Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Jason Spencer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky. In addition to his tireless contributions for RTC, Jason is a screenwriter whose pursuits can be followed at the home of Blindly Driven Entertainment.  [ed. note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]

A Look Back

  • This just in, Damian Lillard is a “BEAST!”  Of course, if you follow the conference, you knew that already.  Lillard has shown thus far in this young season that the MVP award is his to lose.  In the first four games he is averaging 23 points per game.  We will just let that sink in for all upcoming Weber State opponents.
  • Are they for real?  Montana State has rattled off five straight wins, but the question remains, is it a fluke?  Well, they will get their chance to prove it right away.  They have upcoming games against Iowa State, Illinois State, UCLA, and they kick off the conference season vs. Weber State.  By Christmas we will know whether Bobcat fans are getting something nice or coal in their stockings.
  • Defense wins championships.  If that saying holds true, then Montana should feel good about their team.  On 11/22 the Grizzlies held Idaho to 12% shooting.  Yes that’s right; the Vandals shot 6-50 from the field.  Somewhere, coach Wayne Tinkle is smiling.

Power Rankings

1. Weber State: (2-2)

Recent Games:  77-65 Loss at Utah State 11/13, 97-72 Win vs. Colorado Christian 11/16, 90-75 Loss at Utah 11/20, 86-54 Win at Alaska Anchorage 11/25

Upcoming Games:  Great Alaska Shootout second and third rounds 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Seattle 12/4

The Wildcats debut at the top spot despite going 2-2 in their first four games.  It’s hard to argue with having the two-time defending regular season champs and a team returning the reigning league MVP as the top team here.  Last week they kept it respectable on the road against Utah and really should have beaten Utah State on the road.  But down the stretch the crazy Aggie fans got the best of their in-state rival.  Damian Lillard picked up where he left off last year averaging 23 points per game through the first four games.  NBA scouts have already started to salivate at the thought of Lillard in an NBA uniform.  NBADraft.net has him as a late first round pick in the 2012 Draft.  Look for Lillard and the Wildcats to make some noise in the Great Alaska Shootout on Thanksgiving weekend.

2. Northern Arizona: (3-2)

Recent Games:  78-64 Loss at Iowa State 11/12, 74-70 Loss at Creighton 11/14, 74-46 Win vs. Alabama State 11/16, 97-47 vs. Southwestern Arizona 11/19, 74-66 Win at Kennesaw State 11/22

Upcoming Games:  at Pepperdine 11/28, at Cal State Bakersfield 11/30, vs. Bethany 12/4, vs. Texas-Pan American 12/8

If there was a 1a and a 1b in the Power Rankings then the Lumberjacks would be that 1b.  This team is loaded with experience.  Head coach Mike Adras brings back four starters from last year’s 14-14 squad.  They nearly took down Creighton on the road, which is no easy feat by the way.  Then they took care of business their last three, topped off with a big road win at Kennesaw State.  With all the returning experience and the past coaching success of coach Adras, the Lumberjacks will be nipping at Weber State’s heels all year long.

3. Northern Colorado: (2-2)

Recent Games:  93-52 Wins vs. Tabor 11/12, 67-53 Win vs. Wyoming 11/16, 93-70 Loss at Arizona 11/21, 87-84 Loss at Santa Clara 11/23

Upcoming Games:  Las Vegas Invitational 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Black Hills State 12/4

With the best season in school history in the rearview mirror, the Bears are looking to capitalize on their program’s momentum.  First-year coach B.J. Hill takes over for the departed Tad Boyle who left for Colorado.  Don’t look for this team to miss a beat since Hill served for four years under Boyle before taking over this year.  However this team lives and dies by Devin Beitzel.  He had a solid 20 points in a close loss at Santa Clara but overall is shooting 20.8% from three point range.  For the Bears to challenge for a conference title, Beitzel has got to find his stroke.

4. Montana State: (5-1)

Recent Games:  77-59 Loss at Hawaii 11/13, 65-58 Win vs. Central Michigan 11/14, 80-76 Win vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/15, 92-67 Win vs. Minot State 11/19, 73-57 Win vs. Cal Poly 11/21, 76-59 Win vs. San Francisco 11/24

Upcoming Games:  at Iowa State 11/27, at Seattle 11/29, at Illinois State 12/4, vs. Johnson and Wales 12/10

If coach Brad Huse is reading these Power Rankings, feel free to use it as bulletin board material.  The “no respect” card should be played after the Bobcats rattled off five wins in a row.  Yet this team is still ranked fourth.  For them to climb up the rankings they must show they are for real.  Beating Big 12 member Iowa State on 11/27 would be a start.  The one-two punch of Bobby Howard and Erik Rush is going to be something the rest of the league better take notice of come conference play.

5. Montana: (2-2)

Recent Games:  81-66 Loss at Nevada 11/13, 80-71 Loss at Utah 11/17, 78-51 Win vs. Montana Tech 11/19, 75-33 Win vs. Idaho 11/22

Upcoming Games:  vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/30, vs. Portland 12/3, at UCLA 12/5, vs. Great Falls 12/9

The Grizzlies are trying to capitalize on their amazing run through the Big Sky Conference Tournament last year.  They of course are also trying to replace Anthony Johnson, the catalyst of their past success.  So far, center Brian Qvale has been everything they thought he would be as a senior.  With Will Cherry showing his freshman campaign was no fluke, this team will once again have something to say come conference tournament time.

