Checking In On… the Big Sky ConferencePosted by rtmsf on December 24th, 2011
The Past Couple Weeks
- Northern Arizona Head Coach Mike Adras Resigns – This was a bit of a shocker when it happened, as Adras seemed to be well regarded by the fans and has a long, solid track record for the Lumberjacks. But all of a sudden, in his 13th year as head coach, he was out. The school’s press release said he left to “pursue other opportunities,” while many rumblings said it was more of a forced resignation. As is often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it is not something we will likely know.
- Idaho State Head Coach Joe O’Brien Resigns – This one you could see coming, though it was still a bit of a shock to have a second Big Sky coach resign in the middle of the year. O’Brien was in the final year of his contract, and it seemed clear that he needed to win or he might have been looking for other employment at the end of the year. With the Bengals sitting at 2-8, he decided to resign now, and give someone else (assistant coach Deane Martin) a chance to be the head man. From all accounts O’Brien was a very nice guy, he just was not able to get the job done in Pocatello. Here’s hoping he lands on his feet.
- Weber State Misses Opportunities – Early in the season, especially after the Wildcats beat Utah State, there was talk that they might have a small chance at an at-large bid if they were not able to win the Big Sky. Unfortunately, that is no longer on the table, as losses to St. Mary’s, BYU, and Cal (the latter two being blowouts) have blown any chance of that. The last bracketology by Joe Lunardi projected Weber State as a No. 16 seed, as they were not able to secure the key non-conference victories they would have liked (in their defense, they are battling injury problems). So once again, the Big Sky will certainly be a one-bid league.
- Weber State (8-3) – They certainly have their problems, but they have less of them than any other team in the conference. Plus, they have the best player (more on him later) in the Big Sky. Injuries have been huge, as they have not looked the same without Kyle Bullinger (7.2 PPG/9 RPG) and Frank Otis (5.6 PPG/5.3 RPG). Bullinger especially will be key to get back, as he is their senior leader and one of their best offensive players. Kyle Tresnak (9.4 PPG/3 RPG) has grown into a very solid offensive player down on the block, but he rebounds like a guard (or worse). Weber State takes great care of the basketball and shoots great from the FT line, two traits that will serve them very well.
- Montana (7-5) – You could certainly make arguments that another team deserves to be number two, but nobody has really grasped their opportunity for it. Thus, I still feel most comfortable putting Montana at the two spot, as I think they best have the talent to compete with Weber State. In terms of backcourts, their duo of Will Cherry (14 PPG/3.5 APG) and Kareem Jamar (13.5 PPG/5.3 RPG) is very good on both ends of the court, and they will be a tough matchup for everyone in the conference. They key will be Derek Selvig (8.3 PPG/7.2 RPG), they need him to be one of the best big men in the Big Sky. If he can play at that level consistently, then it is clear to me that Montana has the inside track on the No. 2 in the Big Sky.
- Portland State (6-6) – Transfer Renado Parker is eligible, and that means their trio of Parker (off the bench), Chehales Tapscott (13.9 PPG/8.8 RPG), and Nate Lozeau (11.2 PPG/6.6 RPG) is the most potent offensive big men in the conference. Charles Odum (16.7 PPG/3.8 RPG) has been one of the most efficient guards in the Big Sky, and he could be a first-teamer. The key will be consistent play from Lateef McMullan. They thought he would come in and be a good point guard for them, but he has more turnovers than assists and hasn’t made shots all year. Defensively, they have a lot to clean up as well, but they can put up points with anyone.
- Eastern Washington (6-6) – Things started great for the Eagles, and they looked like they were easily the second best team in the Big Sky. They have played a lot of very good teams, but lately they have not been very competitive in those games. They have a major problem playing defense without fouling, and that has given their opponents a ton of easy points. Collin Chiverton (18 PPG/2.1 RPG) is one of the most curious players in the NCAA … he takes a higher percentage of his team’s shots than anyone else in the country (meaning he has the ball a lot), but he has a turnover rate that is in the top 5 in the nation. They will be an interesting team.
