Showing posts with label Weber State. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weber State. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Big Sky Preview by NBC Sports

Yesterday, NBC Sports wrote their Big Sky preview, authored by Raphielle Johnson, one of the best college basketball writers in the business. You can find the preview here. Here is his projected order of finish:

1. Weber State
2. Northern Arizona
3. Sacramento State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Montana
6. Northern Colorado
7. Portland State
8. Idaho
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12 Southern Utah

I can't really argue with much there. I am still going through my outlooks, but I'm fairly certain my projected order will look quite similar to that one. In addition to the preview, he also wrote a nice article on Weber State, specifically focusing on Joel Bolomboy and Jeremy Senglin.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Big Sky Preview on ESPN

Like last year, I've written the Big Sky Preview for ESPN, and it is posted today. Check it out here.

Though things may change for me a bit as I dive in deeper to all the teams, here was my projected order:

1) Weber State
2) Sacramento State
3) Northern Arizona
4) Montana
5) Northern Colorado
6) Eastern Washington
7) Portland State
8) Idaho
9) North Dakota
10) Montana State
11) Idaho State
12) Southern Utah

* For the Big Sky media poll, I flipped Eastern Washington and Northern Colorado around.

Jeff Goodman polled coaches from the around the league, and that link can be found here.

The rankings there are interesting to me:

1) Weber State
2) Eastern Washington
3) Sacramento State
4) Northern Arizona
5) Northern Colorado
6) Portland State
7) Idaho
8) Montana
9) North Dakota
10) Idaho State
11) Montana State
12) Southern Utah

Having EWU as #2 is not a surprise - it wouldn't be at all surprising to see them win the conference. I am surprised by Montana down at #8.

Let me know what you guys think.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Summer Break

With the offseason in full swing, this blog will be taking a summer break as well.

I posted my early rankings for next year, and have updated the recruiting tracker as best as I can.

I will be posting sparingly or not at all during the offseason - likely not saying much unless there is some big news. Feel free to contact me via email or twitter if anything major does happen and I see to miss it! I will most likely be back in the fall for one more season of Big Sky basketball coverage on the blog - that is the plan at least for now. I'll just see how I'm feeling when the time comes!

In the meantime, have a great summer! Get outside and stay adventurous!

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Early 2014-15 Big Sky Rankings

It's that time of the offseason where we take a VERY early look to how next season will play out. Since I've started blogging about the Big Sky (three years ago), there was always one or two favorites to win (Weber State and/or Montana). Next season, that won't be the case.

Honestly, to me, the top seven teams look remarkably even. It is going to be an absolutely wide open race for the Big Sky title, which should be pretty fun. So, if you disagree with these rankings, I don't blame you. Would love to hear thoughts and reasoned opinions on where you differ - I think it'd be very interesting to see what people think, because it was hard to come up with an order!

1. Weber State
They are first in part because they are the defending champions, they return a lot of talent (even though they also lose a lot), and there is no other clear favorite. But, it's clear they won't be the favorites as in some past seasons. For one, they will have one senior on the team, relying a lot on young guys. Second, they will be relying on guys to grow in ways they haven't shown yet. The good news is that the talent is there. Joel Bolomboy could be the conference POY - an NBA level rebounder and defender whose offensive game continues to develop. They need their sophomore backcourt of Jeremy Senglin and Richaud Gittens to make the leap from super talented freshmen contributors to cornerstones - a process that will happen, but it's just a matter of how long it takes. Would it be a surprise to see the Wildcats win the Big Sky again next season? No. But unlike past year, it also wouldn't be a surprise if they are in a dogfight just to finish in the top four.

2. Sacramento State
The Hornets get my vote for second based on the strength of their backcourt, which was arguably the best in the conference last season, and will be the best this season. Both Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney are superb ballhandlers, scorers, and passers. Garrity may be the elite shooter in the Big Sky, while McKinney is excellent at breaking down a defense, getting into the lane, and getting to the line. The key will be frontcourt production. They have a nice recruiting class, but they can't count too much on those guys this season. Zach Mills is a nice player, and he will produce. The key will be Eric Stuteville, who came on strong at the end of his freshman season. If he can develop into a double digit scorer (and he has that talent level), the Hornets should have the best offense in the Big Sky.

3. Northern Arizona
Last year, I think, was almost a year ahead of schedule for the Lumberjacks. They finished third in the Big Sky, an impressive showing considering their age and inexperience. They lose Max Jacobsen, but the rest of their main guys returns. They will have a strong backcourt with Aaseem Dixon, Kris Yanku, and Quinton Upshur, and guys like Ako Kaluna and Len Springs will be even better inside. Head coach Jack Murphy has done a great job recruiting, and they should have the athletes and talent to compete for a Big Sky title next season.

4. Montana
There are reasons to think this is too optimistic. They weren't that good last year (despite finishing fourth, they had major issues), and they lose do everything Kareem Jamar. But take them lightly at your own peril. For one, their backcourt will remain strong - Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields will be a solid senior duo, and Mario Dunn is ready to become a star in the Big Sky. The other thing is that the frontcourt will be much better than in past year. Martin Breunig will become eligible, and he was the best post man in the program last season. They also have young bigs coming in, which will greatly help the depth. Bottom line, the Grizzlies lose Jamar, but they could be an improved team anyway.

5. Eastern Washington
The Eagles return everyone from last year's squad, which is good for a team that improved by three conferences games from the year before and was 5th in the conference offensively. They will have tons of weapons, including guard Tyler Harvey, who developed into possibly the best scorer in the conference. They have balance as well, with guys like Venky Jois, Martin Seiferth, and Ognjen Miljkovic in the frontcourt. Like others, the Eagles absolutely are talented enough to win the Big Sky.

6. Northern Colorado
The Bears probably head up the "second tier," but they are still a really talented team, even after losing some cornerstone players. Tevin Svihovec has been around forever, and he'll be the senior leader. Of course, they won't be hurting for backcourt talent - Jordan Wilson was steady as a freshman PG, Corey Spence adds a spark, and eligible transfer Cam Michael is ready to play after sitting out a year (and don't be surprised if he is the Newcomer of the Year). The key to the year might be senior forward Tim Huskisson, who is an all-conference talent when things are going well. The problem has been staying in BJ Hill's good graces and bringing consistency every night. If he does, UNC can and will beat anyone on any given night.

