Thursday, March 10, 2016

5 reasons to watch the Big Sky men’s quarterfinals (as if you need them)

1) Can the men’s tournament match the women’s for excitement?

The women had an epic four games in the quarterfinals. Longtime Big Sky beat writer Colter Nuanez, on his site Skyline Sports, wrote it had to be “one of the wildest days in the 34-season history of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament.”

Every game went down to the final possession. Who could possibly expect the men’s tournament to follow that up? It won’t. It’s impossible. But Weber State-Portland State, Idaho State-Idaho, Montana-Sac State and Idaho-Eastern Washington are four solid-to-good-to-great matchups. Here’s hoping they can deliver.

2) Can Forte maintain his torrid pace against the league’s top defense?

PSU forward Cameron Forte stung Northern Colorado for 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the Vikings’ 74-67 win in the first round. That sort of double-double has become downright common for Forte in the past month.

Here are Forte’s points, rebounds and assists in his previous nine games …


Going back one more game, Forte has ripped off 10 straight games with at least 13 points. He’s got five double-doubles and one triple-double in his last nine games … and he’s doing that while shooting 86 of 139 (61.8 percent) from the field.

Forte put together two solid performances against the Wildcats during the regular season (both WSU wins), averaging 17.5 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest.

But those kinds of numbers probably won’t be enough for PSU to upset Weber, an eight-point favorite, in the quarterfinals. As it’s been mentioned numerous times on this blog in the past few weeks, WSU is the Big Sky’s top defensive team, holding league opponents to .943 points per possession — by far the best mark in the Big Sky (Idaho is second at .989 points allowed per possession).

And Weber, with its strong front court and athletic guards, is very good defending inside the paint. And that’s where the Vikings want to attack.

Heck, after just thinking about Forte versus Weber State’s D, I don’t even need three more reasons for you to watch the quarterfinals. Especially when you read the Tweet below …

3) Telfair vs Hooker

Idaho State junior Ethan Telfair and North Dakota junior Quinton Hooker were the two best guards in the Big Sky this season.

Just look at the numbers they put up during conference play …

Telfair averaged 23.9 points, 5.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Hooker rang up 20.6 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals a game.

And now they’re going head to head for a spot in Friday night’s semifinals.

4) Sac State fan advantage?

Sacramento to Reno is a 132-mile drive — 789 miles shorter than Missoula to Reno. It could mean that for the first time in … ever? … the Hornets will have a fan advantage going against Montana in a Big Sky basketball tournament.

Word on Tuesday was that Sac had a nice contingent on hand during its 79-75 victory against the Bobcats. When you’re the 10 seed trying to knock off the mighty Grizzlies, every little bonus helps.

5) A rivalry to behold

Since Sacramento State upset Montana State, we’re deprived of a Cat-Griz throwdown in the postseason. But that’s OK because Idaho-Eastern Washington could bud into something special in the coming years.

These two universities are only separated by 72 miles and one state border. Both seemed positioned to have success in basketball for years to come, and if they continue to butt heads in high-stakes games then we’ll have a burgeoning rivalry in the Northwest that will be fun to watch.

— Kyle Franko

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