- Sacramento State (5-6) – I am not at all confident that the Hornets will end the season ranked fifth in the Big Sky, but they deserve to be here right now. Quietly Konnor Veteto (8.9 PPG/4.7 RPG) has become a nice inside player for them – he is a solid rebounder, is moderately efficient inside, and gets to the line often. They don’t have any stars, but they are full of solid role players. Making the conference tournament would be a big step in the right direction for this program, and they have the talent to be in contention.
- Northern Arizona (4-8) – The last time I did these rankings, I thought they might be the worst team in the Big Sky. But, Northern Arizona has picked up little momentum, particularly with their last-second win over Arizona State. They have star guard Gabe Rogers back, and he has the talent to be one of the best players in the conference, which is one reason I have them up at No. 6 despite a very poor record. Their have a nice guard trio with Rogers, Stallon Saldivar (9 PPG/ 5.4 APG), and freshman James Douglas (12.5 PPG/2.3 RPG), and they should keep the Lumberjacks in a lot of games.
- Montana State (5-6) – A couple weeks ago, the Bobcats looked like they might be the second best team in the Big Sky, but things have changed since then. They have lost three straight games, including only scoring 36 points against Pepperdine and losing by 45 to New Mexico. Good teams do not have those things happen to them. Xavier Blount (11.6 PPG/3.1 RPG) is their best player, but he needs to play like it every game, something he has struggled to do. Montana State has the talent to beat any team in the conference on any given night, but they have the inconsistency to lose to any team on any given night.
- Northern Colorado (3-8) – KenPom has them rated third in the Big Sky right now, but I haven’t really seen that level of play from them yet. They have some young talent, but they also have a home loss to an NAIA team. Tate Unruh (12.9 PPG/3.5 RPG) and Paul Garnica (12.5 PPG/3.3 APG) are turning into a good guard combination, and as they are both sophomores Bears’ fans should be excited about their potential. In addition, forward Tim Huskisson (8.5 PPG/3 RPG) has been one of the best freshmen in the conference, and has a ton of athletic ability. Their lone senior is Mike Proctor, who has not really stepped up into being a solid starter.
- Idaho State (2-8) – Coach Joe O’Brien resigned, but I don’t think that will provide the Bengals with the spark that it did for Northern Arizona. They simply don’t have the talent to be a real competitor in the Big Sky. Chase Grabau (10.2 PPG/5.3 RPG) is a nice piece for them, as he does a bit of everything, but he needs a lot more help than he’s been getting. The Bengals are bad offensively and defensively.
- 12/28 – Portland State at Montana – This will be an interesting beginning to the Big Sky season because it matches one of the best offensive teams in the conference against the best defensive team. I like Montana to win for two reasons – one, the game is in Missoula. Two, the Grizzlies are better offensively than the Vikings are defensively. Look for Kareem Jamar to have a big day in this one.
- 12/30 – Eastern Washington at Montana – This would be a nice weekend to be a Montana fan, because this will be the second of really good slate of games in Missoula. Both teams are guard-oriented, so whatever they can get out of the frontcourt is gravy.
- 12/31 – Sacramento State at Weber State – Sacramento State will have a chance to make a big statement in this game, and they will have a chance to slow things down against a banged up Weber State team. The key will be slowing down Damian Lillard, but I’m not sure Sac State has the athletes in the backcourt to do that, which is why I do like Weber State to win.
Spotlight On… Damian Lillard – It seems like every check-in I use this section to talk about Damian Lillard, but so far this year he is the one player or one thing to consistently get some national media attention out of the Big Sky. As of this writing he is leading the nation in scoring and ORtg, and I have seen article’s about Lillard on ESPN, CBS Sports, and Basketball Prospectus, and I am certain to have missed a lot of others. He is the best player in the conference and one of the best PGs in the country, and as Big Sky fans we are lucky to have him. All of this certainly brings to the forefront that he could head to the NBA after this year, his junior season, which makes it all the more imperative that we appreciate him while he is here. Here’s hoping Lillard’s national showcase continues, as he has the talent to be a first-round pick potentially.