7. Portland State
With the way the Vikings finished and the fact that they don't lose that many guys, this may be too low. They will have a deep backcourt, with guys like Gary Winston, Tim Douglas, Marcus Hall, and DaShaun Wiggins all proven contributors. The key will be the frontcourt, where they lose Kyle Richardson, but will hopefully have a healthy Tiegba Bamba and some solid JUCO guys coming in. Their defense was better last year but still just seventh in the Big Sky last year. If they can get even a little better there, the ceiling could be a top 3 Big Sky finish.

8. Idaho
I looked at them in more depth a couple weeks ago, but they look like a typical Big Sky team - they can put points on the boards, but they won't get too many stops. They lose two of their top six, but return Connor Hill, who could be one of the best shooters in the Big Sky in his first season in the conference. During WAC play, they were worst in the conference in defensive efficiency. How they do on that end will determine if they are battling for the final tournament spot, or if their sights should be set a little higher.

9. Idaho State
They lose Tomas SanchezAndre Hatchett, and Aviabkuro Preh, who were a huge part of the program and are a lot to replace. As I have said, I think Bill Evans is an excellent coach, but we knew it would take time to build the talent level of the program back up. There are question marks heading into this season - who plays point guard? But there is talent with guys like Chris Hansen and Jeffrey Solarin, and they should be good enough to being on the edge of conference tournament qualification.

10. Montana State
The Bobcats lose three starters (including their top two frontcourt players) and their head coach, so clearly there is some work to be done. Brian Fish looks like a nice fit on paper, so we will see how the first season of his reign goes. He made a quick statement by signing two solid athletes out of Arizona, but the problem in Bozeman lately has not been getting good players to campus, but molding them into a good team. Expectations should be tempered in year one, but the Bobcats could have enough talent to be frisky.

11. North Dakota
All UND is losing is the best class in program history, and the one that brought them into the DI level. They can't replace guys like Troy Huff, Aaron Anderson, Jamal Webb, and others, so this is a team that will look very different. Brian Jones will need a backcourt of Quinton Hooker and Cole Stefan to log a lot of productive minutes for UND, who will be replacing the majority of their scoring from one of the most experienced teams in the country last season. It is a rebuilding year in Grand Forks.

12. Southern Utah
They will be much improved from last year's team, but this is still a program with a long ways to go. They have young guys that they hope can be cornerstone players - the five guys that played the most minutes last season are all returning, and none of them will even be seniors this year(!), but this year will be about continuing that growth and building toward 2015-16. If they improve their Big Sky win total by five games and continue to show the growth that was evident throughout last season, they might finish last again, but their rebuilding plan will be right on schedule for Nick Robinson.

Please share any of your thoughts and opinions! As I've said, this is all guesswork, but one of the most fun articles to write and think about. Would love to hear some discussion.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

2014 Big Sky Transfers

Jeff Goodman has his list of transfers in college basketball, including a lot that have to do with the Big Sky. So, let's take a quick peek at who is transferring in and out of the conference.

- Clint Thomas - Idaho State (walk-on)
- Travis Meeker - Northern Arizona
- DeWayne Russell - Northern Arizona (to Grand Canyon - he transferred before the year, obviously)
- Andre Winston - Portland State
- Lamont Prosser - Portland State (midseason transfer)
- Ryan Okwudibonye - Sacramento State
- Case Rada - Sacramento State
- Drake Thomas - Southern Utah
- Chris Nsenki - Southern Utah
- Royce Williams - Weber State
- Josh Fuller - Weber State

- Carson Shanks - North Dakota (from Utah State)
- Keonta Vernon - Northern Arizona (from Wyoming)
- KJ Bluford - Northern Arizona (from Iowa State)

In all, the transfers coming in should have big impacts, as is typically the case at this level. Of the transfers leaving, DeWayne Russell obviously was talented, but NAU is just fine without him. Andre Winston was a very good player for the Vikings, but they have enough backcourt depth to withstand that. Royce Williams could have contributed in a bigger role, and I had heard good things about Josh Fuller as well for the Wildcats.

Beyond that, the transfers out shouldn't really have a big impact on the teams. It's a lot of guys that weren't getting a ton of minutes, so hopefully they can find better situations for themselves elsewhere.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

My Big Sky Awards, Part 2

Before leaving for vacation, I posted part 1 of my Big Sky awards, so it's time for part 2 - the award teams. While my part one did not differ much from what actually happened, I suspect I will have some differences to the actual selections made for the teams.

I will use the same amount of players as the Conference has for these awards, for consistency sake.

- Davion Berry (Weber State) - Berry was a deserving POY, an all-around play without many weaknesses. It was a great two-year Weber State career for him.
- Kareem Jamar (Montana) - For Jamar, it was a great four-year career that included a POY award and three first-team selections. He was a great player for the Grizzlies, and I will miss watching him.
- Troy Huff (North Dakota) - Perhaps the most dynamic player in the Big Sky with his above the rim ability, people forget he led the Big Sky in steals too.
- Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington) - Harvey's story is a great one. Last year, he was a freshman not on a scholarship. He got his chance late in the year and thrived. This year, all he did was lead the Big Sky in scoring at almost 22 a game.
- Joel Bolomboy (Weber State) - He got snubbed from the first team, but he could be the POY next season. His offensive game is still developing, but it's a good sign that he shot 72% on FTs this year. It's also a good sign that he is perhaps the best rebounder in the entire country, and was the defensive POY in the Big Sky. He is a star.
- Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado) - Early on, he looked like a contender for Big Sky POY, but that fizzled a bit when UNC struggled in the second half of conference play. Still, he was a great player for the Bears that improved even on an excellent debut season. He shot 60% from the field, was a tenacious rebounder, and versatile defender. He was a star in his two year career for the Bears.

- Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State) - He got overshadowed a bit by McKinney, but Garrity hums along as a great offensive player. This year, he shot 48% from three on about five attempts per game. That is ridiculously good.
- Mikh McKinney (Sacramento State) - McKinney was one of the most improved players in the conference. His two-point percentage jumped from 41% to 53%, and he draws a ton of fouls. This year, he also became a great assist man, while cutting down turnovers. The Hornets could have two first-teamers next year, as they will continue to have the Big Sky's best backcourt.
- Aaron Anderson (North Dakota) - Throughout his career, I thought Anderson was very underrated, as shown by his honorable mention status (rather than first or second team). He did it all offensively, shooting from outside, getting to the rack, drawing fouls, and keeping his turnovers down. Troy Huff got the pub, but I'm not so sure that Anderson wasn't UND's best offensive player.
- Tate Unruh (Northern Colorado) - Unruh developed nicely in his career, as a guy who started as just a shooter, and ended as a complete offensive player. Of course, he retained his elite shooting skills... in his career, he missed nine free throws out of 149 attempts.
- Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona) - Upshur had a great debut season, and was rightly named Newcomer of the Year. He has unlimited range, but was efficient inside the arc as well. If he can take the next step in his development, NAU will be a Big Sky title contender.

- Kyle Tresnak (Weber State) - Tresnak always showed flashes, such as his great effort in the Big Sky title game, but never quite became the dominant force we thought he might be. That is OK, because he was still very good - a capable scorer and solid rebounder and defender.
- Jordan Gregory (Montana) - He was the toughest omission from the top two teams, as he grew as expected to be a reliable contributor. He is a good outside shooter, but has a nice ability to get inside and make baskets.
- Kyle Richardson (Portland State) - Richardson was quietly one of the best big men in the conference during conference play, even though he was at times the Vikings only reliable big man. He had a big impact in his one season in Portland.
- Tomas Sanchez (Idaho State) - I wanted to find a way to get him in one of the top two teams, but couldn't quite make the leap. Still, he was an iron man for the Bengals, as basically their only PG. He took and made big shots, and was a solid distributor. Without him, it would have been an ugly year in Pocatello.
- Chris Hansen (Idaho State) - Hansen is an excellent shooter, making 40% on a ton of three-point attempts. He will need to work a bit on creating his own shot, because they are going to rely on him a lot next season.
- Max Jacobsen (Northern Arizona) - All Jacobsen did as a senior was shoot 61% from the field, as perhaps the best low post scorer in the Big Sky. He was not above average in any other skill, but in a league without a lot of great frontcourt scorers, Jacobsen stood out.
- Keron DeShields (Montana) - He was greatly improved this season, becoming a better distributor and better offensive scorer. His two-point shooting jumped from  40% to 56%, which turned him from a liability to a reliable contributor for the Grizzlies.
- Gary Winston (Portland State) - Winston is a solid all-around offensive player, with the ability to hit threes and get to the rim. He is part of a deep backcourt for PSU which should be a strength next season.
- Tevin Svihovec (Northern Colorado) - Svihovec played off the ball a lot more this year, and I think that suited his game well. He still forces too many shots, but he is a solid outside shooter that can get to the rim and draw fouls. They need him to be an offensive centerpiece next season.
- Paul Egwuonwu (Montana State) - He was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country last season, and that was huge for the Bobcats. He wasn't a great offensive player but he wasn't a negative either. Combined with his rebounding, and he will be sorely missed.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Big Sky Awards, Part 1

The Big Sky awards were revealed a couple of weeks ago, and for the most part, I think they were good choices. However, I still wanted to go through and give my thoughts on the awards, who I'd choose, and the other top candidates.

Player of the Year
Actual Choice: Davion Berry, Weber State
My Choice: Davion Berry
Other Candidates: Kareem Jamar, Troy Huff, Derrick Barden
Comments: It was almost a foregone conclusion that Berry would win the award, as it usually goes to the best player on the best team, but should he have? Berry and Jamar are basically neck and neck, so neither would be a bad choice, but I pick Berry for a couple reasons:

- Statistically, a big edge for Jamar is that he grabs 17.9% of defensive rebounds, while Berry is at 12.8%, a big difference. However, Berry plays alongside an elite rebounder in Joel Bolomboy, while Jamar does not, which makes it easier for him to grab rebounds.
- They are about equally good shooters and passers. However, Berry is a little better from downtown, shooting 40% on threes compared to 34% for Jamar.
- Berry is better at getting to the free throw line which gives him more opportunities for freebies. Also, he is an 82% foul shooter compared to 71% for Jamar.

Either way, both guys would be good choices, but I would choose Berry. Derrick Barden would be another solid option for his efficient offense and rebounding, but I think Berry does more things at a high level. Similarly, Troy Huff is not a bad pick as he is a better rebounder than Berry/Jamar and led the conference in steals, but he loses some points for his offensive efficiency and the fact that he is a far worse passer than the other two guys.

Newcomer of the Year
Actual Choice: Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona
My Choice: Quinton Upshur
Other Candidates: Kyle Richardson of Portland State
Comments: Upshur had an excellent debut season for the Jacks, and got better and better as the season went on. He has deep range, and shoots efficiently inside the arc as well. He pokes away some steals as well, with a 3.4 steal percentage. He is not a great passer or rebounder, but he is a very good scorer for them. Certainly a case could be made for Kyle Richardson of Portland State, who was really one of the best big men in the conference by the end of the year, but I think Upshur was the right choice.

Freshman of the Year
Actual Choice: Jeremy Senglin, Weber State
My Choice: Jeremy Senglin
Other Candidates: Jordan Wilson of Northern Colorado, Kris Yanku of Northern Arizona, Mario Dunn of Montana
Comments: Senglin had a steady debut season, showcasing some offensive skills (including 40% shooting on threes). He needs to become a better passer, but he showed he is capable of running the offense and should be slotted in for the Wildcats. He played almost 75% of the team's minutes and started from day one on the conference champ, which tells you what the coaches think of him. You could make a case for the other PGs as well. Dunn is the best defensive player of the group and will be an all-conference guy eventually. Yanku got better as the season went along and is perhaps the most important guy in NAU's program right now. Wilson was great for UNC as a freshman, showing some signs of good offense, as well as excellent on-ball defense. All four guys are worthy, and the fact that four PGs like this enter the Big Sky as freshmen is a great sign, but I would give Senglin the nod.

