Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Don't Sleep on Northern Arizona

Last year, Northern Arizona went 3-8 during non-conference play, and got very little attention heading into the conference season. I wrote that they might be better than we all thought, and they wound up finishing third in the Big Sky.

This year, they currently sit at 4-6, and while they aren't flying as far under the radar (in part because of their high finish last year), there hasn't been a lot of talk about them,. However, don't be surprised if they are contending for the Big Sky title.

For one, they can defend at a high level. They currently sit second in the Big Sky in defensive efficiency, just slightly behind Weber State. Last season, they finished second during Big Sky play in PPP allowed, so their past history shows they can be one of the best defensive teams in the conference, if not the best. In a league where teams struggle to get stops, that can set them apart.

A season ago, their biggest flaw was that teams shot the three ball very well against them, which is the opposite of what has happened so far this year. Though that is sure to regress to the mean, they have forced turnovers well, and have good defenders on the perimeter and inside.

The offense has struggled this year, but there are signs that might be turning around. Sophomore guard Kris Yanku has re-joined the starting lineup the past two games, and played well. They have a lot of guys that shoot the ball well on the outside, but Yanku is the guy for them that can consistently get into the lane, break down the defense, and set up teammates. He is still growing, and might be their most important player.

NAU is now 4-6 after their win on the road versus St. Mary's, and I wonder if they might be flying under the radar a bit. Regarded as a challenger for the Big Sky before the season, everyone seems to be in the second tier behind Eastern Washington. However, don't be surprised if Northern Arizona is a team that can challenge EWU.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball


  1. Thanks for covering the Jacks sir. You are right to keep an eye on the Jacks...all bias aside....Jack Murphy is bringing in some of the best talent the conference has ever seen. --#1LumberjackFan

  2. Thanks for the write up, Jon. Production in the post seems to be coming around. I agree that their offense seems much more fluid when they're driving the lane as opposed to jacking up long jump shots and 3's. I won't predict they're going to win it but I do think they'll be a fun team to watch this season. Here's a video clip of the end of the St. Marys - NAU game.


  3. MTJack and Jon are right on. The key to NAU's chances this year is the post. I noticed Coach Murphy is going alot with Bewernick as a big due to Len Springs' constant foul trouble, and Ako's very inconsistent play (dominating one day, disappears the next). When Yanku drives (and Q for that matter) he breaks down the defense and creates opportunities for the big guys down low. I have yet to see a team stop Yanku's driving...they should keep going to that well. #1LumberjackFan

  4. Two losses to mediocre MEAC teams since this post was published. I am not buying this year. Last year you were spot on. This year they appear to lack the post play needed to win the Sky.

    1. Those two games were definitely not encouraging... Losses on the road like that are understandable, but would have liked to see the games be a little more competitive for sure.

  5. Well....there go all of those positive feelings I had. Is the MEAC really better than the WCC? Or is NAU just a mess on the road? I'm thinking the Big Sky is looking like EWU and the 11 stinky dwarves right now.

  6. Don't sell out just yet you all. NAU has its challenges, given the complete loss of depth now and Q's disappearance offensively, but keep in mind that NAU has played 2 road games for every home game thus far and is still 6-9 with wins over Fresno St. (who beat San Diego State) and St. Mary's. Those match ups back in VA were probably the very best team makeups for defeating NAU if you want to know the truth. There are no teams in the Big Sky with the length and agility of those MEAC squads. Still think we may not even make the tourney, but we will surprise some teams because the core of our team is top notch (albeit young) and Jack will outsmart some coaches. #1JacksFan