He’ll coach in the Big 12 Tournament, but after that, you can run down the curtain on the Pat Knight era at Texas Tech. The school released Knight on Monday after a three-year run that resulted in no NCAA Tournament trips and an overall 50-60 record. Now, we know in terms of basketball tradition, Texas Tech is not Indiana, but following Bobby Knight at any coaching job is certainly an unenviable position, and we’re intrigued to see how Pat does as the top dog someplace where his father’s influence never reached, a place where he can stake his own claim and not be known simply as the default-hire son of the legend who preceded him. The linked article also explains how Knight the Younger knew this was coming.
Knight is unfortunately not the only coach to endure the fall of the axe (or at least the prod in the back) on Monday. Pat Kennedyresigned at Towson after seven seasons; Kirk Earlywine was dismissed from Eastern Washington; and Kennesaw State released Tom Ingle, citing academic shortcomings of Ingle’s players rather than the 8-20 record posted by the Owls this season (Ingle was 248-215 overall). That’s the only negative about March: coaches lose jobs, and the coaching carousel begins.
On a much lighter note, for any coach who finds him/herself without employment over the next few weeks, for renewal of purpose, we submit this story from Jeff Goodman about Greg Lansing. He’s headed to the Tournament as the honcho at Indiana State, tournament champions from the Missouri Valley Conference. Just a few years ago, he was fired from his assistant position by Steve Alford when the two were at Iowa. There’s also an interesting tidbit in there about the positive omen Lansing received on Saturday, the day before his squad beat Missouri State for the MVC tournament title.
Texas is taking some punches from hoops fans everywhere, these days. Not surprising, when you consider that they dropped three of their last five games this season, and upon remembering that Hindenberg of a stretch run last year. A burnt child shuns fire, after all. But if you think the late-season missteps this year indicate a return of last season’s problems, senior Gary Johnson says it’s a mistake, but invites you keep on thinking that if you wish. Others within the Texas basketball family evidently join him in that sentiment, and contend that UT is still a national title contender.
Big game in the Ivy League tonight, as Princeton travels to Penn for the last game of the Ancient Eight’s regular season. If Penn wins, Harvard clinches the Ivy title and goes to their first NCAA Tournament in 65 years. If Princeton wins, the Tigers would sit tied atop the league table with Harvard and force a one game playoff (which would be played at Yale) on Saturday. If that’s not cool enough for you, tonight’s Princeton-Penn game is at The Palestra — the home of the Quakers, and one of the most regal, venerable buildings in our sport (P.S.: we can’t wait to get there!).
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
Three more conferences begin things tonight. The Big Sky and Sun Belt look to be very competitive with multiple teams capable of getting hot at the right time and running away with the title, while the Summit League features the Oakland Golden Grizzlies at the head of the pack and everyone else trying to keep up. All three conferences are definite single-bid leagues meaning all games will be played with a great sense of urgency; the agony of defeat and glory of victory becomes that much more apparent as well.
The Favorite: Northern Colorado has played the best ball in the Big Sky over the course of the past month and they also have arguably the league’s best player in Devon Beitzel on their side. Montana will have their chance to prove me wrong, but right now it is the Bears who are the favorite.
Dark Horse: Any team that is proficient at shooting the three ball cannot be discounted in a game. Despite having a middle of the road 9-7 record within the conference, Northern Arizona can stroke it with anyone. Cameron Jones, Gabe Rogers, and Eric Platt all shoot well over 40% from downtown.
Who’s Hot: Northern Colorado has won eight of their last nine games and 15 of 18 to enter the Big Sky tournament as the hottest team.
Player to Watch: Cameron Jones has had his way with Big Sky teams this year as he is averaging just shy over 20 points on the year and has scored in double figures in every game save one. He’s got Northern Arizona playing well entering the tournament as the Lumberjacks have won four of five games with the lone loss coming to Northern Colorado by a point.
First-Round Upset: Eastern Washington over Weber State. Although they have struggled for most of the season, Eastern Washington is riding a modest two game winning streak entering the Big Sky tournament with their last win coming against the team they will do battle with in the tournament’s first round: Weber State.
How’d They Fare? It was one of the most heroic performances that you have never heard of in college basketball. Anthony Johnson’s performance in the second half of the Big Sky Championship game against Weber State propelled Montana to the NCAA Tournament where they narrowly lost to #3 seed New Mexico. Montana was trailing 40-20 at the intermission, but Johnson scored 34 of his 42 points in the decisive half to defeat the Wildcats. If Johnson’s unbelievable performance carried over to the New Mexico game, Montana advances to the second round. Instead, they were defeated by the Lobos 62-57.
Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simple one of the greatest moments—if not the very greatest—in Big Sky history came in the 1999 NCAA Tournament. North Carolina fans, close your eyes:
In a somewhat unusual move, St. Mary’s announced earlier today that it had added a game at home against Weber State to its regular season schedule. The game, which is scheduled to take place on March 11th, occurs after the West Coast Conference Tournament is finished and before the NCAA Tournament and NIT start. More importantly, it will be played before Selection Sunday, which is on March 13th, and would be factored into both teams’ NCAA Tournament resumes. The addition of an extra game on the Friday before Selection Sunday is nothing new to the Gaels who did something similar back in 2009, when they played Eastern Washington in a game that was added to their schedule just a week earlier after an embarrassing loss to rival Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament. Operating under the assumption that the Selection Committee would see just how good they were when Patty Mills played, the Gaels won by 20. Unfortunately for Mills and SMC, it wasn’t enough to sway the Selection Committee, which relegated St. Mary’s to the NIT where they lost in the quarterfinals.
St. Mary's Seeks to Recapture This Feeling in March (AP/E. Amendola)
Although many observers will claim that this is a similar last-minute attempt by the Gaels to sway Committee members back to their side after they lost back-to-back games against San Diego and Utah State, St. Mary’s SID Richard Kilwein says that is not the case. Instead, he stated that Weber State approached St. Mary’s approximately six weeks ago with an offer for the extra game as both teams had not reached the maximum number of regular season games allowed by the NCAA. Given the long layoff between the end of the WCC Tournament and postseason play, St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett agreed to the game and a deal was reached late last week. Also, unlike last time, this game will be no cakewalk for the Gaels. In 2009, the Eastern Washington team that they scheduled was 12-17 coming into the game and had failed to even qualify for the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Although this year’s Weber State team has failed to live up to high preseason expectations, they still are a solid opponent at 15-10 overall and 9-4 in the Big Sky, with close losses against BYU (by six points) and at Utah State (by 12 points in a game that was closer than the final margin indicates). If St. Mary’s were to win this game it would certainly provide at least a small boost to their resume before the Selection Committee makes its final decision over the ensuing weekend.
[Update: There is some speculation that Weber State added this game to try to get a medical redshirt for its star point guard Damian Lillard who has only played in 10 games this season. To qualify Lillard would need to have played in fewer than 30% of the team's games so if Lillard did not play another game this season the Wildcats would need to play 34 games to make him eligible. They are currently scheduled to play 29 regular season games including this one and at most could play in 3 conference tournament games, which would still leave them 2 games short of that goal although they could meet that target if they qualified for one of about a dozen postseason tournaments.]
[Re-Update: It looks like this game allows Weber State to get a medical redshirt for Damian Lillard who broke his foot earlier this season. Our apologies for the earlier incorrect update. The lesson here is never trust an ESPN box score.]
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!
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 Aheadto Conference Play
Predicted Conference Order of Finish
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.
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.
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 23rdin 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 SacramentoState. 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.
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.
