A week of reckoning. The Big Sky post-season tourney tips off Saturday. Listed are the final standings with tourney seed and bracket beneath it. In parentheses is the Grizzly Journal pre-season pick, which appeared here before the season began.
Glenn Junkert of Grizzly Journal is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE (Records are CONF/ALL/STREAK):
Weber State (9-2/15-8/W1) Wildcats have clinched a playoff berth and — with three of their last five games at home — are in the catbird’s seat.
Northern Colorado (8-3/19-5/W2) Bears match up well with Weber State, and, with Saturday’s clash against the Cats at Ogden, can move into a tie for first.
Montana (8-4/17-7/W4) Led by senior MVP candidate Anthony Johnson, Montana is getting balanced scoring AND solid play from five underclass subs on the deepest bench in the conference.
Montana State (7-5/12-11/L1) Home-court loss to Weber State last week hurt Bobcats’ hopes of earning post-season tourney bye.
Portland State (5-5/10-13/L1) The Vikings lost Phil Nelson — the fourth-best three-point shooter in the Big Sky — to a broken foot at the end of a three-game slide. Expect the Vikes, who play four of their final six at home, to move up in the standings…and to play the spoiler in the fight for tourney seeding.
Northern Arizona (5-6/11-11/L2) Lumberjacks look to avenge season-worst 25-point home-court loss to Weber State Friday. Junior Cameron Jones is Jacks’ all-everything MVP-contender.
Idaho State (3-8/6-17/L3) Home court loss to Sacramento State and ankle injury to scoring leader Amorrow Morgan deals Bengals’ post-conference hopes a blow.
Sacramento State (3-9/9-16/W1) Hornets snap four-year, 27-game Big Sky losing streak with 72-55 win at ISU.
Eastern Washington (2-8/6-18/L7) Eagles play four of final six games at home in battle to qualify for conference playoffs.
RPI BOOSTERS — Despite a home-court loss to Montana, Northern Colorado maintained its lock on second place in the Big Sky with the league’s best overall record (19-5), good enough for a 10th place rank (441 points) in the College Insider’s Mid Major Poll. League leader Weber State broke into the top 25 (at 25th) with 120 points, while Montana’s 11 points equals a rank of 34th. USA Today’s Sagarin Rankings have the three teams bunched at 98 (Montana), 99 (Northern Colorado), and 100 (Weber State).
MVPs — Montana’s senior guard Anthony Johnson and Weber State’s sophomore guard Damian Lilliard have emerged as leading candidates for Big Sky MVP. Lilliard, twice recognized for POTW recognition, leads the conference in scoring (20.2 PPG) as league leader Weber State’s anchor. Johnson — who has been named POTW eight times in two years (four this season, most recently on Feb. 7), has been the keystone of Montana’s resurgence after freshman Will Cherry stepped up as Griz point guard…freeing Johnson to play the open-court, ball-possession offense he does best.
HOT & NOT
HOT — After starting Big Sky play at 0-3, Montana has won 7-of-8 games, including a sweep at the two Northerns (Arizona & Colorado). Included in the run were convincing victories over league leader Weber State (75-61) and Idaho State (91-68), good enough for third place. The deep Grizzlies — shooting 60% from the field and 58% from three point range over the past four games – can brand themselves as legit contenders with road wins at Portland State and Eastern Washington this weekend.
NOT — After a clutch win at Montana State — and being touted here as a potential Big Sky Spoiler — the Eastern Washington Eagles lost seven straight games. EWU finishes its season with 4-of-6 in Cheney. They’ll probably have to win all four if they hope to qualify for post-season Big Sky tourney seeding.
Scoring: Damian Lilliard (WSU) 20.2 PPG; Cameron Jones (NAU) 18.5; Dominic Waters (PSU) 18.1; Anthony Johnson (UM) 17.9; Amorrow Morgan (ISU) 17.5.
Rebounding: Jamie Jones (PSU) 7.5 RPG; Brandon Moore (EWU) 7.4; Demetrius Monroe (ISU) 7.0; Brian Qvale (UM) 6.7.
Glenn Junkert of Grizzly Journal is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.
Standings(records are CONF/ALL/STREAK)
Weber State (5-1/11-7/W2). A quintessential coaches’ team, the Cats get it done with blue-collar attention to all the X’s and O’s.
Northern Colorado (5-2/16-4/W1). Bears rebound from a setback at Portland with a three-point come from behind win at Eastern Washington.
