Inspired by ESPN NBA reporter Marc Stein, a committee (of one) ranks the Big Sky Conference’s 12 teams every Tuesday.
These are the Most Powerful Power Rankings in Big Sky basketball. Treat them as such.
1. MONTANA (17-8 overall, 12-2 Big Sky)
Last week: 2
The lowdown: The Grizzlies rise to the top in the power rankings for two reasons. One, Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy has been diagnosed with a bone bruise in his left knee. Two … yeah, that’s about it.
The committee (of one) wasn’t so sure the Grizzlies shouldn’t have been No. 1 before Bolomboy’s injury. Montana’s defense, fifth in conference play allowing 1.008 points per possession, doesn’t match Weber State’s league-leading .947 points per possession. But the Griz, with Martin Breunig orchestrating down low and shooters spreading the floor, are scoring 1.152 per possession on offense (which only trails Eastern Washington).
2. WEBER STATE (20-7, 12-2)
Last week: 1
The lowdown: First and foremost, the committee (of one) is rooting for Bolomboy’s return. Injuries stink. We want everybody to show up in Reno* with their rosters intact and ready to go.
Bolomboy is the central component of Weber State’s defense mentioned above. Twenty two percent of opponents field goal attempts are from 3 — the lowest percentage in the Big Sky and ninth in the country. It’s the kind of stat Bolomboy influences just by his presence on the floor. WSU guards aren’t worried about the player they’re guarding blowing past them for an easy layup. They can apply intense ball pressure because Bolomboy is patrolling the paint.
If Weber’s star center is going to miss a significant amount of time, we’re assuming junior Kyndahl Hill will shift into the starting lineup. Coming off the bench, Hill is one of the best reserves in the league. Playing 22 minutes a game on average, he’s third on the team in scoring (8.3 ppg) and second in rebounding (5.9 rpg).
Hill is capable of filling a bigger role, but WSU’s other forwards are exceedingly young. Weber coach Randy Rahe may decide to play smaller lineups with Hill as the center and Juwan Williams, Ryan Richardson or even Richard Gittens on the floor at the “four” along with three other guards.
Weber wouldn’t be the defensive juggernaut it is now if Rahe leans on the four-guard lineup, but maybe their offense would pick up the slack with an increased tempo.
3. EASTERN WASHINGTON (16-11, 10-5)
Last week: 3
The lowdown: In his last four games, Eastern guard Austin McBroom has scored 35 points on North Dakota, 37 on Northern Colorado, 22 at Sac State and 36 at Portland State.
McBroom is eighth in the country in the percentage of possible minutes played (93.8 percent), and he’s somehow become arguably more important to Eastern’s championship hopes than preseason Big Sky MVP Venky Jois.
McBroom brings me to another point. The Big Sky has a number of guards who are just a joy to watch. The list includes Idaho State’s Ethan Telfair, North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker, Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin, the corpse of Northern Arizona’s Kris Yanku and Montana State’s Marcus Colbert. (Off the committee’s list is Montana’s Walter Wright and Idaho’s Victor Sanders and Perrion Callandret. Good players … just not as exciting as the others.)
4. IDAHO (17-11, 9-6)
Last week: 4
The lowdown: Idaho held a 33-22 lead at Sacramento State with 18:38 to go in the game. At that point, the Vandals’ win probability hit 87.4 percent.
In the final 18 minutes or so, though, the Hornets outscored the Vandals 46-32, and Idaho missed out on a chance to vault into a tie with Eastern Washington for third place — both in the real conference standings and the Most Powerful Power Rankings in the Big Sky Conference.
5. NORTH DAKOTA (13-12, 8-6)
Last week: 5
The lowdown: I like North Dakota. The more I watch the Hawks, the more I like. They’ve got a solid eight-man rotation, a great guard in Hooker, they bring size and shooting off the bench … there’s a lot to like … yet … it feels like a roster a year away from true championship contention.
6. IDAHO STATE (14-12, 9-5)
Last week: 6
The lowdown: At fourth place, the Bengals are right where they want to be in the league standings. Can they remain there? Their final four games are versus Montana (win probability = 41 percent) and Montana State (64 percent) and on the road at Eastern (21 percent) and Idaho (26 percent).
7. MONTANA STATE (12-14, 7-7)
Last week: 7
The lowdown: A couple random thoughts on Montana State: It’s an improving program. Everything you hear emanating out of Bozeman about head coach Brian Fish is positive. Of all the teams crammed into the middle of the standings, we feel like Montana State has one of the highest chances of pulling off a couple stunning upsets ... or the Bobcats could get bounced in the first round. Nobody in the conference relies as heavily on the 3-point shot as the Bobcats. They’re a dangerous bunch if Tyler Hall and company find their groove — but if the 3 balls aren’t dropping can MSU do other things well enough to pull out a victory in a tournament setting?
8. PORTLAND STATE (9-16, 5-9)
Last week: 9
The lowdown: The Vikings scored 1.30 points per possession against Eastern Washington. That’s ridiculous. So is this: Portland State scored 107 points in that game while attempting 12 (12!) 3-pointers. It makes the committee (of one) question Eastern’s No. 3 ranking.
9. SACRAMENTO STATE (11-14, 4-10)
Last week: 8
The lowdown: The Hornets and Vikings are teams in interesting spots right now. KenPom slightly favors both to beat Northern Colorado and lose to North Dakota this week on the road. Then they’re favored to finish the regular season with back-to-back wins at home against cellar-dwellers Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.
If that scenario happens, it’s unlikely either would improve their seeding in the postseason tournament.* It would, however, be a serious burst of momentum for either team as they head to The Biggest Little City in the World.*
10. NORTHERN ARIZONA (5-21, 3-12)
Last week: 11
The lowdown: Yanku has the league’s respect. He earned it with a stellar sophomore campaign. But it’s still shocking to watch the Lumberjacks and see Yanku as a junior coming off the bench in what has been a precipitous drop for the bad-luck Lumberjacks in 2016.
11. NORTHERN COLORADO (8-18, 5-9)
Last week: 10
The lowdown: The committee (of one) probably shouldn’t have the Bears ranked this low. But in intense discussions, we just don’t like how they’ve lost five in a row and are one of the worst defenses in Division I basketball.
12. SOUTHERN UTAH (4-21, 2-13)
Last week: 12
The lowdown: Quite literally, the only reason Northern Colorado isn’t the worst defense in college basketball is because of Southern Utah.
*obligatory #RoadtoReno*obligatory #RoadtoReno
NOTE: The KenPom rankings have been updated and are current through Tuesday at 3:15 MST.