Friday, April 18, 2014

2014 Big Sky Transfers

Jeff Goodman has his list of transfers in college basketball, including a lot that have to do with the Big Sky. So, let's take a quick peek at who is transferring in and out of the conference.

- Clint Thomas - Idaho State (walk-on)
- Travis Meeker - Northern Arizona
- DeWayne Russell - Northern Arizona (to Grand Canyon - he transferred before the year, obviously)
- Andre Winston - Portland State
- Lamont Prosser - Portland State (midseason transfer)
- Ryan Okwudibonye - Sacramento State
- Case Rada - Sacramento State
- Drake Thomas - Southern Utah
- Chris Nsenki - Southern Utah
- Royce Williams - Weber State
- Josh Fuller - Weber State

- Carson Shanks - North Dakota (from Utah State)
- Keonta Vernon - Northern Arizona (from Wyoming)
- KJ Bluford - Northern Arizona (from Iowa State)

In all, the transfers coming in should have big impacts, as is typically the case at this level. Of the transfers leaving, DeWayne Russell obviously was talented, but NAU is just fine without him. Andre Winston was a very good player for the Vikings, but they have enough backcourt depth to withstand that. Royce Williams could have contributed in a bigger role, and I had heard good things about Josh Fuller as well for the Wildcats.

Beyond that, the transfers out shouldn't really have a big impact on the teams. It's a lot of guys that weren't getting a ton of minutes, so hopefully they can find better situations for themselves elsewhere.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Portland State and Sacramento State Sign Some Recruits

Recruits are starting to sign with schools now, and Sacramento State and Portland State both announced their recruiting classes.

In total, Sac State has five recruits signed (four in the current signing period, one early), and really, it looks like a very strong class.

The signees, and a quick blurb about them:

- Guard Marcus Graves - “Marcus is a highly skilled player who is a very good shooter and play maker,” Katz said. “He has a similar game to (current Hornet guard) Dylan Garrity in that he is a shooter that can drive. Marcus’ eyes are always up in the open court and in the on-ball, and he has a very good feel and understanding for the game of basketball.”

- Center James Herrick - “James is a big, strong and powerful post player,” Katz said. “He has very good hands, and is a big man that can shoot and pass the ball. He has a tremendous amount of upside, and gives us a solid player at the 5 spot that will develop and get better.”

- Forward Mason Stuteville (brother of current Hornet Eric Stuteville) - “Mason is a skilled big man with a powerful body who can pass, shoot and has good hands,” Katz said. “When we signed his brother, we said Eric’s best days were ahead of him, and I truly believe that with Mason as well. He can post, he can drive the lane, and he can shoot it. We like his versatility, and he will provide matchup problems for our opponents.”

- Guard Jiday Ugbaja - “Jiday is an athletic guard with power and explosiveness,” Katz said. “He’s 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, and with a year or two of weight training, he will look like an NFL running back. He is a driver that can shoot, and he fits the mould of what we look for in our perimeter players as guys that can dribble, pass and shoot.”

- Forward Justin Strings - "Justin has big shoulders, big hands, long arms, a big chest and he will eventually develop a very powerful body," Katz said. "He is one of those players that flew under the radar, but is extremely skilled and has the potential to become a very good player at the collegiate level. He is versatile in that he can play in the post and on the perimeter, and its not a stretch to say his ball-handling skills are the equivalent to most shooting guards."

Just as impressive, all five guys are freshmen, which is typically a good sign for a program, in my opinion.

With Portland State's roster construction, they figured to go after big men, and that is indeed what they did, signing two froncourt players, both from the junior college ranks.

- Forward Collin Spickerman - "With the loss of Kyle Richardson we needed to find someone who could replace him inside and Collin is that man," said Geving. "He brings something we are trying to add to our team, which is rebounding and defending the glass. We think Collin can step right in as a rebounder and be an offensive threat for us. His best attribute is his ability to block shots. He has great timing for a 6-foot-8 guy, he moves his feet well and can protect the rim for us.

- Forward Braxton Tucker - "Braxton is another guy that is a great athlete. The biggest thing he adds for us is his ability to rebound and defend bigger guys inside. He fills a need of adding more size and depth to our front line."

The Vikings have a deep and talented backcourt, so it makes sense that they would go for JUCO big men in this class.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Marcus Hall of Portland State Given Another Year of Eligibility

Portland State received some good news last week, as wing man Marcus Hall was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA.

Hall and Portland State were appealing the NCAA to get a year back after Hall was able to compete in only eight games in 2012-13 due to a calf injury.

The news of Hall's additional year is significant for the Viking program. The 6-4 guard started 31 of 32 games for PSU this past season. He averaged 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds. Hall made a team-high 51 three-point field goals, hitting .395 from distance.

