Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.
Dates: March 13-15 Site: At regular-season champion (Weber State)
What to expect: About half the league could win the Big Sky’s automatic bid this year. Every team in the conference suffered at least six losses, led by regular season champion Weber State at 14-6. In an odd twist, only seven of the league’s 11 teams participate in the conference tournament. Montana, last year’s representative in the NCAA Tournament, along with Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado pose the biggest threats. But don’t expect too much from the Big Sky’s team in the Big Dance. The First Four in Dayton and an early exit seem in order.
Favorite:Weber State. Yes, I’m still making the Wildcats the favorite despite stumbling down the stretch. They lost two of their last three games, and four of their last seven. Yikes. But with the parity in this conference — every other team had at least eight league losses — the home court advantage here makes Weber State the favorite. The Wildcats lost just one home game in league play.
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.
We’ve been anxiously awaiting the next thirty days for the last eleven months. You have too. In fact, if this isn’t your favorite time of year by a healthy margin then you should probably click away from this site for a while. Because we plan on waterboarding you with March Madness coverage. Seriously, you’re going to feel like Dick Cheney himself is holding a Spalding-logoed towel over your face. Your intake will be so voluminous that you’ll be drooling Gus Johnson and bracket residue in your sleep. Or Seth Davis, if that’s more your style. The point is that we’re all locked in and ready to go. Are you? To help us all get into the mood, we like to click around a fancy little website called YouTube for a daily dose of notable events, happenings, finishes, ups and downs relating to the next month. We’re going to try to make this video compilation a little smarter, a little edgier, a little historical-er. Or whatever. Sure, you’ll see some old favorites that never lose their luster, but you’ll also see some that maybe you’ve forgotten or never knew to begin with. That’s the hope, at least. We’ll be matching the videos by the appropriate week, so all of this week we re-visited some of the timeless moments from the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy.
NCAA First and Second Rounds
Dateline: 1999 NCAA Tournament First Round – #3 North Carolina vs. #14 Weber State
Context: There was just something about this game that made it special. Maybe it was the fact that it was the last game of the First Round on an action-packed Thursday night, lasting well after midnight in the east. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Carolina, while not a great team that year, was still Carolina and had won every one of its first round games in what seemed like a hundred years. Perhaps it had something to with the fact that the Heels had been to two straight Final Fours under steady-as-she-goes Ed Cota and were a trendy pick for a third in a row (they would go yet again in 2000 before the Doherty era began), or that Weber’s coach was a dead man walking, with an agreement in place to let him go after their next loss. But most likely, we just loved that the best player on the court, a silky-smooth 6’5 Weber State guard by the name of Harold Arceneaux, had a jazzy sounding name that took off when we learned he was also called “The Show.” (He was so unknown that even after the game CNNSI still couldn’t even get it right) Arceneaux was indeed the show on this night, dropping threes, splitting defenders, driving for layups and generally terrorizing the Carolina defense to the tune of a masterful 36-point (on 14-26 FGs and 5-7 3FGs) night. He even made the winning defensive play by stealing the long inbounds pass that UNC hoped would lead to a shot to tie or win at the buzzer. You won’t see this performance talked about much this week during the endless loop of March memories as it’s lost a good deal of its sheen over the decade since, but we remember you Harold and wonder who will take the mantle of “The Show” this year.
RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory, something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today. Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month. We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Harold “The Show” Arceneaux (submitted by RTC Intern Mike Lemaire)
“Nobody gave us a chance in that first-round game against North Carolina. But we watched tape of them and came up with a game plan. We wanted to play to our strengths, and we didn’t care about their strengths. We wanted to spread the floor and use our quickness, make some of their big people play away from the basket. I don’t think North Carolina was ever worried about losing the game until the final few minutes. Then they started to takes us more seriously.” — Harold Arceneaux
(photo credit: tampabay.com)
Long before Stephen Curry was leaving his mark on the NCAA tournament with his scoring barrage there was Harold “The Show” Arceneaux. Arceneaux was a 6-foot-6 guard for Weber State, and in 1999, he transformed from a good player to a player every college basketball fan remembers vividly. I remember the year, I was just 12 years old, and because my father wasn’t a basketball fan, I was an unabashed bandwagon-jumper. In 1999, it was North Carolina. Although the Tar Heels weren’t as strong as they had been in the past, the team was still loaded with talent like Ed Cota and Brendan Haywood. They entered the tournament as a three seed and were considered a lock to make it through the first round when they drew Weber State, but they didn’t know about Harold Arceneaux.
The Heels had no answer for “The Show” as he dumped 36 points on them on 14-26 shooting, including 5-7 from behind the arc. I remember because every time North Carolina looked like it would crawl back into the game, Arceneaux would get the ball and bury some fall-away jumper that would make UNC coach Bill Guthridge throw his hands into the air in frustration. I can’t even remember how many times I screamed at the television. Even when UNC tied the game with less than 20 seconds left, Arceneaux calmly sank two free throws and sealed the victory with a steal as time expired. What no one remembers is that Weber State also took Florida to overtime in the second round largely on the back of Arceneaux and his 32 points. Unfortunately, I don’t remember that either because I had my TV privileges revoked by my father for throwing the remote at the wall and smashing it when Arceneaux stole the pass to end the UNC game. So I guess in that sense, Arceneaux made sure he was my ONLY memory from the 1999 tournament.
