Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by jstevrtc on February 13th, 2010

Glenn Junkert of Grizzly Journal is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.

BIG SKY CONFERENCE (Records are CONF/ALL/STREAK):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Montana State (7-5/12-11/L1) Home-court loss to Weber State last week hurt Bobcats’ hopes of earning post-season tourney bye.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Sacramento State (3-9/9-16/W1) Hornets snap four-year, 27-game Big Sky losing streak with 72-55 win at ISU.
  9. 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.

STAT CHECK:

  • 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.
  • Steals: Will Bynum  (MSU) 2.1 SPG; Devon Beitzel (UNC) 2.0; Broderick Gilchrest (ISU) 2.0.
  • Blocked shots: Jamie Jones (PSU) 2.2 BPG; Brian Qvale (UM) 1.9.
  • Assists: Dominic Waters (PSU) 4.7 APG; Julian Olubuyi (NAU) 4.0; Glen Dean (EWU) 4.3.
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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

Glenn Junkert of Grizzly Journal is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.

Standings (records are CONF/ALL/STREAK)

  1. 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?   
  2. 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.    
  3. Montana State (3-1/8-6/W1)  The Cats are taking care of the ball on offense… and just winning.
  4. Weber State (3-1/9-7/W2)  Sophomore point guard Damian Lillard best in the Big Sky so far.
  5. Eastern Washington (1-1/5-10/W-1)  Speedy frosh guard Glen Dean stepping up as scorer and playmaker for Eagles.   
  6. 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)   
  7. Northern Arizona (1-3/7-8/L1)  Junior guard Cameron Jones scores 26 in Jacks’ first Big Sky win.  
  8. Sacramento State (1-3/6-10/L3) Sac State junior guard Sultan Toles-Bey making strides at point for Hornets.   
  9. Idaho State (1-3/4-12/L1)  Amorrow Morgan leads conference in minutes played (35.1), carrying Bengals on offense (17.0 per game).

POLLING 

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.

STAT CHECK    

  • 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).
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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by jstevrtc on December 27th, 2009

Glenn Junkert of GrizzlyJournal.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.

BIG SKY CONFERENCE

(Records are ALL/CONF/STREAK)

  1. Northern Colorado (10-3/1-1/W1)  Bears are for real, and will head into conference play as odds-on favorites.
  2. Montana (10-4/1-1/W4)  Frosh guard Will Cherry giving Griz a quickness charge at both ends of court.
  3. Montana State (7-5/2-0/L1)   Balanced scoring from four starters gives senior point guard Will Bynum offensive options.
  4. Weber State (7-6/1-0/L1)  Super soph Damian Lillard (19.1 PPG) has led Wildcats in scoring in nine of 13 games.
  5. Sacramento State (6-7/1-1/W2)  Hornets equal ’09 conference win total in first conference match, a 64-63 victory over Idaho State.
  6. Portland State (5-7/1-0/L3)  High octane Vikings scoring at 79-point per game clip… but giving up 81.7 PPG.
  7. Northern Arizona (4-7/0-2/L1)  Forget the record.  Coach Mike Adras appears to have Jacks ready for January conference play.
  8. Eastern Washington (4-9/0-1/L4)  In search starting-quint chemistry, coach Earlywine distributes ample playing time to 10 players.
  9. Idaho State (2-10/0-1/L6)  JC newcomer 6’0 Broderick Gilchrest providing Bengals much-needed scoring boost heading into conference play (14.8 PPG).

RPI BOOSTERS

Northern Colorado and Montana remain the only Big Sky teams to earn Mid Major Poll recognition this season.  The Bears slipped one notch from last week to 23rd (87 points), while Montana nearly tripled its vote total (22), still not enough for an actual top 25 ranking.  Of more significance, perhaps, is the Big Sky Conference’s improved record against Division 1 opponents. Facing a tough composite pre-season schedule against D1 competition, the Big Sky has fared well, subsequently boosting its rating against comparable mid-major conferences, and recently stepping ahead of the Big West to 17th in the USA Today Sagarin conference ratings.

HOT & NOT

HOT — The Montana State Bobcats — a pre-season pick as one of the favorites in the Big Sky — turned a 2-3 November record topsy turvy with a workmanlike 5-2 December record that included two homecourt wins in early league play and a creditable last-second 58-56 loss to Boise State in Boise.  The Cats are getting remarkable balance from starters Bobby Howard (13.3 PPG), Marquis Navarre (11.6 PPG), Erik Rush (13 PPG), and Branden Johnson (10.3 PPG), while limiting opponents to 66 PPG.