Sixth Man of the Year
Actual Choice: Jamal Webb of North Dakota and DaShaun Wiggins of Portland State
My Choice: Tim Huskisson, Northern Colorado
Other Candidates: Wiggins
Comments: Neither of the choices were bad at all. Webb was a steady guard off the bench, after starting the previous three seasons. Wiggins was even better... he was one of the best in the country at drawing fouls, and was a super efficient offensive players. He was a fine choice. However, my selection would be Huskisson, who started 12 of 32 games for the Bears. He was an efficient scorer and versatile defender. He still struggles at times with consistency, but he still has the ceiling of being a star.

Defensive Player of the Year
Actual Choice: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
My Choice: Joel Bolomboy
Other Candidates: Jamal Webb, Derrick Barden
Comments: Bolomboy is an excellent anchor of the defense, with his size, quickness, and leaping ability. He gobbles up every rebound (28.2% DR%). His blocks were down, but he still impacted many shots. Bolomboy could be a POY as soon as next season in the Big Sky.

Coach of the Year
Actual Choice: Randy Rahe, Weber State
My Choice: Jack Murphy, Northern Arizona
Other Candidates: Rahe, Brian Katz
Comments: I can't argue with Rahe too much, as he is a great coach, but Murphy would have been my choice. It is simply about expectations vs actual results. Weber State was predicted first, and that is where they finished. However, NAU was predicted near the bottom of the conference, lost their best returner right before the season... and still finished third with a ton of newcomers. He did a great coaching job this season.

What are your thoughts? In the next week or two I should have time to go through and give my all-conference teams, and I suspect I will have a lot more differences compared to what the actual selections were than I do here.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Weber State Battles, But Falls to Arizona

In the end, Weber State was not to be the first 16 seed to topple a one seed, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Wildcats of Weber State battled down to the final buzzer, losing to Arizona 68-59 to end the Big Sky season. We talked about how Arizona is possibly the best defensive team in the country - and that was shown in this game - but Weber State was not intimidated, and even managed to make things interesting down the stretch.

Weber State shot 30% from the floor, and still found a way to make Arizona sweat. They should be proud of their efforts.

Weber State got off to an early 7-0 run, but Arizona moved quickly to take back the lead, going on a 32-13 run the rest of the first half. For long stretches, Weber State was just not able to get enough buckets to stay in the game. However, they just kept attacking. Davion Berry was just 5/20 FG, but he made shots down the stretch, and stayed aggressive going to the hoop, finishing with 10 free throw attempts. It was a nice end to a great two year career in purple for him, as he was clearly not afraid of the big stage.

Another guy that showcased himself was big man Joel Bolomboy, who finished with 16 rebounds, seven of them offensive. As we have said really since he got to Weber State - his offensive game is not polished, but he is an NBA level rebounder and athlete in the frontcourt. Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the game he thought Bolomboy would be an NBA player, and it's hard to disagree.

It was an up and down year for the Big Sky, as evidenced by the 16 seed that Weber State received. However, the Wildcats represented themselves and the Big Sky well, playing a great team very tough, never backing down, and never letting up, even when the Arizona lead grew in the second half. It was a great learning experience for the young guys (Jeremy Senglin was the freshman of the year in the conference, but fellow freshman Richaud Gittens could be an all-conference player very soon), and a great showcase for the program, especially after they came up just short the last couple of seasons.

In the end, perhaps the highest praise came from Miller, who said this after the game:

"Weber is one of the best teams we've played all season," Miller said. "We've played some of the great teams in college basketball and I don't care what the name of their conference is or what they say on their shirt."
Great game, and an excellent season for a great program.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

What Can Weber State Do To Have a Chance?

Obviously, you know that a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. The odds are not just stacked against Weber State, they would have to make history to advance and beat Arizona. On paper, certainly, Arizona is the heavy favorite, but that's why they play the games. Here are some keys for the game that would help give Weber State a puncher's chance:

- Make outside shots - This is key for anyone trying to pull off a big upset - you have to be able to hit shots. Arizona is perhaps the best defensive team in the country - you are not going to break them down and get to the rim. Weber State is a very athletic team, but Arizona is even more athletic. Teams shoot 40.5% on twos against Arizona, second lowest rate in the country. To have a shot, Weber needs to make some threes, and they do have the shooters to be able to do that.

-  Force Arizona bigs into foul trouble - Without Brandon Ashley, Arizona is perhaps most susceptible if you can get their big men into foul trouble (especially Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon). Weber is a good team at drawing fouls, especially Davion Berry. I know I said they need to make a lot of threes, but they could also benefit from Berry trying to get to the rim, and ideally forcing some fouls.

- Don't let Arizona get second chance shots - Weber State is not a team that forces turnovers, and that will not change today.But, they are a good defensive rebounding team, and that trait needs to hold today. Once they force a miss, they HAVE to get the defensive rebound - you can't give up free baskets to teams as good as Arizona. Joel Bolomboy is one of the best rebounders in the nation, and he'll have to show it today.

- Survive the first ten minutes - I know that Weber State is confident they can go in there and shock the world - you simply wouldn't be a competitor if you didn't believe that no matter the odds. But if Arizona gets off to a big start right away, some of that belief could fade a little bit. They have to start out strong, and be at least even or close to it after the first ten minutes. Build up a little momentum, and the crowd will be on your side, at least the neutral fans that are in the house.

That is the anatomy of a Weber State upset. Ken Pomeroy's odds give them a 4% chance to win the game. If they are going to shock the world, these four keys will likely be a big part of it.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Big Sky Teams Postseason Tournaments

We know about Weber State in the NCAA Tournament, but they are not the only team that will be playing postseason basketball.

Big Sky runner-up North Dakota will be playing in the CIT for the fourth straight season. In the opening round Wednesday, they will take on Nebraska-Omaha.