(start at the 2:55 mark for highlights of the UNC game)
WYN2K. The Big Sky is a league where what you see is typically what you get. It consistently rates in the lower teens in the computer rankings, and its record vs. OOC opponents the last three years is 109-173 (.387), but make no mistake, this is a one-bid conference every year. A typical Big Sky year goes something like this – its league champion is a team that didn’t win it the year prior (only one repeat champion in the last 13 yrs – Montana – 2005 & 2006), it usually gets an NCAA seed in the range of #13-#15, and its NCAA stay is typically short-lived (3-23 in the 64/65 team era, .115). Every 6-8 yrs, a Big Sky team will pull an upset and win one NCAA game. Stir, mix and repeat. This high-scoring league (#3 nationally at 74.5 ppg) is characterized by top-heaviness where several teams have mid-level D1 profiles, while the bottom teams are often very bad (ranking in the bottom fifty teams nationally).
Predicted Champion. Montana (#14 seed NCAA). We’re going with the media pick of Montana here. The Grizzlies return four starters from a 10-6 team, including quality big men Andrew Strait (#43 nationally in eFG%, 61.1%) and Jordan Hasquet, both of whom were all-conference performers last year. They also bring back last year’s Big Sky ROY, guard Cameron Rundles, who shot a ridiculous 47.8% from three last year. One area of concern is that the Grizzlies give up a whopping 42.1% against the three-ball (negating Rundles’ effectiveness!) last year. Nevertheless, with a solid inside/outside game, a little better three-point defense, and the experience garnered in Montana’s back-to-back NCAA appearances in 2005 and 2006, we feel that Montana is the team to beat.
Others Considered. This is not to say that we think Montana will run away with the title, because Weber St. is in good position to defend its tournament crown. They lost their best player and conference POY David Patten to graduation, but they return a solid complement of players, including seven of their top nine scorers and three starters from last season. All-conference guard Juan Pablo Silveira runs the show for a very good shooting team (#34 nationally in eFG%, 53.8%), both from two (52.1%) and three (38.7%). Our only concern with this squad is their apparent lack of experienced size, an area where Montana should have an advantage. Portland St. is another team that could make a run at the conference crown with a roster that returns three starters (including the superb backcourt of Dupree Lucas and Deonte Huff) from a 9-7 team that gave Weber St. all itwanted in the semis of last year’s conference tourney (losing by three). Last year’s regular season co-champ Northern Arizona is set to take a step back with the loss of its top three scorers, all of which were all-conference selections last year. Still, the Lumberjacks have an excellent coach in Mike Adras and they have made the last three conference tournament finals, so they can’t completely be counted out.
Games to Watch. The key games to watch will be the home-and-homes between the three primary contenders listed above – Montana, Weber St., and Portland St. Gotta love conferences with true round robins.
Weber St. @ Montana (01.20.08) ESPN FC & Montana @ Weber St. (02.21.08)
Montana @ Portland St. (01.31.08) & Portland St. @ Montana (03.01.08)
Portland St. @ Weber St. (01.10.08) & Weber St. @ Portland St. (02.16.07)
Big Sky Championship Game (03.12.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. The Big Sky plays a steady diet of Pac-10 and Big 10 teams in addition to several strong mid-majors, and this year is no different. Last year the league went 3-21 against BCS teams, with Northern Arizona (defeated Arizona St. 75-71), Montana (defeated Minnesota 72-65), and Portland St. (defeated Arizona St. 71-67) pulling the victories. Some of this year’s best opportunities:
Portland St. @ UCLA (11.09.07)
Sacramento St. @ Kansas St. (11.09.07)
Montana @ Gonzaga (11.11.07)
Northern Arizona @ Arizona (11.13.07)
Northern Arizona @ Kansas (11.21.07)
Montana @ Washington St. (11.23.07)
Weber St. @ Illinois (12.01.07)
Weber St. @ BYU (12.05.07)
Sacramento St. @ Marquette (12.15.07)
Montana St. @ Arizona St. (12.18.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None. 23 years, 23 bids.
Neat-o Stat. Eastern Washington’sRodney Stuckey (the 15th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft) was probably the best player to have ever played in the Big Sky conference, despite only playing at EWU for two seasons. He won the conference ROY and POY in 2006, becoming the first player to ever do so in the same year. Yet, while his numbers were sick last year (24.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.4 spg, incl. nine 30+ pt games), there is some question about his leadership abilities, as his team was mediocre throughout his tenure there (26-29) and EWU didn’t even make the Big Sky conference tourney in 2007 (the top six conference teams make the tourney).
64/65-Team Era. As stated above, the Big Sky is 3-23 (.115) during this era, with each of the three wins spaced out somewhat evenly – 1995 (#14 Weber St. defeated #3 Michigan St. 79-72), 1999 (#14 Weber St. defeated #3 UNC 76-74), and 2006 (#12 Montana defeated #5 Nevada 87-79). Both Weber St. teams were close to reaching the Sweet 16 (losing by two to #6 Georgetown in 1995 and by eight in OT to #6 Florida in 1999), but no Big Sky team has reached that goal in the 64/65 team era. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of Montana in 2006, the general rule has been that the Big Sky representative has gotten ripped by an average of 18.0 points in the last six appearances. But why focus on the negative? We couldn’t find any footage of probably the Big Sky’s greatest moment – Harold “The Show” Arceneaux carrying Weber St. to victory over UNC in 1999, but we instead found this clip of a Rex Chapman clone named Kral French who played for Montana St. back in the 80s throwing down some of the most disgusting dunks you’ll see from a white guy.
Final Thought. We have to admit we don’t know much about the Big Sky other than its location in the lonely expanse between the Pacific Northwest and the Great Plains. But our mind’s eye suggests that places such as Dahlberg Arena (Montana), the Dee Events Center (Weber St.) and Worthington Arena (Montana St.) would be no fun for many visiting teams to play in. The word “pit” comes to mind. A quick review of 2007 records shows that those three teams were 32-13 at home last year. Yeah, just as we thought. Maybe that’s why no BCS teams visit those arenas.