Montana State (5-2/10-8/L1). Well-coached, overachieving Bobcats get solid leadership from senior point guard Will Bynum.
Montana (4-3/13-6/W3). Grizzlies search for production from wings to counter opponents’ collapsing zone defense.
Portland State (3-3/8-10/W2). Vikings are the best on offense (78.4), but the worst on defense (81.3 allowed).
Northern Arizona (3-4/9-9/W2). Behind stellar play from guard Cameron Jones, Lumberjacks revive tourney hopes with road wins at PSU, EWU. Jacks are shaping into a late-season wild card.
Eastern Washington (2-4/6-13/L2). Eagles turn to freshmen Glen Dean and Jeffrey Forbes in hopes of reviving season.
Sacramento State (1-5/7-12/L2). Bridesmaid Hornets are looking more and more like… bridesmaids.
Idaho State (1-5/4-14/L4). Amorrow Morgan’s 23 points per game in conference play still not enough for scoring-challenged Bengals.
Despite a league setback at Portland State, the Northern Colorado Bears moved up to 12th in this week’s College Insider Mid Major top 25 poll with 386 votes. Fourth place Montana, winners of three straight, received seven votes.
NO, YOU TAKE IT! The game of the year so far in Big Sky action was last Sunday’s 95-93 triple overtime Weber State win at Idaho State, finally won when Wildcat guard Damian Lilliard hit a driving layup with a second remaining in the final OT. Despite the exciting finish, the game was characterized more by miscues than makes. Weber State — which led by as many as 13 points — blew several point-blank shots in the final 30 seconds of regulation. Worse: ISU guards Broderick Gilchrest and Amorrow Morgan missed free throws in the final SECOND of the first two overtimes, both of which would have won the game. Lilliard led the Wildcats with 28 points, Amorrow Morgan scored 32 for the Bengals.
KEEP AN EYE ON: the Eastern Washington Eagles. After the Eagles’ mostly-down preseason and a horrid start in Big Sky action, coach Kirk Earlywine turned the keys to the ignition over to true frosh 5-10 guards Glen Dean and Jeffrey Forbes, who have given the Eagles some scoring punch. Look for the Eagles to be spoilers.
HOT & NOT
For the third time in four seasons, Randy Rahe’s Weber State Wildcats – bouyed by road wins at Northern Arizona and Idaho State – have once again put themselves into the driver’s seat in the Big Sky. It’s early, but the Cats – led by super-soph Lilliard – are in control and they know it.
After consecutive last-second road losses to start conference play, the Montana Grizzlies rebounded quickly with three straight. If the Griz (4-3/13-6) expect to contend, they’ll need better perimeter shooting… and they’ll have to recoup one or two of those early setbacks in the next 10 days in a brutal stretch at Montana State (Saturday), Northern Arizona, and Northern Colorado.
The Idaho State Bengals (1-5/4-14) – a consensus preseason pick to contend in the Big Sky – have lost four straight, including two at Holt Arena. The Bengals must turn things around starting tonight with the first of three straight home-court tilts against teams also scrambling to get out of the cellar (EWU, PSU, SAC).
There was hope at Sacramento State this year that the Hornets, under second-year coach Brian Katz, might be good enough to at least qualify for one of six conference tournament seeds. But the Hornets (1-5/7-12) are winless on the road and have already lost three of four at home. Things get tougher from here.
Scoring:Damian Lilliard (WSU) 19.4; Dominic Waters (PSU) 18.9; Amorrow Morgan (ISU) 18.2; Cameron Jones (NAU) 17.7; Anthony Johnson (UM) 17.2.
Rebounding:Demetrius Monroe (ISU) 8.3; Brandon Moore (EWU) 7.6; Brian Qvale (UM) 7.2; Franklin Session (WSU) 6.9; Jamie Jones (PSU) 6.9
Steals:Will Bynum (MSU) 2.4
Blocked shots:Brian Qvale (UM) 2.1.
Assists:Dominic Waters (PSU) 4.7; Julian Olubuyi (NAU) 4.0; Glen Dean (EWU) 3.8; Damian Lilliard (WSU) 3.6; Mike Marcial (SAC) 3.5.
Glenn Junkert of Grizzly Journal is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.
Standings (records are CONF/ALL/STREAK)
Portland State (2-0/7-7/W2) Vikings lead the Big Sky in scoring offense at 79.4. Can any team in this defense-oriented league slow them down?
