Big Sky Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2012

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Tournament Preview

Tournament Glance

Everybody is assuming that Weber State and Montana will have a rematch in the conference championship game, but don’t be so sure about that. Portland State has the offensive talent to hang with the Wildcats on a neutral court, and Eastern Washington has given Montana some competitive games (those two teams are the favorites to advance past the quarterfinals).

That said, it would be a surprise if it is not Weber State and Montana in a rematch on Wednesday night. They have been the two best teams in the Big Sky all season, have the two best players in the conference, and have the best talent. It would be a great rematch, as each has won convincingly on their home court.

However, I think Weber State will reverse what happened last week, when Montana beat them to clinch the regular season championship. Nobody talked about this, but Weber State played their worst game of the season, and they were within five points late in the second half. They can’t shoot that poorly again, and I have to think that Damian Lillard will show why he has been the best player in the conference all year long. Look for a classic title game, with Weber State coming in and shocking the faithful at Dahlberg Arena to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Reader’s Take

 

Big Sky Awards

  • Player of the Year: Damian Lillard (Weber State) – There is some talk that Cherry should get the award, or that they should split it, but I still like Lillard as the best player in the conference all season. He carried them early on in the year and has been outstanding all year. He is the best PG in America, and has had the best all-around season.

Simply Put, Weber State's Damian Lillard Has Been One Of The Country's Best This Season (AP)

  • Defensive Player of the Year: Will Cherry (Montana) – This is an easy choice, as Cherry is sixth in the nation in steals and already fifth in Big Sky history in that category (he has one season of eligibility left). He is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and the one guy in the conference as likely to change the game on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end.
  • Newcomer of the Year: Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State) – He has some work to do on his game (namely that he needs to shoot the ball better), but he has been everything Brian Katz could have hoped for and then some.
  • Freshman of the Year: Dylan Garrity (Sacramento State) – There are arguments to be made for James Douglas of Northern Arizona or Tevin Svihovec of UNC, but I think Garrity is the guy here. He has stepped in and been the primary ballhandler and facilitator from day one for the Hornets. He could lead the Big Sky in assists every year of his career.
  • Coach of the Year: Wayne Tinkle (Montana) – There could certainly be an argument made for Deane Martin, who changed the culture around at ISU this year, but I would give the award to Tinkle. This is a team that lost the best defensive player in the conference, and came back to be even better defensively. He had a relatively young team, and surpassed already high expectations.

Power Rankings

  1. Montana (23-6, 15-1) – They earned this spot, having won 12 straight games and 18 of 19. After playing second fiddle in people’s minds all season long, they enter the conference tournament as the favorite, by virtue of their win over Weber State on Tuesday night. They are one of Wayne Tinkle’s best offensive teams, and they have a multitude of guys that can step up and hurt you offensively. Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar looked like the best guard duo in the Big Sky to close the regular season.

    Montana Point Guard Will Cherry and Coach Wayne Tinkle Has Been A Winning Combo This Season

  2. Weber State (23-5, 14-2) – They spent almost the entire season at the top of everyone’s radar, but they came up short in the biggest game of the year. Damian Lillard is an excellent player, but he has struggled in some of their biggest games this season. Look for them to come out strong in the conference tournament, because they know they have some unfinished business. In most years, 14-2 would win you the Big Sky, but this was not most years.
  3. Portland State (16-13, 10-6) – Quietly they are playing very good basketball, having won six straight conference games. Charles Odum is playing at a very high level, and is matched only by Lillard in his scoring prowess. He gets to the line often, and shoots a very high percentage. He forms a nice duo with Chehales Tapscott, the best rebounder in the conference and perhaps the most versatile player. They are going to be a tough out.
  4. Eastern Washington (14-16, 8-8) – They have had an up and down season, but end the year about where everyone predicted, in fourth place in the conference. On paper, they have the talent to give someone an interesting game in the tournament, but it is just a matter of not making mental mistakes. Cliff Colimon has ended the year strong, and has shown himself to be one of the best PGs in the conference.
  5. Idaho State (9-20, 7-9) – They are the surprise of the conference, as they are a team that everyone predicted to finish in the Big Sky cellar, yet they are in fifth place and almost hosted a conference tournament game. Deane Martin should get consideration for Coach of the Year, and should have already had his interim tag removed. It will be an upset if they win a conference tournament game, but they have already surpassed expectations.
  6. Northern Colorado (9-19, 5-11) –They didn’t get as many wins as they would have liked, but they showed flashes of the potential that should make them a top 4 team next season. They lost one senior this year, and they will have no seniors next season. They are balanced and have a lot of different players that should make the leap. They will be fine.