Northern Colorado also got a berth in the CIT, and they will get to host a game to boot. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi will come to Greeley on Wednesday night.

Last, Portland State also got the invite to the CIT, and they will travel to take on San Diego on Tuesday night. The berth is great validation for Tyler Geving and his club, who has such a strong finish to the season.

The focus this time of year is on the NCAA Tournament, but it is a good sign for the Big Sky that three other teams are playing in postseason tournaments. We'll be following along with everyone here!

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A Brief Look at Arizona

By now, you know that Weber State drew the 16 seed in the West, and will take on Arizona in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Let's take a brief look at Arizona, and what we know of them.

For a lot of the year, Arizona was ranked #1 in the country, as they started things off by winning 21 straight games. They finished 30-4, losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament final.

Star forward Brandon Ashley (sidenote: Arizona has a lot of stars) got hurt in the 22nd game against California. It might be worth noting that Arizona was 21-0 with him, and 9-4 without him.

Arizona is led by Nick Johnson, a first team All-American and a guy that is really an excellent player. This year, he averaged 16.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 2.8 APG. He can score from the outside (36%), inside (49% on twos), and is good at getting to the free throw line (169 attempts this year, shooting 77%). Other guys to watch for include Aaron Gordon (a super athletic freshman who will be a high draft pick this year), and TJ McConnell (a transfer from Duquesne who is an excellent passer). As you would expect from a number one seed, Arizona has no shortage of talent, athletes, or depth in a game like this.

In terms of defensive efficiency, Arizona is the best defensiv team in the country, allowing 0.87 PPP (by comparison, Weber State allows 1.06 PPP). Teams shoot just 40.5% on twos against them, second best rate in the country. Also, the Wildcats are great on the defensive glass, and opponents have the sixth worst offensive rebounding percentage against them of any team in the country. Baskets will be tough to come by.

Offensively, Arizona is 35th in the country at 1.13 PPP (again for comparison, Weber State is at 1.06 PPP). Their best weapon as been scoring inside the paint... they aren't a great three-point shooting team, and they get 57% of their points with two-pointers. They will look to go inside.

Obviously, Weber State will have their work cut out for them. No 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed. The Wildcats are 30-4 for a reason! As the week goes on, though, we'll look at what Weber State has to do to have a puncher's chance in this game.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where Will Weber State Get Seeded?

Now that we know Weber State is going dancing, the next intrigue comes from wondering if they can stay off the 16 seed line. According to a lot of the bracket experts I am seeing, that will be tough.

I asked a couple bracket experts right after the game, and at that time, they had Weber State slotted as the highest rated 16 seed, and potentially looking at being out in the West bracket against Arizona.

As of the time of this writing (Saturday night), Jerry Palm at CBS has Weber State on the 16 seed line also taking on Arizona.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN has them as a 15 seed against Wisconsin in the West bracket.

We will find out on Sunday.

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Weber State Is Going Dancing

In their third straight Big Sky Championship game, Weber State was just not going to be denied. After their overtime win over Northern Colorado in the semifinals, there was some thought that they might be a little tired after having to go an extra frame in a physical game. However, they put any notions of that to rest very quickly.

Weber State beat North Dakota 88-67, and they are your Big Sky champions.

The Wildcats came out firing in this game, hitting their first six shots and 10 of their first 11. Before UND knew what hit them, the score was 18-6 and the crowd was very much in the game. North Dakota did a really good job of hanging around, but they could just never full recover, and were forced to play from behind the whole game.

Weber State got things going by hitting their outside shot, and that stayed with them the whole way. They finished 10/21 from behind the arc, and always seemed to have a big shot in them whenever one was needed. The defining moment of the game may have been at the end of the first half... UND scratched and clawed to get the game back to 41-34, only to see Davion Berry drain the three at the buzzer, and turn around to have Damian Lillard, sitting in the front row, there to high-five. It was that kind of night for Berry (19 points) and the Wildcats.

In the second half, with UND forced to respect the outside shot, it became the Kyle Tresnak show. He was unstoppable in the second half, playing perhaps the best game of his career. He scored a career high 27 points on 11/15 FG, and 5/5 from the charity stripe. He was great.

For North Dakota, it's a tough end for a great group of seniors who accomplished so much, but won't get a taste of the NCAA Tournament. Guys like Troy Huff, Aaron Anderson, Jamal Webb, Josh Schuler, and Brandon Brekke (though he battled injury problems) really lifted the program to another level. They have a lot to be proud of. In this one, Josh Schuler and Jamal Webb didn't play (well, Webb very sparingly) and that hurt them, but I'm not sure it would have made a difference with the way Weber State was playing.

Weber State had 55 wins the past two seasons but couldn't get over the hump in the championship game. This year, they did it emphatically. At 19-11, Weber State is going to the NCAA Tournament. They are a great program, and you have to be happy for those guys and the coaching staff! Now let's go win an NCAA Tournament game!

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Weber State Outlasts Northern Colorado

At times in the second half, it looked like Weber State was in control of the game. At the final media timeout, an and-1 by Richaud Gittens put Weber State up 55-48, and the light seemed to be closing on Northern Colorado. However, they scored the next seven points of regulation, and had the chance to win on a last second shot, but Tate Unruh's jumper rimmed out.

Overtime basically followed the same pattern. Davion Berry led with five straight points, and the Bears were playing from behind again. Just when things started to look bleak, down seven with a little over a minute left, they clawed back. Derrick Barden hit a three. After Jordan Richardson hit one of two, Barden scored again. Tevin Svihovec forced a turnover, and then hit a bucket. Just like that, it was 64-63.

But then Berry showed why he is the Big Sky Player of the Year... he hit an acrobatic driving shot, giving the Wildcats the 66-63 lead with 10 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, the Wildcats did a great job at denying Unruh the ball, and Jordan Wilson's prayer at the buzzer went unanswered. 66-63, Weber State headed to the Big Sky championship.

