Monday, January 26, 2015

All Three One Loss Teams Keep Pace

Last week in the comments section of a post here, I said that Tyler Harvey was the best player in the Big Sky, but I could at least understand why people would think Mikh McKinney was the best. After Saturday, I'm not sure what I believe anymore!

Mikh McKinney was simply sensational on Saturday night, dragging Sacramento State to a road victory over a suddenly reeling Weber State, 78-71. McKinney had 27 points in the second half, going 8/9 during that session, including 5/5 from downtown. Down the stretch, he seemed to hit back breaking three after back breaking three, and even grabbed a key offensive rebound.

He was just not going to be denied. For the game he finished with 33 points and 7 assists, quite possibly the best performance we've seen in the Big Sky all year.

The Hornets struggled to stop Weber State (1.27 PPP for the Wildcats) and especially Joel Bolomboy, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds, but their offense was good enough all around that it didn't matter. Dylan Garrity was the spark in the first half, and he finished with 18 points. Eric Stuteville showed signs of life with 10 points. In all, the Hornets were 28/47 from the field, including a blistering 10/17 from behind the arc.

The Hornets are now 7-1 in the Big Sky, still technically in first place (the other one loss teams have just six wins), and are now coming off a roadtrip where they won both games by making plays down the stretch. Something good is brewing in Sacramento.


In Cheney, it was North Dakota who held onto a 41-35 lead at the half, and it looked like they might be able to pull some magic for the second straight game. And then Eastern Washington came out and scored 67 points in the second half (not a misprint). The Eagles just overwhelmed UND in this game, dominating in all facets of offensive basketball.

Tyler Harvey led the way with 26 points, also chipping in five rebounds and five assists. Freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk continued his reign of terror, scoring 25 points himself while grabbing seven boards, and he has now reached double figures in six straight games. Four other Eagles were in double figures (one more stat line to note - Drew Brandon had 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 13 assists).

North Dakota played as well as they could reasonably expect, and still got run off the court in the second half by a team that I think has the highest ceiling in the Big Sky. To score 102 points in a game where their second best guy (Venky Jois) missed due to his ankle injury is quite a feat. The Eagles are now 6-1.


Last, in Missoula, it was the Montana hanging on for dear life against Southern Utah, who actually had a shot to win, but AJ Hess' last second three banged off the rim, giving the Grizzlies the 58-56 win.

The Grizzlies got 54 of their 58 points coming from four players - Martin Breunig and Jordan Gregory had 15 each, Mario Dunn had 14, and Riley Bradshaw had 10) - everyone else was 2/9 from the floor with four points. That worked in this game, but obviously that is not sustainable. Once again, Montana won with defense, holding SUU to 0.88 PPP and forcing 19 turnovers.

Montana is first in the Big Sky during conference play, allowing just 0.905 PPP, well in front of second place Montana State (1.04 PPP... and yes, I'm sure that's a surprise for many that MSU is ranked that well, but more on that in a moment!). That gap is larger than the gap between second place MSU and the team who is last in defensive efficiency (Northern Colorado).

However, I'm not ready to declare Montana a defensive powerhouse yet... they've also had the benefit of a very nice schedule. To wit, MSU has the same exact schedule, with noting the fact that they've played each other. The fact that those two are 1-2 could be mere coincidence that they are the two best defensive teams in the Big Sky, but more likely is due to the fact that Montana has played five of seven conference games at home, and one of the road games was at Idaho State (10th in offense). They also haven't played Sac State or EWU yet.

Thus, there are three one loss teams... but I'm not on the Montana bandwagon yet. But they have put themselves in position, taking advantage of that weak schedule to get off to a hot start. It will be fun to see if they can continue to make it a race.

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