Friday, October 31, 2014

Southern Utah Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: It was a rough year last season for the Thunderbirds, as they waited until right before the end of the year to finally get their first DI win. One of the reasons for the struggles was how young the team was, playing lots of underclassmen. As such, the losses were limited.

The biggest is Jaren Jeffery, a big man who played about 45% of the team's minutes. He shot 52% inside the arc, and was a good rebounder as well. He could provide a little bit of rim protection also, with a nice block rate. Also gone is Jayson Cheesman, who was better as a junior than he was as a senior. He was always a negative offensively (despite being 6'11'', he shot 31% last season. Thirty one percent.), but at his best he was a good rebounder and shot blocker. Also gone is guard Chris Nsenki, but that may be addition by subtraction, and allow for more minutes to younger, more talented guys.

Who Returns: As you probably gathered, almost everyone is back, and they do have some nice building blocks. As a junior in his third year in the program, AJ Hess is an old hand in the program, and he is a nice player. At times he is a three-point shooting specialist, but he shoots 38% from deep which makes him a good option. He is a solid rebounder from the three spot, and takes care of the ball. A key will be whether he can become more of a number one option.

The backcourt got a lot of experience last year, and a guy I really like is PG John Marshall. As a true freshman, he posted a nice assist rate, and his TO rate was reasonable. He is not an outside shooter (two three-point attempts all year), but he showed an ability to get to the rim, and draw some fouls. If he can find a way to be a more efficient scorer, he will be a good floor leader. Trey Kennedy also got a lot of time, and at times was their top offensive option. Though his percentages don't look great, he was asked to do a lot last season, and showed the talent to create his own shot and get to the foul line. He probably has the highest ceiling of anyone in the program.

Juwan Major also got a lot of time as a freshman, but he struggled, shooting just 40% and turning the ball over at an alarmingly high rate. They thought highly of him, but he needs to show improvement to be considered a Big Sky caliber player. One other returner of note in the backcourt is Race Parsons, who could be a shooting specialist at the off guard spot.

Up front, my favorite guy is Casey Oliverson, who had a very nice debut season as a sophomore. He was an efficient scorer inside (though struggled at the foul line), and showed himself to be an above average rebounder on both ends. He is another building block. Cal Hanks and Eric Rippetoe will both be seniors. Hanks is in the Jayson Cheesman mold in that he can help you as long as he doesn't shoot too much, and focuses on rebounds and rim protection. Rippetoe is a capable outside shooter, though he did not bring much else.

Newcomers: One guy that should help a thin frontcourt is juco transfer Christian Thompson, who averaged 16 points and 6.5 rebounds last year. He is a 6'7'' combo forward that should get a lot of minutes for them, and looks like he should be able to contribute. Other possible frontcourt contributors are Sherron Wilson (6'6'' forward from Las Vegas who averaged 13 and 4 last year and got some interest from Air Force and Tulsa), Kyler Nielson (6'6'' forward from Cedar City), and Tyler Rawson (6'9'', athletic forward from American Fork who should be an above average starter at the four in time).

In the backcourt, Travon Langston enters as a junior college transfer, and should provide some more veteran stability with a lot of the minutes going to sophomores like Kennedy, Marshall, Major, and Parsons. I would expect him to have a role. Austin Waddoups is another guy from American Fork, who has returned to SUU after his Mormon mission. He projects as a solid shooter off the ball at 6'2'', as he made 42% of his threes in his senior year of high school.

General Outlook: SUU will still struggle this year - even though they are more experienced, they are still very young, with two seniors on the roster (who are role players). They took their lumps last year in playing a lot of freshman and sophomores, and there will be some lumps again this year. But the lumps will be less, and I think Nick Robinson is building the foundation for a nice program. They may again finish last in the Big Sky, but they will win a few games this year, and be in a few others that people don't expect, because they are always feisty under Robinson. It is fun to watch the program build.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Sacramento State Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: One of the biggest reasons for optimism around Sac State this year is the fact that they did not lose a lot of key contributors from last season's team. The biggest loss was Jordan Salley, a forward who played about 40% of the team's minutes last year. He was a nice piece for them, as he shot 60% from the floor and was a solid rebounder in the frontcourt. Their other loss was forward Joey Quigley, who got some nice hype as a versatile forward when he committed, but never converted it into any reliable production. He was a bit player that struggled to produce when he did play. They did not lose anyone else that played any type of minutes, even inconsistently.

Who Returns: The other big reason for optimism around the Hornets is their backcourt, which certainly has a strong case to be the best in the league. Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney are both seniors, and both could be first-team all-conference players. Garrity has had a sterling four-year career, turning from a pass-first PG with limited scoring ability as a freshman (his assist rate was 12th in the nation his first year) into a dynamic scoring guard who is still a good distributor. Last year he made 48% of threes on five attempts per game. You may also remember his 70 footer to beat Weber State, one of the best moments in college basketball last year.

McKinney, meanwhile, was one of the most improved players in the Big Sky last year. He greatly improved his scoring efficiency (53% twos, 33% threes, and 82% FT on plenty of attempts), while becoming one of the best assist men in the conference, surpassing even Garrity. Improbably, he was better than Garrity last season, and should be poised for a big senior year. Cody Demps is the nominal small forward, but has the versatility to play some different spots. He would be better served not taking so many threes (9/44 last year), but is a glue guy for them. Dreon Bartlett also returns in the backcourt as a three-point shooting specialist off the bench.

