Monday, February 29, 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 (14-2) swept Montana State and Montana at home.

Montana (13-3) split, winning at Idaho State and losing at Weber State.

Idaho (10-6) beat Eastern Washington at home.

Idaho State (10-6) split home homes, losing to Montana and beating Montana State.

Eastern Washington (10-6) lost at Idaho.

North Dakota (10-6) swept home games, knocking off Portland State and Sacramento State.

Montana State (7-9) lost at Weber State and Idaho State.

Portland State (6-10) split a pair of road games, losing at North Dakota and beating Northern Colorado.

Northern Colorado (6-10) split home games, beating Sac State and losing to Portland State.

Sacramento State (4-12) dropped back-to-back road games, at Northern Colorado and North Dakota.

Southern Utah (3-13) won on the road at Northern Arizona.

Northern Arizona (3-13) lost at home to Southern Utah.

Summing all of that up … HOME teams went 7-3. Weber State, Idaho, North Dakota and Southern Utah had perfect weekends with unblemished records.

And things fell just right to set up what is one of the most exciting final weeks of the season I can remember the Big Sky Conference having in recent memory. Here’s the deal: Everybody wants a top-four seed. A huge part of that (of course) is based upon the idea that if my team is a higher seed, I’ll player lower-seeded teams in the tournament — duh, right?

But something else to keep in mind. The tournament is set up so seeds 5-12 play on Tuesday. Win and advance to the quarterfinals on Thursday. Win and move on to the semifinals Friday, and the championship is Saturday.

A team that falls to the fifth seed, for example, is going to have to win FOUR games in FIVE days to take the Big Sky title. We’re talking about teams “playing their best” at the end of the season and “getting hot.” But if any of the 5-12 seeds pull off a couple upsets and make it to Saturday night in Reno,* how much energy would they even have to finish the deal?

Here’s a few things we know …

1) I found the Big Sky’s tiebreaker rules from 2013. I’m assuming they haven’t changed. Based on those rules, I believe the seeds as of today are … (to be clear: I could be totally wrong)

1. Weber State
2. Montana
3. Idaho
4. Eastern Washington
5. North Dakota
6. Idaho State
7. Montana State
8. Portland State
9. Northern Colorado
10. Sac State
11. Northern Arizona
12. Southern Utah

Idaho, I think, would be the No. 3 seed because the Vandals are 3-1 versus the teams they’re tied with for third (this doesn’t totally work since ISU hasn’t played either U of I or EWU yet). Also in this scenario, Eastern is the No. 4 seed because it went 1-1 against Idaho and North Dakota went 0-2. Idaho State slips to the sixth seed because the Bengals have the worst record (0-2) for head-to-head competition among the teams tied for third.

2) Based on the seeds I have (that could be totally wrong), here are the first-round matchups that would take place Tuesday, March 8.

Game 1: No. 8 Portland State vs No. 9 Northern Colorado

Game 2: No. 5 North Dakota vs No. 12 Southern Utah

Game 3: No. 7 Montana State vs No. 10 Sac State

Game 4: No. 6 Idaho State vs No. 11 Northern Arizona

3) Taking it one step further …

Game 5: Weber State vs Portland State/UNCO

Game 6: Eastern Washington vs UND/SUU

Game 7: Montana vs MSU/Sac State

Game 8: Idaho vs ISU/NAU

3) Keep in mind that the exercise of figuring out all the seeds was a complete waste of time (most likely). Idaho State’s trip north to play Eastern Washington on Thursday and Idaho on Saturday should help clear up the seeding scenarios — or make it even murkier.

5) Ken Pomeroy’s Big Sky all-conference team currently includes Montana senior Martin Breunig, Weber State senior Joel Bolomboy, North Dakota junior Quinton Hooker, Eastern Washington senior Venky Jois and Portland State senior Cameron Forte.

That’s a solid list. All of those guys have been rocks for their respective teams. But when the league’s coaches get together are they really going to select four forwards and one guard? Six players were all-Big Sky first-team selections a year ago, and there were four guards and two forwards. And on the second team, the coaches had four guards and one forward.

It’s going to be a really interesting selection process. Here is who I view are the contenders for first-team all-Big Sky (conference-only stats) …

— Weber State
Joel Bolomboy (17.7 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 57% field goal)
Jeremy Senglin (17.4 ppg)

— Montana
Martin Breunig (19.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 65% field goal)

— Idaho
No one, which I realize is odd. The Vandals might have the league’s coach of the year and a top-four seed, but nobody from Idaho is going to receive first-team all-Big Sky recognition.

— Eastern Washington
Venky Jois (18.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 71% field goal)
Austin McBroom (23.4 ppg, 3.9 apg)

— North Dakota
Quinton Hooker (21.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.2 spg, 53% field goal, 47% 3-pt field goal, league-leading 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio)

— Idaho State
Ethan Telfair (23.4 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.1 spg)

— Montana State
Tyler Hall (21.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
I also considered listing Marcus Colbert as a contender. The senior guard is averaging 15.6 points and 5.6 assists per game, and he makes Hall’s life easier by directing the ’Cats’ offense. But it’s hard to conjure a scenario where Colbert could leapfrog the likes of McBroom, Hooker and Telfair to make the first-team list.

— Portland State
Cameron Forte (19.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 62% field goal)

— Northern Colorado
Anthony Johnson is having a fine season (15.2 ppg) but doesn’t stand a chance.

— Sacramento State

— Northern Arizona

— Southern Utah
And nope

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker. This one is easy. Hooker, in two wins, scored 72 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and dished seven assists. And he did all of that while shooting 26 of 32 (81.3 percent) from the field and 8 of 11 (72.7 percent) from 3.

GAME OF THE WEEK coming up: Too tough to choose. Weber State/Idaho State are headed up to play Idaho/Eastern Washington and those results could shuffle the standings around a bit.

TEAM TO WATCH CLOSELY THIS WEEK: North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks have a lot to play for. If Hooker and company can go 2-0 this week (a big “if” considering they’re at Montana/Montana State), not only would have they a great shot at a top-four seed, they’d carry the momentum of five straight wins to Reno.*

*Obligatory #RoadtoReno
*Obligatory #RoadtoReno

— Kyle Franko

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