Monday, February 16, 2015

Big Sky Weekend Storylines

Saturday night was another wild night in the Big Sky, so let's get to the storylines.

Eastern Washington and Sacramento State Lose
On Thursday, all of the bottom three teams won their games, so the only logical way to follow that up was to have the league's top two teams lose!

Sacramento State's loss to Idaho was fairly predictable, given that the game was in Moscow, and Idaho almost beat the Hornets earlier this year, and almost beat EWU twice. The Hornets actually led the game by three with 8:28 left, but the Vandals outsocred them 21-7 the rest of the way. Sac State never got on track offensively, shooting just 5/23 from downtown and attempting only 8 free throws. Meanwhile, Idaho was a scorching 23/34 on two-pointers, making up for the fact that they didn't hit from deep and struggled at the foul line. The loss moves the Hornets into a tie with Montana at 10-3, while Idaho is 6-6 and back to looking like a team that is a tournament darkhorse.

Eastern Washington's loss to Portland State was a little more confounding, even accounting for the fact that Venky Jois missed the game. The Eagles got off to a hot start, leading 24-12 over midway through the first half, but a big run early in the second half for PSU gave them the lead and eventually the win. The Eagles can be so reliant on the three-point shot (especially when Jois isn't playing), and that did them in here, as they were 7/25 from deep (Tyler Harvey was just 2/12). The Vikings got big performances by guys like Braxton Tucker and DaShaun Wiggins, moving the Vikings to 6-7, and a spot where they should probably feel comfortable in the Big Sky race. EWU got a reprieve due to the Sac State loss, but a 2-game cushion would have been awfully nice for a team that has struggled with depth and injuries.

The Second Tier is Solidified
For a while, Northern Colorado looked like they could crash the party of the top four teams, but that seems unlikely today. They lost a heartbreaker in triple OT to Montana, though there was a little bit of controversy with the final call of the game. The Bears never led in regulation (and trailed by as many as 15), but then led by 3 with 12 seconds left in double OT, before Montana got three attempts to tie it, as Brandon Gfeller hit the game-tying shot at the buzzer to send it to triple OT.

It's a tough homestand for the Bears, who came into it at 7-4 with an eye on third place, and leave at 7-6. Against Montana, they did some things well though, battling back from a big deficit, and holding the Grizzlies to 1.08 PPP. The Grizzlies will surely take it as well - Greeley is always a tough place to go into and get a win, and their win coupled with Sac State's loss puts them back into the Big Sky picture at 10-3.

Northern Arizona struggled in a loss to Idaho State Thursday, but they bounced back and added to Weber State's misery, handing the Wildcats another home loss. It was not a very pretty game - NAU led 24-15 at the half, but the Jacks will take a big road win. Kris Yanku and Quinton Upshur led the way 37 points in the 61-54 win, which moves the Jacks to 8-4 in the Big Sky.With four home games left, a run for a top 3 spot is certainly not out of the question.

Weber State and Southern Utah Will Battle For Final Tourney Spot
We can almost stick a fork in North Dakota, after a 80-78 home loss to Montana State drops them to 4-9 in the Big Sky. With their remaining schedule, their tourney hopes appear to be slim. (Meanwhile, let's sit back and gives congrats to the Bobcats... who entered a roadtrip at 1-10 and played just as hard as if they were competing for a conference title, winning both games. Great job by them,)

We talked briefly about 5-8 Weber State, but not the worst part - starting guard Jeremy Senglin has a broken jaw and will miss four weeks. They struggled to generate offense even with him, and they showed how big of a struggle things will be when they scored just 0.84 PPP on Saturday. Joel Bolomboy was a star (23 and 15), but the Wildcats need Richaud Gittens to step up, and he struggled badly on Saturday night. We might see Hayden Hunter in the lineup at some point, as the freshman has showed some ability to create shots for others, but it's not clear he's ready to contribute in that big of a role.

For the first time, their spot in the tournament appears tenuous in part because Southern Utah was able to go and get another road win, beating Idaho State 71-67 to move to 4-9. The TBirds were 13/23 from downtown, and their shooting continues to put them in ballgames even when they struggle in other areas. They are a game behind Weber State, but they hold the tiebreaker since they beat them twice. They have four home games left (two road), but those four are against EWU, Idaho, Sac State, and Portland State... not exactly an easy slate.

SOMEONE will have to claim the final tournament spot, but at this point, it's hard to say who. We have to give Weber State the edge, simply because they have 5 wins, but they look capable of losing to anyone. SUU and North Dakota are right behind at 4 wins, but they don't have particularly easy schedules or trustworthy resumes. At this point, it looks like 7 wins will probably get you into the tournament, and you may even have a chance with 6. It's pretty ugly at the bottom.

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  1. Six games to go (for most teams) and four teams are within 2 games of first place. The Lumberjacks can play defense and rebound with the best in the conference but can they put up enough points with the likes of good o's like Sacramento State and Eastern Washington? I think Northern Colorado is talented enough to throw a wrench in NAU or Sac State's plans.

