Professor Pac is back to break down and evaluate each team’s performances in the past week. With three pet pupils atop the leaderboard still without a loss, it’s no surprise who is earning the As thus far.
Washington – A
After winning a conference road game over an intrastate rival last week, the Huskies decided to one-up themselves this week, taking down two more road games, this time over slightly more significant competition, to begin the season with a surprising three-game road winning streak.
Focus on: Andrew Andrews. The stats this week weren’t anywhere near mind-blowing for the redshirt freshman (9 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.5 APG), but he brings an energy and athleticism to a Husky backcourt that definitely needed it. Offensively, he is a threat to get to the paint and create opportunities on any possession, and on defense, as his four steals against Stanford on Saturday showed, he is capable of wreaking havoc on the opposition. He’s still green, but look for his role to continue to expand this season.
Looking ahead:For a team with a history of struggling on the road, the Huskies have taken care of business there in recent weeks. Now they have to prove they can win at home, something they have failed to do three separate times in the non-conference schedule. Colorado is the first test tonight with Utah visiting on Sunday.
Andrew Andrews Has Been Providing A Spark Off The Bench For The Huskies (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)
Oregon – A
If you wanted to pick one weakness on this Ducks team, it might be the lack of a proven go-to scorer at this point. This week, for instance, in each of their two home wins over the Arizona schools, four of the five starters scored in double figures, with nobody scoring more than 14 points. In fact, only four times all season has a Duck scored 20 or more (Damyean Dotson twice, Arsalan Kazemi once, and E.J. Singler once). I’m not one who thinks this is always necessarily a problem – if you have plenty of good offensive options and you wind up with balanced scoring that way, it certainly keeps the defense guessing – but I think in the Ducks’ case, they have a bunch of good players, none of whom are completely polished offensive options. And against Arizona down the stretch, the possibility of that being a problem raised its head. Part of it has to do with the decision to milk the clock way too early, but at some point they probably need somebody (the best candidate is Dotson) to become the go-to guy down the stretch.
Focus on:E.J. Singler. The senior had a great all-around game in the win over Arizona, going for 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, while knocking down some key free throws late, but then once again disappeared for the most part against Arizona State, hitting just one of nine field goal attempts and grabbing only one board in 36 minutes of play. That’s been the M.O. for the most part this season for a guy expected to be an all-conference caliber guy: inconsistency.
Looking ahead: The Ducks leave the state of Oregon for the first time in almost a month and just the third game all year when they head down Los Angeles way. They will be the opponent for Bob Cantu’s debut with USC tomorrow night before headlining the Pac-12 schedule on Saturday with a visit to Pauley Pavilion and UCLA for the first conference match-up between Top 25 teams since 2009.
Seven Pac-12 schools took a foreign exhibition trip this summer. We recap them below with Drew taking UCLA, Utah, and Colorado, and Connor taking the rest.
Not Every Team Went Tropical, But All of Them Learned Something
Where: The Bahamas
When: August 11-13
What: The Wildcats swept their two games against Bahamian competition.
Why: As Arizona transitions from an NIT one-and-done to having at least NCAA Third Round expectations, this trip was all about integrating instant-impact newcomers Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley, Gabe York, and Mark Lyons into the rotation. Setting lineups and seeing what groups of players meshed well together was much more important than the actual play against less than stellar competition.
Who: Lyons and fellow senior Kevin Parrom were the stars of the trip, each averaging 18.5 PPG. The most anticipated freshman to don the cardinal red and navy blue in a while, Tarczewski, scored eight points in each game on the trip. Arizona absolutely destroyed their lowly competition, winning both games by a combined 112 points.
Where: France, Belgium and the Netherlands
When: August 11-22
What: The Buffaloes went 2-3 in five games against European professional teams.
Why: With CU breaking in six scholarship freshmen, the trip gave head coach Tad Boyle a chance to build camaraderie between the talented new guys and their six returnees from last year’s Pac-12 championship team. The trip also gave the freshmen a chance to build an identity of their own, evidenced by the fact that Boyle sat out the core returnees from last year’s squad – Andre Roberson, Askia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie and Sabatino Chen – in one of the games, allowing five of the freshmen to start the game together.