Northern Colorado (3-1/14-3/W4) Senior guard Yahosh Bonner leading the Bears with iron-trap defense… usually against each opponent’s top scoring guard.
Montana State (3-1/8-6/W1) The Cats are taking care of the ball on offense… and just winning.
Weber State (3-1/9-7/W2) Sophomore point guard Damian Lillard best in the Big Sky so far.
Eastern Washington (1-1/5-10/W-1) Speedy frosh guard Glen Dean stepping up as scorer and playmaker for Eagles.
Montana (1-3/10-6/L2) Junior 6’11 post Brian Qvale starting to dominate key on both ends of floor (6.1 rebounds per game and 2.0 blocks per game average)
Northern Arizona (1-3/7-8/L1) Junior guard Cameron Jones scores 26 in Jacks’ first Big Sky win.
Sacramento State (1-3/6-10/L3) Sac State junior guard Sultan Toles-Bey making strides at point for Hornets.
Idaho State (1-3/4-12/L1) Amorrow Morgan leads conference in minutes played (35.1), carrying Bengals on offense (17.0 per game).
Northern Colorado Bears jumped to 16th in this week’s College Insider Mid Major top 25 poll with 249 votes, up from 23rd last week. The Bears are the lone Big Sky team to receive votes.
HOT & NOT
HOT — The Montana State Bobcats and the Northern Colorado Bears – at 3-1 and tied for second going into the third week of conference play – can move into a tie for first with home floor sweeps this weekend. The Bears and Bobcats have already notched important road wins and both are poised to build some early separation in the standings.
NOT — Already at 1-3 in conference play, the Idaho State Bengals and Montana Grizzlies – both pre-season picks to contend – have each suffered home-court losses and are mired in a four-team bottom-tier throng with Northern Arizona and Sacramento State. What’s worse for Montana: the Bengals’ lone win was a last-second stunner over the Grizzlies in Pocatello. Montana then traveled to Ogden and – after leading through much of the second half – lost in the final minute at Weber State.
The Big Sky’s top scorers are all guards: Damian Lillard (WSU) 19.1; Dominic Waters (PSU) 18.7; Amorrow Morgan (ISU) 17.0; Cameron Jones (NAU) 16.7; Anthony Johnson (UM) 16.4; Will Figures (MSU) 15.9; Devon Beitzel (UNC) 15.4; and Broderick Gilchrest (ISU) 13.9.
Northern Colorado’s 136-341 three point field goals is the Big Sky’s best, slightly ahead of Portland State’s 128-309. The Viks shoot a better percentage though (.414 to .399).
Not only are the Portland State Vikings the most potent offensive team in the Big Sky, they’re the best shooting team. The Viks, who score at a per-game clip of 79.4, lead the league in three point field goal percentage (see above), field goal percentage (.490) and free throw percentage (.755).
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest and Upper Midwest) are located here.
It’s time for the eighth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of somewhat forgotten states that have lots of land but relatively few players that we’re calling the Mountain Region. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
(ed. note: since this region has a scarcity of BCS schools, we’re grouping all of its schools into the same pool)
Jimmer Fredette – G, Jr – BYU. Blessed with the one of the most memorable first names in college basketball, Jimmer Fredette emerged as one of the steadiest and most productive point guards in the nation during a breakout sophomore campaign at BYU. Fredette’s scoring average jumped 9.2 PPG from 2007-08, finishing second on the team in scoring (16.2) three-point percentage (.382) and free throw percentage (.847) while leading the Cougars in APG (4.1) and steals (50). His ranks in the Mountain West are equally impressive: fifth in scoring, third in assists, second in free throw percentage and steals while finishing fourth in minutes played. Along with multi-dimensional wing Jonathan Tavernari (below), it’ll be Fredette taking the reins of a BYU team poised to win another regular season MWC title under head coach Dave Rose. With several teams on their heels, the consistent and reliable point guard play of Fredette could prove the difference, especially in important non-conference tests vs. Utah State, Arizona State, Arizona and Nevada and the always-competitive MWC slate. Fredette managed to earn himself a spot on both the all-MWC first team and the MWC all-tournament team, and it wouldn’t shock us one bit if Fredette makes both lists in 2009-10 as well. This tough, hard-nosed competitor is one of the top point guards not only west of the Mississippi, but in the entire landscape of college basketball and should only improve in an anticipated junior season manning the Cougar ship.
