Let's take a quick snapshot of the Big Sky as of today... where things are sure to change in an instant, as always!
1. Eastern Washington (9-1) - Beating Montana on the road without Tyler Harvey earns them the top spot for me this week, as they led the Grizzlies by as many as nine late, winning 75-69. Montana's D has been solid, but the Eagles scored 1.21 PPP against them, thanks to a great day from Drew Brandon (27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists). Saturday's tilt against MSU was a little more nerve-wracking, as they trailed the Bobcats by eight early in the second half, but they managed to come back and win by 10. They host Sac State on Thursday in the biggest Big Sky game of the year (I'll be previewing it in depth more as the week goes on), and they really need Harvey back.
2. Sacramento State (10-1) - If they beat EWU this Thursday, I promise you Hornets fans that they will be #1 next week. Their win Saturday night against PSU was a little closer than many would have expected, especially when the Hornets were up 9 at the half. PSU cut the lead to as little as two, and Sac State eventually won by 4. The Hornets are now 6-0 in Big Sky games decided by five points or less. This week will show a lot about them - a roadtrip to take on EWU and then Idaho is arguably the toughest in the Big Sky. If they can at least get a split, that'd probably be a good result.
3. Montana (8-3) - Montana got their chance to show they'll be a contender for the regular season title, and fell flat losing a home game to EWU. They responded well, however, holding Idaho to 0.90 PPP, forcing 17 turnovers in the process. Montana continues to hound teams defensively, and have long since showed that their solid defensive performances once Big Sky play started were not a fluke. They're the best defensive team in the conference, which is the biggest reason they're a legit tournament threat..
4. Northern Arizona (7-3) - I had been concerned earlier in the year about their offense, but those concerns have been assuaged somewhat. as they continue to put together impressive performances. While the biggest factor in that is probably due to Quinton Upshur looking like himself against over the past give games, I wanted to write a few words on Kris Yanku. He has been outstanding in all phases recently, really taking over the team. During their four game win streak, he's putting up 16 PPG, 7 APG, 6.5 RPG, and has only turned it over four times. You might not know it yet, but he's a star in the Big Sky, and seems to be getting better and better.
5. Northern Colorado (7-4) - The Bears did what they needed to do, getting a split on their last roadtrip. Now they sit at 7-4 with 5 home games left, so they're in a great spot. Though they have a balanced team, they seem to go as the backcourt duo of Cam Michael and Tevin Svihovec go. They complement each other well, as Michael is an excellent outside shooter, while Svihovec does his best work slashing and getting to the line. They will be a tough out because those two guys are tough to guard.
6. Weber State (5-6) - You can put 6-7-8 in any order, and I wouldn't argue. The Wildcats won their long game last week, beating ISU on the road by seven. While Jeremy Senglin can be inconsistent at times, his ceiling is high, as shown by his scoring 30 points on just eight field goal attempts on Saturday (he was 14/15 from the line).He gives them that elite guard talent that can sometimes be a wildcard come tournament time.
7. Portland State (5-6) - They almost got the big upset win over the Hornets, but couldn't quite get over the top in the second half. One subplot has been the minutes of Tim Douglas... A year ago, he led the team in minutes. This year, his play on the court (taken as a whole) has been fairly similar to last year - he is a an average outside shooter, poor inside, pokes away a few steals, and doesn't turn it over a ton. But he played 15 minutes Saturday, and has played less than 20 in 5 of the last 6. Gobbling up his minutes is freshman Iziahiah Sweeney. Something to watch for the Vikings going forward.
8. Idaho (4-6) - All things considered, it wasn't a real impressive week for the Vandals. They trailed MSU by 11 early in the second half (before winning by 9), and lost by 14 to Montana. It's clear their ceiling is higher than many other teams (they lost their three games against EWU and Sac State by 9 points total), but their floor is a lot lower than the mid-tier teams as well. This week's home games against PSU and Sac State will tell us a lot... they have the talent to win both and be a solid 6-6, or lose both and be sweating things at 4-8. I'm curious to see which Idaho team shows up, and I'm sure their fans are as well.
9. North Dakota (4-7) - Their road win over SUU Thursday was big, as it at least keeps them alive and in the discussion. This week they host the Montana schools, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that they'll be 6-7 heading into the final few weeks. Estan Tyler has become their workhorse - as long as he can stay out of foul trouble. Another name to watch is Carson Shanks, a guy who has really been coming. They are absolutely still in the race for a tournament spot, but they don't have a ton of margin for error.
10. Southern Utah (2-8) - When SUU won two straight Big Sky games to go to 2-3, they could at least dream of a conference tournament spot. Five losses later (the last three at home), and it appears it was just that - a dream. They are a year away, but certainly there is hope for the future. Their bench still plays more minutes than anyone else's in the country, and they are still very inexperienced, with no seniors being a really key part of the core. It would be nice to get a few more wins to end the year to give them some momentum into the offseason, but the schedule won't be easy - arguably they will be the underdog in all of their remaining games.
11. Idaho State (2-9) - It doesn't look like the Bengals year. At 2-9, they are all but eliminated from conference tournament contention. The seven guys playing the most minutes for them are upperclassmen (five seniors, two juniors), which doesn't leave a ton of hope that next year will be better. I like Bill Evans as a coach, and feel he is very solid in terms of game-planning, but they just haven't had the talent to compete.
12. Montana State (1-10) - They have to feel like they let some games slip through the cracks... They led Idaho by 11 early in the second half Thursday, and then EWU by 8 in the second half Saturday, but lost both games by a combined 19 points. They at least showed they are a feisty club that won't lie down for any games. They hit you with a barrage of threes - they attempted 37 against Idaho, and 29 against EWU. Wins will be hard to come by, but they're starting to form an identity for the future.
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