Who: While Roberson was his usual magnificent self – he averaged 14.4 points and 13.8 rebounds – freshman Josh Scott eliminated any doubt that he could be an immediate impact player. Scott led the Buffs in scoring in four of the five games, coming up a point short of the leaders in the opening game; he averaged 17.4 point per game for the trip. His classmate Xavier Johnson also made a statement, averaging more than ten points to go with seven rebounds for the game.
This ol’ crystal ball of mine may be on the fritz, but we’ve got to put it through its paces one last time as we check on the immediate future for the Utah basketball program. After a week or running down the comings and goings over the offseason, we’re ready to guarantee improvement for the Utes – not necessarily going out on a huge limb for a team that won just six times last year. But, for more specifics on how it will all go down, read on.
Utah’s Leading Scorer – Glen Dean. There is enough evenly spaced talent on this Utah roster that predicting some balanced scoring atop the statistics is the easiest bet, with guys like Aaron Dotson, Jarred DuBois, Jordan Loveridge and perhaps leading returning scorer Jason Washburn all in the mix for double-figure scoring averages. But Dean will likely have the ball in his hands quite a bit and he’s got a history of using possessions and taking shots, something that Dotson and Washburn, for example, do not. And Dean has proven himself capable of not only creating offensive opportunities for others, but also for himself. He’s an efficient scorer who can connect from deep or get into the lane and score and he should be expected to average somewhere near the 12 or 13 points he averaged in his time at Eastern Washington. On this Utah team, those 12 or 13 points may be enough to narrowly edge out two or three other teammates for the leading scorer title.
Glen Dean Is Just One Of Many Capable Scorers On The Remade Utah Roster
Utah’s MVP – Jordan Loveridge. On Utah’s recent Brazil trip, not only was Loveridge the Utes’ leading scorer over the course of the four games, there has been talk that he was the team’s best player. A true combo forward capable of rebounding with the big boys and scoring in the lane or stepping outside and converting deep jumpers, Loveridge will help give the Utes an athleticism, coupled with an ability to create offensive opportunities from the frontcourt, that was largely missing from last year’s squad.
As head coach Larry Krystkowiak begins to remake the Utah roster more to his liking, he welcomes in 10 new players next season, including three newly eligible Division I transfers, a couple of student-athletes returning from two-year LDS missions, four freshmen, and a junior college transfer. Coupled with three returning seniors, Utah will have a significantly more experienced team. Likewise, the talent level takes a big bump up from last year’s hastily assembled roster. Below, we’ll run down each of the newcomers in our guess as to the order of their importance to the 2012-13 squad.
Jordan Loveridge, Freshman, Combo Forward, 6’6” 225 lbs, West Jordan High School, West Jordan, Utah – The 2012 Player of the Year in Utah was a huge get for Krystkowiak, the first step in proving that the new head coach can protect his back yard. As a senior, Loveridge led the state in both scoring and rebounding, notching 18 double-doubles along the way. In the Utes’ summer trip to Brazil, he scored in double figures in three of the four games and averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game in limited minutes during that stretch, prompting even further hope for UU fans that Loveridge will be a special player. Still, Loveridge is a guy most suited to play the four, and at 6’6” that could prove to be something of a problem in the Pac-12. He’s got long arms, a great basketball IQ and the ability to extend his game out beyond the three-point line, but he still needs to prove his effectiveness against Pac-12-caliber competition. Eventually if he polishes his perimeter handles, he could shift to the three spot full-time and turn into a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses.
Jarred DuBois Leads A Trio Of Transfers That Will Remake The Ute Backcourt (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Jarred DuBois, Senior, Combo Guard, 6’3” 180 lbs, Loyola Marymount University – A graduate student transfer from LMU, DuBois is a playmaker. Unfortunately, there have been times in his career when the number of plays he makes for the opposition are greater than the number of plays he makes for his own team. Still, if he can tighten up his handle, take better care of the ball and – this might be the toughest of his assignments – shoot a decent percentage from the field, DuBois has the athleticism and toughness to be a major asset for the Utes. His best season at LMU was his sophomore campaign where he hit 59 threes at a 40% clip while handing out a couple assists per night and keeping his turnover rate low. If he can replicate that type of line, he’ll be an upgrade in the backcourt.