Up front, they will rely on Eric Stuteville, a big man that got better and better as the season went along. Toward the end of the year, he showed flashes as a diverse scorer in the post who holds his own on the glass. His potential is probably as one of the better bigs in the conference. Zach Mills is only 6'5'', but he did some nice things for them as a junior, and can play the four spot. He is a good outside shooter, and decent on the defensive glass. Senior Alex Tiffin will be in his second year, and there seems to be some optimism about him, though he didn't flash a ton as a junor. He shot just 43% last year. Nick Hornsby is one other returner that will contribute. He was a well regarded recruit coming into last year, though he got lost in the shuffle a bit as a freshman. In a bit under 15 minutes per game, he showcased nice versatility and skill on the glass, but struggled to score. He shot just 38% on twos and 4/18 from three. If he can find good shots and become a bit better putting the ball in the basket, he will be a nice all-around player for them.

Newcomers: One name to watch it Mason Stuteville (brother of Eric), who seems to be getting some pub as one of the best freshman in the league. He is a dynamic big man (though thin), who appears to have some inside-out capability. He will add another dynamic to the frontcourt which was a weak point for the squad last year. Another big man in the recruiting class is 6'10'' James Herrick, who averaged 11 and 11 last year, and is a bit more of a traditional big man as compared to Stuteville. They also have early signee Justin Strings, a 6'6'' forward who fits in the mold of shorter power forwards which have been so effective in the Big Sky. He averaged 18 and 8 last year and looks like he will be an impact player for them in time.

They also signed two guards. One is 5'10'' Jiday Ugbaja, a very good athlete who could be a great shooter for them. He may not have an impact right away because of the other depth, but he could be starting as soon as next season. He could be joined next year by Marcus Graves, who had the impressive stat line of 17.6 PPG/5.4 RPG/ 4.6 APG last year. Coach Katz compared his game to Garrity's, calling him a "shooter that can drive." Similar to Ugbaja, it's hard to say how many minutes will be available this year, but he should be an important long-term piece for them.

General Outlook: Sacramento State has never had a winning record at the DI level, but this looks like the year it will happen. In a league often dictated by guard play, they are in great hands with a senior backcourt of Garrity-McKinney. Though the frontcourt doesn't have the experience yet, they appear to have the talent with the Stuteville brothers and Zach Mills. After getting a taste of the Big Sky tournament last year, they are one of the favorites heading into this season. Don't be surprised if they not only have a winning record, but win the league, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Note: This post was updated to include the part about Nick Hornsby, who I forgot about on my first posting.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Portland State Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything. You should supplement this article with a post on the PSU website, which also has a great and detailed look at the team.

What They Lost: The biggest loss the Vikings are likely to feel comes from inside, where Kyle Richardson had a great senior year and really established himself inside in his lone season for PSU. He was a good inside scorer and rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. At times, he was the only big man that they could count on (though they should have more depth there this year), and really was a big reason why they were as successful as they were.

They also lost a couple of the backcourt contributors. Dre Winston would have been a senior, and he had a nice year for them. He shot a blistering 62% inside the arc, and was very good at getting to the foul line. While they have the depth to overcome that loss, he was a good player and would have contributed. Marcus Hall was another guy that could do some things for them, as he shot 39% from downtown last season. Both guys were good Big Sky players.

Who Returns: Even with those backcourt losses, they should still have ample depth, talent, and experience. They have three senior guards, all of whom could start and will play big roles. Tim Douglas is the PG, and he had his moments in his first year after transferring from Portland. He only shot 39% on twos, and can hit from outside. DaShaun Wiggins was co-sixth man of the year last year, and he gets to the line about as well as anyone in the country. His rate of fouls drawn ranked fourth in the nation, and he shot 76% when he did get there. Combined with his ability to hit from outside and his low turnover rate, and he could be PSU's best player this season. Gary Winston rounds out that trio of senior guards, and he is in his fourth year in the program. He is one of the best shooters in the conference, and is better off the bounce than you might expect.

Brandon Cataldo has always had hints of his potential, but he is running out of time to show it. If he can get minutes, he is a good inside scorer and rebounder (his offensive rebounding rate is huge), but he struggles to remain on the court due to injury, conditioning, and foul issues. However, he could be a really good player. One other returner of note is guard Zach Gengler, who showed potential as a marksman as a freshman. He made 11/22 from deep last year.

Newcomers: Tiegbe Bamba is a guy they hoped would make an impact last year, but he was never able to get healthy. He is 6'6'' but very athletic, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him start at the 4. He could be one of the top newcomers in the Big Sky. Another guy they are excited about is Bryce White, who is a sophomore after transferring from Chemeketa CC. He averaged over 27 PPG last year, and led the team in scoring during their foreign trip.

Helping provide depth inside will be Collin Spickerman, a JUCO transfer who averaged 18 and 9 last year for his junior college. He could start right away for them. Dorian Cason and Braxton Tucker are two other JUCO transfers that will provide depth up front. If there is any more playing time in the backcourt, the first of those minutes will likely go to Sebastian Suarez. He redshirted last season, and the junior was billed as being an excellent shooter. Freshman Iziahiah Sweeney could also get some time, though he is also a redshirt possibility. He is an athletic combo guard.