    If There Is One Team To Crash The Anticipated Rematch, Charles Odum and Portland State Might Be It (AP)

  7. Sacramento State (10-18, 5-11) – They didn’t get to their goal of .500, but they made baby steps toward becoming a solid Big Sky team. They return almost everyone next year, and should have one of the best PGs in the league in Dylan Garrity. At the very least, next year should be Sac State’s best year in a while.
  8. Montana State (12-16, 7-9) – It is hard to classify this year as anything but disappointing. They started the conference season at 6-2, and had the look of a top 3 tournament team. Next thing you know, they lose eight straight games and sneak into the tournament as the six seed. They dealt with a lot of off-the-court issues, including the off-court injury to Xavier Blount, which did a lot to derail their season.
  9. Northern Arizona (5-24, 1-15) – Yikes.
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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on February 3rd, 2012

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Past Couple Weeks:

  • Weber State and Montana tied again – These are the two teams that have been at the top of the conference from the beginning, so it is not surprise that they are both at the top of the conference now. As of this writing, they both stand at 8-1, and don’t appear to have any serious contenders. This will be one of the best conference races in the country.

Damian Lillard (1) and Weber State Are Still The Favorites, But Will Cherry (5) and Montana Are Closing In Fast (AP)

  • Idaho State becomes a conference tournament contender – All along this season, Idaho State was seen as a team that would probably finish last in the Big Sky, and nothing through the first two months of the year changed that perception. However, they have all of sudden won three straight games, including handing Weber State their only loss. They are brimming with confidence, and a team that nobody else wants to face, which would have been shocking to say one month ago.
  • Former NAU coach Mike Adras under fire – In December, long-time Northern Arizona head coach Mike Adras abruptly resigned, and there was not a lot said about it officially. There were rumors that he may not have treated his players the best, but I never expected what was put out in the AZ Daily Sun last week. He is accused of breaking multiple NCAA rules, including making his practices too long, and making his players lie about it. Suffice to say, the NAU program is reeling a bit right now.

Power Rankings:

  1. Weber State (16-4, 8-1) – I gave a lot of thought to putting Montana first, but it was not long ago that Weber State soundly beat them. Damian Lillard is still leading the country in scoring, but his lead is growing more tenuous. They are still battling injury problems, as starting forward Frank Otis is out for the year. It is a bit easy to nitpick, but they are still 8-1 and the favorite. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Past Couple Weeks

  • Weber State gets some players back: Kyle Bullinger was a first-team all conference player last year, and Frank Otis was a starter after transferring from SMU. However, both players got hurt a few weeks ago, and missed significant time. For the most part, the Wildcats were still fine, mostly thanks to the play of “Fly Guy” Damian Lillard. However, these two returned to action last week, and that makes WSU even more dangerous.
  • Round One of Weber State/Montana goes to Wildcats: These are the two best teams in the Big Sky this year, which means there is a good chance they will meet three times. In the first matchup, Weber State took control of the game and control of the conference, beating Montana by 16. It was really a fantastic win, and clearly puts Weber State a head above everyone else in the conference right now.
  • The best comeback of the year: With 11:21 to play on 1/14, Idaho State trailed Sacramento State, 54-32. With two minutes to play, they were down by 10. With 12 seconds to play, they were down by three. But then, after a Kenny McGowen four-point play, they miraculously won the game on the road. For a team that has been struggling for a few years, this is a win for them to savor. For Sacramento State, I’m not sure they can recover from that and still have a realistic shot at the Big Sky tournament.