Hall will be one of four starters and 10 letterwinners returning next season from a Viking team that was 17-15 in 2013-14.hat was 17-15 in 2013-14.
Last season, Hall played the second most minutes on the team, almost 75% of them. Offensively, he was mostly a three-point specialist - he shot 39% from outside and shot over twice as many threes as twos. His return certainly is good news for a PSU team could be very dangerous next season, as they'll have one of the deepest backcourts in the conference.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Idaho Primer

As you are most likely aware, Idaho will be joining the Big Sky next season. If you are like me, you don't really know all that much about Idaho. They made it to the WAC title game, we know that much, but what else should we know about their team next season?

(Note: I'm just going through their roster. I will be the first to admit I may have something wrong, or there may be something I don't know. This is just meant to be a quick look at what they might look like next season.)

Last season, they finished 16-18, 7-9 in the WAC. Their strength was offense (so they will fit right into the Big Sky!), as they scored 1.05 PPP (154th in the country(, while allowing 1.12 PPP (312th in the country). The previous year, they scored 1.08 PPP (57th), and allowed 1.12 PPP (337th). They play at a relatively high pace - their tempo would have been the third fastest in the Big Sky after Eastern Washington and North Dakota.

Based on minutes played, they lose two of their top six players, including former Big Sky member Glen Dean, and Stephen Madison. Dean averaged 9.0 points and 2.4 assists, while Madison led the team at 20.1 points per game and 7.6 rebounds. So those are big losses, but there still should be some good returning talent on hand.

The leading scorer will likely be guard Connor Hill, who averaged 14.2 PPG this past season. He shot 41% on threes last season, while taking over seven of them per game. He shot 234 threes vs 127 twos, though that ratio is a good thing when you are shooting such a solid percentage. He doesn't grab many rebounds or create shots for others, but he doesn't turn the ball over either.

Getting him the ball will be the job of Mike Scott, who will also be a senior. He is an average scorer, but he had a nice 22.4 Assist Rate vs just a 13.7 TO Rate. He has the chance to be a good lead guard for the Vandals. Another guy that shows promise is guard Sekou Wiggs. As a freshman last season, he was third on the team in scoring, and third in rebounding. He doesn't have much of an outside shot yet, but he is relentless attacking the rim, and was 26th in the country in the rate of fouls that he drew. He shot 66% from the stripe, and if he can boost that up a little bit, he can be a big-time scorer for the Vandals this season.

A couple others guys to touch on is big man Ty Egbert, who was also solid as a freshman. He played 12 minutes a game, but showed flashes of being a good contributor. He shot 59% on his limited attempts (though he was awful at the FT line). Joining him up front could be Bira Seck, an excellent rebounder that snagged 11.1% of offensive rebounds and 19.2% of defensive rebounds.

As I look into the recruiting class for the teams, I will research more on them, but this was a quick look at their roster. Would appreciate any insight from those that are a bit more knowledgeable about the Vandals.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brian Fish Named Montana State Coach

This happened last week, but I was out of town so wasn't able to write about it. Montana State moved quickly to hire a new head coach, hiring Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish.

Fish comes to MSU after four seasons on Dana Altman's staff at the University of Oregon, a period in which the Ducks compiled 96 wins, including three in the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the post-season each year. He spent the previous six seasons (2004-10 as assistant coach), and eight years overall (including 1994-96 as video coordinator), on Altman's staff at Creighton, and was also assistant coach (2003-04) and associate head coach (2004-05) at San Diego, and assistant coach (1996-2002) on Billy Tubbs' staff at TCU.
He has never been a head coach, but was an assistant under Dana Altman for a long time. Altman's excellent track record suggests that he is an excellent to learn from in terms of how to have success and build a program.

The most interesting thing to me always is what style of play a new coach has, and Fish answered that in an FAQ on Montana State's site.

What style will the Bobcats play? My simple answer to that has been whatever style will win us a game. Each team is different, and the great thing is that as a program we can evolve each year. Ideally I'd like to play up tempo, but we'll see what this team's strengths are and go from there.
A common complaint about former coach Brad Huse was that he was stuck in his system, and did not do a good job of adapting to the personnel he had. To that end, Fish's response about using whatever style will win has to be music to the ears of the program.

It's always tough to predict how a new coach will do, but Fish has the pedigree to be a very solid coach, including recruiting ties to the Pacific Northwest and California, from his time at Oregon, and at San Diego earlier in his career. That is essential for success in the Big Sky. If he can turn some things around, MSU has a very solid recruiting base, and I think the program would respond very well to a winner. Time will tell if Fish is the guy to provide that.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

My Big Sky Awards, Part 2

Before leaving for vacation, I posted part 1 of my Big Sky awards, so it's time for part 2 - the award teams. While my part one did not differ much from what actually happened, I suspect I will have some differences to the actual selections made for the teams.