General Outlook: Last year, PSU snuck up on some teams in the second half of the conference season, eventually making the Big Sky tournament and upsetting Montana in the opening round. They did it playing three and four guard lineups, in part due to necessity. However, they should me more talented and deep in the frontcourt this season, which is a reason they think they can win the conference. I see them residing closer to the second tier (four to six range) than the top, but it wouldn't be a shock if they did wind up competing for the Big Sky crown. Their backcourt is talented and experienced, and the frontcourt should get better and better as the year goes on.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Weber State is Number 1 In Coaches and Media Poll

The Big Sky preseason polls were released today, with Weber State number one in both polls. However, that is about where the similarities end between the two polls!

Coaches Poll
1. Weber State (8)
2. Eastern Washington (1)
3. Northern Arizona (2)
4. Sacramento State (1)
5. Portland State
6. Northern Colorado
7. Idaho
8. Montana
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12. Southern Utah

Media Poll
1. Weber State (34)
2. Northern Arizona (4)
3. Eastern Washington (1)
4. Sacramento State
5. Montana
6. Northern Colorado
7. Portland State
8. Idaho
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12. Southern Utah

There are no real shockers, but I am surprised at the coaches putting Montana all the way down in 8th. To me, they look to be more in the 5-6 range.

For the top four, you could almost draw the names out of a hat and make a case on any order.It will be a fun season in the Big Sky!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Northern Colorado Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: The Bears are losing mainly two guys, but they were arguably the two most important players on last year's team. Derrick Barden is the biggest loss, as he was one of the most athletic and versatile guys in the conference. He was a tenacious rebounder on both ends, with excellent rebound rates. He was extremely efficient, shooting 60% on twos and 37% from downtown. Perhaps most importantly for a team that has struggled defensively, he was their best defensive guy, capable of switching onto guards when need be, or banging down low.

Tate Unruh's reign as perhaps the best shooter in the conference ended with his graduation, and he was a great complementary offensive piece for them. He has a pure stroke, and got better off the bounce throughout his UNC career. Big man Connor Osborne graduated, but he saw his playing time decrease last year. Brendan Keane is also no longer on the roster, but he was a fifth big man with a limited ceiling.

Who Returns: Despite the big losses, there is a lot of talent that will be back for the Bears. Guard Tevin Svihovec has had his ups and downs, but has settled in off the ball, where he was much more effective than when he was forced to be the primary ballhandler. Now a senior, Svihovec is very good at getting into the lane and drawing fouls, and shoots just well enough outside to keep defenses honest. He will likely be the guy getting the ball in crunch time for them.

Tim Huskisson is another four year guy that has had his inconsistencies, but you can't doubt his talent. At his best, he is one of the best dunkers in the conference, a very good outside shooter (42% last year), and an athletic defender. The key will be earning the trust of coach BJ Hill throughout the whole season. Joining him upfront is Dominique Lee, who showcased some talent as a JUCO transfer last year. He is an efficient offensive player that doesn't try to do too much, and can be a very effective rebounder as well. Not many teams could lose a guy like Barden and plug in a guy like Lee. Cody McDavis is also back upfront, and showed he could be a good third big man, giving them some nice minutes last year.

In the backcourt, Jordan Wilson was one of the best freshman in the conference, a 5'7'' sparkplug with a good handle and ability to hit from deep. He needs to cut down the turnovers a bit and up the assists, but he has a bright future. He can also be a pest defensively with his quickness. Corey Spence was something of a disappointment in his first year, but is more than talented enough to make a big impact as a senior. He is fearless on the court, but that can be a good and bad thing, and too often last year that worked against him. He is a tough defender with some quickness off the bounce. Anthony Johnson also played some minutes last year as a freshman, and shows potential as a shooter.

Newcomers: Two transfers will be called on to make an impact right away. One is guard Cameron Michael, who played one season at Air Force before transferring. Though he didn't get a ton of minutes in that year, he was brutally efficent when he did play, with a 69% true shooting percentage. He will make an impact right away and be a key contributor for them the next three seasons. Also in is Dwight Smith, who transferred from Colorado State. The 6'4'' guard does all the little things, and will get plenty of minutes as a glue guy in his senior year.

Riak Bol is a junior college transfer that averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds per game, while finishing 6th in the NJCAA in blocked shots. For a team that is a little thin up front, he should get some minutes and could be a nice player for them. Spencer Mathis is a 6'7'' freshman from Las Vegas that is a solid athlete with a high basketball IQ. He seems to be a redshirt candidate depending on how comfortable Coach Hill is with the depth up front.

General Outlook: UNC looked like they were the favorites early last year before falling off in the second half of the conference season. They recovered to come thisclose to knocking off Weber State in the Big Sky semifinals, but came up just short. This year, they lose some of that talent, but also return a lot of key contributors, and bring in some experienced transfers that will make an immediate impact. I see UNC in kind of the second tier in the Big Sky, but it's not overly difficult to posit a scenario where they could be in position to win it. They will be athletic up front, and talented in the backcourt.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Northern Arizona Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: Northern Arizona's rebuild seemed to be a year ahead of schedule last season, where they finished third in the Big Sky before falling to Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Tournament. They won't sneak up on anyone this year. They lose one guy of note, but it is a big loss. Max Jacobsen was one of the best inside scorers in the Big Sky the past couple of seasons, as the lefty was very skilled around the basket. He shot over 60% on twos last year, and it wasn't a case of a big man only dunking the ball. He averaged 12.3 PPG, and was a nice complement to NAU's excellent guards. Though the Jacks do have other big guys (who we'll get to), they don't have anyone with a similar skillset to Jacobsen.