Who's The Best Team In The Big Sky? Damian Lillard (ball) and Weber State Answered That Question After Its Impressive Win Over Montana

Power Rankings

  1. Weber State (15-3, 7-0) – There are two good signs for the Wildcats and bad signs for the rest of the conference. One, WSU has been impossible to beat at home this year, as they possess an 11-0 home mark. Two, the winner of the Big Sky regular season hosts the conference tournament. As of now, it would be foolish to predict that that team will be anyone other than the Wildcats. They are the best team in the Big Sky right now without question. Read the rest of this entry »
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Remember This In March: Weber State and Damian Lillard

Posted by rtmsf on January 17th, 2012

Kraig Williams is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last weekend’s Weber State vs. Montana game.

It was a scene that Damian Lillard had seen before. His Weber State squad was up big on conference rival Montana at home in the Dee Events Center at halftime, victory almost certainly in sight. The last time this played out was nearly two years ago, and the ending was one of the most memorable performances in recent college basketball history. Montana’s Anthony Johnson came out of the locker room and went bananas, scoring 34 points in the second half, including the Grizzlies’ final 21 to carry Montana to the Big Dance and send Weber home for the summer.

Lillard Is the Nation's Leading Scorer

Flash forward to present day. There would be no epic comeback. Weber State, aside from a five-minute drought in the second half that allowed Montana to cut the lead down to eight, cruised to a relatively easy 80-64 victory to take control of the Big Sky standings after playing a third of the conference schedule. While Montana threatened a comeback in the second half it was never meant to be, partly because Lillard was not willing to live that nightmare for a second time. “At halftime that was the main thing I was harping on,” Lillard said after the game in reference to the last time he saw Montana. “We had been in this position at home at halftime up on a good team. I just let the guys know we have to step on them. Last time we let that happen we ended up losing the Big Sky championship.”

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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2012

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

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.

Montana And Weber State Will Tangle On Jan. 14, Marking The First Big Game Of The Big Sky Season. Talented Guards Will Cherry (left) and Damian Lillard Lead The Charge For Each Squad.

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 24th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

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.

What Team Is The Top Challenger for Weber State? It Could Very Well Be Will Cherry and Montana. (AP)

Power Rankings

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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Weber State off with injury problemsKyle Bullinger dislocated his elbow last weekend, and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Frank Otis got injured in the loss to BYU, and it is not sure how long he will be out. That is two front court starters down, and I’m not sure Weber State has the horses up front to really absorb injuries that easily. The Wildcats will struggle scoring down low, and need Byron Fulton to give them some quality minutes. In the backcourt, the Weber State coaching staff decided to pull the redshirt on Gelaun Wheelwright to give them more depth. There is obviously a lot of season left, but December is not going as planned.
  • Damian Lillard as a national player – After scoring 36 points in a road loss to St. Mary’s, Lillard (26.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) became the nation’s leading scorer and national pundits began to take notice. In the next game, the Oakland native really broke out, scoring 41 points and hitting the game-winner against San Jose State, before facing a BYU defense on Wednesday that locked him up somewhat (15 points). Lillard became the Big Sky Player of the Week and received an article on ESPN, almost immediately becoming one of the more well-known players among the mid-majors. Lillard is lightning quick with a solid (though not spectacular) outside shot. Lillard’s play this season is proving more and more why some people say he is a legitimate NBA prospect.

Damian Lillard Has Broken Out In a Big Way This Year

  • Will the real contenders please stand up? – It has been a bit of a wacky, up-and-down start for the Big Sky, with teams missing out on big chances to assert themselves. Thus far, it seems like the clear top-5 are as below in the power rankings, but the order is very fluid right now. On some nights, it seems like any of them can win the league, and on other nights, it looks like they will struggle to make the conference tournament. There is work to do up top.

Power Rankings

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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball  is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Weber State Starts Hot– Weber State was projected as the team to beat before the season, and they have done nothing to change that perception. The biggest win was a home victory over in-state rival Utah State, which is a start to get them on the map nationally (more on that later). Star player Damian Lillard has quelled any concerns that his injury last year might longer, as he has looked as explosive as ever. The Wildcats are getting great guard play, but they need some more contributions from the frontcourt.

Weber State and Lillard Might Have an Outside Shot at a Bid.