Cory Higgins – G, Jr – Colorado. Frankly, the only bright spot on a depressing 2008-09 Colorado Buffaloes team was Cory Higgins. The 9-22 (1-15) rebuilding project in Boulder is embarrassing and downright inexcusable for a school with their resources and attractive campus (football isn’t exactly a prettier situation). Give Higgins credit for remaining loyal to the Colorado program when he easily could have bolted for better situations. The 6’5 California native whose father, Rod Higgins, is a longtime NBA veteran, does everything for Colorado, finishing his tremendous sophomore season at 17.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.9 SPG, 47% FG, 83% FT and 36% 3pt. With Higgins mired in obscurity at the bottom of the Big 12, many casual fans have no clue that his all-around game matches just about anyone in the conference. Rick Barnes knows – Higgins scored 34 points on 11/20 FG in Boulder last February in a 9-point loss to Texas. Mark Turgeon knows – Higgins went for 27 points on 10/18 FG at home in early March in a 6-point loss to Texas A&M. The all-Big 12 third team selection was one of 13 players in the nation ranked first or second on their team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and the only sophomore to make that illustrious list. Sure, Colorado doesn’t provide much help in the way of talent for Higgins, but that’s not his fault. Higgins may be able to score 20-per-contest this season in Colorado. He hopes those epic performances also include a tally in the win column more often than nine times this season. Read the rest of this entry »
Glenn Junkert of GrizzlyJournal.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Weber State (22-9, 12-4)
Montana (20-8, 11-5)
Montana State (16-12, 11-5)
Idaho State (13-16, 10-6)
Portland State (14-15, 9-7)
Northern Arizona (11-17, 8-8)
Northern Colorado (12-18, 5-11)
Eastern Washington (8-21, 3-13)
Sacramento State (7-22, 3-13)
All-Conference First Team:
Anthony Johnson, Montana
Damian Lilliard, Weber State
Steve Panos, Weber State
Phil Nelson, Portland State
Bobby Howard, Montana State
All-Conference Second Team:
Amorrow Morgan, Idaho State
Will Bynum, Montana State
Dominic Waters, Portland State
Brandon Moore, Eastern Washington
Shane Johannssen, Northern Arizona
MVP:Anthony Johnson, Montana
Franklin Session, Weber State
Eric Platt, Northern Arizona
Raason Young, Montana
What You Need to Know. Last year Weber State senior point guard Kellen McCoy earned his Big Sky MVP medal by shaping his young teammates into a cohesive unit early. The Wildcats shrugged off a home court loss to Montana State and promptly forged a commanding conference lead with a league-wide road sweep, a rare feat in the Big Sky, though three other stellar guards — Montana’s Anthony Johnson, Montana State’s Will Bynum, and McCoy’s teammate, frosh Damian Lilliard — had second-half performances equal to McCoy’s, the Wildcat senior was a shoo-in for directing his cats to a rare 15-1 record in league play.
Predicted Champion. Weber State (NCAA Seed: #14). Weber State basketball IS coach Randy Rahe, and what Rahe has done best in four years at WSU is: 1) Recruit a balanced combo of quality junior college and freshman talent; and, 2) Demand the utmost in ensemble discipline and teamwork from his players on the court. The result? Deuces wild: two league titles and two “coach of the year” awards in his four years at WSU. The Wildcats graduated seniors Kellen McCoy and Daivin Davis, but Rahe will rely on the leadership of sophomore guard Lilliard, who’s expected to get support from highly regarded JC transfer Franklin Session. Otherwise, Rahe’s stellar coaching should be enough to earn the Cats a second straight league title.
Jordan Freemeyer is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Big Sky conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Portland State (20-9, 13-3)
Northern Colorado (21-10, 11-5)
Idaho State (15-14, 10-6)
Montana (18-11, 10-6)
Weber State (13-16, 8-8)
Northern Arizona (12-15, 7-9)
Montana State (11-17, 6-10)
Eastern Washington (10-19, 5-11)
Sacramento State (6-23, 2-14)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). The Big Sky is a nine-team conference stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the southern Rocky Mountains. The Big Sky has historically been an eight-team conference, but added Northern Colorado as its ninth member in 2006. Unlike most conferences that feature a balanced eight or twelve team tournament, only the top six Big Sky teams get the chance to go dancing. The conference is generally a power in FCS (formerly I-AA) football, but does not have a rich men’s basketball tradition. However, Weber State in particular has been noted for big upsets in the NCAA Tournament. In 1995, a #14 seed Weber State team beat #3 seed Michigan State 79-72, and in 1999 the Wildcats repeated the feat, taking down another #3 seed, North Carolina, 76-74. More recently, Montana made a run to the second round in 2006 with a wins over #5 Nevada.