Who Returns: As mentioned, NAU returns a lot of talent in the backcourt, and they may have the most talented trio of guards in the conference (though Sac State could make an argument). It starts with wing man Quinton Upshur, who would be a reasonable choice for preseason Big Sky POY this year. He was excellent in his first year, draining 38% of threes (on roughly 6 attempts per game), getting to the line, and being a solid finisher. He also had a 3.4% steal percentage, top 100 in the nation.

He is flanked in the backcourt by two guys that can play point guard. One of them is senior Aaseem Dixon. He does his best work off the ball, as he shot 36% from downtown on a lot of attempts. The more true point guard is sophomore Kris Yanku. Yanku shot just 38% on two-point attempts last year, but was adept at getting to the line (and shot 83%), and was one of the best distributors in the conference. He was never afraid of the moment as a freshman, and that moxie points to a bright future. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him lead the conference in assists and/or steals at some point in his career.

In the frontcourt, Gaellen Bewernick will be a senior, and it seems like he's been around forever. He's one of the most versatile players in the conference, and a very good rebounder for his size. He is a great glue guy. With the loss of Jacobsen, they need some big guys to step up, and they have the guys to do it. Jordyn Martin started to come into his own as a sophomore, shooting 65% from the floor and becoming one of the better offensive rebounders in the Big Sky. Ako Kaluna does a bit of everything, as an efficient scorer, rebounder, and surprisingly good ballhandler for someone his size. I think he is going to be their best big by the end of the year. Len Springs will also be in the mix. He is limited offensively, but is a very good rebounder and ridiculously good shot blocker. Combined, these guys are all capable of being good contributors.

Newcomers: One signee is combo guard Tate de Laveaga, who sat out his senior year but projects as an excellent shooter who is also able to create his own shot. He projects as a long-term partner to Kris Yanku in the backcourt. In the short term, JUCO guard Jaleni Neely played last year for Eastern Utah, averaging 14.4 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 4.1 RPG. He should provide good depth. Sophomore Geoffrey Frid is a seven footer who originally committed to Cal, before transfering to MiraCosta College last season. He averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game in conference play. He should be in the mix.

General Outlook: Northern Arizona can absolutely win the Big Sky this year, and they seemed to have taken a step above much of the rest of the conference when it comes to bringing in highly touted recruits. Jack Murphy has an established reputation as a great recruiter, and showed last year he is a great coach as well.  Their backcourt is one of the best in the Big Sky, and enough depth up front that they should be able to find production and create enough balance. They are among the top three favorites to win the title this year, and they should be considered one of the best programs in the Big Sky for the near future.

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Big Sky Preview by NBC Sports

Yesterday, NBC Sports wrote their Big Sky preview, authored by Raphielle Johnson, one of the best college basketball writers in the business. You can find the preview here. Here is his projected order of finish:

1. Weber State
2. Northern Arizona
3. Sacramento State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Montana
6. Northern Colorado
7. Portland State
8. Idaho
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12 Southern Utah

I can't really argue with much there. I am still going through my outlooks, but I'm fairly certain my projected order will look quite similar to that one. In addition to the preview, he also wrote a nice article on Weber State, specifically focusing on Joel Bolomboy and Jeremy Senglin.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

North Dakota Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: North Dakota made the Big Sky championship game in their second season, but unfortunately it will be tough to build on that success right away, as they lost most of the key pieces from that team.

Troy Huff was one of the elite performers in the conference, and athletic matchup nightmare that caused a lot of turnovers, and could score 25 points or grab 10 rebounds any night. He dominated possessions for them at a fairly efficient rate, and will be impossible to replace. Another guy that may have been just as valuable was Aaron Anderson, a perennially underrated guard. Anderson was a great shooter and driver who got to the line often. He also took care of the ball and had a solid assist rate.

Jamal Webb was a guy that had his strengths and weaknesses, but he was a good defender in the backcourt that could distribute the ball. Josh Schuler missed some time with injuries, but at his best he was a good third or fourth scorer and glue guy. Alonzo Traylor was a surprisingly good big man that shot 61% from the floor and rebounded well. I would also be remiss not to mention Brandon Brekke, who missed all of last season due to injury was an integral part of building the program with his steady work down low. Simply put, nobody is even close to losing as much production as UND has lost.

Who Returns: The best news of the offseason came when the NCAA announced that Jaron Nash would be eligible to play another season. At 6'8'', Nash had major conference athleticism, even though he showcased some inconsistency at times. At his best, he is a capable inside scorer (57% on two-pointers), and a good enough three-point shooter to keep teams honest (20/59 last year). He also made just 33% of free throws. He plays the four spot, but doesn't necessarily have the bulk to play that position defensively. However, he can be a difference maker, and UND will call on him often.