6. Portland State: (3-1)

Recent Games:  83-81 Win vs. Pepperdine 11/12, 69-53 Loss at SMU 11/19, 102-98 Win vs. Lamar 11/20, 69-58 Win vs. UC Riverside 11/21

Upcoming Games:  vs. Seattle 12/1, at Oregon 12/5, vs. George Fox 12/9

Don’t tell these guys that they got nothing to play for.  Head coach Tyler Geving has his team playing with a chip on their shoulder this year.  The Vikings are not eligible for the postseason, including the Big Sky Conference Tournament.  This year they will have to play the role as spoiler, and it’s beginning to look like that might happen more often than others want.  The Vikings have a balanced attack with four players averaging in double figures with a fifth close to ten points per game.  The trouble for upcoming opponents will be who do they guard?

7. Eastern Washington: (1-3)

Recent Games:  67-60 Loss vs. San Jose State 11/12, 98-72 Loss at Washington 11/16, 96-87 Win vs. Northwest Washington 11/18, 83-54 Loss at Boise State 11/24

Upcoming Games:  vs. Idaho 11/27, at Gonzaga 11/30, vs. New Hope Christian 12/4

Head coach Kirk Earlywine has the youngest team in the conference this year.  Not one senior is on this year’s roster.  This has not stopped the young Eagles from showing lots of promise.  The question is will this be the year that the youngsters grow up?  Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year Glen Dean has been sidelined thus far with a stress fracture and remains day-to-day.  Having Dean back in the lineup is most certainly the key to the Eagles season.

8. Idaho State: (1-3)

Recent Games:  88-80 Loss at Colorado 11/12, 90-42 Loss at Arizona 11/14, 78-68 Win vs. Great Falls 11/19, 79-47 Loss at South Dakota State 11/23

Upcoming Games:  vs. Montana Tech 11/29, at Iowa 12/4, at Cal State Bakersfield 12/7

The first question that comes to mind if you are an opposing coach of Idaho State would be where is Broderick Gilchrest?  The man went unconscious at Colorado for a career high 39 points.  The following game he was held to four points on one-of-nine shooting from the field at Arizona.  As the conference season gets underway, coach Joe O’Brien will have to find a way to get Gilchrest open looks.  As for the schedule, it doesn’t get any easier.  Six of their next eight games are on the road.

9. Sacramento State: (1-3)

Recent Games:  80-78 Loss vs. Cal State Bakersfield 11/14, 84-55 Win vs. Bethany 11/16, 64-60 Loss at North Dakota 11/19, 61-54 Loss vs. UC Davis 11/23

Upcoming Games:  vs. Cal Poly 11/27, at Washington State 11/30, at Utah Valley 12/4, at Loyola Marymount 12/7, vs. William Jessup 12/10

This has to be the most encouraging last place conference team in the nation.  Brian Katz knew what he was getting into when he took over the Hornets coaching job.  In the last three seasons this team has won a total of fifteen games, with last year contributing nine of those.  Katz has only three players returning from last year that contributed.  But as with any rebuilding project, to get over the hump, you’ve got to learn how to win close games.  In their three losses, they have lost by a total of thirteen points.  Once this team learns how to win the close ones, they could surprise some people.

A Look Ahead

  • Northern Colorado is going to Vegas, baby!  The Las Vegas Invitational to be exact.  The Bears will take on Valparaiso on 11/26 and either Bethune-Cookman or Texas A&M Corpus Christi on 11/27.  This tournament includes such national powers such as Kansas and Arizona.  It should be a great experience and atmosphere for B.J. Hill’s club.
  • Expansion talk!  The Big Sky is not waiting on the big boys to make a move.  Being proactive, earlier this month the league added North Dakota and Southern Utah as full members.  The move puts the league at eleven teams in basketball.  Who will be the twelfth?  Rumor has it South Dakota is interested.
  • BracketBusters will feature all nine members of the Big Sky Conference.  Fans can watch their favorite Big Sky team on one of the ESPN family of networks 2/18-2/20.  This is the first time that all members of the conference will participate in a given year.

The “Human Highlight Film” Award

Weber State’s Damian Lillard, (1) drives through the defense of Alaska Anchorage’s Casey Robinson (44) and Brandon Walker (22) during their Great Alaska Shootout NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov 25, 2010, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

Is there anyone else in the league that we should give this to?  We didn’t think so either.  Damian Lillard, let the love fest begin!  A man among boys, this 6’2 junior guard from Oakland, California has started off the season with a flurry.  The reigning Big Sky Conference MVP is up to his old tricks again averaging 23 points per game through four.  If it pleases the court, I would like to enter into evidence “Exhibit A” (below). After a heavy helping of threes to the face, Damian decides to take it to the hoop “nasty style” at the 1:28 mark.  Is there any doubt why he wears number 1?

Brian Goodman (748 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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