, because I just think they are a better team. I think Quinton Upshur will be the best buy on the court, and Kris Yanku has a knack for making big plays, so that's why I'm going with the Lumberjacks. But I don't really good confident in the pick!
Northern Arizona 70, Montana State 67

Weber State (13-5) @ Portland State (9-9)
Weber State obviously still wants to win the Big Sky title outright, but PSU might have a little break in that they will certainly be more motivated to win than the Wildcats. However, I think Weber is a bad matchup for them... Tresnak and Bolomboy will own the inside.Kyle Richardson has been playing well down low for the Vikings, but he won't have enough help in this game. I like Weber to get a close road win.
Weber State 75, Portland State 70

Idaho State (8-10) @ Eastern Washington (9-9)
Idaho State knows they have to win both of their final games to have a chance to make the Big Sky tournament, and Eastern Washington knows they don't want to rely on beating Weber State in order to make it. So, this one obviously is huge. One thing working against ISU is that they have a tendency to give up good looks on threes with their zone defense, and that is the Eagles strength. I expect EWU will shoot as many as 30 threes in this game, and make enough of them to get the home win, crushing the Bengals postseason dreams in the process.
Eastern Washington 79, Idaho State 75

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Breakdown of Race For the Final Spots

As we have talked about, with one week to go, we essentially know two things - Weber State will host the tournament and be the #1 seed, and Southern Utah will finish last. That is the breadth of our knowledge.

As things currently stand, North Dakota and Montana look like the favorites to be the two and three seeds in some order (though this is far from guaranteed), and at least look to be close to locks to make the tournament, so we won't talk about them here.

Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado seem to be safe at 10-8, but there are scenarios where they could lose their final two and miss the tournament altogether. One win should be enough to get them in... here are their schedules -

- Northern Arizona - Montana State, Montana
- Northern Colorado - at North Dakota, at Southern Utah

To my eye, there is a win there for each team. They should be safe.

If that is how things play out, there will be five teams battling for the final two spots. The one in the worst spot is Idaho State, who is 8-10, while the other four teams are 9-9. ISU would need to win out and get some help... which could happen the way this Big Sky season has gone, but is not likely. Still, let's break down the schedules for the five remaining teams, and that should just us our first indication of who is favored to make it.

- Eastern Washington (9-9) - Idaho State, Weber State
- Idaho State (8-10) - at Eastern Washington, at Portland State
- Montana State (9-9) - at Northern Arizona, at Sacramento State
- Portland State (9-9) - Weber State, Idaho State
- Sacramento State (9-9) - Montana, Montana State

From those... Sac State looks to be in the best position, with two home games (and I'd rather face MSU/UM than ISU/WSU). PSU and EWU obviously have the same schedule, though I'd probably rather play ISU first in the hopes that Weber State won't be trying as hard on the final night of the season. Idaho State travels to Cheney and Portland, and obviously both of those teams will be motivated. They could steal one of those games, but it's hard to see them winning both. Last is Montana State, who plays two tough road games. Like ISU, I could see them stealing one and getting in a tiebreaker, but odds are slim that they could win both.

The first tiebreaker is records against whoever else is in the tiebreaker. If there are two teams, it's easy, because it's just head to head. If there are three, it's each team's record against the other two opponents, and that is compared. Once again, here are the tiebreaker rules. So, for these five teams, here are their records against each other:

What does that tell us? Well, not that much yet, but it gives an idea of who you should be rooting against for your favorite team to make it.

- Eastern Washington - ideally will be in a tiebreak with MSU, and they should be rooting for PSU losses.
- Idaho State - If they win out, they'd beat EWU and PSU, and would own those tiebreakers, so they should want them to win their games against Weber State.
- Montana State - should be rooting against EWU, and for PSU.
- Portland State - should be rooting for EWU, and against MSU.
- Sacramento State - if they beat MSU, they are square with everyone.

The next tiebreaker is going down the list, and comparing records against the #1 team, then #2 team, etc. For this, it's important to see who has beaten Weber State. Of these teams, that gives the edge to Sacramento State and Idaho State, since they currently have wins over the Wildcats. However, both EWU and PSU have opportunities to get a win over Weber as well.

So all in all, as you can tell, there is still much to be decided. If I had to guess, I see Sacramento State winning out to secure their spot with 11 conference wins. Then, I'd go with Eastern Washington winning one, Idaho State winning one (don't know why but I get the feeling they beat PSU), and Portland State and Montana State going winless.

That would be actually avoid all tiebreaker scenarios, as EWU would get the final seed at 10-10, with three other teams finishing at 9-11.

However, as this year has shown us, that almost certainly will not happen! We are in for a fun final week.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

One Week To Go - Quick Rundown

After another great weekend of Big Sky action, let's take a quick action of what happened, and some of the storylines heading into the final week.

- Weeber State had their record long conference home winning streak snapped by Northern Arizona... and clinched that the conference tournament will be in Ogden anyway. That is probably fitting for this season in the Big Sky. By virtue of that home-court advantage, they are the favorites right now.

- Montana controls their destiny for the two seed, as they would win a tiebreaker if both them and UND finished with identical records. However, they have a tough roadtrip to end the season, so I think North Dakota is likely the favorite right now for that two spot (at SUU, home against UNC) after a big two game homestand. However, I'm not sure there's much difference between the two and three seed... mostly, you want to avoid the 4/5 spots.

- Northern Colorado went into the weekend trying to stay undefeated at home for the year... and promply lost by 14 to Eastern Washington and 9 to Portland State. The early signs that their defense would be much improved are a distant memory - they've been the worst defensive team in the Big Sky over the second half of the conference season. They once looked like the Big Sky favorites - now, they might need the help of tiebreakers if they can't get a win in the final week.

- If Montana beats Montana State tonight (as we learned last Monday, that is no guarantee!), that would leave four teams at 9-9, with Idaho State at 8-10, all battling for the final two spots. I will try to break the battle for those spots down tomorrow, after the Montana/Montana State game.

- Northern Arizona got that huge OT win over Weber State, and that puts them in good position heading into the final week. At 10-8, they potentially need to only beat Montana State or Montana in Flagstaff, and they could be in line for a four seed. After their performance the past couple weeks, it's hard to know what to expect from them right, but we know they can beat anyone, anywhere, on a given night.

- It was not unexpected, but disappointing for Sac State to follow up their 7-1 stretch with two straight road losses to fall back to 9-9 and on the bubble. With two home games coming up, they should still be in pretty good shape.

- After an OT loss to Montana State on Thurday, Southern Utah is down to two chances, as they host North Dakota and Northern Colorado. That just doesn't seem to bode well for them getting a win.

Thoughts? Anything you want to see broken down this week?

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