  • The League of Moral Victories – The Big Sky has played a lot of good teams well this year, but has come up short of any signature victories. Consider the following losses – Eastern Washington lost at Gonzaga and Oregon (and led in the second half in both games), Montana State lost by six at Arizona State (though they did beat Utah), Idaho State lost by four at Oklahoma, and Sacramento State lost by 11 at Washington State (but led much of the second half). Unfortunately, national respect is earned by real victories; moral victories need not apply.
  • Northern Colorado Struggles On The Road: Perhaps no team in the Big Sky has had a tougher schedule to begin the year, and it has showed. The Bears started the year with a tight home loss to New Mexico State, got blown out on at Wyoming, and lost to Northern Iowa. (At the time of this being written, the game against Iowa State had not been played). They are clearly talented, but they are very young. Some Bears fans thought the momentum from last season would carry over to a top three finish, but that seems unlikely.

Power Rankings (records as of Tuesday, November 22)

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Spotlight on Rising Mid-Major Coaches: Tim Miles & Wayne Tinkle

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2011

Montana traveled to Colorado State on Friday night in a game that did not garner much national intrigue (the Rams beat the Grizzlies, 64-58). Neither team made the NCAA Tournament last season and they will be fighting tooth and nail to make it this season. Montana is predicted second in the Big Sky heading into the season, and Colorado State is projected as the fourth best team in the Mountain West. However, the game did feature of the best young mid-major coaches in all of college basketball.

Tim Miles Has CSU Moving in the Right Direction (AP/L. Boomerang)

Colorado State is coached by Tim Miles, who at age 45 is beginning his fifth season in Fort Collins. He began his Division I coaching career at North Dakota State, where as head coach of the transitional team (they are now Division I), he took NDSU into then #12 Wisconsin and won (2006), and then into #8 Marquette and won (in 2007). He left after a 20-win season, and two years later the players he recruited went to the NCAA Tournament.

His CSU career started somewhat rocky, as the Rams went winless in his initial Mountain West campaign. They have improved every year, however, and they were a bubble team last year after going 19-13 in a Mountain West Conference that included powerhouse teams at BYU and San Diego State. He is an energetic and charismatic guy (example: I talked to him after the game and told him I went to North Dakota, a rival of NDSU. He responded with, “Did you lose a bet?”). His players enjoy playing for him, and he has a player’s style. Wes Eikmeier, CSU’s leading scorer, took a couple of questionable shots late in the game, and Miles responded by saying he was comfortable with those shots because if Eikmeier felt like he could make them, then he should take them. That’s what players love to hear. He will get Colorado State to the Tournament either this year or next year, and then larger schools could come calling.

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RTC Conference Primers: #27 – Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 7th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball  is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Readers’ Take

Top Storylines

  • The Return of Damian Lillard – Three years ago, Lillard was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year. Two years ago, he was the Big Sky Player of the Year. Last year, he was the Preseason Player of the Year and his team, Weber State, was the pick to win the Conference. Then, he broke his foot in the ninth game of the year, and the Wildcats finished third. Due to some smart scheduling tactics, Lillard was granted a medical redshirt and will be a junior this season. He says he is one hundred percent healthy, and if that is true, Weber State is the easy favorite to win the Big Sky.

Weber State's Damian Lillard Is The Toast of the Big Sky. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

  • Beginning of the Jim Hayford Era For Eastern Washington – Out is Kirk Earlywine, who put together four bad seasons in Cheney, finishing with a 42-78 record. In is Jim Hayford, who had been extremely successful at Division III Whitworth University, where he had a 217-57 record. Earlywine did not leave the cupboard bare (even with would-be top returner Glen Dean transferring to Utah), and a top three finish is possible for the Eagles. Hayford has also showed early recruiting prowess, getting Collin Chiverton to keep his commitment to EWU.
  • How Does Northern Colorado Build on Momentum? – 2007 was Northern Colorado’s first season in the Big Sky, and they finished a sparkling 4-24 (with a 2-14 conference record). Last season, BJ Hill continued the impressive turnaround begun by previous head coach Tad Boyle (now with Colorado), leading the Bears to their first ever NCAA Tournament berth, where they lost to San Diego State. However, nobody in the conference was hit harder than UNC by graduation, most notably losing Player of the Year Devon Beitzel. Hill brought in a solid recruiting class, and he will need guys to step up early.  The Bears could be picked as low as seventh in the conference this year, but anything in the top five would keep the program’s momentum going strong.
  • Wide Open Race in the MiddleWeber State and Montana are the prohibitive favorites to win the Conference, but the race really opens up after those two. If you ask five different people who will finish third in the Big Sky, you will get five different answers. That will add up to a lot of competitive ballgames, as the balance in the conference is strong. Anyone is capable of beating anyone else on a given night.

