Top of the O26 Class: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC & WCC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Western region of the U.S: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region, Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region and the Southern region.

Top Units

Mountain West

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II need to step up offensively for the Aztecs. (Ben Margot — AP)

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II will need to step up offensively for San Diego State. (Ben Margot/AP)

  • San Diego State – 2013-14 record: 31-5 (16-2). San Diego State will be very good defensively, that much we know, but whether it can replace do-everything guard Xavier Thames (17.6 PPG, 120.0 ORtg) is the most pressing concern this time around. The Aztecs – which have ranked among the top-20 nationally in defensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons – return several long-armed stoppers like Dwayne Polee II and 6’10’’ center Skyler Spencer (best block percentage in the league) while adding a highly-touted Arizona transfer in 6’9’’ Angelo Chol. But Thames was the only consistent offensive threat last year and points were hard to come by when he struggled, so the ability of guys like Polee and guard Winston Shepard to thrive in more prominent scoring roles is crucial. Steve Fisher’s club should win the Mountain West considering the talent he has on hand (five-star forward Malik Pope also joins the mix), but the team’s offensive development, especially in the backcourt, will determine its ultimate national stature.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 28th, 2012

  1. Despite all the struggles that the Pac-12 went through this season, the conference came into Tuesday night with the most teams of any conference in the nation still playing basketball. Unfortunately, none of those teams were in the NCAA Tournament, with two in the NIT and one in the CBI. And, the results last night trimmed the number of Pac-12 teams to just two. Stanford is among those two, as it took care of business in the matinee at Madison Square Garden, knocking off Massachusetts 74-64 behind 13 second-half points from sophomore wing Anthony Brown, part of his game-high 18. However, in the nightcap, Washington fell in overtime to Minnesota, nixing the chances of an all-Pac-12 final. Terrence Ross led the Huskies with 21 points, but now UW fans have to hold their collective breath as they wait to see if he and/or freshman Tony Wroten will enter their names into the NBA Draft, as expected. The Gophers move on to face the Cardinal for the NIT title on Thursday night.
  2. While Pac-12 teams are shut out of this weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans, there is some representation in the weekend’s festivities, as Oregon’s Devoe Joseph and California’s Jorge Gutierrez will both play in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star game on Friday. Meanwhile, Duck fans will also be able to root for Olu Ashaolu in the State Farm Slam Dunk content, on Thursday night.
  3. Despite a difficult season but as we expected all along, there does not appear to be any forthcoming changes in the head coaching positions at any of the Pac-12 schools. Still, every time a new position opens up, certain Pac-12 coaches are mentioned in connection with those jobs. Dana Altman’s name was floated in relation to the Nebraska job, Johnny Dawkins has been suggested as a possibility at Illinois, as has Lorenzo Romar, and now Tad Boyle is rumored to be a possibility at Kansas State. Luckily, most fan bases around the conference can see right through these rumors. The Husky Haul takes umbrage at the idea that Romar’s name gets mentioned seemingly every time any other big position comes open. And likewise, The Ralphie Report laughs off the notion that Boyle is going to walk out on a young and talented Colorado team with a bright future. While either of those guys may leave their respective institutions at some point in the future, Illinois and Kansas State are not going to be the places to steal them away.
  4. There is a possibility, however, that there could be some shakeup on the Colorado bench. In the wake of Tim Miles’ move to Nebraska, Colorado State is in search of its next head coach. Assistants Jean Prioleau and Mike Rohn could each be considered by CSU for its open position, and while Boyle is in no hurry to see either one of them go, he would “love for them to get an opportunity.” There has been a lot of talk about Weber State head coach Randy Rahe landing at CSU, but until the coaching carousel stops spinning, either of Boyle’s main men could be candidates elsewhere.
  5. Lastly, we’ll wrap up a Colorado-heavy Morning Five by pointing you to The Ralphie Report’s third part of its look ahead to next year’s Buffalo team. This part focuses on the six newcomers to the program, making up a Top 25 recruiting class for Boyle. The argument begins as to who is the most anticipated of these newcomers; is it Josh Scott, the 2012 player of the year in Colorado, or maybe Xavier Johnson, another southern California kid stolen by Boyle out from under the noses of UCLA and USC? Maybe it is super bouncy forward Wesley Gordon who could be an excellent backup to Andre Roberson, or versatile wing Chris Jenkins? Xavier Talton is the team’s fifth recruit, an in-state combo-guard who may be a work in progress, while Boyle just added guard Eli Stalzer, a teammate of Johnson’s with the reputation as a pure point guard. With plenty of talent returning for the Buffaloes, getting contributions from a few of these guys could turn CU into a national player next season.
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Remember This In March: Weber State and Damian Lillard

Posted by rtmsf on January 17th, 2012

Kraig Williams is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last weekend’s Weber State vs. Montana game.