If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top 25 Games
#2 Ohio State 58, Florida State 44: “It wasn’t sexy but Ohio State used a stifling defense and timely scoring to turn back Florida State 58-44 tonight in Tallahassee.” (Eleven Warriors)
#10 Georgetown 111, #10 Missouri 104 (OT): “Wow. Just wow. I’m going to let that game sink in for a second. Ok, now we’re ready. Georgetown beat Missouri in overtime tonight 111-102 in the game of the year so far in college basketball. Read that score again. Georgetown’s plodding, unathletic, silly little Princeton offense put up 111 points against the most suffocating defense in college basketball. The Hoyas went in and defeated the #8 ranked team in the country in what was, for all intents and purposes, a home game for the Tigers.” (Casual Hoya)
#14 Kentucky 91, Boston University 57: “What was interesting about this game was the contrast between the first and second half. In the first half, it looked like all my worries in the open game thread were coming true — Knight was having trouble figuring out when to score and when to pass, they Wildcats were giving up scoring opportunities on the dribble drive in favor of the kick, and the defense was struggling to communicate again. But then came the second half. In the second half, the Wildcats went berserk on defense, creating 8 turnovers and scoring 12 points off those turnovers, versus 3 in the first half. One of Kentucky’s weaknesses all year long has been a failure to create turnovers on defense, and that seems way more than passing strange. This team is quicker, more athletic, and just plain more capable defensively than most teams they play. ” (A Sea of Blue)
#15 Tennessee 86, Middle Tennessee State 56: “Bruce Pearl’s first three teams started three or four players who didn’t top 6’4″, but since their names were Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, and C.J. Watson to name a few, we did just fine living by the three. It was an exciting brand of basketball to watch, and Lofton especially was a once-in-a-generation shooter. Pearl’s fourth team took just as many threes but clanged most of them, and last year the Vols matured into a team that didn’t have to have the three ball to win” (Rocky Top Talk)
#23 Illinois 79, UNC 67: “Well how do you like that? There was an environment in the Assembly Hall tonight that is very unusual for a late November game, it felt like the good old days of the Big Ten ACC Challenge when we would routinely host top tier teams like Wake Forest or North Carolina. The over capacity, extremely amped crowd had plenty to cheer about as the 2010 Illini attempted to exorcise the demons of the 2005 Illini.” (Hail to the Orange)
#24 Gonzaga 86, Eastern Washington 57: “There’s not much to say after a game like this one. Facing an extremely overmatched Eastern Washington team, Gonzaga absolutely dominated tonight, coming away with a 86-57 win. Steven Gray flashed some brilliant outside shooting to pace the Zags. The senior guard finished with 18 points, all coming in the first half off of three pointers. The news of the evening, however, was that Elias Harris is still in quite a battle with his Achilles injury. The sophomore forward sat tonight’s game out and is reportedly questionable for Saturday’s game. Harris seemed to turn a corner against Marquette in Kansas City but the injury kept him out of a majority of this week’s practice. Fingers crossed as the Zags’ will be severely shorthanded without him against Illinois if he can’t go.” (The Slipper Still Fits)
Jason Spencer is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky. In addition to his tireless contributions for RTC, Jason is a screenwriter whose pursuits can be followed at the home of Blindly Driven Entertainment. [ed. note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]
A Look Back
This just in, Damian Lillard is a “BEAST!” Of course, if you follow the conference, you knew that already. Lillard has shown thus far in this young season that the MVP award is his to lose. In the first four games he is averaging 23 points per game. We will just let that sink in for all upcoming Weber State opponents.
Are they for real? Montana State has rattled off five straight wins, but the question remains, is it a fluke? Well, they will get their chance to prove it right away. They have upcoming games against Iowa State, Illinois State, UCLA, and they kick off the conference season vs. Weber State. By Christmas we will know whether Bobcat fans are getting something nice or coal in their stockings.
Defense wins championships. If that saying holds true, then Montana should feel good about their team. On 11/22 the Grizzlies held Idaho to 12% shooting. Yes that’s right; theVandals shot 6-50 from the field. Somewhere, coach Wayne Tinkle is smiling.
1. Weber State: (2-2)
Recent Games: 77-65 Loss at Utah State 11/13, 97-72 Win vs. Colorado Christian 11/16, 90-75 Loss at Utah 11/20, 86-54 Win at Alaska Anchorage 11/25
Upcoming Games: Great Alaska Shootout second and third rounds 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Seattle 12/4
The Wildcats debut at the top spot despite going 2-2 in their first four games. It’s hard to argue with having the two-time defending regular season champs and a team returning the reigning league MVP as the top team here. Last week they kept it respectable on the road against Utah and really should have beaten Utah State on the road. But down the stretch the crazy Aggie fans got the best of their in-state rival. Damian Lillard picked up where he left off last year averaging 23 points per game through the first four games. NBA scouts have already started to salivate at the thought of Lillard in an NBA uniform. NBADraft.net has him as a late first round pick in the 2012 Draft. Look for Lillard and the Wildcats to make some noise in the Great Alaska Shootout on Thanksgiving weekend.
2. Northern Arizona: (3-2)
Recent Games: 78-64 Loss at Iowa State 11/12, 74-70 Loss at Creighton 11/14, 74-46 Win vs. Alabama State 11/16, 97-47 vs. Southwestern Arizona 11/19, 74-66 Win at Kennesaw State 11/22
Upcoming Games: at Pepperdine 11/28, at Cal State Bakersfield 11/30, vs. Bethany 12/4, vs. Texas-Pan American 12/8
If there was a 1a and a 1b in the Power Rankings then the Lumberjacks would be that 1b. This team is loaded with experience. Head coach Mike Adras brings back four starters from last year’s 14-14 squad. They nearly took down Creighton on the road, which is no easy feat by the way. Then they took care of business their last three, topped off with a big road win at Kennesaw State. With all the returning experience and the past coaching success of coach Adras, the Lumberjacks will be nipping at Weber State’s heels all year long.
