Now that we are down to the final few weeks of the season, every game seems to have big implications on the Big Sky. There is the race for the top seed (which we'll look at in more depth later this week), and there is also an interesting race brewing for the final tournament spot. On Saturday, there were six games, and the home team won them all. Here are the scores:
Northern Arizona 73, Eastern Washington 69
Montana 74, Weber State 63
Sacramento State 74, North Dakota 66
Portland State 91, Northern Colorado 75
Southern Utah 79, Idaho 77 (OT)
Montana State 67, Idaho State 53
Some notes and observations:
- Idaho is an interesting team, because they have shown they can beat anyone in the Big Sky, but they can also look so flat at times. They led Southern Utah by 10 midway through the first half, and led by three at the break. Then they came out lifeless in the second half, and trailed by 10 with about five minutes to go. They turned it on at that point, eventually sending the game to OT, but the Thunderbirds recovered for the key win. It's hard to know what team to expect.
- Southern Utah still has a chance to make the final tournament spot (they are 5-9, while Weber State is 6-9 in eighth place), but either way, they are an interesting team. They play so many guys, and their youth was evident at times (especially down the stretch), but they always play hard, and they are certainly getting better. James McGee is a real keeper at guard, and guys like Trey Kennedy, Juwan Major, John Marshall, and Race Parsons all made key plays. I still don't love their chances to go to the Big Sky tourney this year, but pencil them in for next year.
- Montana doesn't do anything flashy, but they continue to pile up wins, now five in a row. They got off to a slow start, but controlled the game from late in the first half on. They are playing a shell of the Weber State team we thought we'd see, but they have a lot of balance. One key for them is that Mike Weisner has struggled a bit in his senior year, but he is showing good signs the last couple of games. Earlier this month I wrote that the Grizzlies are a contender, and it is more true than I even expected. They finish up with three road games (including at Idaho and EWU), but they've been playing better than anyone lately. KenPom now has Martin Breunig rated as the best player in the Big Sky so far this season.
- Sac State didn't get any style points for their win over UND, but at this point in the year, it's all about winning. Cody Demps seems to get better every game - after putting up a stat line of 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists, he threw up a 9:0 assist to turnover ratio on Saturday. Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity get a ton of credit, and rightfully so, but Demps is one of the most improved guys in the Big Sky. He is a great glue guy.
- The loss dropped North Dakota to 4-11. Two of their final three games are at home, but it's probably safe to count them out. Ditto for Idaho State, who dropped to 3-12 with a loss to Montana State. Speaking of the Bobcats, it's almost definitely too little too late, but they have won three of four, and are showing some fight. Their schedule is brutal down the stretch (and they would have to run the table), but they are showing the potential of what they can be under Brian Fish.
- Tyler Harvey has had a nightmare three games since returning from his thigh injury, adding a 6/19 stat line on Saturday. I have nothing to suggest it's anything but a standard shooting slump (he played all 40 on Saturday, so I don't think health is an issue), but hopefully he gets back on track. The Eagles need him.
- I wrote about NAU in December and how they are a good team, and they have done a good job of making me look somewhat prescient lately, At 10-4, they have won 7 of 8, and they are still in the race for the title. We know about their defense (they are second in the Big Sky behind Montana), but the offense has come alive a bit more during their hot stretch. On Saturday, they beat EWU even though Quinton Upshur was held to four points. Their big men have been playing well lately, Aaseem Dixon is shooting the ball well, and Kris Yanku is doing a bit of everything for them. They are a very solid team.
- Last, Portland State ran all over Northern Colorado, and now own the fifth seed. They won 91-75, thanks to 51 second half points. Plus, they did it without Braxton Tucker, who left the game early with an injury. Everything that you can possibly do well offensively, they did - from shooting the ball well, getting good shots (sometimes it looked like a layup line), rebounding, and taking care of the ball. It was an all-around offensive effort.
- Northern Colorado is in freefall mode with now, as they've lost four straight games, and now rank 348 out of 351 teams in KenPom's adjusted defensive ratings. It is somewhat mirroring last year, where a solid start was undone when they stopped playing any semblance of defense midway through the year. They have three home games left, and the talent to be a threat to good teams in the Big Sky tournament, but at this point, it's not clear if they care enough on the defensive end to get it done.
Any other thoughts from Saturday or on the Big Sky in general?
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