Another big returnee is guard Quinton Hooker, who started many games last year as a true freshman. He did not necessarily showcase himself to be a great scorer (41.9% EFG) or distributor (17.5 ARate compared to 22.4 TO Rate), but he was steady, and I expect the experience will be a big plus for him. Also in the backcourt, Cole Stefan got some time in his first year as a junior, and should have an expanded role. He profiles as a shooting specialist, having made 21 threes. Lenny Antwi is a senior, but it's still unclear if he can be an average guard off the bench. He was an amazing 3/20 from inside the arc last year (not a misprint). Shane Benton is also back, and despite a fair amount of PT his first two years, he also has struggled to make an impact.

Upfront, Chad Calcaterra and Ryan Salmonsen return for their senior years. Both guys had their moments last year and potentially average scoring threats, but will be called on to do much more. Dustin Hobaugh played in nine games last year and played well, but it was in a too small sample of 71 minutes.

Newcomers: Estan Tyler could have the biggest impact right away, as he sat out last season after transferring from Kansas City. He averaged 11.4 PPG as a sophomore and looks to be a very good outside shooter. He should be a solid addition to the backcourt for his final two seasons. Carson Shanks is a redshirt freshman big man who will be eligible in the second semester after transferring from Utah State. He should get plenty of chances to play once he is eligible.

Depending on how ready he is physically, Kraig Shields could get immediate playing time right away after averaging a double double as a senior in high school in Texas. Bryce Cashman is another freshman big man. Josiah Coleman is at UND after two years at Iowa Western CC, but he averaged just 7 and 4 last season. Geno Crandall is a nice prospect in the backcourt after a nice high school career in Minneapolis, but I'm not sure how much run he'll get right away in a crowded backcourt. Finally, Terrel de Rouen is a transfer from New Mexico State who is eligible to play right away. He should add to a strong backcourt, and it would not be a surprise to see UND run a lot of three and even four guard lineups out there.

General Outlook: After a nice year last season, UND will likely take a big step back just because of the sheer amount of talent that graduated. Their defensive identity will likely change, and it's unclear where their offense will come from with the departures of Huff and Anderson. If they are going to compete for a tournament spot, they need Jaron Nash to be a star for them, and guys like Hooker, Stefan, and Estan to morph into an above average backcourt. These things are not out of the question, but I wouldn't bet on it either. I would expect UND to be in the bottom four this year, but to get a lot of young guys good experience.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Montana State Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: The change starts at the top, as head coach Brad Huse is out, and Brian Fish is in. MSU fans had been frustrated at times with Huse, who seemed to have the players to push the pace and force tempo, but they never seemed to put that into practice. I expect that to change under Fish.

The biggest losses will be upfront, where Paul Egwuonwu and Flavien Davis. Egwuonwu was one of the best defensive rebounders in the nation, which was one of the big strengths of MSU. He was solid offensively as well, and will be a big loss. Davis was a skilled player who was a bit inconsistent at times, but was a big part of the offense. A third loss is guard Antonio Biglow. He perhaps never lived up to the big hype, but he was a good passer and pesky defender.

Who Returns: They return some experience and talent in the backcourt. Marcus Colbert will be in his third year of starting, and he's an efficent lead guard that was a lot better in the paint last year, as well as bumping his assist rate. He is a good outside shooter as well, and if he can cut down on some turnovers he can be one of the best point guards in the Big Sky.

Terrell Brown was good for them as a wing last year, and should be even better as a junior. He can shoot a bit, but is mostly an efficient offensive player who doesn't turn the ball over. His free throw shooting suggests he may be able to improve on his 28% from downtown. Michael Dison will be a senior, and can provide offense in spurts for them. Stephan Holm is a guy to watch, as he contributed more as a freshman than I thought he would. He can be an excellent shooter for them, as he made 39% from three last year and should get more playing time.

Eric Norman and Danny Robison return in the frontcourt. Neither was a significant contributor last year, but they were not bad when they did see the court. Production from guys like them will be the key for the Bobcats.

Newcomers: Fish has reportedly been impressed with new guard Joey Frenchwood, who is 6'1'' and hails from Oakland. He averaged 17 points and six assists last year, and should help to make PG a strength for the Bobcats. At 6'4'', Zach Green should provide Fish with an athletic wing after signing this spring. He averaged 17 PPG as a junior, and broke his leg his senior year. Quinn Price should provide some talent up front, averaging 15 and 10 last year. Bradley Fisher is a big man from England who committed to the previous regime, but stayed with his commitment to MSU. He may be a bit raw and not quite ready physically, but could be very good in time. Last, Ryan Shannon redshirted last year, but he is a forward with a ton of skills and versatility. He has the ability to hit from outside, rebounds well, and can block shots. I would expect to see him get some time.

General Outlook: The Bobcats will have a young team in Brian Fish's first season, with three seniors on the roster, though none of them perhaps as centerpieces. This means there will likely be many growing pains, but also the chance to evaluate guys and get them valuable experience. It will at times be a frustrating year for MSU, but I think there will be some seeds for the future planted that will pay dividends later on.

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Montana State Gets Four Committments

Brian Fish has gotten a head start on next year's recruiting class with three different commitments. I am not sure who reported these first, but I'm getting my information from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

The first recruit was Illinois shooting guard Tyler Hall, who Fish first started to recruit as an assistant for Oregon. Last season, he averaged 11 PPG, and shot 56% from the floor and 35% from downtown. Per Gidal Kaiser, he had more than a dozen DI offers, including from Nevada and fellow Big Sky member Northern Arizona.

