So far this year, we have taken plenty of looks at Eastern Washington and what has made them the favorite, and we have also looked extensively at the middle tier of teams, but today let's took at the four who are presumed to be at the bottom right now.
- Idaho State sits at 3-8, after looking good in a neutral court OT loss to South Dakota State, a road loss to Utah State, and a neutral court loss to Cal State Bakersfield. So far this year they are tenth in the conference in offensive efficiency, but fourth defensively.
Their struggles on offense start with the fact that other than Chris Hansen, they don't have many guys shooting well from the outside. Against DI opponents, they have shot 26% from downtown, which ranks in the bottom 15 nationally. Hansen himself has struggle,d shooting just 29% after hitting 40% of his threes last year. That could be just a random fluke, but it could also be due to the fact that ISU doesn't really have a PG, which allows defense to key in on Hansen.
Jeff Solarin has been excellent again, and Nnamdi Ezenwa has given them good minutes, but they need to find someone other than Hansen that will draw the attention of defenses if they want to compete for a conference tournament spot.
- Montana State also sits at 3-8, and there have been some offensive bright spots in Brian Fish's first season. Junior guard Marcus Colbert has struggled with his shooting, but he is in the top 15 nationally in assist rate while also getting to the line. He is a keeper. Danny Robison has been very solid as well up front, showing a nice outside shot which wasn't there in the past. He is one of the most improved guys in the Big Sky.
To compete for a tournament spot, though, MSU needs to improve on the other end of the floor, where they are ninth in the Big Sky defensively. They haven't been able to force turnovers, but they are sending opponents to the foul line too much, so the aggression is not really paying off. DI teams have an effective FG% of 52.8% against them, which is not a good mark when you're not forcing turnovers. They have had good games on that end, but too many have been like their loss Saturday to Portland, where the Pilots made 23/40 twos and 10/20 threes, while turning it over just 10 times.
The Bobcats are probably a year away from contending for a conference tournament spot, but there are at least some good, positive things happening on the offensive side of the ball.
- North Dakota is 4-6, but two of the wins are against non-DI opponents. One of the best positives has been the play of senior guard Lenny Antwi. He didn't look like much of a Big Sky player his first three years, but he has been shooting the ball very well this year, hitting 12/26 threes. Elsewhere, they have a lot of guys in shooting slumps from the outside.
Estan Tyler made 43% of his triples as a sophomore at UMKC - he is 6/21 this year. Terrel de Rouen made 36% as a freshman at New Mexico State - he is 6/21 this year. Jaron Nash made 34% last year - he is 4/15 this year. Josiah Coleman came in as a guy that looked like he could do some things offensively - he is 3/18 from downtown and an abominable 10/41 FG overall. Some of these things should normalize and give UND a much better offense than they have shown so far.
Defensively, they still can't stop anyone in the paint. DI teams are shooting over 58% on two-point attempts against UND this year, a rank that is near the bottom of the NCAA. They don't really have a rim protector, and their perimeter defenders can't keep teams out of the lane. More than anything else, this will hold them back as we enter Big Sky play.
- Southern Utah is still at two wins, but as we've mentioned there are signs of life from their offense. AJ Hess continues to play great basketball, shooting the ball well while not turning it over. He has become more of a primary option which they desperately needed. SUU is shooting 40% from the outside against DI teams, a great mark and a huge sign that they will win some Big Sky games this year.
Defensively, however, they are a mess. Teams have been killing them from three, though that will hopefully normalize a bit. SUU hasn't forced turnovers, and as has been an issue for them the last few years, they send teams to the foul line way, way too much. They just can't seem to defend without fouling, and this is year three of what must be considered a trend.
Another issue is that Trey Kennedy, a guy that did some nice things as a true freshman playing a too-big role, has regressed this year. His turnovers are up, assists are done, and he doesn't seem to be getting any easy baskets. The Thunderbirds need these young guys to develop, and his sophomore season has not been promising so far.
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