Inspired by ESPN NBA reporter Marc Stein, a committee (of one) will rank the Big Sky Conference’s 12 teams every Tuesday.
1. WEBER STATE (18-7 overall, 10-2 Big Sky)
The lowdown: Head coach Randy Rahe ticked off two major milestones last Saturday. He won his 200th game at Weber State and became the Big Sky Conference’s all-time leader in league wins with 124.
But you want to know what’s great about Rahe? After the game, he told the Standard Examiner, “All I wanted to do was try to play well and win tonight. Thank God we were able to play well enough to get the win.”
The committee (of one) believes Rahe. The records, the wins, they’re important. In the middle of the season, however, the Wildcats and Rahe are focused on one thing: Trying to get back to March Madness. That’s what matters. That focus, the inner drive we’re talking about, it’s helped separate Rahe and Weber from the rest of the conference for the past decade (with the exception to Montana).
Oh … and it’s nice to have guys like Joel Bolomboy (17.5 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 1.28 bpg) and Jeremy Senglin (18.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.76 apg).
2. MONTANA (16-8, 11-2)
The lowdown: The Grizzlies will be favored in four of their final five games. KenPom gives them a 26 percent chance to win at Weber State Feb. 27. Otherwise, though, UM’s lowest expected win probability is 58 percent Feb. 25 at Idaho State.
At the very least, going 3-2 should guarantee Montana a top two seed in the Big Sky tournament.*
3. EASTERN WASHINGTON (15-10, 9-4)
The lowdown: In 13 Big Sky games, Jim Hayford’s Eagles are scoring a league-best 1.2 points per possession. That’s ridiculous. They’ve made the mosts 3s (135) and are second in 3-point field goal percentage (40.7 percent).
Senior Austin McBroom (21.3 ppg) has been superb, but Venky Jois (16.7), Felix Van Hofe (13.0) and Bogdan Bliznyuk (12.4) are all averaging double figures in points, too.
4. IDAHO (16-10, 8-5)
The lowdown: After a nine-game absence, Perrion Callandret returned for the Vandals to play Saturday against North Dakota. Coming off the bench, the 6-foot-2 junior guard scored nine points in 24 minutes. That’s a quiet night by some measures, but it’s a key storyline to follow with the Vandals, a team that’s managed to wrestle its way into the upper-half of the Big Sky standings despite both Callandret and sophomore Victor Sanders missing time with injuries.
Sanders, according to Spokesman Review correspondent Sean Kramer, could return in a couple weeks. Those two average a combined 30.5 points. Idaho’s potential as a Big Sky championship team rises a couple notches if they’re both healthy and in rhythm in time for Reno.*
5. NORTH DAKOTA (12-12, 7-6)
The lowdown: The Fighting Hawks haven’t won more than two games in a row this season. They’ll have a good chance of doing that in the next two weeks with home games against Northern Colorado, Portland State and Sacramento State.
6. IDAHO STATE (13-11, 8-4)
The lowdown: Idaho State has won seven of its last eight games and it has ISU Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Steve Schaack sending out Tweets like …
The last time @IdahoStateBball was .500 or better through 20 games was the 2006-07 season. ISU is 10-10 now and 5-3 league. #GoISU— Steve Schaack (@schaack319) January 31, 2016
The 2006-07 and the 2007-08 @IdahoStateBball teams were all 6-4 in league through 10 games, matching this year's mark. #GoISU— Steve Schaack (@schaack319) February 7, 2016
The 13-11 overall record for @IdahoStateBball is the 6th best start in 39 years, dating back to 1976-77. #GoISU— Steve Schaack (@schaack319) February 14, 2016
7. MONTANA STATE (12-13, 7-6)
The lowdown: The Bobcats used a road grader to plow through their last three games, all wins — against the bottom three teams in the standings (Sac, NAU, SUU).
That’s good. Those teams have a combined league record of 7-31.
Next up: Montana State travels to Montana and then heads out for an I-15 road trip south to Weber State and Idaho State to finish the month of February.
That’s not good. Those teams are 29-8.
8. SACRAMENTO STATE (10-13, 3-9)
The lowdown: At one point this season, Sac State was 4-0 and had wins against Arizona State, Seattle and UC Davis. Fast forward through December and Sac State eased off its torrid pace but was still 7-4.
Today, the Hornets have faded. Losers of three straight, Sac can find hope in having four of its last six games at home. There’s potential to jump one or even two spots in the standings. For that to happen the Hornets coaching staff has to figure out a way to manufacture offense. They’re 11th in the Big Sky in offensive efficiency (.979 points per possession) and 12th in effective field goal percentage (48.3) (those are conference-only stats).
9. PORTLAND STATE (8-15, 4-8)
The lowdown: Offensively, the Vikings have two factors working against them, making the team’s margin for error ultra-thin.
PSU, in Big Sky games, is last in offensive 3-point field goal percentage and free-throw shooting. A conference-high 60.1 percent of Portland State’s points come from 2-pointers. The Vikings are having to rely on jump shots and bullying their way to the rim for baskets. That’s too easy of a game plan for opponents to defend.
10. NORTHERN COLORADO (8-17, 5-8)
The lowdown: While Portland State can’t shoot, Northern Colorado can’t defend. In fact, the committee (of one) isn’t so sure UNC doesn’t belong at the bottom of the Most Powerful Power Rankings in the Big Sky because of its defense.
The Bears are allowing 1.188 points per possession defensively, the worst mark in the entire country. They’re 347th in effective field goal percentage defense (57.0), 344th defending the 3 (40.2 percent), 338th against 2-pointers (54.8 percent) …. you get the idea … defense is a problem in Greeley.
11. NORTHERN ARIZONA (4-20, 2-11)
The lowdown: What’s worse? Northern Arizona giving up 25 made 3-pointers at Montana State? Or Northern Arizona letting the Bobcats jack up 43 3-pointers? Both are absurd.
12. SOUTHERN UTAH (4-19, 2-11)
The lowdown: How tough is it in Cedar City right now? After the Thunderbirds lost 81-67 to Eastern Washington back on Feb. 6 at home, The Spectrum’s headline from the game was “T-Birds gain moral victory in loss to Eastern Washington.”
When 14-point home defeats count as moral victories, the committee (of one) is confident in its No. 12 ranking.
*obligatory #RoadtoReno*obligatory #RoadtoReno