Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Big Sky Notes

This past week has been a busy one at work followed by an unexpected trip for a family matter, so even though I have been following the games and happenings, I haven't had the chance to write about them recently. So this will more or less be a random dump of some Big Sky thoughts.

- If all you knew about the Big Sky was what has happened so far this season, Eastern Washington looks like the best team in the land so far (which KenPom rankings also bear out).

After their opening win against Texas Southern, they crushed Utah Valley (a game they should win, but it was impressive how they won), and then on Saturday they hung in there on the road against #22 SMU. They hung with SMU despite shooting just 11/36 from downtown, and making just 7/15 FT's (in fairness, Veky Jois was 2/7 at the line, and he does not excel there). It is too early to make any definitive conclusions, but their offense looks as good as neutral observers hoped it would be.

- Montana State went on the road to play #1 Kentucky, and the result was even worse than you would expect. The Bobcats went into Rupp Arena and lost 86-28. Some of the more staggering numbers: The Bobcats shot 19.7% for the day, including 10/38 from two, and 2/23 from downtown. They were just 2/2 from the foul line. They turned the ball over 21 times, and scored 0.40 PPP. Joey Frenchwood led the team in scoring... with 7 points.

It was ugly all-around. Kentucky is a great team, and they could have the best chance of going undefeated that anyone has had in college basketball in many, many years. Brian Fish after the game said it was the best team he had scouted in 25 years of coaching. Against a young and rebuilding MSU team, clearly this was as big of a talent mismatch as you'll see between two DI programs. But I all that said, I am sure the Bobcats would like to get the taste of this game out of their mouth as soon as possible.

- Weber State has played a tough schedule, so there is no need to panic about a 1-3 start (indeed, they started 0-3 last season), but there are some discouraging signs below the surface. We knew that they could struggle to handle the ball, and that is exactly what has happened, as they are 340th in the nation in turnover rate. The biggest offender has been PG Jeremy Senglin, who has a staggering 40.1 TO Rate, and 18 TOs against three DI teams. Backup PG, freshman Hayden Hunter, had a 28.3 Assist Rate (good), but a 58.3 TO Rate (very, very bad). These guys are talented, and they will figure some things out... but the early guard play has been disappointing.

- One thing for Weber which has not been disappointing is Joel Bolomboy, who has been putting up huge numbers. While his FG percentages are down so far, he has been getting to the line often, and hitting them. He was 14/15 against Illinois State, and 7/8 against LSU. If he is doing this against non-conference opponents, they have to be excited to see what he will do against Big Sky big men.

- Northern Arizona is also 1-3, but other than a 33 point loss to Xavier (who, to be fair, is an NCAA Tournament team), they have played well. They lost to Toledo, but that looks better after the Rockets went toe to toe on the road with VCU and Oregon. They pounded Fresno State, and then lost 80-74 to Ole Miss on the road. Junior guard Jaleni Neely has been solid for them in the backcourt, and looks to be a nice piece for them. I will be writing more about some Big Sky newcomers hopefully early in the week.

- After a tough opener, Montana bounced back and took Boise State to double OT, and then went on the road to beat Seattle. Stats were not in for the Seattle game at the time of this writing, but Martin Breunig flashed some of his talent in the game against Boise State. Though he again had some foul trouble, he was 7/8 from the floor and had 16 points in 24 minutes, also grabbing nine rebounds. The Grizzlies will be an interesting sleeper.

- Southern Utah is winless, but they have showed some offensive punch so far, and showing that they may be trying to play at a much faster pace. Through three games, they are 29th in the country in pace, as they try and jumpstart an offense that struggled mightily last year. In a close loss to Utah Valley, SUU had 11 different players score. They are trying some things out, and I think they will be better for it in the long run.

- North Dakota lost a nailbiter to South Dakota State on the road, which is a good sign for them. In Estan Tyler's first game for them, he scored 17 points on 6/10 shooting and 5/7 FT. He has the potential to be a very good scorer for them. It's only been three games, but UND has looked a little better than I thought they might, which is encouraging.

- Idaho has been playing very good offensive basketball so far, and one reason for it is Mike Scott, who has stepped into the starting lineup and played three excellent games so far. Thus far, he is 16/27 from the field, and has 14 assists to one turnover. While he can't keep those numbers up, he looks like a real asset for them, and forms a really nice backcourt along with Sekou Wiggs (also off to a good start) and Connor Hill. The Vandals will score a lot of points this year.

I know I couldn't quite touch on everybody... but what else has stuck out early on in this season?

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