Monday, February 22, 2016

Recapping the Big Sky: What happened, player of the week, game of the week

In a glance, this is what happened last week …

Weber State (12-2) swept Southern Utah and Northern Arizona on the road.

Montana (12-2) extended its winning streak versus Montana State to 12 with a win at home.

Eastern Washington (10-5) split a pair of games, beating Sacramento State but losing to Portland State on the road.

Idaho State (9-5) split a pair of games on the road, losing at Northern Arizona but defeating Southern Utah.

Idaho (9-6) split two games, beating Portland State on the road and losing at Sacramento State.

North Dakota (8-6) beat Northern Colorado at home.

Montana State (7-7) lost at Montana.

Portland State (5-9) split two home games, losing to Idaho and knocking off Eastern Washington. 

Northern Colorado (5-9) lost its fifth consecutive game, this one at North Dakota.

Sacramento State (4-10) split home games, falling to Eastern Washington but beating Idaho.

Northern Arizona (3-12) split two games in Flagstaff, running away from Idaho State and losing to Weber State.

Southern Utah (2-13) dropped two games at home to Weber State and Idaho State.

Summing all of that up … HOME teams went 5-5. Weber State, Montana and North Dakota had perfect weekends with undefeated records. With Eastern’s loss at Sacramento State, the Wildcats and Grizzlies are in first place and have a 2.5-game cushion.

So who is going to finish at the top of the standing is clear. But seeds 3-7 are a jumbled mess. Eastern Washington, currently third, holds a half-game lead on Idaho State. The Bengals are clinging to a half-game lead on Idaho. North Dakota sits in sixth place but only a game back from fourth. And Montana State, seventh right now, is lurking and could maneuver its way up a few spots with some wins.

We’ve got two weeks and 22 games left in the regular season, and the Big Sky is going to need every one of them. Here are a few things we know …

1) Weber State was a big winner by pulling out two close road games, but the Wildcats received a scare when senior forward Joel Bolomboy appeared to injure his left leg in the first half at Northern Arizona.

Standard-Examiner reporter Brandon Garside Tweeted that Weber State had scheduled an MRI for Bolomboy’s leg, and he expects news as soon as Monday morning.

Assuming the Wildcats are a top-two seed, their first game would be March 10 — 17 days away. Let’s hope that’s more than enough time for Bolomboy to recover.


2) Idaho State is going to have one heck of a time holding on to fourth place. If the Bengals are going to do it, they’ll likely need to go 2-0 at home this week versus Montana on Thursday and Montana State on Saturday.

The Bengals finish the season traveling to Eastern Washington (March 3) and Idaho (March 5). On the road, they’ve done a fantastic Jekyll and Hyde impersonation.

In ISU’s last two road trips the variance in its performance has swung wildly from game to game …

at North Dakota on Feb. 4, ISU lost 76-60 and … shot 19-62 from the field (30.6 percent) … 7-30 from 3

at Northern Colorado on Feb. 6, ISU won 90-57 and … shot 32-55 (58.2 percent) … 13-20 from 3


at Northern Arizona last Thursday, ISU lost 81-68 and … shot 19-48 (39.6 percent) … 8-22 from 3

at Southern Utah last Saturday, ISU won 89-71 and … shot 31-55 (56.4 percent) … 8-13 from 3

Obviously there were a number of other factors affecting the final results in those games. But it’s pretty remarkable how the Bengals’ offensive production can shift from one game to the next.

ISU head coach Bill Evans, in my time covering the team, was always great at having a feel for the morale of his players. If they play poorly one night, he seems to have a way to connect with his guys to get them to perform much better in the next game.

3) The Big Sky Conference* has taken some heat for expanding the postseason tournament to include all 12 teams. Since everybody is getting in, of course, there’s less of an emphasis on regular-season games. You could draw a line after the eighth team in the standings in the past and know anyone below that mark was in mortal danger of their season ending when it was time to dance.

In the old format, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah wouldn’t qualify for the tournament (using today’s standings). NAU and SUU, in particular, wouldn’t have much to play for considering how far back they are.

But you can count me as a supporter of the 12-team tournament. Read quotes from the likes of Sac State coach Brian Katz or Southern Utah coach Nick Robinson. They’re preaching to their guys that, yeah, we haven’t been great, but if we keep working, getting better, we can show up in Reno* and battle — and who knows what the heck can happen?

If you’re a Montana or Weber State or Eastern Washington fan, I can see how you wouldn’t like the new 12-team look. For the programs that have consistently struggled, however, it’s a welcomed change of pace.

4) If you’ve been following Big Sky basketball long, how fun is it to see things like …

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Montana guard Michael Oguine. The freshman scored 27 points and had five rebounds against Montana State while shooting 7 of 13 from the field and 12 of 14 from the foul line.

GAME OF THE WEEK coming up: Montana at Weber State, 7 p.m. MST. They’re only playing once during the regular season, and it could decide who gets the No. 1 seed in Reno.* The Purple Palace is going to be rocking.

TEAM TO WATCH CLOSELY THIS WEEK: North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks are a very interesting team and someone I’d mark down as an under-the-radar championship contender. Junior guard Quinton Hooker is a bona fide stud. UND hosts Portland State and Sac State this week, and two wins have the potential to launch them up a couple notches in the standings.

*obligatory #RoadtoReno
*obligatory #RoadtoReno
*obligatory #RoadtoReno

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