Now that we are three weeks into the Big Sky season, let's take a look at some power rankings to see if we can get a general feel for how teams are sitting right now. As always, this is very unscientific, and I won't be going just based on the records. So again, take no offense if "_____" team is behind "_____" team... I promise you it is nothing personal!
1. Eastern Washington (4-1) - Yes, they just lost to Sac State, but that was on the road without Venky Jois - at full strength and on a neutral court, I'd still take EWU right now over anyone else. However, a big worry could be cropping up in that during conference play, opponents are scoring 1.16 PPP against them... worst in the Big Sky (of course, Sac State is second to worst). Offensively, they are explosive and can hurt you in many ways, but they need to find a way to get stops when they need. So far, that's a legitimate worry.
2. Sacramento State (5-1) - Similar to EWU, their offense is excellent but they've struggled badly defensively. In Big Sky play, they are averaging 1.21 PPP... to put that into perspective, if they averaged that all year it would rank #2 in the country. One of the most promising things for them has been the development of Cody Demps, who has been excellent since conference play began. He is an efficient scorer (54% on twos, and 48/55 FT) who helps on the glass as well, and has flashed some playmaking skills. His emergence helps take some of the pressure off McKinney and Garrity.
3. Montana (4-1) - This has been partially aided by schedule (they have played UND, ISU, and MSU already), but so far during conference play they've been the best defensive team in the Big Sky by a country mile. It's not enough to say they've been winning the game they're supposed to... they've been dominating those games. Martin Breunig has been everything expected and then some, which has helped Jordan Gregory and Mario Dunn. The Grizzlies are flying under the radar, but they have the impact talent to make some noise throughout the Big Sky season.
4. Idaho (2-3) - This might seem high for them, and I get that... but it's been a tough schedule for them that has contributed to the 2-3 start. They beat Weber State at home... then lost tight road games against EWU and Sac State before struggling on the road at PSU. I'm inclined to think most of the teams in this conference would be 2-3 with their schedule. Their offense is better than I expected it would be, and even as Mike Scott has slowed a bit from his hot start, Sekou Wiggs and Connor Hill have been there to pick up any slack. I like this team, and I wouldn't be shocked if they were the second best team in the Big Sky by the end of the year.
5. Northern Colorado (4-1) - Like Montana, they have been buoyed by a relatively light schedule, but overall they have looked impressive. They are a balanced and experienced team, which helps avoid offensive slumps because so many guys can score. They are going to struggle with interior defense at times this year, but they should have the offense to stay in the hunt. Senior forward Tim Huskisson is shooting an other-worldy 35/48 on two-pointers against DI teams this year, along with rebounding 9.6 percent of his team's misses. And he comes off the bench. They have a high ceiling, potentially.
6. Weber State (3-3) - The game against SUU on Saturday perhaps tempers some expectations for the year - they aren't as good defensively as past year, and they don't have the offensive weapons that other top teams have. In a way, they seem to go as guard Jeremy Senglin goes, and he is experiencing some ups and downs of running a team. Against NAU on Thursday, he had 25 points, and 5 assists against 1 turnover in a win. He followed that with 14 points to go with 2 assists against 5 turnovers in a loss. A couple of their JUCO guys - Chris Golden and Jaelyn Johnson-Coston - have mostly struggled to make an impact in their debut seasons. Weber is still going to make the Big Sky tournament, but it appears more likely they will blend in with the middle tier than pose any serious challenge to win their second straight regular season conference title.
7. Northern Arizona (3-2) - They are effectively playing a seven man rotation right now, which you have to figure will come back to hurt them eventually as they wear down. The biggest issue is that they have struggled at times to score the ball, with Qunton Upshur still looking to really find his groove from the field. He can't seem to convert from inside the arc, shooting just 41% on those shots after being at 52% last year. They need his dynamic scoring. The Jacks rebound well, and they can still play as well defensively as anyone in the Big Sky, but they need to find a way to create easy baskets. Kris Yanku is a playmaker for them, but nobody else is really adept at getting easy shots for others.
8. Portland State (3-3) - It's hard to know what to expect from the Vikings on any given night. Two weeks ago they fell to NAU by 13 at home... and then Saturday they beat Idaho by 12. There just doesn't always seem to be any rhyme or reason to whether or not they are going to play well. One thing is for sure - Braxton Tucker and Tiegbe Bamba have provided nice upgrades up front, as both guys are playing well in their first years for PSU. With almost every team, you can say they are capable of beating anyone or losing to anyone on a given night, but I feel like that is more true with the Vikings than anyone else.
9. Southern Utah (2-3) - Before last Thursday, SUU had gone 1-27 in their previous 28 Big Sky games, so to turn around and win two straight is big. We've said all year that their offense has looked much improved, but they were also solid defensively the past couple games, especially against Weber. We will have to see if that continues. They have been getting good production out of junior forward Casey Oliverson, who was 8/9 from the field in each of the last two games. With their fast pace, deep bench (their bench plays a higher percentage of minutes than anyone in the country), and balanced approach, they can at least dream of a trip back to the Big Sky tournament quicker than anybody expected.
10. North Dakota (1-4) - UND has lost four straight, including three at home (all to good opponents), which could put their chances at making the Big Sky tournament pretty low. They hoped Jaron Nash's extra year of eligibility would be big, but he has most struggled offensively (though he's been excellent on the glass). Newcomers Estan Tyler and Terrel de Rouen have provided occasional spurts of excellent offense, but not consistently. Added all up, and I don't think UND can score enough to win too many games they won't be favored in. It was expected to be a rebuilding year, and that seems to be exactly what is happening.
11. Idaho State (1-5) - After losing by 4 points and 3 points last week, they now sit at 1-5 with little to no margin for error if they want to be playing meaningful basketball by the middle of February on. The problem, still, is that they can't score. Chris Hansen has been playing good basketball, and Jeffrey Solarin can always be counted on for some putbacks and easy buckets, but beyond that, there are just question marks. Nominal PG Ben Wilson is shooting 37%, Nnamdi Ezenwa has cooled off a bit, and Ajak Magot is more of a defensive specialist. There aren't many answers.
12. Montana State (0-5) - Marcus Colbert is a good player, and Michael Dison has improved a bit, but overall, it's not exactly a pretty picture in Bozeman for now. The Bobcats will get a couple Big Sky wins, but they will have to scratch and claw (no pun intended) for everything they do get. One positive is that they have shown some good things on the defensive side of the floor - rebounding well and showing some resistance at the rim. I know they want to play fast eventually under Brian Fish, but their best hope this year is just to try and grind things out.
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