3. Northern Colorado: (2-2)
Recent Games: 93-52 Wins vs. Tabor 11/12, 67-53 Win vs. Wyoming 11/16, 93-70 Loss at Arizona 11/21, 87-84 Loss at Santa Clara 11/23
Upcoming Games: Las Vegas Invitational 11/26 and 11/27, vs. Black Hills State 12/4
With the best season in school history in the rearview mirror, the Bears are looking to capitalize on their program’s momentum. First-year coach B.J. Hill takes over for the departed Tad Boyle who left for Colorado. Don’t look for this team to miss a beat since Hill served for four years under Boyle before taking over this year. However this team lives and dies by Devin Beitzel. He had a solid 20 points in a close loss at Santa Clara but overall is shooting 20.8% from three point range. For the Bears to challenge for a conference title, Beitzel has got to find his stroke.
4. Montana State: (5-1)
Recent Games: 77-59 Loss at Hawaii 11/13, 65-58 Win vs. Central Michigan 11/14, 80-76 Win vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/15, 92-67 Win vs. Minot State 11/19, 73-57 Win vs. Cal Poly 11/21, 76-59 Win vs. San Francisco 11/24
Upcoming Games: at Iowa State 11/27, at Seattle 11/29, at Illinois State 12/4, vs. Johnson and Wales 12/10
If coach Brad Huse is reading these Power Rankings, feel free to use it as bulletin board material. The “no respect” card should be played after the Bobcats rattled off five wins in a row. Yet this team is still ranked fourth. For them to climb up the rankings they must show they are for real. Beating Big 12 member Iowa State on 11/27 would be a start. The one-two punch of Bobby Howard and Erik Rush is going to be something the rest of the league better take notice of come conference play.
5. Montana: (2-2)
Recent Games: 81-66 Loss at Nevada 11/13, 80-71 Loss at Utah 11/17, 78-51 Win vs. Montana Tech 11/19, 75-33 Win vs. Idaho 11/22
Upcoming Games: vs. Cal State Fullerton 11/30, vs. Portland 12/3, at UCLA 12/5, vs. Great Falls 12/9
The Grizzlies are trying to capitalize on their amazing run through the Big Sky Conference Tournament last year. They of course are also trying to replace Anthony Johnson, the catalyst of their past success. So far, center Brian Qvale has been everything they thought he would be as a senior. With Will Cherry showing his freshman campaign was no fluke, this team will once again have something to say come conference tournament time.
6. Portland State: (3-1)
Recent Games: 83-81 Win vs. Pepperdine 11/12, 69-53 Loss at SMU 11/19, 102-98 Win vs. Lamar 11/20, 69-58 Win vs. UC Riverside 11/21
Upcoming Games: vs. Seattle 12/1, at Oregon 12/5, vs. George Fox 12/9
Don’t tell these guys that they got nothing to play for. Head coach Tyler Geving has his team playing with a chip on their shoulder this year. The Vikings are not eligible for the postseason, including the Big Sky Conference Tournament. This year they will have to play the role as spoiler, and it’s beginning to look like that might happen more often than others want. The Vikings have a balanced attack with four players averaging in double figures with a fifth close to ten points per game. The trouble for upcoming opponents will be who do they guard?
7. Eastern Washington: (1-3)
Recent Games: 67-60 Loss vs. San Jose State 11/12, 98-72 Loss at Washington 11/16, 96-87 Win vs. Northwest Washington 11/18, 83-54 Loss at Boise State 11/24
Upcoming Games: vs. Idaho 11/27, at Gonzaga 11/30, vs. New Hope Christian 12/4
Head coach Kirk Earlywine has the youngest team in the conference this year. Not one senior is on this year’s roster. This has not stopped the young Eagles from showing lots of promise. The question is will this be the year that the youngsters grow up? Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year Glen Dean has been sidelined thus far with a stress fracture and remains day-to-day. Having Dean back in the lineup is most certainly the key to the Eagles season.
8. Idaho State: (1-3)
Recent Games: 88-80 Loss at Colorado 11/12, 90-42 Loss at Arizona 11/14, 78-68 Win vs. Great Falls 11/19, 79-47 Loss at South Dakota State 11/23
Upcoming Games: vs. Montana Tech 11/29, at Iowa 12/4, at Cal State Bakersfield 12/7
The first question that comes to mind if you are an opposing coach of Idaho State would be where is Broderick Gilchrest? The man went unconscious at Colorado for a career high 39 points. The following game he was held to four points on one-of-nine shooting from the field at Arizona. As the conference season gets underway, coach Joe O’Brien will have to find a way to get Gilchrest open looks. As for the schedule, it doesn’t get any easier. Six of their next eight games are on the road.
9. Sacramento State: (1-3)
Recent Games: 80-78 Loss vs. Cal State Bakersfield 11/14, 84-55 Win vs. Bethany 11/16, 64-60 Loss at North Dakota 11/19, 61-54 Loss vs. UC Davis 11/23
Upcoming Games: vs. Cal Poly 11/27, at Washington State 11/30, at Utah Valley 12/4, at Loyola Marymount 12/7, vs. William Jessup 12/10
This has to be the most encouraging last place conference team in the nation. Brian Katz knew what he was getting into when he took over the Hornets coaching job. In the last three seasons this team has won a total of fifteen games, with last year contributing nine of those. Katz has only three players returning from last year that contributed. But as with any rebuilding project, to get over the hump, you’ve got to learn how to win close games. In their three losses, they have lost by a total of thirteen points. Once this team learns how to win the close ones, they could surprise some people.
A Look Ahead
Northern Colorado is going to Vegas, baby! The Las Vegas Invitational to be exact. The Bears will take on Valparaiso on 11/26 and either Bethune-Cookman or Texas A&M Corpus Christi on 11/27. This tournament includes such national powers such as Kansas and Arizona. It should be a great experience and atmosphere for B.J. Hill’s club.
Expansion talk! The Big Sky is not waiting on the big boys to make a move. Being proactive, earlier this month the league added North Dakota and Southern Utah as full members. The move puts the league at eleven teams in basketball. Who will be the twelfth? Rumor has it South Dakota is interested.
BracketBusters will feature all nine members of the Big Sky Conference. Fans can watch their favorite Big Sky team on one of the ESPN family of networks 2/18-2/20. This is the first time that all members of the conference will participate in a given year.
The “Human Highlight Film” Award
Weber State’s Damian Lillard, (1) drives through the defense of Alaska Anchorage’s Casey Robinson (44) and Brandon Walker (22) during their Great Alaska Shootout NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov 25, 2010, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)
Is there anyone else in the league that we should give this to? We didn’t think so either. Damian Lillard, let the love fest begin! A man among boys, this 6’2 junior guard from Oakland, California has started off the season with a flurry. The reigning Big Sky Conference MVP is up to his old tricks again averaging 23 points per game through four. If it pleases the court, I would like to enter into evidence “Exhibit A” (below). After a heavy helping of threes to the face, Damian decides to take it to the hoop “nasty style” at the 1:28 mark. Is there any doubt why he wears number 1?
Lillard, Now Only A Junior, Is Your Reigning Big Sky MVP
What You Need To Know
In the mood to watch some Big Sky hoops? You’re in luck. The only thing standing between you and it is either a road trip to a game, or a visit to www.bigskytv.org, where the conference will live-stream every game played at any Big Sky gym — and it’s free!
The Big Sky Tournament is one seriously exclusive gathering, probably second only to that in the Garden of Eden. Only six teams get into the conference’s post-season bash — the bottom three regular season finishers can start studying for finals early.
It might be a small conference, but they don’t exactly grow ‘em small in Big Sky country. Montana will boast nice length along their front line, starting 6’11 Brian Qvale and 7’0 Derek Selvig (6.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG last year in 20.8 MPG). They’ll get their shots at the big time when they travel to Nevada, Utah, and UCLA early in the season and host Oregon State on December 15.
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.
Weber State (11-2/17-8/W3) The balanced Wildcats will clinch the host role for the Big Sky postseason tourney with their next win. WSU hosts the eighth-place Idaho State Bengals Saturday before finishing Big Sky play at Portland State and Eastern Washington.
Northern Colorado (10-4/21-6/W1) Despite a major setback with the loss of shooting guard Devon Beitzel (broken foot), the Bears can claim a postseason tourney bye with wins over Portland State (Feb. 20) and at Sacramento State (Feb. 27).
