Checking In On… the Big Sky ConferencePosted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2012
The Past Couple Weeks
- Montana establishes itself as #2 again – They came into the year ranked second, and at different times they looked like they might relinquish that role. However, they are back solidly among the top two after beating Portland State soundly, and then following that up with a tough win over Eastern Washington. They are playing well on both ends of the court, and they should be considered the top challenger to Weber State.
- Spots 4-9 are wide open – Eastern Washington has solidified themselves as a legitimate top-three team, but after that, the race is wide open. Nobody else is above .500, and nobody was able to distinguish themselves at the beginning of conference play. All of those teams are likely to beat up on each other all year, and it is just a matter of which three can do it the best to move to the conference tournament. It should be a crazy race.
- Damian Lillard still leads nation in scoring – I talk about Lillard in all of these check-ins, but for good reason. He is the best player in the conference, and one of the most dynamic players in America. He is the most efficient player in America, and has evolved into a very complete player. Catch him while you can – he is a junior but there is a chance this will be his last season in Ogden. Reportedly, as many as 25-30 NBA scouts will be in attendance in Portland when they play the Vikings.
- Weber State (10-3, 2-0) – They are still awaiting the return of Kyle Bullinger and Frank Otis, but they started out conference play with solid wins over Sacramento State and Idaho State. Scott Bamforth is beginning to get free a bit more again, and that is huge for them because it takes some of the pressure off of Damian Lillard (25.2 PPG/5.8 RPG). Byron Fulton is also starting to play better, and he can be a nice scorer himself.
- Montana (9-5, 2-0) – As talked about above, they have established themselves again as the second best team in the Big Sky. Will Cherry (14.6 PPG/4.3 RPG) is the reigning conference player of the week, and is looking like the guy that is the top challenger to Damian Lillard for the unofficial “best player in the Big Sky” award. In addition, they have some solid offensive weapons in Kareem Jamar, Derek Selvig, and Mathias Ward. This is a team that is on the rise, and they always seem to get better under Coach Wayne Tinkle.
- Eastern Washington (7-7, 1-1) – They went into Missoula and took a halftime lead over the Griz, cementing them as a top-3 team and challenger in the Big Sky. They play at Weber State on Thursday (in a game that is after this will be posted, but before this writing) in a game that should tell us a lot about both teams. They foul way too much and give their opponents too many free points, but talent-wise, they can match up with anyone in the conference.
- Montana State (6-7, 1-1) – They were put here almost by default, as nobody has stepped up and grabbed this spot. They get it by merit of an impressive win over Portland State, where they controlled the game and got whatever they wanted offensively. They are a team with a lot of solid athletes, so they need to get out and run a bit more. Xavier Blount (12.1 PPG/3.2 RPG) is an effective scorer and solid finisher, and the Bobcats will likely go as far as he can take them.
- Portland State (6-8, 0-2) – I am still on their bandwagon because I think their offensive firepower is good enough to get them to the conference tournament, but there is no denying that their defense is atrocious. I would like to spotlight guard Charles Odum (17.6 PPG/3.8 RPG), who is shooting a ridiculous 65% on 2-pointers this year. As a 6-foot shooting guard, he is 73/112 from inside the arc. That is ridiculous.
- Northern Colorado (4-9, 1-1) – This is another team that is better on paper than their record indicates, but at some point they have to convert it to wins. They have two bad losses this year – at home to Westminster and at home to Idaho State, which is a showcase to their youth. In their first conference game they soundly beat Northern Arizona, so they are a solid team. But it remains to be seen if they can be consistent enough this season to make the conference tournament.
- Northern Arizona (5-9, 1-1) – There are a lot of unknowns about this Lumberjacks team, such as how they will fare long-term with their interim coach, and whether their guard-heavy lineup can be successful. One thing is for sure, if whoever their permanent head coach is can get some solid JuCo big men in there, they can be very solid next year. They have three good guards, and none are seniors. They are still waiting for Gabe Rogers to become the player he was before he got injured, and if he does, NAU will be dangerous.
- Idaho State (3-10, 1-1) – They picked up a huge conference road win, which is a great start for them. The star has been Chase Grabau (12.4 PPG/5.2 RPG), who is starting to make a bid to be an all-conference player. He does a little bit of everything, as he is their best scorer, best passer, and best defender. Look for him to get some accolades at the end of the year.
- Sacramento State (5-8, 0-2) – They have not played poorly in the conference, but they fall behind ISU by virtue of the Bengals conference win. They are a team that will be competitive in a lot of games, but they could struggle to win them, especially with the loss of Walter Jackson. Dylan Garrity continues to be a solid freshman point guard, but it would help if he knocked down a few shots. The Hornets could use a couple wins to get some momentum, because they have the talent to compete for a conference tourney bid.
- Weber State @ Portland State, Saturday (1/7) – This should be an entertaining and high-scoring affair, and Lillard should have a big night. PSU needs to establish an inside game early and often, as that is their only shot. This should be close, but I’m not sure the Vikings can get enough stops to win.
- Eastern Washington @ Northern Colorado, Saturday (1/14) – UNC thinks they are a better team than their record, and this would be a great chance to prove it. It will be at home, and school will be back in session so the crowd should be a bit better than it has been. EWU has the edge in athleticism, but UNC will need to knock down shots to win.
- Montana @ Weber State, Saturday, (1/14) – The game of the year in the Big Sky (or, one of them), as it features the two teams expected to be at the top of the conference. The matchup to watch will be Will Cherry vs. Damian Lillard, the two best players in the Big Sky and guys that have been playing against each other since they went to high school in Oakland. This will make for good viewing.
The bizarre statistical year of Collin Chiverton – If you check out his KenPom page, you will see a strange stat line. He shoots a higher percentage of his team’s shots than anyone else in America, which means he has the ball a lot. However, he has a low 6.0 Assist Rate, which has led to a whopping nine assists in 14 games. However, despite all this, he also takes very good care of the basketball; his 6.5 TO Rate is #7 in America. It is a strange combo, but it works, as he is one of the leading scorers in the conference and one of the most athletic players in the Big Sky. Now the only question is if he can get his teammates involved and get his shots within the flow of an offense.
As I noted earlier, Montana and Weber State are clearly the top early contenders for the Big Sky crown. Here is a look back at a video from two seasons ago, when the Grizzles and Wildcats faced off in the Big Sky title game: