We have two weeks left in the season, and each team has either three or four games left to play. As things are looking, we have a great race at the top of the Big Sky, with four teams having legitimate chances for the conference title. The standings are as follows:
Sacramento State 12-3
Eastern Washington 11-3
Northern Arizona 10-4
Let's break things down a few different ways to see how things might shake out when all is said and done.
When it comes to numbers, KenPom is my go to, and I use the site all the time. Currently, his methodology rates EWU as the best team of the group (144th best team in the country), and projects them to finish 14-4. He has Montana as the second best team (161st best in the nation), and has them at 13-5. The ratings actually show NAU as being a slightly better team than Sac State, but has the Hornets finishing 13-5 and the Lumberjacks at 12-6.
The only issue I have with these rankings is that they go based on the whole season, and lately, EWU has not looked as good as they did earlier in the year. I think they have the highest ceiling of any of these four teams, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be the team to win the conference.
Here are the points per possession for and against during conference play (interpret how you will):
- Eastern Washington - 1.151 PPP (2nd in Big Sky), 1.09 PPP allowed (7th)
- Sacramento State - 1.152 PPP (1st), 1.09 PPP allowed (8th)
- Montana - 1.11 PPP (6th), 0.98 PPP allowed (1st)
- Northern Arizona - 1.08 PPP (7th), 1.01 PPP allowed (2nd)
For reference, the best offense in the country (Wisconsin) has an AdjO of 1.24 PPP, while the best defense in the country (Virginia) is alloweing 0.84 PPP.
Here is the remaining schedules for the teams:
- Montana - at Idaho, at Eastern Washington, at Montana State
- Sacramento State - at Portland State, at Northern Arizona, at Southern Utah
- Eastern Washington - Montana State, Montana, at Idaho State, at Weber State
- Northern Arizona - at North Dakota, at Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State
Of those four schedules, I'd want EWU's the most, since they have two home games, and then two road games against more winnable competition. Both Montana and Sac State finish with three road games (of the two, I'd rather have Sac State's schedule, but neither is easy). NAU doesn't have a particularly easy slate either. as UND and UNC are both tough places to win, and obviously both of their homes games are against top 5 teams.
Head to Head:
Head to head is the first tiebreaker... At this point in the year, I'm not going to compare the secondary tiebreakers, because there is too much that can change since a lot of them depend on who else you lose to, and where they fall in the standings. That analysis will come at a later date. For now, let's look at how these teams have performed against each other.
- Montana - 1-0 vs NAU, 0-1 vs Sac State, 0-1 vs EWU with a game remaining
- Sac State - 1-1 vs EWU, 1-0 vs Montana, 1-0 vs NAU with a game remaining
- Eastern Washington - 1-1 vs Sac State, 0-1 vs NAU, 1-0 vs Montana with a game remaining
- Northern Arizona - 1-0 vs EWU, 0-1 vs Montana, 0-1 vs Sac State with a game remaining
It's hard to tell who things favor, because it just depends on who you are tied up with. This isn't necessarily useful for now, but something to keep an eye on, or if you are a fan of one of the teams, you know who you might want to root for more than others (for example, a Sac State fan would rather be tied with Montana than EWU, since you know you win the tiebreaker against them).
While Northern Arizona would be a great story, they are unlikely to win it since they are a loss behind everyone else. They need to win out, and while that is possible, I wouldn't call it likely.
Eastern Washington is a game behind the other two teams in the win column, but they should get to that 12th win on Thursday when they host Montana State. From there, I think they are the best bet to win the title, because all of their games are wins on paper. Montana will likely be favored to lose to EWU, and their game at Idaho is probably about a pick'em. Meanwhile, Sac State will probably be favored to lose at NAU, and their game at PSU is probably about a pick'em.
So, add it all up, and I like Eastern Washington as the most likely host of the Big Sky tournament, followed by Sacramento State, and then Montana, and then Northern Arizona.
Of course, all four of these teams have a very real chance, which will make it a fun race down the stretch? What does everyone else think?
Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball