Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Most Powerful Power Rankings in Big Sky basketball

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. WEBER STATE (22-7 overall, 13-1 Big Sky)
Last week: 1
RPI: 137
KenPom: 132
The lowdown: Even without Joel Bolomboy, we now know how Weber State is going to play. Randy Rahe is going to have his troops control the tempo, and they’re going to defend the 3-point line at a high level.

Bolomboy takes Weber’s defense to another level, and he’s an offensive beast, but the Wildcats’ formula might be enough to win a championship without him. 

2. MONTANA (18-9, 13-3)
Last week: 1
RPI: 146
KenPom: 148
The lowdown: The curious case of Brandon Gfeller. The junior guard entered last week’s games averaging 10.6 points per game. He had been especially deadly in conference play, putting up 11.5 points a night while shooting 46.7 percent from 3 (the second-best mark in the league).

Gfeller is a role player averaging 26.6 minutes a game, but he’s essential in Montana’s system because he spaces the floor.

Goodness, though, Gfeller had a miserable week at Idaho State and Weber State. He missed all five of his field goal attempts (all 3-pointers), and scored one point in 41 minutes split between the two games. They were his worst back-to-back performances of the season.

The fact Gfeller wasn’t great offensively didn’t matter for the Grizzlies at Idaho State. Freshman Bobby Moorehead stepped forward to nail eight 3-pointers and the Griz scored 1.27 points per possession.

But at Weber State, when UM’s offensive efficiency dropped to .79 points per possession, the Griz needed someone, anyone to step forward and provide a spark. How often does it seem like a role player can be the difference in a game when two great teams are battling? For the Wildcats it was sophomore Dusty Baker, who poured in 20 points in 25 minutes off the bench.

We bring this up because Gfeller, the committee (of one) believes, is going to need to play well for the Grizzlies to win a Big Sky title* in a couple weeks. Yes, of course, a guy like Martin Breunig is the star, but we expect him to deliver in the big moments. Gfeller is second in the Big Sky with a KenPom offensive rating of 128.4 (conference-only). His contributions are key.

3. IDAHO (18-11, 10-6)
Last week: 4
RPI: 215
KenPom: 214
The lowdown: The Vandals are 6-2 since Jan. 30, and have been winning games by defending at a high level and leading the Big Sky in rebounding.

That’s great and all, but here’s what the committee (of one) really wants to know: Would winning a Big Sky championship take away the sting from getting rejected by the Sun Belt?

4. NORTH DAKOTA (15-12, 10-6)
Last week: 5
RPI: 222
KenPom: 202
The lowdown: The Fighting Hawks are one of the youngest teams in the country. North Dakota has eight players averaging at least 15.8 minutes a game in Big Sky play and they consist of two juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen. In terms of experience, UND is 342nd in the nation.*

This brings us to a question. Is North Dakota’s Brian Jones the league’s coach of the year? We haven’t heard a lot of chatter when it comes to Jones, but considering the young squad he’s assembled and what they’ve done to this point, he has to be considered along with Rahe, UM coach Travis DeCuire, Idaho coach Don Verlin and Idaho State coach Bill Evans. 

5. EASTERN WASHINGTON (16-12, 10-6)
Last week: 3
RPI: 209
KenPom: 188
The lowdown: Overall this season, Eastern senior guard Austin McBroom is averaging …

21.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.96 tpg … while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from 3.

In EWU’s six conference losses, McBroom’s numbers …

20.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 3.3 tpg … and his shooting numbers dip to 36 percent from the floor and 30.2 percent from 3.

Stopping McBroom (i.e. making him a volume shooter) doesn’t guarantee victory for an EWU opponent. But it’s clear to the committee (of one) that you have to make life difficult for the Saint Louis transfer. And it makes us wonder, is Eastern overly reliant on McBroom? He’s been on the floor for 94 percent of the possible minutes he could’ve played this season, which is eighth in the country and No. 1 in the Big Sky.

It’s a situation that reminds us of Tomas Sanchez and Idaho State back in the 2013-14 season. Sanchez was the floor leader for the Bengals and had no dependable backup. He led the Big Sky in minutes and it took a toll as the minutes piled up.

And as we’re looking ahead to the Big Sky tournament* and thinking about how a team needs to win several games in a condensed time frame … well … McBroom’s workload is something to keep in mind.

6. IDAHO STATE (15-13, 10-6)
Last week: 6
RPI: 275
KenPom: 266
The lowdown: The Bengals can’t finish the regular season any lower than sixth. If that happens, it might not be what ISU coaches, players or fans want, but if you’re not in the top four and getting one of the coveted first-round byes — 6, 5, 7 … does it really matter? Matchups are the most important thing, and at No. 6 Idaho State would play either Northern Arizona or Southern Utah in its first game. Evans and his star point guard Ethan Telfair can handle that.

7. PORTLAND STATE (10-17, 6-10)
Last week: 8
RPI: 282
KenPom: 248
The lowdown: The Vikings jump up a spot and ahead of the Bobcats because PSU coach Tyler Geving and his players have put together three straight quality performances. They beat Eastern Washington at home, lost at North Dakota by three points and knocked off Northern Colorado 89-86 on the road.

While we’re here, the committee (of one) wants to once again take the opportunity to beat the Cameron Forte drum. In his past three games, Forte is putting up 24.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game … while shooting 60.8 percent from the field.

8. MONTANA STATE (12-16, 7-9)
Last week: 7
RPI: 269
KenPom: 258
The lowdown: The team with the longest losing streak in the Big Sky? The Montana State Bobcats. Then again, how many others teams in the league wouldn’t have won a game if they had Montana, Weber and Idaho State back-to-back-to-back … on the road no less?

Those defeats have ensured MSU can’t sneak into the top four, but second-year coach Brian Fish still needs to get his team rolling at home this week. Nobody wants to head out on the #RoadtoReno carrying with them the weight of five straight losses.

9. NORTHERN COLORADO (9-19, 6-10)
Last week: 11
RPI: 314
KenPom: 323
The lowdown: On the bright side, Northern Colorado snapped a five-game losing streak last week. On the not-so-bright side, Northern Colorado is still in the bottom third of almost every major statistical defensive category in the conference.

10. SACRAMENTO STATE (11-16, 4-12)
Last week: 9
RPI: 281
KenPom: 280
The lowdown: Rewind back a year. The Hornets were 13-3 in the Big Sky and enjoying one of the greatest seasons in the program’s history. Led by stud senior guards Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity, Sac was one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

Today? Well, today is different. McKinney and Garrity are long gone, and while sophomores Justin Strings and Marcus Graves are solid, and senior Cody Demps can do a little everything, they’re missing a guy like McKinney who can carry a team as its No. 1 offensive option.

The Hornets are scoring .993 points per possession, 266th in the nation, and far, far below the 1.076 points per possession of the 2014-15 squad.

But relief is in sight. When you’re in a funk, there’s nothing better than getting to host Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.

T12. NORTHERN ARIZONA (5-22, 3-13)
Last week: 10
RPI: 321
KenPom: 339

T12. SOUTHERN UTAH (5-21, 3-13)
Last week: 12
RPI: 330
KenPom: 342
The lowdown: Northern Arizona is one of the country’s worst offensive teams. Southern Utah is one of the country’s worst defensive teams. Together, they form a duo that has lost 43 games and been outscored by 676 points.

*obligatory #RoadtoReno
*obligatory #RoadtoReno


- The experience value is in terms of years of college experience where a player’s eligibility class is assumed to determine this. For the purposes of the calculation, a freshman has zero years of experience, a sophomore has one year of experience, etc.

— Kyle Franko

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