Fish was on Hall’s trail for a long time, according to Hall and Quad City Elite AAU coach Darren Bizarri. Fish began recruiting Hall during the spring of 2013 — before Hall sprouted from 6-1 to 6-4, scored 31 points in a July 28, 2013 AAU championship game in Fort Wayne, Ind., or averaged 20 per game during an April 2014 AAU tournament in Wisconsin.
The next recruit was small forward Sam Neumann from famous Cretin-Durham Hall in St. Paul, MN. Neumann is 6'6'', and averaged nearly 19 points per game last season. He also averaged 14 PPG as a freshman and 16 PPG as a sophomore. In his career he has made over 100 threes and shot 38% from downtown last year.

“I knew right in the first five minutes I talked to coach Fish that he would be a guy Sam would want to play for,” Kline said Monday. “I was interested to see how they would hit it off on the in-house visit.

“When the MSU coaches left, I said if Sam felt comfortable and solid in Bozeman, this is going to be the place for him,” Kline said. “Trust and faith in his coaches is important to Sam, and coach Fish established that right away.”
Finally, Washington point guard Mandrell Worthy became the third verbal commit. He is 6'3'', and had offers from Seattle and Big Sky member Idaho. Last year, Worthy's team went 23-6 as he averaged 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game, playing as many as four positions throughout his career. He can score, but also seems quite adept at doing all the little things necessary for the team to win.

“Out of necessity, and needing someone with his skill level to score for us when he was a freshman, I basically played him at the 4,” Liley said. “We had enough things we could do that would get him into space so that he’d be able to take advantage of one-on-ones or get off a couple screens to score.

“As much as he scores, his best attribute is the fact he is — he does what it takes for us to win, but he is an unbelievable passer and he makes everyone around him better. That is what Montana State is getting.”
With the signees, we can perhaps see a bit of the style of team Fish will try to build - a quick, athletic squad that can hit shots from the outside. He appears to be off to a nice start in Bozeman.

EDIT: In my original post, I missed the commitment of JUCO guard Quinton Everett. He is 6'2'', and plays for Gillette Junior College. He played last year at Little Big Horn College. Here is a scouting report from Colter Nuanez. From reading it, Fish's desire to play an up tempo game looks even more apparent.

Film: None. Everett plays for former Bobcat great Pete Conway, the head coach at LBHCC. Last season, Everett averaged 19 points per game for Conway’s squad. He shot 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from beyond the 3-point line and 62 percent from the free throw line. If he can improve his percentages, he can average 25 points per game next season.

A scouting report on Everett reads: Ultra strong and excellent quickness and running ability. Iffy “3” shooter or he would be a high-major prospect. Gets a ton of rebounds (5.7 per game), loose balls and finishes with authority at the rim. Can make mid-range shots and 3s, but is a drive 1st, shoot 2nd type of small forward. Will play best for an up-tempo team that keeps him in the open court offensively. Mid-major “3” at lead with an outside shot to play for a higher major team if he’s in the right offensive scheme, improves his shooting.”

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Big Sky Preview on ESPN

Like last year, I've written the Big Sky Preview for ESPN, and it is posted today. Check it out here.

Though things may change for me a bit as I dive in deeper to all the teams, here was my projected order:

1) Weber State
2) Sacramento State
3) Northern Arizona
4) Montana
5) Northern Colorado
6) Eastern Washington
7) Portland State
8) Idaho
9) North Dakota
10) Montana State
11) Idaho State
12) Southern Utah

* For the Big Sky media poll, I flipped Eastern Washington and Northern Colorado around.

Jeff Goodman polled coaches from the around the league, and that link can be found here.

The rankings there are interesting to me:

1) Weber State
2) Eastern Washington
3) Sacramento State
4) Northern Arizona
5) Northern Colorado
6) Portland State
7) Idaho
8) Montana
9) North Dakota
10) Idaho State
11) Montana State
12) Southern Utah

Having EWU as #2 is not a surprise - it wouldn't be at all surprising to see them win the conference. I am surprised by Montana down at #8.

Let me know what you guys think.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Montana Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: The biggest lost is the head coach, Wayne Tinkle, who left to take the top job at Oregon State. Tinkle had great success with the Grizzlies, and was widely seen as the top coach in the Big Sky. Travis DeCuire looks to be an excellent coach, but Tinkle is a tough act to follow. The other major loss is do-everything Kareem Jamar. If you are reading this, you likely know all about Jamar, who was one of the three best players (and arguably the best) in the Big Sky over the past three seasons.

The other loss of note is guard Keron DeShields, who transferred out. Last year, he improved to be a solid starter for them, but I think they have the pieces in place so that this won't be a major loss for the team. They also lose big men Andy Martin and Eric Hutchison, but neither loss should be felt too much.

Who Returns: Guard Jordan Gregory returns for his senior year, and he could be one of the leading scorers in the conference. Consistently efficient (60% True Shooting Percentage, low TO Rate), he could get more opportunities with Jamar gone, but could also have to deal with being the focal point of the offense. Either way, he's a nice building block. Another key returnee in the backcourt is Mario Dunn, who could be a breakout star in the conference. Though a bit raw offensively as a freshman, he has the physical tools to be above average there as a sophomore, while becoming one of the best defensive players in the Big Sky, in the mold of Will Cherry. Seeing how much he improved from year one to year two could be one of the most interesting storylines in the Big Sky.