Predicted Order of Finish

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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on December 26th, 2010

Jason Spencer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.

First off Merry Christmas to all the Big Sky Conference fans out there!  After we all get done opening presents, we get to open up the conference season.  It should be one of the most competitive in years.

A Look Back

  • One of the most bizarre free throw shots ever captured on video was from Idaho State’s own Kamil Gawrzydek.  The ball seemed to just sit down right on the rim after bouncing high into the air.  What was it waiting for?  Forget everything that you think you know about physics and take a look for yourself.

  • Northern Arizona is becoming a force not only within the Big Sky Conference, but is scaring the heck out of the big boys.  In back to back games on the road against USC and Arizona, the Lumberjacks came within single digits of both of these behemoths.  Northern Arizona is looking more and more the team to beat in the Big Sky Conference.
  • The term “Road Warriors” is usually a positive statement made about a team that racks up “Ws” on the road.  Northern Colorado fans cringe when they hear that term.  The Bears have only played one game at home since November 16!  It is safe to say they will be looking forward to playing in their home gym.  Only problem is that they still have to wait until January 6!

Power Rankings

1. Northern Arizona: (8-4)

    Recent Games:  60-52 Loss at USC 12/11, 63-58 Loss at Arizona 12/16, 74-63 Win vs. Air Force 12/22

    Upcoming Games:  at Montana 12/29, at Montana State 12/31, vs. Idaho State 1/6

    2. Weber State: (6-5)

      Recent Games:  77-71 Win at Southern Utah 12/11, 81-79 Loss at Tulsa 12/16, 94-54 Win vs. Southwest 12/18, 72-66 Loss vs. BYU 12/21

      Upcoming Games:  at Montana State 12/29, at Montana 12/31, at Northern Arizona 1/8

      3. Montana: (8-4)

        Recent Games:  50-48 Loss at San Francisco 12/12, 71-66 Win vs. Oregon State 12/15, 64-63 Win at Idaho 12/18, 71-57 Win at Cal State Fullerton 12/22

        Upcoming Games:  vs. Northern Arizona 12/29, vs. Weber State 12/31, at Northern Colorado 1/6, at Sacramento State 1/8

        4. Portland State: (6-5)

          Recent Games:  93-89 Win vs. Cal State Fullerton 12/12, 92-77 Loss at Cal State Bakersfield 12/15, 78-67 Loss vs. Portland 12/18, 79-73 Loss at Nevada 12/20, 73-53 Win vs. Utah Valley 12/23

          Upcoming Games:  vs. Northern Colorado 12/29, at Idaho State 1/2, vs. Eastern Washington 1/8

          5. Northern Colorado: (4-7)

            Recent Games:  86-76 Loss at Illinois 12/12, 71-68 Loss at Denver 12/18, 75-61 Loss at Colorado State 12/20, 78-75 Loss at Louisiana-Monroe 12/22

            Upcoming Games:  at Portland State 12/29, at Eastern Washington 12/31, vs. Montana 1/6, vs. Montana State 1/8

            6. Montana State: (6-6)

              Recent Games:  94-60 Win vs. Johnson and Wales 12/10, 78-67 Loss at UC Riverside 12/19, 75-59 Loss at UCLA 12/21

              Upcoming Games:  vs. Weber State 12/29, vs. Northern Arizona 12/31, at Sacramento State 1/6, at Northern Colorado 1/8

              7. Eastern Washington: (3-8)

                Recent Games:  70-69 Loss at San Jose State 12/12, 95-91 Win vs. Seattle 12/15, 72-42 Loss at Nebraska 12/18, 78-72 Loss at South Dakota 12/20