Aaron Dotson, Junior, Shooting Guard, 6’4” 204 lbs, Louisiana State University –Dotson, a native of Seattle, committed to LSU as a highly regarded member of the 2009 recruiting class, ranked #45 overall by ESPNU. In two years at LSU, Dotson earned 38 starts (out of 63 games), averaging 6.8 points per game in his sophomore year, by far his most effective season. He struggled mightily as a freshman, turning the ball over regularly and shooting just a 32.6% eFG. While his turnovers remained steady as a freshman, Dotson improved his shot as a sophomore, leading the Tigers with 37.5% from deep, but with his mother fighting breast cancer, Dotson decided it was time to head back across country and play closer to home. His size and athleticism coupled with a sweet stroke from three mean that there is plenty of upside here. If Dotson is able to harness his talents, he could be a revelation in the Pac-12.
Much of what went wrong in the Utah program that led to this season’s 6-25 debacle happened prior to new head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s first game on the sidelines at the Huntsman Center. Two years ago, following a disappointing and underachieving 14-17 season, five Utes, including the team’s two leading scorers, transferred out of Jim Boylen’s program. Then, following a 2010-11 season that took a step down from there with a 13-18 record that led to Boylen’s demise, six more players, including leading scorer and rebounder Will Clyburn, bolted from Salt Lake City. As a result, when the Krystkowiak era tipped off in November, there was a serious lack of talent in Ute basketball uniforms. Throw in the fact that 7’4” former Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year David Foster missed this season with a foot injury and Utah had to rely on just three returnees with any experience– point guard Josh Watkins, center Jason Washburn, and guard Chris Hines – along with six newcomers and a handful of walk-ons. Then Watkins, who was the team’s leading scorer and assist man, was dismissed prematurely in January. In short, this Ute team never really had a chance in its first year in the Pac-12. Even in a conference with a talent level near historic lows, the Utes just didn’t have the horses to hang with the bulk of the conference.
Jason Washburn Was A Lone Bright Spot On An Otherwise Miserable Ute Team (Associated Press)
What Went Right
There was a time, well into December, where it was questionable whether the Utes had a chance at earning so much as a single win against a Division I team. Then they strung together two straight home wins against Idaho State and Portland (admittedly, two really bad teams) before going on to win three conference games, including wins over Washington State and Stanford that go down as significantly improbable events. As absurd as it may seem, that 6-25 record is actually an overachievement for this team.
Let’s start things off with a wrap-up of the latest Shabazz Muhammad buzz. Five Star Basketball reported on Wednesday that he had cut his list to six schools: Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona and UNLV, in the order in which he mentioned them, for those wishing to come up with yet another clue as to his intentions. USC and Texas A&M were among the schools trimmed off the list. Muhammad confirmed that Sean Miller still had the Wildcats in the running, even with (or maybe because of) the already stacked recruiting class headed to Tucson. But if you ask Nerlens Noel (currently the #2 rated recruit in the 2013 class, according to ESPNU) or Brandon Bibbs, either UCLA or Kentucky are the favorites. There had been a report last week from Jerry Meyer that Muhammad was losing interest in UCLA, however, so as always, this story is a long ways from being decided.
USC hosts Kansas tonight at the Galen Center, and if recent history is any indication, the Trojans might have a chance. Although the Pac-12 is just 9-37 against ranked teams the last three seasons, USC owns four of those nine wins. And with the Trojans coming off their best offensive performance of the season, and Kansas coming off a loss to Davidson and still working to get point guard Tyshawn Taylor back in the groove after knee surgery, perhaps Kevin O’Neill has his team primed to pull a whopper.
Arizona State lost on a late three-pointer for the third time in as many games on Wednesday night, when Fresno State’s Kevin Olekaibe hit a go-ahead three with 30 seconds left to send the Sun Devils to their third straight loss. But ASU head coach Herb Sendek wanted to look beyond the play in the final minute, as the team blew a 17-point lead and played “despicable” defense in the second half. Olekaibe scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half and sparked a 23-4 Bulldog run that put FSU up, prior to ASU responding and taking the lead back. After a Kyle Cain three-point play put the Sun Devils back up, Olekaibe drove the final nail in the ASU coffin, sending them to 4-8 on the year.