Predicted Champion.Portland State (#14 NCAA). This is a relatively safe pick, as the Vikings won both the regular season and tournament championships last season. Portland State returns three starters, including 2007-08 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year Jeremiah Dominguez (pictured below). The 5’6” Dominguez scored 14.4 points per game last season, while averaging 4 assists per game and leading the conference with 1.9 steals per game. Also returning for the Vikings is junior Kyle Coston. The 6’8” forward averaged 7.4 points per game last season and made over 40 percent of his three-point attempts. PSU lost leading rebounders Scott Morrison and Deonte Huff, but return enough firepower offensively to make them the favorites in the Big Sky.
Others Considered. Behind the Vikings is a pack of about four teams that can challenge them. Northern Colorado is my pick to finish second in the league. The Bears return nine letterwinners from last season, the most in the conference, and are led by all-conference center Jabril Banks. Banks led UNC last season with 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Idaho State should also contend for the conference title; the Bengals are led by guards Matt Stucki and Amorrow Morgan, who combined to average just under 22 points per game last season. Perrenial favorites Montana and Weber State should also be in the mix, led by forward Jordan Hasquet and guard Kellen McCoy, respectively.
Important Conference games.
Northern Arizona @ Montana State (1/10/09) – This game could go a long way toward determining the final berth in the Big Sky Tournament.
Portland State @ Northern Colorado (1/19/09) – This is just Northern Colorado’s third year in the conference, but Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion is already proving to be one of the toughest places to play. The Bears were 9-4 there last season.
Idaho State @ Weber State (1/31/09) – Dee Events Center should be rocking for this matchup between rivals that will have a big impact on what the top of the conference standings look like.
Montana at Montana State (2/7/09) – It’s Montana against Montana State, when is it ever not important?
Big Sky Championship Game (3/11/09)
Northern Colorado @ Colorado State (11/18/08) – This is perhaps the biggest college basketball rivalry in the state of Colorado. The Bears beat the Rams, 72-59, last year.
North Dakota State @ Northern Arizona (11/25/07) – This is the first of two meetings between the two teams this season, and catches the Bison in the midst of a very tough three-game road trip.
BYU @ Weber State (12/3/08) – This is yet another chance for the Big Sky to prove itself against an in-state rival. You can bet the biggest venue in the Big Sky will be nearly full for this one.
Portland State @ Washington (12/14/08) – This game presents a good chance for the Vikings to make a statement against a quality Pac-10 opponent.
Idaho @ Idaho State (12/29/08) – The Bengals host their former conference-mate and in-state rival at Holt Arena with a chance to prove basketball supremacy in the state of Idaho.
Neat-O Stat. Sacramento State hired a new head coach for the 2008-09 season, Brian Katz. This is Katz’s first NCAA head coaching job, but he is not the only coach in the league that is in a relatively new place. Only one coach in the Big Sky, Northern Arizona’s Mike Adras, has been at his school for more than four years. Portland State’s Ken Bone is entering his fourth season with the Vikings, and is the second-longest tenured coach in the conference. Idaho State’s Joe O’Brien, Montana’s Wayne Tinkle, Montana State’s Brian Huse, Northern Colorado’s Tad Boyle and Weber State’s Randy Rahe are all in their third season with their respective teams. Last year, Eastern Washington brought coach Kirk Earlywine into the mix.
65 Team Era. The Big Sky is only 3-24 (.111) over the era, but as stated above, it has some quality upsets on its resume, with #14 Weber St. in both 1995 and 1999, and #12 Montana breaking into the second round in 2006. Its champion typically receives a #14 or #15 seed in the NCAAs, but generally avoids the dreaded #16. Here’s an amusing YouTube clip of some of Portland State’s practice and media session before playing #1 Kansas in last year’s first round below.
Final Thoughts. The Big Sky should be a very interesting conference to watch this season. There are about five or six teams that could win the regular season title, and the conference tournament should amount to a crap shoot. Whoever wins the league, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see them upset a big conference team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.