For the first time this year, let's tackle some power rankings as a quick gauge on where things stand, just a couple weeks away from the beginning of conference play!
1) Eastern Washington (8-2)
I wrote about them Friday, so I won't talk too much more. Impressively, they led Washington for much of the game on Sunday, with their win expectancy reaching almost 75% with a little over five minutes to play. Big man Robert Upshaw had a big day against them, and the big, scoring center is someone who can have success against EWU's relatively thin front line. However, there aren't many of those guys in the Big Sky.
2) Weber State (3-5)
While EWU looks better and better each game, the Wildcats spot as number two in the pecking order appears more and more tenuous. They lost on the road to UT-Arlington, and then dropped a home game to BYU where they were never really in the game. The losses are all to good opponents, but I still worry about their turnovers, and their ability to create easy opportunities. Jeremy Senglin does have five assists in back to back games, which is a good sign.
3) Northern Colorado (4-4)
They are flying under the radar a bit because they haven't beaten anyone, but it looks more and more like they will be the second best offensive team in the conference. They take great care of the ball, and they are loaded with efficient scorers. Dominique Lee was good as a junior last year, but he has been outstanding as a senior. He is third in the nation in defensive rebounding rate, blocking shots, and shooting 66%.
4) Montana (3-6)
Last Wednesday, they scored 99 points against Davidson... and lost by 11. They are a solid team offensively, but they are struggling to get any stops. Travis DeCuire should be thankful to former coach Wayne Tinkle for leaving him big man Martin Breunig, who scored 30 in that game against Davidson, and is the real deal. The problem is that teams are just hitting everything against the Grizzlies... DI opponents shoot 40% from downtown and 54% on twos against them. Unlike past year, they are doing well on the defensive glass, they just aren't getting enough opportunities at it!
5) Idaho (4-5)
They had a couple of tough road losses last week, but are playing pretty well overall. Like others, they can score, but they can't stop anyone.They haven't been able to force turnovers, and they've sent teams to the line far too often . Against South Dakota State, they shot 17/30 inside the arc and 12/18 from behind it, and still lost 87-85. I have talked about Mike Scott on here, but senior Bira Seck is another guy showing up big. He is in the top ten in defensive rebounding rate in the nation, and getting to the line offensively. His emergence has been a big plus.
6) Northern Arizona (3-6)
Similar to Weber State, they can't be judged on the record alone, because every loss has come against a solid opponent, with the exception of maybe UTSA. Their problem is the reverse of most - they can stop people, but they can't score well enough right now. They aren't getting to the line, and they aren't getting enough easy baskets (just 42.4% on twos). It looks like Kris Yanku was inserted into the starting lineup last game, which should help. Last year, he showed good passing ability and the ability to get into the lane, which could help generate easy chance.
7) Portland State (5-3)
They are a big of a roller coaster, with a 26 point road loss to an average UC Riverside being a real head-scratcher. One thing that has hurt them is the play of Gary Winston. Winston has been great throughout his career, but has slumped to career low numbers to begin his senior season. He will get every chance to play out of it (as he should), but they need him to start hitting shots. The new duo of Tiegbe Bamba and Braxton Tucker continues to play well up front.
8) Sacramento State (5-4)
They have the talent level to be much better, but they've been up and down this year, and have lost three of their last four. Defensively, teams are scoring at will on them inside, and they continue to struggle getting any offensive production from the frontcourt. One hope is Erc Stuteville, who played 25 good minutes against Portland, contribuirng 14 efficient points and looking like the player he was at the end of last year. The backcourt of Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney is as good as ever,.
9) Idaho State (3-5)
Offensively, they have really struggled shooting from the outside which has hurt what they want to do. Chris Hansen is just 15/45 from downtown, though that should improve with his shooting ability. The problem might be finding someone else that can stretch the defense... Nnamdi Ezenwa has shot well on limited attempts, but nobody other than those guys has made more than three threes so far this year. They don't have enough offensive talent there if they can't hit some shots from the outside.
10) Montana State (3-6)
They have bounced back well from the Kentucky loss, winning three of their last five, including an impressive home win over UT-Arlington (who later beat Weber State). They are pushing the pace, and guys like Marcus Colbert, Mike Dison, and forward Danny Robison has played well in that style. They can't stop anyone, but they are at least playing a more exciting style and building some things for the future. Early on, Brian Fish is building things at MSU.
11) North Dakota (3-6)
It appears that some of the fears are coming true... having lost most of their offensive talent from last year, the new guys haven't been able to step in, and the defense hasn't picked up the slack. Last week against Minnesota and NDSU (two good teams), they lost by an average of 33.5 points. It looks like it will be a long year in Grand Forks.
12) Southern Utah (2-5)
As we've been saying, they could very well still finish last, but they are a much improved club. They are still struggling mightily on the defensive end, but the offense is making a lot of strides. When they don't turn the ball over (which has happened far too often), they are shooting the ball well, and showing some ability to get to the line. They are giving minutes to a lot of guys and seeing what sticks, and so far they are finding some things. Tyler Rawson has looked good, and fellow freshman James McGee has canned 14/25 threes. There are a lot more bright spots this year.
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