There are many stars for UNC (Cody McDavis playing the best game of his career), but a quick word on Tate Unruh and Derrick Barden. Since I live a little over an hour from Greeley, I've seen them in person 20 times over the last three years. Each of these guys had great UNC careers. Barden's athletic ability was almost unreal at times, and Unruh had the purest shooting stroke I've seen. I'll miss watching those guys.

For Weber State, I'm sure they'll be the first to tell you it wasn't their best game. They couldn't get buckets inside in the second half (Kyle Tresnak was scoreless after halftime), but it's all about surviving and advancing. Freshmen like Richaud Gittens and Kyndahl Hill made big plays, and they'll be great players sooner rather than later. Berry made the plays when it counted. In the end, all that matters and all they care about is they are playing in the title game on their home court, with a trip to the Big Dance on the line.

It is games like this where you are reminded that sports is a zero sum game. Northern Colorado deserves better than a loss and a heartbreaking end to their season, but that is unfortunately what they get, because somebody always has to lose. There are no moral victories in March, but eventually they will be proud of the effort they gave in this game.

That was a heck of basketball game.

Saturday night - North Dakota vs Weber State. Everything the teams have been working for, all comes down to that game. Can't wait to get it started!

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Big Sky Semifinals Preview

And then there were four. Let's take a quick preview of each game.

(1) Weber State vs (6) Northern Colorado
In their first meeting, UNC ran the Wildcats out of the gym, using pressure defense and great offense to blow them out in the second half. In the second meeting, it was Weber State who won comfortably, making 12/20 threes. As I said last night, this game will come down to which Northern Colorado team shows up - the one that dominated NAU on both ends for 30 minutes, or the one that nearly blew a 20 point lead in 9 minutes. We have seen both iterations this year.

Things start for the Bears on the defensive end, where they have allowed 1.13 PPP in conference play, second to last. They simply haven't been able to get stops over the second half of the conference season, which is bad because Weber's offense has been getting better. On the other side, UNC is an excellent offensive team, and they shoot 54.9% on twos in Big Sky play. However, Weber State has solid interior defense, led by the Defensive POY in the conference in Joel Bolomboy.

For UNC, the key is to take at least one of Weber's big men out of the game, either by foul trouble or by wearing them down. The second key is to force the young backcourt into making some mistakes. That is what happened in the first meeting between the teams. However, I think the Wildcats have outgrown some of those issues. The Bears can hang in this for awhile because of their offense, but I don't think they can get enough stops, especially on the road. Weber State 77, Northern Colorado 67.

(2) North Dakota vs (5) Portland State
UND probably did not expect that Portland State would be their opponent, but it sets up an interesting match and what should be a great game. KenPom pegs it as almost even, and it's hard to argue. They split their season meetings, and both looked impressive yesterday.

The key to this game could be turnovers. Both defenses are at their best when they are pressuring teams and forcing turnovers, as they have the two highest turnovers forced rates in the Big Sky during conference play. Both teams defenses break down after the initial line of defense (if you get in the lane against UND, two points can basically be put on the board), so it's important to force turnovers.

To me, North Dakota has the slight edge in this game because they are a little better offensively. Troy Huff struggled yesterday, but he will be the best player on the court. Additionally, a lot of UND role players are really stepping up - I can't say enough about Aaron Anderson (who is always underrated), and guys like Josh Schuler and Cole Stefan are playing well. Both teams have their defensive struggles at times, but when one team needs a few buckets during the doldrums of the second half, I trust UND a little bit more to get those baskets. North Dakota 79, Portland State 75.

Your predictions?

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day One Is In The Books

With three quarterfinal games of the Big Sky tournament on Thursday, we knew we'd get some great games. Fortunately, we were treated to all three games coming down to the end. Let's take a quick recap of what happened.

North Dakota 79, Sacramento State 76
This one was consistently entertaining from start to finish, with both teams making plays offensively throughout. The Hornets build up a lead in the second half, but North Dakota stayed right in it, made some free throws down the stretch, and got a stop when they needed it. The Hornets were led by their strong backcourt, as always. Mikh McKinney led the way with 24 points and 7 assists, practically living at the foul line in the second half. His backcourt mate Dylan Garrity had 18 points and six rebounds, draining all four threes that he attempted. Cody Demps was big as well, with 15 points.

But North Dakota just had too many weapons in this game, and hit lots of big shots down the stretch. The star at the end was Aaron Anderson, who kept making plays. He finished with 16 points and four assists. The other guy that I thought really stepped up for them was Josh Schuler, who had 11 points and four assists off the bench, and just kept making big play after big play. The senior was huge when UND needed him most. He did get tackled a bit by McKinney at the end of the game (McKinney was desperately trying to foul, not a dirty play at all, just had a bad ending), so it remains to be seen his status going forward.

For the Hornets, it's a bitter loss since they were so close to the win, but they can at least take solace in the fact that they should be back next year, and be one of the favorites in the Big Sky. North Dakota advances to play another day, and that's all you can ask for at this point in the season!

Northern Colorado 62, Northern Arizona 60
For a while, it looked like the Northern Colorado club we saw to begin the conference season - the one that was obliterating opponents, unstoppable on offense, and relentless on defense. With nine minutes to play, they led by 20. But NAU is a resilient club, and they just kept chipping away, until suddenly it was 62-60 and the Jacks had the ball with the chance to tie or win. Quinton Upshur's shot at the end didn't fall, but it was a great effort getting back in the game. NAU fed big man Max Jacobson all game, and he was excellent in his swan song, with 18 points. Aaseem Dixon was another star, with 20 off the bench, keying the comeback with three pointer after three pointer. Like Sac State, they will be back and even better next season.

For the Bears, if they play like they did the first 30 minutes, they absolutely can beat Weber State. If they play like they did down the stretch, they'll get blown out. Tevin Svihovec led the charge early, and finished with 14 points. Derrick Barden had 15, and Tate Unruh had 12 points. They remain, even now, a mystifying team, and that was certainly on display on Thursday. Hopefully we will see the "Good UNC" on Friday, because when they are clicking, there is not a more fun team to watch in the Big Sky.