More good news out of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, as junior guard Glen Dean, just one week removed from brain surgery to repair a ruptured blood vessel, was able to watch Utah practice. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak hopes Dean, a transfer who is sitting out this season, will be able to return to practice fully sometime in early January, and a complete recovery is expected.
Lastly, Tony Woods is getting a second chance at a college basketball career at Oregon, after transferring from Wake Forest following a guilty plea to a charge of assault on his girlfriend. While Woods’ game is still raw, head coach Dana Altman is hoping to mold a difference maker out of the 6’11” junior, building his post-up game while keeping on him to give consistent effort on the defensive end. And Woods is buying in and happy, saying that “life is good here.”
Busy weekend around the conference, so let’s get right to it. The big story on Sunday was Washington’s blowout loss against Nate Wolters and South Dakota State, the first non-conference home loss for the Huskies in 32 games. Wolters went for 34 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and no turnovers in a full 40 minutes of work, while Tony Wroten led the Huskies in scoring for the third straight game with 23 points. Sophomore Terrence Ross was limited some by foul trouble, but after knocking down the first points of the game, he wound up with just six points on three-of-four shooting, the first game of the year where he failed to score in double figures. Coming off a hard-fought win on Friday night over a tough UC Santa Barbara team in Lorenzo Romar’s 200th win at Washington, U-Dub was looking to string together back-to-back wins for the first time in over a month. However, aside from Wolters’ excellence, the rest of the Jackrabbits were on fire too, as the team shot 10-of-16 from three and posted a 64.7 eFG% on the night. While the Husky offense is starting to find life with Wroten leading the show (although the relative absence of Ross is disturbing), this team can’t be a consistent winner until they shore up things on the defensive end.
Saturday found Pac-12 schools losing in new and inventive ways. For instance, USC, which has been rock solid all year, allowed Georgia, one of the worst shooting teams in a BCS conference, to shoot a season-best 61.6 eFG% as they came back from an eight-point second half deficit to put the Trojans away. Bulldog freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drilled a late three to ice the game and went for a career-high 21 points. The Trojans owned the glass on both ends of the floor, grabbing 90% of all Georgia misses and even 46.6% of their own, but their inability to get any defensive stops, especially over the last ten minutes of the game, wasted freshman Alexis Moore’s career-high 18 points.
Northern Arizona has traveled to face Arizona State in Tempe for the second time in six years – and came away with their second win in a row in the Sun Devils’ building. Junior point guard Stallon Saldivar not only hit the game-winning three-pointer with under a second left to lift the Lumberjacks, but poured in a career-high 24 points, including six threes, while handing out nine assists and playing every minute of the game. His ASU counterpart, Keala King, did his best to keep the Sun Devils around, scoring 16 and handing out seven assists, but continued to struggle with turnovers, coughing it up five more times on Saturday. However, for the time being, it looks like King is the only real option at the point, as junior Chris Colvin returned from a one-game suspension to play exactly two minutes against NAU.
Stanford got back on the court after a 12-day hiatus to deal with finals, and handled San Diego with relative ease in a game in which ten of the 13 Cardinal players who got on the court played at least ten minutes. However, despite holding the Toreros to a sub-50 eFG%, head coach Johnny Dawkins was displeased with the team’s defensive effort, citing a lack of communication that allowed USD to score 34 second-half points. A renewed emphasis on the defensive end does not bode well for Bethune-Cookman, the Cardinal’s next opponent on Monday night.
What has already been an awful season for Utah basketball took a scary turn this week, as junior guard Glen Dean suffered a ruptured blood vessel in his brain and had to undergo brain surgery Wednesday. Dean, who transferred from Eastern Washington and is sitting out this year, first noticed a problem on December 8 when he was working out with fellow transfer Aaron Dotson (from LSU) and experienced fuzzy vision and a headache. During last Saturday’s game against Utah, he complained further about discomfort with the lights and the noise at the game and was taken to the hospital and has been there since. His surgery has been described as successful, but he remains under observation and no timetable has been established for his return to practice.