They return some depth on the wing, with Riley Bradshaw and Brandon Gfeller both potential sparkplugs offensively with their shooting ability. Upfront, Michael Weisner is one of the biggest weapons in the Big Sky - a stretch four that shoots 50% from downtown. He is a big weapon for them. Another returner upfront is forward Chris Kemp, who had an uneven debut season as a junior. There are games he looks like a good starter, and others where he is a bench guy. They could use some consistency from him.

Newcomers: The guy with the biggest impact will be big man Martin Breunig, who is eligible after sitting out last year due to transfer rules. He originally committed to Maryland before signing at Washington, and is an athletic big with a versatile skill set. I'll be writing more about him before the year, but he could be an all-conference player in his first year in Missoula.

Bryden Boehning is a good prospect at center, but it will likely take him a couple years to make a true impact. Forward Fabijan Krslovic from Australia could see some time as a true freshman, as a 6'8'' post with some offensive skills. I wouldn't expect a huge impact in year one, but he should play and grow into a role as a solid bench player for them right away.

General Outlook: Like many others, there is a wide variance possible for Montana. If things break right, it wouldn't be a huge shock to see them competing for a Big Sky title in year one of Travis DeCuire. If Gregory isn't able to keep his efficiency with more responsibility, or Breunig can't provide that inside presence they've been missing, they could fall into the mid-tier. Preseason, I currently have them slotted in at number four.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Idaho Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything. Today we'll look at the newcomer in the conference, as Idaho re-joins the Big Sky.

What They Lost: The biggest loss looks to be wing man Stephen Madison, who did a little bit of everything for the Vandals last season. He was the focal point of the offense, with a usage rate of 29.8%, getting to the line frequently while also shooting 33% from downtown. He also grabbed 19.2% of defensive rebounds, and will be tough to replace. Their other big loss will be a name familiar to Big Sky followers - Glen Dean, who began his career at Eastern Washington. Dean was a good ballhandler and distributor for them last season.

Who Returns: Conner Hill is the leading returning scorer, as he averaged 14.2 PPG last year, shooting 41% from downtown on plenty of attempts. He will stretch defenses, as they will need to account for him at all times. Mike Scott will be the lead guard, as the senior posted a 22.4 Assist Rate versus a solid 13.7 TO rate.

One more of note is Sekou Wiggs, who had a nice debut season for Idaho. He was third on the team in scoring and rebounding last year, and drew fouls at a great rate (26th highest in the country). If his jumpshot improves, he can be a star for Idaho with his ability to create shots. Big men Ty Egbert (12 MPG as a freshman) and Bira Seck (a solid rebounder) will be counted on in the frontcourt.

Newcomers: Jordan Scott redshirted last season, but could be in for minutes at forward after averaging 18 and 10 as a senior in high school in Colorado Springs, where his team won back-to-back titles. He looks like a nice piece for them. Nate Sherwood is another guy that could play in the froncourt, after averaging a double-double with three blocks last year . His brother Chad Sherwood is also on the team. I am unsure the competition level, but 6'7'' F Arkadiy Mkrtychyan averaged a healthy 26.4 PPG, 14 RPG, 6 APG, and 4 BPG last year, which are big time numbers no matter what. They also bring in guard Jake Straughan, who is a good all-around athlete who had a decorated college career.

A final guy that should make an impact right away is JUCO forward Nahshon George, who averaged 17 and 13 last year for Shoreline CC in Washington last season. They should have no shortage of talented guys around, it's just a matter of getting them all experience and seeing who is ready to play.

General Outlook: Idaho has the look of a team that will be able to put points on the board, with Hill one of the best shooters in the Big Sky and some talent around him. As with many teams in the Big Sky, the key will be how well they stop other teams from scoring. They allowed 1.12 PPP last year, which is not a good mark. It's tougher to get a full read on their talent (though for what it's worth, they beat Idaho State and Portland State last year, and lost twice to Montana), but I have them battling for a playoff spot.

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ben Wilson Could Start at PG for Idaho State

After my outlook on Idaho State, I got an interesting comment on twitter from Kyle Franko, and a link to a discussion about a Bill Evans radio show, which both had the same interesting nugget that I wanted to talk about a bit on here.

In the show, Evans said that if he had to make a lineup now, junior Ben Wilson would be the starting PG. In my preview I had surmised that perhaps freshmen Ian Fox or Geno Luzcando may be able to start right away, but it doesn't appear that will be the case, at least as of now.

Wilson is a 6'6'' guard that redshirted last season (initially due to the NCAA, then a team decision), and at first seems to be an interesting choice as the lead guard. As a sophomore, he averaged just 1.8 APG, and seemed to be more of a wing. However, without many other options, he is the early choice.

One thing that he has going in his favor is his intangible skills, as he was praised effusively by his junior college coach for his leadership skills and ability to be great teammate. Another interesting thing to watch is what he could bring defensively to that position, as at 6'6'' and 200+ pounds, he would surely be the largest point guard in the Big Sky, which could help the Bengals wreak a little bit of havoc on the defensive side of the court.

ISU had the sixth best rate of forced turnovers in the Big Sky last year, and Evans mentioned that he wants to pick up the tempo on both ends. Wilson could be valuable in that role. It's hard to say at this point how well Wilson would do as the ball handler and distributor, I trust that if Wilson does start, Evans feels comfortable enough about those skills, particularly because their other wings (Chris Hansen and Nnamdi Ezenwa) aren't necessarily great at those things.