Portland State 70, Montana 63
Just like that, Montana's title defense is over. Portland State did something nobody has been able to do for a couple years... beat Montana in the Big Sky tournament. Montana led much of the first 30 minutes or so, but this was a close game throughout. With four minutes left, the game was very much in doubt... but from then on, the Vikings could do no wrong.

Montana struggled from the outside, shooting 1/10 from three-point range. Kareem Jamar was 0/5 from deep, and just couldn't get a jumper to fall all game, though he still finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He had an amazing career (hopefully I will write more on that soon), but it was a tough final game. Credit should go to PSU defensively... it was the best defensive game I've seen them play. They were flying around, and packing the paint.

Offensively, the Vikings were excellent as well, and hit a lot of tough shots, and attacked the rim hard. Kyle Richardson continued his string of great performances, finishing with 19. DaShaun Wiggins had 18 off the bench. Gary Winston had 11. The Vikings struggled offensively early, but really found their groove in the second half. They absolutely can win the Big Sky tournament the way that they are playing right now.

Still, it was odd to see Montana fall. Since I started writing this blog, they have reigned supreme in the Big Sky, winning the title each of the last two seasons. Their string of four straight conference title game appearances is outstanding. It has been fun watching Kareem Jamar throughout his career. In applauding Portland State for their win, we must applaud the Grizzlies on their way out.

The semifinals are set -

(1) Weber State vs. (6) Northern Colorado
(2) North Dakota vs. (5) Portland State

Previews to hopefully come in the morning! Any thoughts?

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Davion Berry Named Big Sky Player of the Year

There will be no repeat Big Sky Player of the Year, as Davion Berry of Weber State has been named the conference POY. The award often goes to the best player on the best team, so his winning is no surprise... it is a nice individual achievement for a great senior season from Berry.

Berry was outstanding in every phase of the game, as he was an efficient scorer (64.7% True Shooting Percentage, 31st in the country), a good rebounder (13.7 DR%), excellent passer (28.5 Assist Rate), and solid defender. He has no real weaknesses, and was a big reason why the Wildcats won the regular season title.

Other awards handed out on Tuesday went to Jeremy Senglin (Weber State) as Freshman of the Year, Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona) as Newcomer of the Year, and Joel Bolomboy (Weber State) as Defensive Player of the Year. I hope to do a more thorough look after the season, but upon first glance, it's hard to find fault with any of the selections.

First Team
- Davion Berry (Weber State) - 2nd straight year
- Kareem Jamar (Montana) - 3rd straight year
- Troy Huff (North Dakota) - 2nd straight year
- Mikh McKinney (Sacramento State)
- Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington)
- Quinton Upshur (Northern Arizona)

Second Team
- Derrick Barden (Northern Colorado)
- Gary Winston (Portland State)
- Kyle Tresnak (Weber State)
- Chris Hansen (Idaho State)
- Tate Unruh (Northern Colorado)

Honorable Mention
- Venky Jois (Eastern Washington)
- Keron DeShields (Montana)
- Jordan Gregory (Montana)
- Flavien Davis (Montana State)
- Aaron Anderson (North Dakota)
- Jamal Webb (North Dakota)
- Max Jacobson (Northern Arizona)
- DeShaun Wiggins (Portland State)
- Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State)
- Joel Bolomboy (Weber State)

A few quick thoughts:
- I would have put Barden on the first team over Upshur, but I can understand why things were voted the way they were.
- Southern Utah is the only team with no members on any of the all-conference teams. Frankly, it'd be tough to argue otherwise.
- I am not positive when Coach of the Year is awarded, but to me, Jack Murphy should be a shoo-in for that award.
- I think it is kind of a crime that Joel Bolomboy was only an honorable mention. I understand he's not a great offensive weapon, but he is far and away the best rebounder in the conference, and was voted the best defensive player as well. What does a guy have to do to get love on the first two conference teams?

Any other thoughts?

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Big Sky Tournament Matchups Are Set

After Saturday's games, the Big Sky tournament matchups are officially set.

Condolences to Eastern Washington, who loses the tiebreaker for the final seed in the tournament to Portland State and Sacramento State. Their only solace is that they have no seniors on the roster, and they should be very good next season. Also, missing out were Idaho State, Montana State, and Southern Utah.

Here are the matchups:

(1) Weber State - bye

(2) North Dakota vs (7) Sacramento State
Regular season meetings: They split their two meetings, with each team winning on their home floor.

(3) Northern Arizona vs (6) Northern Colorado
Regular season meetings: UNC swept the season series, winning by 10 in Greeley and 15 in Flagstaff.

(4) Montana vs (5) Portland State
Regular season meetings: They split their season meetings... PSU won in 3 OT's in Portland, and the Grizzlies won in one OT in Missoula.

As a reminder, the semifinals get re-seeded, so Weber State will take on the lowest seeded winner, whoever that may be. If all the seeds hold, we would get treated to a Weber State/Montana semifinal, which would be fun!

Any early predictions? We will have much more analysis and a breakdown of all the matchups as the week goes on.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Big Sky Scenarios

Well, let's take a crack at this thing. I will almost certainly get something wrong in this post, and I'm not sure I can be completely exhaustive of all the possibilities, so be sure to double check anything if you are unsure about it, and post any corrections. For a refresher, I don't think we'll need to go past these two tie breakers:

1. Head-to-Head Competition

a. Consider the head-to-head record during the Conference season. In double round robin play a team would have to sweep the opponent to break a tie with this method.

b. In the case of more than two tied teams, consider the Conference regular season record for head-to-head competition among all of the tied teams. This process is used to break ties between any of the tied teams with any remaining tied teams returning to the process at criteria 1.a. (above). (Example: Teams A, B, C, and D have identical record from a double round robin season. In head-to-head competition Team A emerges with 4-2 record against the other tied teams, team B and Team C have a 3-3 record and team D has a 2-4 record. Teams A and D can be placed in the final standings at that point while teams B and C return to criteria 1.a. If B and C have split their regular Conference season games, they will move to criteria 2. Performance against other teams in descending order.)

c. In the case of three or more teams having identical win-loss records, the normal tie-breaking procedure would be used. When one or more of these teams is eliminated by using the tie-breaking procedure, the remaining teams involved would then return to the criteria listed in a., above, to break the tie. This will be done until a team is established for that particular seeding position.