                Upcoming Games:  vs. Sacramento State 12/29, vs. Northern Colorado 12/31, at Seattle 1/6, at Portland State 1/8

                8. Idaho State: (4-8)

                  Recent Games:  78-57 Win vs. UMKC 12/11, 66-60 Loss at Creighton 12/18, 71-48 Loss at Utah State 12/21, 77-73 Win vs. Troy 12/22, 63-60 Loss vs. Western Michigan 12/23

                  Upcoming Games:  vs. Sacramento State 12/31, vs. Portland State 1/2, at Northern Arizona 1/6

                  9. Sacramento State: (3-8)

                    Recent Games:  65-54 Win vs. William Jessup 12/10, 65-63 Win at McNeese State 12/19, 66-53 Loss at Oklahoma 12/21

                    Upcoming Games:  at Eastern Washington 12/29, at Idaho State 12/31, vs. Montana State 1/6, vs. Montana 1/8

                    A Look Ahead to Conference Play

                    Predicted Conference Order of Finish

                    1. Northern Arizona
                    2. Weber State
                    3. Montana
                    4. Portland State
                    5. Northern Colorado
                    6. Montana State
                    7. Eastern Washington
                    8. Idaho State
                    9. Sacramento State

                    The conference season is going to be one of the most competitive in years.  However the returning fire power of Northern Arizona is going to be too much for this conference to handle.  However, as last year’s Big Sky Conference has shown, anybody can win the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  This year’s Big Sky Conference representative will be…

                    • Weber State Wildcats

                    The Big Sky Conference tournament is going to be a showcase for NBA scouts as Damian Lillard will put his team on his back and into the NCAA tournament.  The question for Weber State fans is can something like this happen? I wonder what size slipper Lillard wears?  The most interesting development will be does the committee consider Northern Arizona as an at-large team?  They have been very competitive against the big boys and will have quite a good resume come March.

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                    Checking in on… the Big Sky

                    Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2010

                    Jason Spencer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.

                    A Look Back

                    • Don’t look now, Weber State, but the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona are on a roll!  Coach Mike Adras has his team firing on all cylinders.  They have won the last seven games in a row, with three of those wins coming on the road.  The Lumberjacks are the highest-scoring team in the Big Sky Conference at almost 79 points per game.  That offense will be tough to slow down as they get into conference play.
                    • Down goes Frazier!  Montana did something that has not been done since 2000.  A Big Sky team walked into Pauley Pavilion and upset one of the great college basketball bluebloods, the UCLA Bruins.  Coach Wayne Tinkle once again is beaming this week as his team continues to gain confidence.  What can help a team’s confidence more than beating UCLA at home after they themselves nearly defeated the mighty Kansas Jayhawks at their house a few days prior?
                    • Speaking of confidence, Eastern Washington got a little boost to its young team on December 4.  New Hope Christian came to town and gave up 112 points to the Eagles.  The Eagles were not as kind on defense as New Hope Christian was.  They only let them score 41!  How rude, huh?!  Maybe it was because the opposing team’s necks were hurting by watching all the long range bombs that were tossed in.  EWU attempted 43 three point shots during the game, Kevin Winford by himself attempted 23!  It is safe to say that Eastern Washington has found what they are good at.

                    Power Rankings

                    1. Northern Arizona: (7-2)

                    Recent Games:  88-74 Win at Pepperdine 11/28, 81-77 Win at Cal State Bakersfield 11/30, 91-50 Win vs. Bethany 12/4, 68-55 Win vs. Texas-Pan American 12/8

                    Upcoming Games:  at USC 12/11, at Arizona 12/16, vs. Air Force 12/22

                    To say the Lumberjacks are on a roll might be an understatement.  With seven wins in a row under their belt, Northern Arizona takes over the top spot in this edition of the power rankings.  Coach Adras has his team playing not only the best basketball in the conference, but it can be argued that they are playing some of the better basketball in the nation.  The Lumberjacks have the highest scoring offense in the Big Sky at just under 79 points per game.  But even more impressive is that they also have the 8th-most assists per game in the nation, all the while shooting 49.2% from the field, good for 23rd in the nation.  With Cameron Jones leading the way for this team, the “Sky” is the limit.