Montana (9-5-/18-8/L1) One-point, last-second loss at hot-shooting Eastern Washington (63% on 12-19 treys) dealalt a body blow to the Grizzlies’ shot at one of two Big Sky postseason tourney byes.
Montana State (9-6/14-12/W2) The Bobcats’ 80-74 win Thursday over Sacramento State clinched a top-four seed – and a first-round host role – in the Big Sky postseason tourney. Saturday MSU hosts San Jose State of the WAC in a BracketBuster clash before prepping for the conference finale Feb. 27 at cross-state rival Montana.
Northern Arizona (5-6/11-11/L2) In a fight for tourney seeding, all-everything Lumberacks’ guard Cameron Jones led NAU in Thursday’s thrilling 2-OT win over Portland State. A Saturday win over Eastern Washington will put the Jacks one-up over the Eagles and Vikings in battle for one of two final tourney seeds.
Portland State (5-8/10-16/L4) Home court losses to Montana and Montana State, and a painful double-OT loss at Northern Arizona put Viks in sudden jeopardy of postseason tourney elimination.
Eastern Washington (4-9/8-19/L1) Resurgent Eagles – bouyed by THREE freshman starters of late – have become the team nobody wants to play. The Eagles face must-win contests at Northern Arizona and (vs. Portland State and Weber State) in a bid for one of two final postseason tourney seeds.
Idaho State (4-9/7-19/L1) Their backs against the wall, the Bengals face must-win road clashes (at Weber State, at Portland State and at Eastern Washington) to qualify for Big Sky postseason sixth seed. One loss ends what has been a disappointing season for this senior-laden team.
Sacramento State (3-10/9-18/L2) The best the Hornets can hope for is to play the role of spoiler. Sac States winds up Big Sky play against teams vying for tourney seeding so the only thing a win at Montana or against Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado can do is affect the seeding of the Hornets’ opponents.
RPI BOOSTERS — By most measures of season-long team strength, Weber State, Northern Colorado and Montana have emerged as the ‘Best of the Big Sky’ in both the standings and RPI ratings against other Division 1 conferences. The Wildcats, with a solid season-long lock on first, passed the Bears in the College Insider Mid Major Top 25 for the first time this year, jumping 10 places from last week’s 25th to 15th, while the Bears slid six spots to 16th. Montana received 11 points. The three teams remain closely bunched in the USA Today Sagarin Rankings at 101 (WSU), 106 (UM), and 107 (NCU), respectively.
MVPS – Montana’s senior guard Anthony Johnson and Weber State’s sophomore guard Damian Lilliard remain leading candidates for Big Sky MVP. Lilliard, twice recognized for POTW recognition, leads the conference in scoring (20.2 per game) 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) — is the league’s third-leading scorer at 18.4.
The two leading candidates for Freshman of the Year appear to be Eastern Washington point guard Glen Dean and Montana point guard Will Cherry, both of whom wrested their starting positions from upperclassmen as league play began.
HOT & NOT
HOT — WEBER STATE: At 11-2 in the Big Sky, Randy Rahe’s Wildcats’ three straight wins do not signify a hot streak. They’re simply doing what they’ve done since the opening tip in Big Sky Conference play: prove on-court that they’re simply the best team in the conference for the second straight year. Nothing’s in the bag yet, but the Cats appear as sure bets to host the postseason conference tourney, the third time in four years for WSU.
NOT — PORTLAND STATE: The Vikings – preseason picks by many to challenge for the Big Sky Conference title – have lost four straight (two at home) and are now in a scramble with Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington to qualify for the final (sixth seed) slot in Big Sky postseason tourney. The Vikings, under first-year coach Tyler Geving, are a talented, potent offensive group still playing like a team in search of its identity.
Scoring: Damian Lilliard (WSU) 20.2; Cameron Jones (NAU) 19.2; Anthony Johnson (UM) 18.4; Dominic Waters (PSU) 18.4.
Rebounding: Jamie Jones (PSU) 8.0; Brandon Moore (EWU) 7.2; Demetrius Monroe (ISU) 7.2; Brian Qvale (UM) 6.7.
Steals: Will Bynum (MSU) 2.1; Devon Beitzel (UNC) 2.0; Broderick Gilchrest (ISU) 2.0; Franklin Session (WSU) 1.9; Will Cherry (UM) 1.8.
Blocked shots: Jamie Jones (PSU) 2.1; Brian Qvale (UM) 2.0.
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.