I will use the same amount of players as the Conference has for these awards, for consistency sake.

- Davion Berry (Weber State) - Berry was a deserving POY, an all-around play without many weaknesses. It was a great two-year Weber State career for him.
- Kareem Jamar (Montana) - For Jamar, it was a great four-year career that included a POY award and three first-team selections. He was a great player for the Grizzlies, and I will miss watching him.
- Troy Huff (North Dakota) - Perhaps the most dynamic player in the Big Sky with his above the rim ability, people forget he led the Big Sky in steals too.
- Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington) - Harvey's story is a great one. Last year, he was a freshman not on a scholarship. He got his chance late in the year and thrived. This year, all he did was lead the Big Sky in scoring at almost 22 a game.
- Joel Bolomboy (Weber State) - He got snubbed from the first team, but he could be the POY next season. His offensive game is still developing, but it's a good sign that he shot 72% on FTs this year. It's also a good sign that he is perhaps the best rebounder in the entire country, and was the defensive POY in the Big Sky. He is a star.
- Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado) - Early on, he looked like a contender for Big Sky POY, but that fizzled a bit when UNC struggled in the second half of conference play. Still, he was a great player for the Bears that improved even on an excellent debut season. He shot 60% from the field, was a tenacious rebounder, and versatile defender. He was a star in his two year career for the Bears.

- Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State) - He got overshadowed a bit by McKinney, but Garrity hums along as a great offensive player. This year, he shot 48% from three on about five attempts per game. That is ridiculously good.
- Mikh McKinney (Sacramento State) - McKinney was one of the most improved players in the conference. His two-point percentage jumped from 41% to 53%, and he draws a ton of fouls. This year, he also became a great assist man, while cutting down turnovers. The Hornets could have two first-teamers next year, as they will continue to have the Big Sky's best backcourt.
- Aaron Anderson (North Dakota) - Throughout his career, I thought Anderson was very underrated, as shown by his honorable mention status (rather than first or second team). He did it all offensively, shooting from outside, getting to the rack, drawing fouls, and keeping his turnovers down. Troy Huff got the pub, but I'm not so sure that Anderson wasn't UND's best offensive player.
- Tate Unruh (Northern Colorado) - Unruh developed nicely in his career, as a guy who started as just a shooter, and ended as a complete offensive player. Of course, he retained his elite shooting skills... in his career, he missed nine free throws out of 149 attempts.
- Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona) - Upshur had a great debut season, and was rightly named Newcomer of the Year. He has unlimited range, but was efficient inside the arc as well. If he can take the next step in his development, NAU will be a Big Sky title contender.

- Kyle Tresnak (Weber State) - Tresnak always showed flashes, such as his great effort in the Big Sky title game, but never quite became the dominant force we thought he might be. That is OK, because he was still very good - a capable scorer and solid rebounder and defender.
- Jordan Gregory (Montana) - He was the toughest omission from the top two teams, as he grew as expected to be a reliable contributor. He is a good outside shooter, but has a nice ability to get inside and make baskets.
- Kyle Richardson (Portland State) - Richardson was quietly one of the best big men in the conference during conference play, even though he was at times the Vikings only reliable big man. He had a big impact in his one season in Portland.
- Tomas Sanchez (Idaho State) - I wanted to find a way to get him in one of the top two teams, but couldn't quite make the leap. Still, he was an iron man for the Bengals, as basically their only PG. He took and made big shots, and was a solid distributor. Without him, it would have been an ugly year in Pocatello.
- Chris Hansen (Idaho State) - Hansen is an excellent shooter, making 40% on a ton of three-point attempts. He will need to work a bit on creating his own shot, because they are going to rely on him a lot next season.
- Max Jacobsen (Northern Arizona) - All Jacobsen did as a senior was shoot 61% from the field, as perhaps the best low post scorer in the Big Sky. He was not above average in any other skill, but in a league without a lot of great frontcourt scorers, Jacobsen stood out.
- Keron DeShields (Montana) - He was greatly improved this season, becoming a better distributor and better offensive scorer. His two-point shooting jumped from  40% to 56%, which turned him from a liability to a reliable contributor for the Grizzlies.
- Gary Winston (Portland State) - Winston is a solid all-around offensive player, with the ability to hit threes and get to the rim. He is part of a deep backcourt for PSU which should be a strength next season.
- Tevin Svihovec (Northern Colorado) - Svihovec played off the ball a lot more this year, and I think that suited his game well. He still forces too many shots, but he is a solid outside shooter that can get to the rim and draw fouls. They need him to be an offensive centerpiece next season.
- Paul Egwuonwu (Montana State) - He was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country last season, and that was huge for the Bobcats. He wasn't a great offensive player but he wasn't a negative either. Combined with his rebounding, and he will be sorely missed.


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