Monday, January 19, 2015

Big Sky Saturday Roundup

It was a fascinating day in the Big Sky on Saturday, with six games and more than one surprise. Let's take a quick look with some news and notes from around the league.

- Sacramento State took back first place in the Big Sky with a 90-77 win over Eastern Washington, as they are now the lone 5-1 team in the Big Sky (EWU, Montana, and Northern Colorado are all 4-1).

Eagles star forward Venky Jois missed this game after suffering an ankle injury on Thursday night, and the Hornets took advantage of it. Jois is the best interior defender and rim protector, and so the Hornets were able to get almost anything they wanted in the paint. Sac State shot a blistering 24/36 from two-point range, and got to the free throw line 26 times. Mikh McKinney was great again, with 14 points to go with 12 assists and 6 steals (he's 7th in the country in steal percentage), but the Hornets have to be even more encouraged by some role players stepping up. Cody Demps was stellar with 22 efficient points along with 4 rebounds and 5 assists, and reserve guard Dreon Bartlett his four threes. The Eagles slowed down Dylan Garrity (just 7 points on 5 shots), and Sac State still scored 1.29 PPP.

- For the Eagles, obviously they aren't going to panic at their first loss, on the road against a top team, without one of their top two guys. They still scored the ball well enough to win (and Bogdan Bliznyuk is slowly turning into a star), but this showcased Jois' importance for them defensively. They will be fine, as long as Jois is fine.

- The surprise of the night belonged to Southern Utah, who held home court and upset Weber State 70-60, a thought that would have been shocking before the year began. We probably shouldn't be too stunned that SUU won, but it's a surprise that win expectancy shows it was their game for the last 12 minutes, thanks to a big run that put them up 60-46.

The real surprise might be that they won it with defense, which has been a much maligned unit of the team! Weber scored just 0.94 PPP, and had six assists versus ten turnovers. Richaud Gittens had 18 points on seven FG attempts, and Kyndahl Hill did some nice things, but the TBirds were able to completely stifle Jeremy Senglin and Joel Bolomboy.

As usually happens with them, SUU spread the wealth in terms of playing time and scoring, as 12 guys saw action in this game, with ten of them scoring. Casey Oliverson had 16 (his second straight good day), and freshman Tyler Rawson scored 16 as well. Rawson was great early in the year, but had seen his minutes get reduced a bit lately... that is likely to turn around, as he was fantastic in this one. Overall, it's the best weekend for SUU basketball in a while.

- One takeaway highlight of the SUU game was this dunk by sophomore Juwan Major. The TBirds are growing up before our eyes.

- Montana is 4-1 and has looked great, but it's been hard to get much of a read because they've had probably the easiest schedule in the conference so far. On Saturday, they beat Montana State at home, 63-48, as Martin Breunig had 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Mario Dunn had an all-around great line of 17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. All that said, Montana only scored 0.91 PPP, which is not very good, though they did have the game in hand much of the way.

Also, it was another dominating defensive performance from the Grizzlies, as Montana State shot 8/30 inside the arc, and 7/28 behind it, mustering just 0.70 PPP. In short, the Grizzlies' sloppiness on offense (14 turnovers) was the only thing that kept this game to a 15 point margin.

- Northern Colorado is in a similar spot in that they are 4-1, but that is partially aided by a schedule that hasn't been all that tough. On Saturday, they did go on the road and take down North Dakota in OT, 88-78. UND almost got the win in regulation thanks to a truly awful final 10 seconds for UNC (including a strange foul on Tim Huskisson), but it was all Bears in OT, as they outscored UND 19-9 in the extra session.

Cameron Michael continues to strengthen his case as possible Newcomer of the Year (though Martin Breunig may have him beat) with another excellent day with 24 points, and he is an offensive weapon. Tevin Svihovec was even better, with 24 points of his own rounded out with 9 rebounds and 7 assists. The Bears can score with anyone, but they can also let anyone score with them. One thing is for sure, their games will be a lot of fun.

- Northern Arizona got a badly needed home win, holding on for a 72-69 win over Idaho State. ISU led this game by 7 at the half, but NAU slowly chipped away, outscoring the Bengals 22-14 in the final ten minutes. Still, the Jacks have to be a little worried about their ceiling, as they just don't seem capable of mustering very good offense consistently, especially when they are shooting 5/22 from downtown like they did in this game. They are 3-2, but lack of depth is going to hurt them.

- Finally, Portland State played well to get a home win over Idaho, 85-73. Four PSU players were in double figures, led by 19 from Braxton Tucker and DaShaun Wiggins. Also, the 73 points that Idaho scored kind of mask the fact that the Vikings did well defensively, allowing just 0.96 PPP to an excellent Idaho team in what was a fast paced game.

The Vikings are now 3-3. Idaho is 2-3, but it's been a tough schedule for them early on... a homestand against North Dakota and Northern Colorado should treat them better, but it's tough to not get a split on a roadtrip.

Anything else I missed from Saturday?

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  1. Caught the NAU game on Saturday live. The Jacks are a strange team...capable of beating Top 50 teams like Saint Mary's and Fresno State one game, then capable of losing to a truly horrible like ISU team the very next game. You make a great point above...Coach Jack has few weapons right now and in certain games he is limited on what he can do. One thing is for sure, the Jacks can play with anyone in the Big Sky IF (strong emphasis) they can hit outside shots. They do most everything else good or great, including limiting turnovers, they have great slashers, big bodies that can get rebounds and score down low, and excellent team defense. Frankly, they simply cannot shoot the long ball this year. Dixon and Q are streaky...too streaky and big man Ako (the best pure shooter on the team in my opinion) is needed under the basket more than outside the arc. The only longshot NAU has to improve its chances this year is that somehow and at some point de Laveaga gets the minutes and confidence to show us his sweet stroke before season's end...pinning the season on a true freshmen tells you a lot about NAU's chances this year. #1JacksFan

  2. #1JacksFan said it better than I can. Playing 8 deep will catch up with them at some point but their defense and rebounding will keep them in most games. I think the reason that the outside shooting was better last year is that Max Jacobsen was a true back to the basket low post presence that forced opposing teams to focus defense on the interior. This year's team is lacking that true post presence. Kaluna is young and has a big upside. A bit more confidence and experience and he'll be a great player. Springs has the potential to be one of the most intimidating interior presences in the conference but his game is rebounding and defense. But no one is ready to draw opposing defenses to the interior to open up Q and Aseem from the outside. --MTJack

  3. Excellent observation about the loss of Jacobsen MTJack. Ako is more of an all around scoring threat. Not phenomenal backing down, but has range and niftiness that Max didn't have. But, Max was top level backing way down low to the basket and could use either hand to finish and defenses had to double him. With limited personnel Coach Murph is really stuck. If I am him, I would keep doing what he has been doing lately -use the guards to slash and either draw fouls or kick out for open threes. I was amazed at how Yanku dribbled right through ISU's defense at will the other day. He needs to keep looking for the open guys outside. Q gives Jack another effective slasher as well. I still think we need to see more of de Laveaga before tournament time or I fear our goose will be cooked. #1JacksFan