Friday, March 11, 2016

Previewing Friday's Big Sky semifinals


BETTING LINE: Weber -5.5
KENPOM GIVES Weber a 65 percent chance to win

WINNER GETS UM/Idaho winner

DURING THE REGULAR SEASON: The teams split a pair of games

Weber State 74, North Dakota 62 in Ogden

Stars of the game
WSU - Jeremy Senglin … 26 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers, 2 steals, 5 of 11 from 3
WSU - Joel Bolomboy … 20 points, 23 rebounds, 8-of-14 shooting
UND - Quinton Hooker … 23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists … 6-of-16 shooting, 10 of 11 from the free-throw line

North Dakota 78, Weber State 71 in Grand Forks

Stars of the game
WSU - Jeremy Senglin … 28 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 7 of 11 from 3
UND - Geno Crandall … 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
UND - Conner Avants … 12 points, 5 rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench … Avants averages 7.0 points per game

TRENDS/WHAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Old power versus new power. Established versus up-and-coming. A nine-time champion versus a program that jumped up to Division I athletics eight years ago.

If Weber State wins, it moves into the championship game of the Big Sky tournament for the 16th time. North Dakota reached the tournament semifinals in ’13 and the finals in ’14.*

Like a number of other games in the tournament, this matchup is about tempo. The Wildcats defends so well in the half court that an opponent has to manufacture points by getting stops or turnovers and running in the open court. In the quarterfinals, Weber State gave up 19 points off turnovers and 16 points via the fast break.

North Dakota is a more well-rounded offensive unit than PSU, but the Fighting Hawks can’t let this turn into a slow, one-shot, half-court slog.

Looking at the individual matchups, North Dakota needs to find an answer for WSU guard Jeremy Senglin, who averaged 27 points against the Hawks during the regular season. Going back to Senglin’s freshman season, he’s played great against UND — putting up 21 points in their one meeting in 2015 and scoring a combined 40 points versus North Dakota in three games two years ago.

Another facet of this semifinal: North Dakota is now the lone team remaining that didn’t have a first-round bye. The Hawks, after playing at Montana and Montana State last week, flew directly to Reno, Nevada, from Bozeman, Montana. They’ve been on the road for more than week, and this will be UND’s fifth game in nine days.

To some extent, it won’t matter a bit. Adrenaline and the allure of an NCAA tournament bid will provide plenty of fuel. But at some point, WSU’s fresher legs could mean the difference on a loose ball or long rebound. 


NO. 2 MONTANA vs NO. 3 IDAHO, 9:05 p.m. winner
BETTING LINE: Montana -3.5
KENPOM GIVES Montana a 63 percent chance to win



Idaho 63, Montana 58 in Missoula

Stars of the game
UM - Martin Breunig … 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 2 steals
UI - Victor Sanders … 27 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 6-of-10 shooting, 13 of 14 from the free-throw line

TRENDS/WHAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: If Weber-North Dakota is old versus new, Montana-Idaho is a throwback to another time.

The Griz and Vandals were charter members of the Big Sky Conference in 1963 and have played 192 times, according to UM’s athletic department. They’ve combined to win 13 Big Sky championships and were potent rivals until Idaho left the Big Sky following the 1995-96 athletic season.

The Vandals have been back in the league since 2014, and this is the first time they’ll play the Grizzlies in men’s postseason basketball in 20 years.

Montana forward Martin Breunig dominated Sacramento State in the quarterfinals with 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. The Grizzlies won 70-53 and it wasn’t that close. UM scored 1.15 points per possession and held Sac to .87 points per possession.

Idaho, of course, will be a much different test. The Vandals held Eastern Washington to 28.1 percent (9 for 32) shooting from 3 in the quarterfinals, and freshman Nate Sherwood, who averages 6.4 points a game, blasted the Eagles for 19 points.

It feels like Sherwood, or some other role player for Idaho or Montana, could be the difference in this game, too. The Grizzlies and Vandals are the slowest-paced teams in the Big Sky. Who can execute against a set defense? Who can nab a couple offensive rebounds? Who can knock down a contested 3-pointer? Can someone get a couple steals and easy layups? All those little things will loom large in this slugfest.
Live stats

— Kyle Franko

*Note: In 2014, UND beat Sac State and Portland State on the way to the championship game where it lost to Weber State 88-67. Earlier this sentence read that UND had never advanced past the semifinals.


  1. UND did make it to the Big Sky Championship finals in 2014. Lost to Weber in that one

  2. Right. UND advanced to the semis both years and never further.

  3. Hey, finally figured this out!

    Yes, North Dakota made it to the championship in 2014. Goodness. I struggled with this one.

    In 2014, UND beat Sac State and Portland State on the way to the championship game where it lost to Weber State 88-67. Sorry, anonymous, I got there. It took a while. But I got there.