I have been a little skeptical of Montana so far this year. They started 6-1 in the Big Sky (before this past weekend), but that was against a very soft schedule, and with a level of defensive performance that didn't seem sustainable based on their defense during the non-conference portion of the schedule. All in all, I liked them, but felt like they were behind Sacramento State and Eastern Washington.
However, after this past weekend, a re-assessment is needed. They pasted Portland State on the road Thursday, and had Sacramento State on the ropes Saturday before the Hornets came back for a win. (Arguably, Montana did more than have them on the ropes - when they led by eight at the three minute mark, they had a 97% chance to win the game. They were on the wrong end of some calls I felt were questionable, but they have themselves to blame with bad turnovers, missed free throws, and then of course giving Dylan Garrity an open corner three to win the game. Of course, Garrity is probably the last guy in the Big Sky you want shooting an open three with game on the line!)
If I did power rankings this week, I'd probably have Montana above Sacramento State*, because they had the Hornets dead to rights on their home court, even with their best player missing a lot of time due to foul trouble. It was an impressive effort, made more impressive because they had beaten PSU so soundly two nights before.
The Grizzlies continue to be head and shoulders above the rest of the conference defensively, as their PPP against of 0.929 is worlds above NAU in second, who is at 1.046. They are forcing turnovers at a conference best rate, and teams are struggling from the outside. Mario Dunn might be the best defender in the Big Sky.
Offensively, they can have dry spells, but it's good enough to keep them in most games. Martin Breunig is either the best or second best offensive post guy in the conference (depending on your preference between him and Venky Jois), which is obviously a huge luxury. Jordan Gregory has struggled a bit in comparison to past years, but he is still a very good scorer. Brandon Gfeller has become a dynamite shooting specialist. They have enough pieces that they are capable on that end.
Their schedule is tough the rest of the way... they host Weber State, still have to go to Greeley, and have two games left against both Eastern Washington and Idaho. This will probably hand them enough losses that a Big Sky regular season title is not likely. However, they have the pieces, and defense, to be a very tough contender for the Big Sky title. With their near road win over Sac State, they showed they can get it done at home or on the road, which obviously becomes even more important in the Big Sky tournament.
*This is one of the reasons I'm not doing them this week... I don't want to see the outrage that would ensue!
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No surprise you feel this way. Ever since your preseason predictions you have grabbed at everything you can to denigrate Sac St. All they have done is win. Guess that's not enough for you. You say nothing about Eastern being down by 11 with 1:30 left and wringling out. Only Sac St. getting some calls and winning. Sac has been on the other side of these calls for years against Montana but nothing ever said about those calls. Guess we just have to keep winning and at the end you will probably be writing about how Weber had the most talent but somehow couldn't get it together.ReplyDelete
I was pretty early on the Sac State bandwagon... The Hornets did do everything right down the stretch to get the win, and I could have noted that a bit more... I more so focused on Montana because the article was on them, and I haven't written much about the Grizzlies so far this year.Delete
I didn't write about EWU because other than seeing the score and a little bit about what happened, I did not get to watch any of that game.
It's a little strong to say I've consistently "denigrated" Sac State. I picked them second before the year (when they were 4th in the coaches and media polls). Yes, they keep winning... my concern is forward looking. They could have easily lost several conference games this year -
- at North Dakota, UND had a 79% win chance with 3:40 left
- vs Idaho - Vandals had a 82% win chance with 8:40 left
- at Idaho St - ISU has a 56% win chance with 33 seconds left
- Then of course this game
Now, they may well keep winning all of these games, even when they (statistically) have an 80+% chance of losing, sometimes late into the second half. With guys like McKinney and Garrity, the second half runs can continue because those guys are great.
BUT... by advanced stats, they are the third best team in the Big Sky. The fact is that they have been living dangerously, often against mediocre teams. Yes, every team does this (the EWU game against Idaho is a perfect example), but that doesn't make the Hornets infallible.
All I'm saying is, when they lost 2 or 3 of these close games during the second half of the conference year, don't be surprised. These late wins with big comebacks are very nice, but likely not sustainable. I don't think it's denigrating the Hornets to say that, it's just common sense - nobody can keep coming back in these types of games all the time. It's possible to point out how impressive the wins have been while being skeptical they can continue at the same rate.
The bottom line is... I have nothing against Sacramento State, or any other team in the Big Sky. I think if you've read the blog long enough, you would agree that I say good and bad things about every team.Delete
At the end of the day, I simply think that on a neutral court, EWU and Montana are better teams than Sac State at this moment. Doesn't mean it will always be like that, and obviously don't mean I am right (been wrong before and will be wrong again). As a fan, with the success they've had, I understand how you might take that as "dogging" on the Hornets, but try to see it from my point of view. My only rooting interest is for North Dakota (I'm an alum which I've always been up front about), and other than that, I have no rooting interests. I think over the years, every team's fans have accused me of being against their team. Ultimately, if they keep winning, it doesn't matter what I think (well, either way, it doesn't matter), but I'm just trying to be forward thinking.