  2. Right now the top six teams are all contenders for the championship. Each team has the talent to take it. It will just come down to who can play the best basketball come tournament time.

    This should make for a very interesting tournament. I was getting tired of just seeing Montana and Weber dominate the conference. Now that the talent level in the Big Sky is getting better the games are more much more enjoyable. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. Nothing is a lock anymore.

  3. EWU is in big trouble I think. Injuries are just proving to be too much for Hayford and his staff. Jois clearly has much worse ankle injury then we thought. He has not been the same since he came back, and probably needs to be shut down for a week or 2. Harvey has practiced ONCE in 3 weeks (from Hayford's mouth during yesterdays coach's show). Harvey looked like me trying to shoot 3 pointers on Saturday. 5 for 15, and 2 for 12 from downtown will NOT cut it with Jois being hurt. Drew Brandon is also very banged up and not himself. I think this team will basically go as far as Harvey's shot takes them. If he is off for a night, any team in the Big Sky can beat them. If he is on, they could beat anyone in the Big Sky with ease. So i guess for the remaining 6 games, Lets go Eastern Washington Harveys!!

  4. If EWU can get healthy they are at the top of the heap with Sac State close behind. The thing that has bothered me all year about Sac is their front court...they simply don't have the talent or experience there. The Jacks needs to stay healthy if they will have any chance. They have a little more depth down low with the emergence of Reynolds, but they are thin outside. They have already proven they can beat outstanding teams but will their proclivity to play teams close come back to bite them in the tournament? I totally agree that Northern Colorado can find their way into the championship game. I think Montana is the steadiest team aside from their outside shooting. If Gregory and company can get hot, they can win it all for sure. If I had to pick the biggest dark horse at this point it would be PSU. Talk about an up and down team, but if they can get it together they can beat anyone in the conference too. With Eastern's health issues I think things are pretty wide open in the Sky. #1JacksFan

  5. when healthy EW by far the class of Big RPI by far and had best non conference success

    1. Agreed. But this isn't a guessing game. EWU is clearly not healthy, not even close to it.

      The whole "when healthy" scenario no longer applies to this year's EWU team. They have lost their 7th man, Sir Washington for the season. Their stars (Jois, Harvey, Brandon) are severely banged up, and there is no depth on this team anymore.

      I would bet Montana wins the Big Sky Tourney. Just a hunch. They are one of few trending up and are very deep and well coached. Sac St is a fraud, and I think we are all seeing that now.

    2. I don't agree about Sac State being a fraud, but I agree that considering EWU is not very healthy right now and very well may not be the rest of the way, the tournament will be quite a crapshoot.

      The thing that still makes EWU the favorite as of today, is that they are still in the driver's seat for the top seed which brings home court advantage.

      Montana is definitely not a bad pick. They can definitely beat anyone... I think they're the second best team when everyone in the Big Sky is healthy (which may well make them the best team at the moment).

  6. How can Sac State be a fraud with their record, a win against EWU, and easily the best backcourt in the conference. Seriously, show those guys some respect! Not my pick to win conference, but they are definitely top flight. #1JacksFan

  7. I guess time will tell if I'm right. They beat EWU without Jois, who clearly means more to EWU than Harvey does. EWU without Jois has lost 3 games I believe. EWU without Harvey beat BOTH Montana schools on the road, and beat Sac State. Having a healthy Jois is far more important to EWU's success.

    I say Sac State is a fraud by seeing them get exposed as of late. I watched every minute of their past 3 games. They should be 0-3 in those. Portland State should have beat them. They just are not that good. They have one good player (who is a great scorer), but one player doesn't make a team. I bet they finish their last 6 games 3-3.

    1. Huh? Sac controlled their home game against PSU. Only some missed FTs late let PSU get as close as they did.

      EWU should have beaten the Hornets by a lot more, but the Hornets crawled back in it on a tough road game. Chalk it up to EWU not closing or the Hornets just gutting it out, I’ll let you pick the spin.

      Idaho was a grind and the game was tied with 4 minutes to go. Idaho is better than their record (they have a few late game collapses that cost them wins) and the Hornets battled in a close one on the road.

      Your “Sac State is a fraud” statement holds no water. Are the Hornets the best BSC team? Maybe, maybe not but they have proven to be a contender.

    2. I agree SDHornet.

      Saying they are a fraud implies that they aren't a contender, and are nowhere near as good as their record. That is just not true. And as Sac State fans will tell you (or at least one of them), I've been as skeptical of them at times as anyone! They are a very good team.

  8. Washington averaged 2.5 minutes a game...not much of a factor. Harvey will be 100% by playoffs. Jois I am not sure off ...but he is on the mend

    1. True he didn't have big impact before being hurt. But with injury issues now to Jois, Harvey, and Brandon. Washington would be playing a lot more minutes (as he was before going down). Not having him is forcing Hayford to go way down his bench to players like Moon, who played a lot vs PSU.

      Jois probably wont be 100% until the season is over and he can rest that ankle. I would agree with you on Harvey. He should be 100% soon. Go Eags!!