That’s part of the future of this conference, but we’ve also got to tie up some loose ends regarding the past. First, Reeves Nelson’s future is apparently in Lithuania. Nelson was dismissed from UCLA last Friday, and head coach Ben Howland confirmed on Thursday that Nelson will forgo transferring to another Division I institution and head overseas to play basketball professionally in Lithuania. Given that he’s a long shot ever to play in the NBA, jumping right to a professional career makes some sense, but he’ll certainly need to mature if he ever expects to live up to his potential.
Then there’s news about former Oregon guard Jabari Brown, who is apparently deciding between Missouri and Georgia Tech for his next stop in college. Brown has already visited Missouri and is expected to be in Atlanta for a look at the Ramblin’ Wreck this week. Missouri will be replacing guards Marcus Denmon and Kim English, among others, next season, while Georgia Tech simply needs any kinds of talented players at this point, meaning both of those programs are willing to look past Brown’s ignominious exit from Eugene.
Lastly, there’s this newsflash: USC’s offense isn’t very good. The Trojans are averaging just 53.7 points per game and have a KenPom offensive efficiency rating of 94.7, good for 265th in the country. But defensively, they’re good enough to keep their anemic offense in a lot of games; they are allowing just 54.3 points and their defensive efficiency rating is 90.7, good for 26th in the nation. As a result, the Trojans are playing in a lot of close games that aren’t exactly great examples of beautiful basketball. And despite their 4-6 record, they’ve lost three different games by a single possession. Sophomore point guard Maurice Jones is doing everything he can to keep the Trojans in games, including playing almost every minute, but head coach Kevin O’Neill will need somebody else to step up and become a consistent offensive threat in order to turn those one-possession losses into wins.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences as well as a Pac-12 microsite staffer. You can find him on Twitter @AMurawa.
Reader’s Take I
With only two of the ten players named to last year’s All-Pac-10 team returning, the race for the conference player of the year is wide open.
Twelve Is The New Ten: After 33 seasons, college basketball fans on the west coast are getting used to calling their conference the Pac-12. With Colorado and Utah along for the ride (and currently taking their lumps in football), gone are the days of the home-and-away round-robin schedule on the basketball side of things. But lest the traditionalists complain too much, it could have been much different, as schools from Oklahoma and Texas (obviously the very definition of “Pacific” states) flirted with changing their allegiance for the second consecutive year before heading back to the Big 12.
Fresh Blood: As mentioned above in our poll question, the conference loses eight of the ten players on last year’s all-Pac-10 team, with just Jorge Gutierrez of Cal and UCLA’s ReevesNelson returning. In other words, it is time for a new set of players to step up and take the reins of the league. The most likely candidates are a talented group of freshman guards – names like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson at Arizona, Tony Wroten, Jr. at Washington, JabariBrown at Oregon, NormanPowell at UCLA and ChassonRandle at Stanford.
Jorge Gutierrez Is A Lightning Rod Of A Guard For Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, And Big Things Are Expected.
The Carson Show On Hold. A seventh highly-touted freshman guard, however, is stuck in limbo. Arizona State’s JahiiCarsonhas yet to be cleared for practice while an investigation continues into an online course the 5’10” point guard took this summer at Adams State in Colorado. That school has yet to release his course transcript, and until that happens, Carson is unable to practice with the Sun Devils, making an already difficult situation (being regarded as a savior for a team coming off a 12-19 campaign) even worse.
Hard Times for Kevin Parrom: Sometimes, just when everything is going well, life conspires to deal you a set of circumstances that just suck. It’s not bad enough that Parrom took a couple of bullets on September 24 during a home invasion, while in the Bronx visiting his sick mother. But on October 16, Parrom’s mom then passed away after a long battle with cancer. While both incidents will have lasting effects on Parrom, the bullet wounds are the biggest obstacle to him getting back on the court, with bullet fragments lodged in his right leg, a boot on his right foot, nerve damage and his left hand currently wrapped up to protect lacerations sustained in the attack. Parrom is rehabilitating his injuries and as of this writing, no hard timetable is set for his return. But if anybody is due for a good break or two, Parrom’s the guy. Get well soon, Kevin.
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.