Did you actually read Jon's preseason write up for the conference? His prediction for second place in conference was (ahem....drumroll, please......) Sacramento State! He has in the past and continues to give props to Sac State when they deserve it. He has also critically analyzes their weaknesses and does so for other teams in conference as well. Objectivity....it's what good writers do. I'm happy to see Katz has turned things around for Sacramento State. I also hope you guys get the stadium issue resolved if you host the conference tourney. -MTJack
MtJack...did you read my post? I quote "Ever since your preseason predictions" . I think that says I read the predictions and considered them as the last respect we really recieved here. After our win over EWU it was because of Jois being out, after our win over Idaho it was some bad calls down the strectch but after we lost at NCU was there any mention of the Bears shooting over 80% in the second half? NO. Only says Sac couldn't keep up with the Bears. I think Montana is a good team but when the player on their team who has committed the most fouls on their team gets in foul trouble is that because of questionable refereeing? Bruenig and Gfeller have committed the most fouls on the Grizs roster. Sounds to me like they are foul prone...not selective calls by the refs.Whatever, all we can do is keep winning and let the chips fall where they may. After all our years of futility it is a bit hard to not expect a bit more love when you finally start winning.Delete
Okay. I am guilty of the crime I accused you of...not doing my research prior to commenting. I don't deny that. But I will say that I really never get why sports fans are all up in arms over lack of respect. At the end of the day...who gives a s***? A few Griz football fans can't give a lick of respect to the rest of the Big Sky but the reality is they haven't been the best team in conference for a while. Weber State isn't at it's usual place at the top of the mens hoops rankings. One day, NAU won't win the cross country conference championship. The nature of dynasties is to fall. Enjoy your time on the top, Sac State fans. Focusing on the perceived lack of respect is just harshing your own buzz. -MTJackDelete
Jon - I vote for a return of the power rankings, regardless of the haters. It is neat to see more people chiming in on Big Sky basketball, though. I'm glad to see interest peaking from EWU and Sacramento State fans. -MTJackDelete
Next week, it'll be back! Got a couple other things planned for this week on the blog so won't get to the rankings... but I'll post some next week!Delete
And agreed, loving the discussion and passion... from the video of the game, the Hornets arena was rocking on Saturday night against Montana! Cool to see for sure!
Don't forget his bias with Tyler Harvey over Mikh McKinney also, as of right now, 25 to 17 on who would take McKinney over Harvey and all McKinney has done is win Big Sky player of the week, 3 weeks in a row and lead his team to a 9-1 conference record.ReplyDelete
Jon- I know you try and be fair in most points and like you said, your not always right like in who is the better play out of these two players, but sometimes you might be blinded by the hard truth here.
While I would take McKinney all day long over Harvey and I believe McKinney's team is the better of the two, I do respect Jon's opinion. I am a Lumberjack, but I said early in the season that Sac State was legit. Jon picked them second and always brags on Sac State's back court. That said, Sac State's achilles, which has yet to be exploited is its front court. Sac State has won the games and deserves to be recognized as the best thus far, but if I had to guess the future I would say that they will falter and will not make the Big Dance because they simply do not have the firepower in their bigs. I absolutely love their backcourt though- easily the best in the conference in my view. Trying to be unbiased I would say the following schools have the best chance of winning the BSC Tourney in order...1) Montana (ugly and boring style of play, but very effective, Breunig is near unstoppable down low), 2) EWU (lots of weapons and good balance), 3) Sac State (guards win championships and they have them), 4) NAU (they can beat any team in the conference on any given night (see victories over Fresno St. and St. Mary's and close game against Ole Miss), 5) Portland State (weird team that can rise up and win big games, if they can string them together they could surprise), 6) Northern Colorado (veteran team, but undersized)ReplyDelete
Last post by #1JacksFanReplyDelete
SALUTE to the Sacramento State Hornets! Tis good to see your success this year, you deserve to be respected. Great coach & best backcourt in the BSC. Agree with some of #1JacksFan analysis, but hope that the Hornets win the championship - both regular season & tourney. A Wildcat Fan.ReplyDelete
Jon keep up your good work. I've trolled your blog enough to know you give the Hornets credit when credit is due. I will just point out that in past seasons when a top BSC narrowly beats a mediocre or weak team it is typically spun as "the better team won" or "good teams can pull out these types of games". This write up comes across more as a "Hornets got lucky" which might be the case if we hadn't have won multiple close games this season. I expect this kind of attitude on eGriz, but not on a quality blog like this.ReplyDelete
That said I enjoy your work and I love the coverage you provide for the BSC. The BSC is a grind with the travel, and always will be. The Hornets are playing great hoops right now and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Go Hornets!
I definitely did not do enough to convey the role the Hornets obviously had in the game. While the Grizzlies made several mistakes, many of them were obviously forced by Sac State (especially turnovers)... plus, you don't come back from that deficit in that little of time without doing just about everything right yourselves. The Hornets have been fantastic in close games.Delete
In closing(!), I still think the Grizzlies should have won that game if they hadn't made a lot of crucial errors, but that is simply how it goes with a 97% win probability with 3 minutes left. No matter the opponent, if you're up 8 with 3 minutes left, you should win. Saying that, I didn't mean it as a slight to the Hornets, but with my phrasing, I can understand how it was taken as such.
Fair points, and agree about the 8 point lead with 8 minutes to go. Epic Griz collapse. :)Delete
I meant 3 minutes to go.Delete