                    2. Weber State: (4-3)

                    Recent Games:  59-58 Loss vs. Arizona State 11/26, 82-81 Win vs. Drake 11/27, 65-61 Win vs. Seattle 12/4

                    Upcoming Games:  at Southern Utah 12/11, at Tulsa 12/16, vs. Southwest 12/18, vs. BYU 12/21

                    The Wildcats drop to #2 in our rankings this time around.  Not so much because they played badly, but because Northern Arizona has been playing so good.  Look for these two teams to flip flop more than once during conference play.  The Wildcats are coming home fresh off a trip to the Great Alaska Shootout.  They narrowly lost to a decent Arizona State team by one point after disposing of Alaska Anchorage.  They got right back on track with wins over Drake and Seattle.  Look for Damian Lillard to use Northern Arizona’s success to fuel him the rest of the year.

                    3. Montana: (5-3)

                    Recent Games:  75-67 Win vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/30, 58-54 Loss vs. Portland 12/3, 66-57 Win at UCLA 12/5, 85-50 Win vs. Great Falls

                    Upcoming Games:  at San Francisco 12/12, vs. Oregon State 12/15, at Idaho 12/18, at Cal State Fullerton 12/22

                    The Grizzlies jump from #5 in the rankings to #3 with the help of an upset win at UCLA.  That one win can propel Montana into the conference season.  However, coach Wayne Tinkle must preach that every game matters.  Getting a big win like that can fog the minds of his Grizzlies.  They must forge ahead and keep that intensity that they showed in Pauley Pavilion if they want to go dancing for the second straight year.

                    4. Northern Colorado: (4-3)

                    Recent Games:  76-61 Loss vs. Valparaiso 11/26, 69-45 Win vs. Bethune-Cookman 11/27, 84-52 Win vs. Black Hills State 12/4

                    Upcoming Games:  at Illinois 12/12, at Denver 12/18, at Colorado State 12/20, at Louisiana-Monroe 12/22

                    Northern Colorado participated in the Las Vegas Invitational on Thanksgiving weekend.  First-year coach B.J. Hill has to wonder if the lights of Vegas got the best of them.  The Bears started out by losing to Valparaiso by 24 points in the first day of the event.  They turned around the experience with a solid win vs. Bethune-Cookman.  Devon Beitzel continues to lead the Bears this season but still has yet to find his stroke from long range.  He is still shooting an anemic 29.4%.  If they are going to compete for a conference title Beitzel has got find a rhythm out there.

                    5. Portland State: (5-2)

                    Recent Games:  83-76 Win vs. Seattle 12/1, 68-49 Loss at Oregon 12/5, 92-58 Win vs. George Fox 12/9

                    Upcoming Games:  vs. Cal State Fullerton 12/12, at Cal State Bakersfield 12/15, vs. Portland 12/18, at Nevada 12/20, vs. Utah Valley 12/23

                    Up one spot from #6 the surprising Vikings of Portland State.  These guys were given a tough draw at the beginning of the season.  Not being eligible for the postseason, not even the conference tournament can be a huge blow to a team’s ego.  But coach Tyler Gerving has these guys playing hard every game.  Their balanced attack will make you guard at all positions.  Chris Harriel, Melvin Jones, and all the rest have bought in and relish being the spoiler this year in the Big Sky Conference.

                    6. Montana State: (5-4)

                    Recent Games:  81-59 Loss at Iowa State 11/27, 72-70 Loss at Seattle 12/29, 62-56 Loss at Illinois State 12/4

                    Upcoming Games:  vs. Johnson and Wales 12/10, at UC Riverside 12/19, at UCLA 12/21

                    The question was posed the last time these rankings were put out are the Bobcats for real?  Well, since winning five straight games they have dropped the last three on the road, hence the dropping of two spots in the rankings.  Coach Brad Huse has to wonder about the consistency of his squad and their ability to win close games.  The rest of December looks brutal when the Bobcats will play non-conference games on the road against UC Riverside and UCLA.  Then they open the conference season against the two best teams in the Big Sky, Weber State and Northern Arizona.  At least those first two conference games are at home?