It was a scene that Damian Lillard had seen before. His Weber State squad was up big on conference rival Montana at home in the Dee Events Center at halftime, victory almost certainly in sight. The last time this played out was nearly two years ago, and the ending was one of the most memorable performances in recent college basketball history. Montana’s Anthony Johnson came out of the locker room and went bananas, scoring 34 points in the second half, including the Grizzlies’ final 21 to carry Montana to the Big Dance and send Weber home for the summer.

Lillard Is the Nation's Leading Scorer

Flash forward to present day. There would be no epic comeback. Weber State, aside from a five-minute drought in the second half that allowed Montana to cut the lead down to eight, cruised to a relatively easy 80-64 victory to take control of the Big Sky standings after playing a third of the conference schedule. While Montana threatened a comeback in the second half it was never meant to be, partly because Lillard was not willing to live that nightmare for a second time. “At halftime that was the main thing I was harping on,” Lillard said after the game in reference to the last time he saw Montana. “We had been in this position at home at halftime up on a good team. I just let the guys know we have to step on them. Last time we let that happen we ended up losing the Big Sky championship.”

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RTC Conference Primers: #27 – Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 7th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball  is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Readers’ Take

Top Storylines

  • The Return of Damian Lillard – Three years ago, Lillard was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year. Two years ago, he was the Big Sky Player of the Year. Last year, he was the Preseason Player of the Year and his team, Weber State, was the pick to win the Conference. Then, he broke his foot in the ninth game of the year, and the Wildcats finished third. Due to some smart scheduling tactics, Lillard was granted a medical redshirt and will be a junior this season. He says he is one hundred percent healthy, and if that is true, Weber State is the easy favorite to win the Big Sky.

Weber State's Damian Lillard Is The Toast of the Big Sky. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

  • Beginning of the Jim Hayford Era For Eastern Washington – Out is Kirk Earlywine, who put together four bad seasons in Cheney, finishing with a 42-78 record. In is Jim Hayford, who had been extremely successful at Division III Whitworth University, where he had a 217-57 record. Earlywine did not leave the cupboard bare (even with would-be top returner Glen Dean transferring to Utah), and a top three finish is possible for the Eagles. Hayford has also showed early recruiting prowess, getting Collin Chiverton to keep his commitment to EWU.
  • How Does Northern Colorado Build on Momentum? – 2007 was Northern Colorado’s first season in the Big Sky, and they finished a sparkling 4-24 (with a 2-14 conference record). Last season, BJ Hill continued the impressive turnaround begun by previous head coach Tad Boyle (now with Colorado), leading the Bears to their first ever NCAA Tournament berth, where they lost to San Diego State. However, nobody in the conference was hit harder than UNC by graduation, most notably losing Player of the Year Devon Beitzel. Hill brought in a solid recruiting class, and he will need guys to step up early.  The Bears could be picked as low as seventh in the conference this year, but anything in the top five would keep the program’s momentum going strong.
  • Wide Open Race in the MiddleWeber State and Montana are the prohibitive favorites to win the Conference, but the race really opens up after those two. If you ask five different people who will finish third in the Big Sky, you will get five different answers. That will add up to a lot of competitive ballgames, as the balance in the conference is strong. Anyone is capable of beating anyone else on a given night.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Live: Weber State @ Utah State

Posted by rtmsf on November 13th, 2010

Game #8. It is opening night up in the Wasatch Mountains for a Beehive State rivalry between Weber State and Utah State.

You might remember Weber State from last season’s Big Sky championship game where they were Anthony Johnson’d and had to settle for an NIT berth. The Wildcats bring back Big Sky MVP Damian Lillard, a 6’2 point guard with a sweet jumper and plenty of ability to drive to the hoop. He will be matched by Utah State’s new point guard Brockeith Pane, who has been billed as one of the best defenders on the team and will get a chance to prove that right out of the gate.  Up front the Wildcats will have to find someone to defend Utah State’s do-it-all forward Tai Wesley, the only active player in the NCAA to have at least 1,200 career points, 600 career rebounds, 250 career assists and 100 career blocks.  Combine all of that with an intriguing coaching matchup (Weber’s head coach Randy Rahe was an assistant at Utah State under Stew Morrill from 1999-2004), the always fanatical Utah State home court advantage (Utah State has won 66 of their last 68 in the Spectrum) and a “guess what Wild Bill is going to be” contest and you have all the makings for a great way to start the season.

