Saturday, March 12, 2016

Previewing Saturday's Big Sky men's championship game


BETTING LINE: Weber State -1.5 (Weber opened as a one-point favorite. The line shifted to Montana -2 Saturday morning, and to UM -1.5 early Saturday afternoon.)
KENPOM GIVES Weber a 52 percent chance to win

WINNER GETS The Big Sky’s automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament

DURING THE REGULAR SEASON: Weber State won the lone meeting

Weber State 60, Montana 54 in Ogden

Stars of the game
UM - Michael Oguine … 21 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 steal
WSU - Dusty Baker … 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 of 4 from 3 in 25 minutes off the bench

HISTORY IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: This is the eighth time Weber State and Montana are meeting in the championship game of the Big Sky tournament. The Grizzlies hold a 4-3 edge, including four straight wins — three of those with Wildcats coach Randy Rahe on the sideline.

Montana 67, Weber State 64

Montana 85, Weber State 66

Montana 66, Weber State 65

Montana 63, Weber State 61

Weber State 84, Montana 62

Weber State 50, Montana 42

Weber State 62, Montana 55 OT

PREVIEWING THE GAME: Looking back at the one game these teams played Feb. 27 in Ogden, Utah, for any clues about how Saturday night will play out seems dangerous.

Big Sky Conference MVP Joel Bolomboy didn’t suit up for Weber State (advantage: Montana), but the Wildcats also benefited from a home attendance of 8,960 boisterous fans (advantage: Weber).

Weber State will field its full team for the championship tilt, and the neutral-court setting is something else entirely different from their first game. Attendance for the semifinals Friday was officially 2,362.

I guess what this really means is that we’ve got a matchup tonight where neither team has a distinct advantage.

KenPom’s numbers tell us the same thing. Using conference-only stats, Montana has the league’s second-best offense. Weber State counterattacks with the No. 1 defense. WSU is fourth in the league in points per possession on offense. UM is fourth in defensive points per possession.

Up and down KenPom’s metrics, any strength of the Grizzlies is offset by something the Wildcats do exceptionally well. And if the ’Cats are good in one area, the Griz are positioned to counteract it.

But there is one facet of the game that is interesting. Montana relies on 3-pointers for 38.5 percent of its field goal attempts, the fourth-highest mark in the Big Sky. Weber State defends the 3-point line at a high level. The Wildcats are fifth in the Big Sky in 3-point field goal percentage (34.1 percent).

But what Weber does particularly well on defense is limiting how many 3-pointers its opponents take. In conference action, a league-low 23.9 percent of opponents’ field goal attempts were from beyond the arc against WSU. Over the entire season, 27.5 percent of the field goal attempts versus Weber’s D were from 3 — the seventh-lowest mark in the country.

Limiting 3-point attempts is a huge part of the defensive game plan for Weber. Montana, during the 18-game conference schedule, shot just over 21 3-pointers per game. The Griz were held to 11 attempted 3s in their game versus Weber, tied for the fewest they had in any game this season.*

While the chess match along the 3-point line will be fun to watch, there are a couple individual matchups that we all want to check out. Because of Bolomboy’s knee injury late in the regular season, we were robbed of seeing the Big Sky MVP go up against Grizzlies star forward Martin Breunig, who is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds in the tournament, when the teams squared off two weeks ago.

The other personnel battle is among the guards … WSU’s Jeremy Senglin versus Montana’s Michael Oguine, Walter Wright and Mario Dunn. Senglin was unbelievable against North Dakota on Friday, hitting seven 3-pointers and finishing with a team-high 31 points. His ability to make off-balance, contested shots is a reminder of a guy in Portland who Big Sky fans knew about before anyone else.

So will it be Senglin who has the game of his life to push the Wildcats to the Big Sky championship? Or will it be Breunig? … maybe Bolomboy? … or Wright? … or Dusty Baker? … or Oguine?

We’ll find out at 6:45 MST on ESPNU.

*Note: The number of 3-pointers attempted isn't everything — duh, right? And Montana isn’t going to hoist up a bunch of long-distance treys just to meet some sort of quota. In fact, the Griz only shot 12 3s in the semifinals against Idaho. The bad part for the Vandals? UM made seven of those shots. And this goes back to what we all know — efficiency is the important thing here.

— Kyle Franko


  1. I know it will not change soon, but I feel the tournament has lost a lot of energy for fans being at a neutral site. I loved watching EWU have to handle UM and the hostile arena to win.

  2. I couldn't agree more, Brian. The Big Sky and more and more of the media scene are telling everyone that we've got to wait, the atmosphere will pick up as fans become accustomed to the new format.

    Heck, maybe they will and maybe we'll see decent crowds in Reno in a couple years. But it'll never match what home-site tournaments could produce. Never.