2. Performance against Conference teams in descending order of finish, beginning with the No.1 team. (Example: Teams B and C remained tied after head-to-head criteria from above. Team A has been declared the Conference Champion based on the above criteria. Team B has split the Conference season games with team A and team C has lost both of the Conference games to team A. Team B is now placed in second place ahead of team C.)

So, let's take a look at each team:

Weber State
- They have still clinched the top seed and home-court advantage, but are playing for the outright conference title.

- If they beat NAU, they are the 2 seed. If they lose, they fall to the 4 seed.

North Dakota
- They are done playing now. If Montana wins, UND is the 3 seed. If NAU beats Montana, UND is the 2 seed, so they are guaranteed a top 3 spot.

Northern Arizona
- With a win, they are the 3 seed. If they lose, where they fall will depend on tiebreakers. Either way, they are in the tournament.

Eastern Washington
- If they win, they are in.
- If they lose, they are still in if MSU wins or if UNC loses (or both). They swept both of those teams so they look good if it comes down to a tiebreaker. Consequently, they are out if with a loss and a UNC win, and a SAC win.
- If they lose, they should be rooting for PSU to win, because they don't fare as well in a tiebreaker against the Vikings.

Northern Colorado
- If they win, they are in.
- The biggest wrench in all of these scenarios involves UNC losing to SUU, which could set up 3 and 4 team tiebreakers. In these scenarios, they are out if they lose and at least one of EWU and PSU loses and Sac State wins, since they were swept by both of those teams.
- If they lose, they can survive if MSU wins, PSU wins, and EWU loses. In that case, MSU would be the team on the outside.

Portland State
- If they win, they are in.
- If they lose, they are out if EWU wins and MSU wins and UNC wins. That would put the tiebreaker between MSU and PSU, and PSU would lose.
- If they lose, they are still in good shape is MSU loses or UNC loses, since

Montana State
- Their simplest path in involves a win, and a loss by Portland State, and a win by Eastern Washington. They own the tiebreak with PSU, but would lose the tiebreak to EWU. By my calculations, they would lose the tiebreak if it was a 3 way tie.
- If they lose, they're out.
- They are in also with a win, and losses by EWU, PSU, and UNC. In that case, UNC would lose the tiebreak and be out of the tournament.

Sacramento State
- Their simplest way in is a win, and a loss by Eastern Washington. They would then beat EWU in head to head tiebreak.
- If they lose, they're out.
- They are in with a win and losses by UNC and at least one of EWU and PSU (if they both lose, that works for SAC as well).

Idaho State
-They are now out, with their loss and the wins by EWU and PSU.

I'm I will add more as the day goes on... but that is all the scenarios I can think of at the moment!

Many thanks to @corner3s who was a big help in figuring these all out!

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thursday Night Predictions

Almost all teams have two games left (UND and UNC have one each), which basically means that every single game the rest of the way will have major implications on the Big Sky tournament race. So, on the penultimate night of the Big Sky regular season, of course we'll break down the games and offer some predictions on what happens.

North Dakota (12-7) @ Southern Utah (0-18)
Southern Utah is down to two more chances to get a win and salvage something at the end of the year. They have lost 26 games, but it isn’t for lack of trying, so you know they’ll at least give it all they’ve got. North Dakota, meanwhile, knows that with a win and a Montana loss in either of their last two games, they will clinch the two seed. Either way, they’ll clinch a top 3 seed with a win, meaning they would avoid Weber State until the title game (if both teams made if that far). When the teams met in Grand Forks, SUU probably should have won, but UND snuck it out. This time around, North Dakota is playing a lot better basketball, and I think they should get the win more comfortably.
North Dakota 73, Southern Utah 63

Montana (11-7) @ Sacramento State (9-9)
Sacramento State is desperate and at home, which is usually a good combination for a win. Don’t be alarmed that they dropped two on the road last week – they are still a good team. This will be an interesting game in that it won’t be that high scoring (Montana is 344th in pace, and the Hornets aren’t that much faster), but it should be an efficient offensive game, featuring two good offenses and mediocre defenses. A Hornets win could set up a potential rematch next week in the 3 vs 6 game, which would be a fun one to watch. This will come down to the wire, but I’ll go with the playmaking abilities of Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney to pull out the big home win.
Sacramento State 68, Montana 65

Montana State (9-9) @ Northern Arizona (10-8)
Montana State is the toughest team to predict, because there is often no rhyme or reason to when they will perform well, or not perform well. NAU is similar... the last two weeks they lost two at home, and then followed it up by winning two on the road, ending Weber State's record long conference home winning streak. You can throw out any trends coming into this one, because they just don't matter. I do like NAU in this game, however, because I just think they are a better team. I think Quinton Upshur will be the best buy on the court, and Kris Yanku has a knack for making big plays, so that's why I'm going with the Lumberjacks. But I don't really good confident in the pick!
Northern Arizona 70, Montana State 67

Weber State (13-5) @ Portland State (9-9)
Weber State obviously still wants to win the Big Sky title outright, but PSU might have a little break in that they will certainly be more motivated to win than the Wildcats. However, I think Weber is a bad matchup for them... Tresnak and Bolomboy will own the inside.Kyle Richardson has been playing well down low for the Vikings, but he won't have enough help in this game. I like Weber to get a close road win.
Weber State 75, Portland State 70

Idaho State (8-10) @ Eastern Washington (9-9)
Idaho State knows they have to win both of their final games to have a chance to make the Big Sky tournament, and Eastern Washington knows they don't want to rely on beating Weber State in order to make it. So, this one obviously is huge. One thing working against ISU is that they have a tendency to give up good looks on threes with their zone defense, and that is the Eagles strength. I expect EWU will shoot as many as 30 threes in this game, and make enough of them to get the home win, crushing the Bengals postseason dreams in the process.
Eastern Washington 79, Idaho State 75

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