Anyway, an interesting tidbit and something else to watch for from the Bengals this year.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Idaho State Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.

What They Lost: The biggest loss is do-everything guard Tomas Sanchez, who was really their only PG on the roster last season. Sanchez played an astounding 95.3% of the team's minutes, which was the fourth highest mark for anyone in the country last season. His numbers were solid (but not great), but he was the guy with the ball in his hands at every key moment. It remains to be seen who that guy will be for them this year.

Andre Hatchett was one of the most improved Big Sky players last year, as he became a surprisingly good playmaker (21.4 Assist Rate), and had the ability to play and guard multiple positions. The other loss of note is big man Ayibakuro Preh, who had the top effective field goal percentage in the country last year, courtesy of shooting 37/52 from the floor.

Who Returns: The biggest returner is probably Chris Hansen, who is one of the best shooters in the conference. He made 75 threes last season, and has perhaps the quickest release in the Big Sky. He will need to be able to create his own shots a little bit more this season, but having him around helps space the offense well. Also returning is forward Jeffrey Solarin, who was one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation despite being just 6'4''.

Beyond those two guys, just role players return, a function of the losses and the fact that ISU was not a very deep team last season. Evann Hall showed some flashes as a sophomore in his first year, but he was not much of a scorer. Andre Slavic appears to be a talented forward, but he didn't get much time last year.

Newcomers: Marcus Bradley is a 6'7'' forward that should be a key cog for their frontcourt. He was an early Bill Evans recruit, and could have an immediate impact as a junior. Likewise, senior forward Nnamdi Ezenwa redshirted last season, but started four games two seasons ago. Those two should add to what should be the strength of team, up front with some athletic and versatile guys.

In the backcourt, the Bengals will be hoping that guard Geno Luzcando or Ian Fox are ready to play right away. Both are talented, but it might be a stretch to think they can lead the Bengals into the conference tournament in year one, if they are asked to contribute that much. Ben Wilson redshirted last year, and projects as a wing who can do a little bit of everything for them.

General Outlook: I think ISU is going in the right direction under Bill Evans. They haven't made the conference tournament in his two seasons, but they were close last year, and Evans has upgraded the talent base from where it was when he took over. Though they appear to be closer to the bottom than the top this year, they seem to have a nice incoming class, and they will break through eventually. It could be this year, if they can have some production from the youth in the backcourt.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Eastern Washington Outlook

It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything. We'll start with Eastern Washington, led by head coach Jim Hayford who got a contract extension in the offseason.

What They Lost: It looked like they might return everyone, but they did have a couple defections. The biggest was big man Martin Seiferth, who returned to Germany to play pro basketball. Seiferth was a solid rebounder, especially on the offensive glass where he grabbed 11.8% of offensive rebounds, a solid mark. He was also a good shot blocker, ranking in the top 125 nationally in block rate. He was capable on offense of getting putbacks and easy buckets as well. He was an outlier for EWU in that he was a plodder in an offense that wanted to run, but he gave them good production.

Forward Thomas Reuter is also not on the roster, though I am not sure what happened to him. In his two years, Reuter was a guy that could probably be described as a jack of all trades, master of none.

Who Returns: As judged by the minimal losses, EWU returns a lot of guys and a lot of talent, as they've been one of the youngest teams in the Big Sky the past two seasons. The most important among them is Tyler Harvey, who led the conference in scoring last year and is one of the most prolific shooters in the country. Forward Venky Jois didn't quite live up to his great freshman year, but is still an all-conference candidate as a guy that can do it all well - including rebound, block shots, pass the ball, and score inside.

A couple other notables are Parker Kelly and Ognjen Miljkovic. Kelly is still mostly a shooter at this point, but he is a very good one, making 36% of his threes on a lot of attempts, as well as being excellent at the foul line. Miljkovic had an up and down freshman year, but his talent is obvious. Though he needs to be a little more efficient scoring, the tools are there for him to be a big time player. Drew Brandon is a guy I haven't mentioned yet, but he is a nightly triple-double threat.

Newcomers: Their first signee was guard Will Ferris, who could push for time with his shooting ability, though a redshirt year seems possible. Sir Washington was a redshirt last year, and has good athletic ability as a two-guard.

Bogdan Bliznyuk continues the Eagles tradition of talented foreign big men (he is originally from Ukraine, though he appears to have lived in the USA most of his life), following guys like Jois and Miljkovic as versatile frontcourt players that get playing time right away. He can shoot outside as well, and should be a nice contributor.

Another newcomer is forward Kyle Reid, who was a highly rated JUCO forward out of California, averaging 14.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game last year. He will join Bilznyuk to help make up for any loss of Seiferth, as the Eagles should have a deep and talented frontcourt.

General Outlook: There is no doubt that the Eagles are one of the most talented teams in the Big Sky, and should lead the conference in scoring. The only problem could be finding minutes for all the talent. Four of their five starters return and will be upperclassmen, they return some experience on the bench, and they have talented newcomers to fill in the gaps. As we'll see as we go through the teams, there will be a lot of bunching at the top, but EWU is a team within that bunch that could legitimately win the Big Sky, or finish fifth. They will be fun this year.

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