                    7. Eastern Washington: (2-5)

                    Recent Games:  70-60 Loss vs. Idaho 11/27, 86-57 Loss at Gonzaga 11/30, 112-41 Win vs. New Hope Christian 12/4

                    Upcoming Games:  at San Jose State 12/12, vs. Seattle 12/15, at Nebraska 12/18, at South Dakota 12/20

                    The Eagles have a talented team.  But it seems that it just has not come together this year.  The Eagles are unfortunately teetering on disaster as coach Kirk Earlywine’s seat starts to get a little warm.  Fans of the Eagles have been lighting up the message boards with frustration about the program.  In coach Earlywine’s defense, he has been without Big Sky Freshman of the Year Glen Dean.  Hanging 112 on somebody has to count for something right?

                    8. Idaho State: (2-5)

                    Recent Games:  69-57 Win vs. Montana Tech 12/29, 70-53 Loss at Iowa 12/4, 75-56 Loss at Cal State Bakersfield 12/7

                    Upcoming Games:  vs. UMKC 12/11, at Creighton 12/18, at Utah State 12/21, vs. Troy 12/22, vs. Western Michigan 12/23

                    The Bengals have lost some games this year.  But they are only returning one starter from last year’s team.  That player is Broderick Gilchrest.  Although he has tried to carry this team at times on his own, coach Joe O’Brien has got to find some other people to contribute.  Deividas Busma has been a pleasant addition since only appearing in six games last year because of an injury.  However, barely scoring 60 points per game as a team is simply not going to cut it when they start facing teams like Northern Arizona.

                    9. Sacramento State: (2-6)

                    Recent Games:  71-67 Win vs. Cal Poly 11/27, 84-36 Loss at Washington State 11/30, 77-52 Loss at Utah Valley 12/4, 69-49 Loss at Loyola Marymount 12/7

                    Upcoming Games:  vs. William Jessup 12/10, at McNeese State 12/19, at Oklahoma 12/21

                    This is the little team that could.  It is hard to not respect the job that coach Brian Katz is doing at Sacramento State.  He has gone from 2 wins, to 9 wins, and is now having to deal with coaching a team that has only three players from last year.  Katz has had a lot of success in the junior college ranks and there is hope for the future for Hornets fans.  With a couple of strong recruiting off seasons this team can be a force in the Big Sky Conference.  They just have to take their lumps this year.

                    A Look Ahead

                    We are all going to see what Northern Arizona is made of right away.  The Lumberjacks are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and now are really going to be tested.  They have road games against USC, then Arizona, and if they survive that then they play Air Force at home before conference play begins.  The big boys have shown that they are vulnerable this year, even at home, but don’t look for these teams to overlook the Lumberjacks.

                    The non-conference schedule is winding down and that means conference play is around the corner.  This year’s Big Sky Conference is wide open and up for grabs.  Look for four teams to battle it out for the conference crown, those teams being Northern Arizona, Weber State, Montana and Northern Colorado.  Don’t count out Portland State, though.  Winning a regular season conference title to them is like winning the national title.  Since they are not eligible for the postseason this is all they have to play for.  They would love to steal a conference title away from the “big four.”

                    The “Human Highlight Film” Award

                    Will Cherry.  He is the do-everything guard for the Montana Grizzlies.  All the guy has done is lead the Grizzlies to a 5-3 record and a huge win at UCLA.  He is only a sophomore and continues to play beyond his years.  Here is his stat line from last season to this season.

                    • 2009-10: 22.8 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.9 SPG
                    • 2010-11: 31.6 MPG, 15.6 RPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 4.0 SPG

                    Will Cherry gave UCLA headaches in a monumental win for the Montana program. (AP/L. Shepler)

                    Cherry has been named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week two times already this year and projects to continue that trend.  Did we mention he is sixth in the NATION in steals?  It’s safe to say that we have a competition for Player of the Year.  Cherry will face Damian Lillard for the first time head-to-head on New Year’s Eve.  This could be one of the battles that people point to when they choose the POY.  To learn a little more about Will Cherry, check out this great interview with him from Kayla Anderson.

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