Friday, February 26, 2016

Previewing Saturday’s Big Sky games

Are you all caught up on what went down Thursday night? If not you can find all the results, updated standings and links to stories here.

Betting line: Northern Arizona -6.5
KenPom gives Northern Arizona a 74 percent chance of winning
Last time: Northern Arizona 74, Southern Utah 63. The Lumberjacks out-rebounded the Thunderbirds 44-29, which led to 17 second-chance points for NAU. And the ’Jacks flipped 13 T-bird turnovers into 23 points. NAU guard Kris Yanku flirted with a triple-double, finishing 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

On Thursday: Both teams had the night off

What’s at stake: With a loss, the Thunderbirds lock up a last-place finish in the conference standings.

Betting line: Idaho -3
KenPom gives Idaho a 60 percent chance to win
Last time: Eastern Washington 74, Idaho 60. Felix Van Hofe and Austin McBroom combined to 11 3-pointers, and the Eagles held the Vandals to 31.3 percent shooting as they led by as many as 24 points in the second half.

On Thursday: Both teams had the night off

What’s at stake: Eastern is clinging to a one-game lead over three teams for third place. If Idaho wins Saturday night, the muddled Big Sky standings aren’t just a mess — they’re thrown into a grinder with one weekend left in the regular season.

As far as this matchup, I’m surprised KenPom favors the Vandals so heavily. Idaho is good at home but not great with an 8-4 record (conference losses to Sac State and Southern Utah). EWU’s offense leads the Big Sky in 3PA/FGA (44.1 percent), and U of I is 12th in the league defensively in 3PA/FGA (44.2 percent).

In other words, Eastern’s offense is built around shooting 3-pointers and Idaho’s defense is structured around the principle of protecting the paint and forcing long jump shots.

Obviously each team will make adjustments from game to game, and the Vandals didn’t play well in Cheney during their first matchup. It’ll be interesting to see what Idaho coach Don Verlin does to affect EWU’s potent offense.

Betting line: North Dakota -7.5
KenPom gives North Dakota a 77 percent chance to win
Last time: First meeting this season

On Thursday: North Dakota guard Quinton Hooker had himself a game. The junior surpassed the 1,000-point mark at UND and poured in a Division I single-game school scoring record 38 points as UND held off Portland State 80-77.

What’s at stake: North Dakota is one of four teams (along with EWU, ISU and U of I) battling for a top-four spot in the postseason.* Considering that the Fighting Hawks travel west for road games at Montana and Montana State next week, they need this game to remain in contention.

Betting line: Idaho State -3
KenPom gives Idaho State a 62 percent chance to win
Last time: First meeting this season

On Thursday: Idaho State guard Ethan Telfair picked up his fourth foul against Montana with 12:40 to go in the second half. The junior went to the bench with the Bengals trailing 52-48, and when he reentered the Grizzlies had pumped up their lead to 64-54. ISU never recovered.

Montana State, I think, learned Weber State is a bad matchup, whether Joel Bolomboy is playing or not. The Wildcats scored 42 points in the paint on the Bobcats, and WSU defended MSU guards Marcus Colbert and Tyler Hall exceptionally well. Those two combined for 39 points but needed 41 field goal attempts.

What’s at stake: The Bobcats’ loss Thursday virtually guaranteed they’re no longer in the run for a top-four seed in Reno.* The Bengals are still very much in that conversation. So from “what’s at stake” standpoint, ISU has more on the line in this game.

As far as this matchup is concerned, it seems simple enough. The Bobcats are a jump shooting team. They’re going to rely on that plus Colbert’s ability to penetrate ISU’s zone. If Idaho State can contain Colbert, the Bengals should be able to pull away in the second half because MSU is going to struggle defending Ethan Telfair and company.

Betting line: Portland State -2
KenPom gives Portland State a 55 percent chance to win
Last time: First meeting this season

On Thursday: Losers of five straight, Northern Colorado trailed Sac State 61-56 with 6:03 left in the game Thursday. The Bears rallied, outscored the Hornets 16-6 down the stretch and picked up a win they desperately needed.

Portland State, meanwhile, had another fantastic game from graduate senior Cameron Forte at North Dakota. He put up 24 points and 13 rebounds and gave the Vikings a chance in Grand Forks.

As a quick aside: Forte, in Big Sky action, is fifth in the league in scoring (20.0 ppg), second in rebounding (10.4 rpg) and fourth in field goal percentage (61.4 percent). Portland State is 5-10 in the conference and probably won’t finish any higher than eighth place. But Forte is having an all-Big Sky type of season.

What’s at stake: Seeding. PSU and UNC are going to head to Reno* with seeds in the 7-10 range.

Betting line: Weber State -4.5
KenPom gives Weber a 68 percent chance to win
Last time: First meeting this season

On Thursday: On a night when Brandon Gfeller scored one point and Martin Breunig needed 14 shots to end up with 14 points, Montana still rattled off 90 points (1.27 points per possession) on Idaho State. Walter Wright (29 points) and Bobby Morehead (eight 3s) were magnificent.

The Grizzlies showed off their depth, and so did the Wildcats against Montana State. Kyndahl Hill slid into the starting lineup to replace Bolomboy, and he combined with freshman center Zach Braxton to shoot 12 of 16 from the field. The duo had 30 points and 14 rebounds.

What’s at stake: The winner will have a one-game advantage over the other for the regular-season championship and postseason’s No. 1 seed* with two games left in the season.

*obligatory #RoadtoReno

— Kyle Franko

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