NOT — The Eastern Washington Eagles (4-9) — losers of four-straight games heading into conference play — are showing signs as potential dubious owners of the Big Sky’s cellar door key.  Kirk Earlywine’s Eagles lost a last-shot nail-biter to a tough 8-5 Nevada Wolfpack squad (73-30) before absorbing a 91-34 lashing from BYU that apparently damaged morale, as the Eagles’ promptly lost games against two sub-.500 opponents, Chicago State (4-7) and previously winless Jackson State (1-10).  After the demoralizing loss to BYU, Earlywine said, “For the life of me, I can’t figure out what happened to our team.”

SETBACK

We’ve mentioned Idaho State’s brutal non-conference schedule earlier in this report, but it bears repeating in light of the Bengals’ 2-10 record with one non-conference game left before conference play resumes.  At what point does a challenging pre-season schedule become demoralizing for players? And how does the endless road schedule affect their fans?  The Bengals spent most of December on the road (10 games), eking out a lone road win against UMKC (68-65).  One of those losses was their only conference match, a 64-63 setback at Sacramento State, while their only home game against a major college foe resulted in a 79-67 loss to Boise State.  But the Bengals played tough through most of those losses.  It’ll be interesting to see if the schedule makes the Bengals improved enough to be the Big Sky contender several pre-season publications predicted.

STAT CHECK

  • Northern Colorado’s plus-3.23 TPG turnover margin is the best Big Sky mark by a significant margin, far better than second place Montana’s plus-1.29 margin.
  • Montana’s limiting all opponents to an impressive 57.6 PPG, an impressive 10 PPG better than second place Northern Colorado. The Grizzlies back up that mark with a league best defensive field goal percentage average of .401.
  • Weber State soph guard Damian Lilliard’s 19.1 PPG average is a Big Sky best, while ISU guard-forward Demetrius Moore’s 8.3 per game rebounding mark leads the league.  Portland State’s Dominic Waters’ 5.0 per game assist average is a full assist per game better than second place.
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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

Glenn Junkert of GrizzlyJournal.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.

BIG SKY CONFERENCE STANDINGS (ALL,  CONF) STREAK

  1. Northern Colorado (8-1, 1-1) W1.   Assuming role of conference favorite.
  2. Montana (6-3 1-1) W1.   Tough homecourt loss in conference play.
  3. Montana State (4-4 2-0) L1.   Leads conference standings with two home wins.
  4. Portland State (4-4 1-0) W3.   Leads conference in most offensive categories.
  5. Weber State (4-4 1-0) W3.   Soph point guard Damian Lillard assuming leadership role for Cats.
  6. Sacramento State (4-6 0-1) L2.   Lose last 4-of-5 after hot start.
  7. Eastern Washington (3-5 0-1) L1.   Eagles hit road on tough 2-week, five-game swing.
  8. Northern Arizona (2-5 0-2) L3.   Jacks face brutal 4-game road swing through hollidays.
  9. Idaho State (2-7 0-0) L3.   Injuries, suspensions affect Bengals front-court.

RPI BOOSTERS

Northern Colorado – Earned a Mid Major Poll rank of 22nd (153 points) with a road breakthrough at 2nd place Montana, the only other Big Sky team with Mid-Major votes (8).

HOT & NOT

  • Portland State Vikings – after starting the season at 0-3 under first year head coach Tyler Geving – the Vikings have gone 4-1 since, a tear that includes an 86-82 win at Mid-Major 10th ranked Portland and a 23-point, 98-75 conference opener over Eastern Washington. 
  • The road has been long and winding for the 2-7 Idaho State Bengals, who have played seven of nine pre-season games on the road. The Bengals notched one of their two wins on the road, edging UMKC 68-65, but dropped a 79-67 verdict to in-state rival Boise State in Pocatello.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #22 – Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2009

seasonpreview

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:

  1. Weber State (22-9, 12-4)
  2. Montana (20-8, 11-5)
  3. Montana State (16-12, 11-5)
  4. Idaho State (13-16, 10-6)
  5. Portland State (14-15, 9-7)
  6. Northern Arizona (11-17, 8-8)
  7. Northern Colorado (12-18, 5-11)
  8. Eastern Washington (8-21, 3-13)
  9. 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

Impact Newcomers:

  • Franklin Session, Weber State
  • Eric Platt, Northern Arizona
  • Raason Young, Montana

big sky logo

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 ChampionWeber 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.

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