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RTC Conference Primers: #18 – Big Sky Conference

Posted by jstevrtc on October 18th, 2010

Rush The Court is seeking a Big Sky Conference correspondent. If you are interested in covering this league, email us for more information at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Weber State (14-2)
  2. Montana (12-4)
  3. Northern Colorado (11-5)
  4. Northern Arizona (11-5)
  5. Montana State (10-6)
  6. Eastern Washington (8-8)
  7. Portland State (6-10)
  8. Sacramento State (5-11)
  9. Idaho State (3-13)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parenthesis)

  • Damian Lillard (G) – Weber State (19.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 85.3% FT)
  • Cameron Jones (G) – Northern Arizona (19.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 50.2% FG)
  • Devon Beitzel (G) – Northern Colorado (14.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG)
  • Brian Qvale (C) – Montana (10.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 61.5% FG)
  • Bobby Howard (F) – Montana State (14.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 51.8% FG)

Sixth Man

  • Broderick Gilchrest (G) – Idaho State (15.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.0 SPG)

Top Newcomer

  • Vaughn Autry, Montana

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.

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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

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

Records (CONF/ALL/STREAK)

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

STAT CHECK

  • 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.
  • Assists: Dominic Waters (PSU) 4.8; Glen Dean (EWU) 4.4; Julian Olubuyi (NAU) 4.1.
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2009-10 Conference Primers: #12 – WAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2009

seasonpreview

Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net and Travis Mason-Bushman of Vandal Nation are the RTC correspondents for the Western Athletic Conference.

Travis’ Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Idaho (11-5)
  2. Utah State (11-5)
  3. New Mexico State (10-6)
  4. Nevada (10-6)
  5. Louisiana Tech (8-8)
  6. Fresno State  (7-9)
  7. Boise State  (6-10)
  8. San Jose State  (5-11)
  9. Hawaii  (4-12)

Sam’s Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. New Mexico State (13-3)
  2. Utah State (12-4)
  3. Nevada  (11-5)
  4. Idaho (11-5)
  5. Louisiana Tech  (9-7)
  6. Fresno State  (6-10)
  7. Boise State  (5-11)
  8. San Jose State  (3-13)
  9. Hawaii  (2-14)

All-Conference Team:

  • Mac Hopson (G), Idaho
  • Jahmar Young (G), New Mexico State
  • Luke Babbitt (F), Nevada
  • Sylvester Seay (F), Fresno State
  • Magnum Rolle (C), Louisiana Tech

6th Man. Kyle Gibson (G), Louisiana Tech

Impact Newcomer. Steffan Johnson (G), Idaho

wac logoWhat You Need to Know. Once a solid multi-bid league, the WAC has struggled to gain national traction in recent years but appears poised to send multiple teams to the Big Dance after graduating just eight starting seniors in the entire league after last season. Five of the nine WAC teams return at least four starters and New Mexico State returns all five starters. The league also returns 14 of the 15 top scorers this season.

Travis’ Predicted Champion. Idaho (NCAA #12) — one and done.  The Vandals have a storied tradition in college hoops — in the early 1980s, Idaho dominated the Big Sky under legendary coach Don Monson, leading an unlikely charge to the 1982 Sweet 16. But that remains the high-water mark for Idaho basketball. In the first three seasons after joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2005, the Vandals were a perennial bottom-feeder.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #22 – Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2009

seasonpreview

Glenn Junkert of GrizzlyJournal.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference. Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.

Predicted Order of Finish:

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

All-Conference First Team:

  • Anthony Johnson, Montana
  • Damian Lilliard, Weber State
  • Steve Panos, Weber State
  • Phil Nelson, Portland State
  • Bobby Howard, Montana State

All-Conference Second Team:

  • Amorrow Morgan, Idaho State
  • Will Bynum, Montana State
  • Dominic Waters, Portland State
  • Brandon Moore, Eastern Washington
  • Shane Johannssen, Northern Arizona

MVP: Anthony Johnson, Montana

Impact Newcomers:

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

big sky logo

What You Need to Know.  Last year Weber State senior point guard Kellen McCoy earned his Big Sky MVP medal by shaping his young teammates into a cohesive unit early. The Wildcats shrugged off a home court loss to Montana State and promptly forged a commanding conference lead with a league-wide road sweep, a rare feat in the Big Sky, though three other stellar guards — Montana’s Anthony Johnson, Montana State’s Will Bynum, and McCoy’s teammate, frosh Damian Lilliard — had second-half performances equal to McCoy’s, the Wildcat senior was a shoo-in for directing his cats to a rare 15-1 record in league play.

Predicted ChampionWeber State (NCAA Seed: #14). Weber State basketball IS coach Randy Rahe, and what Rahe has done best in four years at WSU is: 1) Recruit a balanced combo of quality junior college and freshman talent; and, 2) Demand the utmost in ensemble discipline and teamwork from his players on the court. The result? Deuces wild: two league titles and two “coach of the year” awards in his four years at WSU. The Wildcats graduated seniors Kellen McCoy and Daivin Davis, but Rahe will rely on the leadership of sophomore guard Lilliard, who’s expected to get support from highly regarded JC transfer Franklin Session. Otherwise, Rahe’s stellar coaching should be enough to earn the Cats a second straight league title.

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