Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here.
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.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.
When last we left the BYU-instigated MWC/WAC soap opera, the Cougars’ plans to escape the MWC in favor of football independence and a WAC home for all other sports had been thwarted by Fresno State and Nevada’s decisions to leave the WAC for the MWC, leaving the six remaining WAC schools twisting in the wind and BYU, although still a desirable quanitity, undecided as to where it would wind up. In the days since, some of the details of the MWC-induced defections have surfaced, some new rumors have arisen and the futures of the WAC and BYU remain undecided. And so, a recap of the events and whispers of the last few days:
Our Money is on Thompson (left) In This One (Idaho Statesman)
Thursday morning, WAC commissioner Karl Benson gave his first public comments on the Fresno State and Nevada decisions to leave the conference, and he promptly blasted them, saying that their decisions were “selfish acts” that left the conference’s future very much in doubt. He also clarified that Nevada president Milt Glick did not, in fact, sign the agreement that would have levied a $5 million penalty on the institution for leaving the conference, but did give a verbal agreement to the proposition, and Benson expects that the verbal agreement will be binding. Fresno State’s president John Welty, along with the presidents of the other six WAC institutions, signed the agreement. According to Benson, the two institutions will have to pay up within 60 days. Furthermore, because both schools missed the July 1 deadline for filing to leave the WAC, they will be expected to play the next two seasons in the conference before heading to the Mountain West.
It also came out on Thursday that Utah State had also been invited to join the MWC, but had turned it down, partially due to the $5 million buyout and in part because they wanted to be in the same conference as BYU. Since then, it has been reported that Utah State is again in negotiations with the MWC about possible membership, and since Nevada and Fresno State have already left the WAC, the $5 million buyout penalty is no longer in effect. If Utah State winds up leaving the WAC, it will likely be the final nail in the coffin, as the WAC needs six members who have been together for five continuous years in order to retain its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. If USU leaves, the WAC would be down to five teams, and it would be the next little domino that would push the remaining WAC schools to plan a different future.
While Utah State looks to take care of itself, Hawai’i is contemplating its own future sans the WAC, and that future may include independence, football-wise. Given the difficult travel logistics in scheduling Hawai’i, they may be better off scheduling a combination of road guarantee-games, a handful of home-and-home series and several games at the ends of seasons welcoming BCS squads as sort of a pre-Bowl bowl game. For other sports, including basketball, Hawai’i is considering perhaps joining a conference like the WCC, although the attractiveness of adding such a geographic outlier to any smaller conference is very much in question.
If, by some stroke of luck, the WAC is able to keep all six of its remaining institutions on board (and about the only reasonable selling point they have now is that they could split the $10 million that may be owed by Fresno State and Nevada among the remaining teams), the WAC is still looking at taking a huge step backwards. With very few desirable FBS football schools in the west as potential targets for the conference, among the schools being discussed as possible additions to the conference are names like Cal Poly, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, none of whom have been major factors in Division I men’s basketball.
The biggest outstanding question in all of this mess is at BYU: after triggering this landslide, where exactly do they wind up? Commissioner Benson remains hopeful that BYU will still be coming to the WAC, but at this point that is little more than wishful thinking – there is absolutely no reason for BYU to take its non-football sports to that mess anymore. If football independence is still on the table, the only way that will happen is if BYU agrees to join the WCC for its non-football sports, however BYU has very little in common with the schools in that conference. While all of those WCC schools are religious schools, they are all also very small schools, but BYU has an enrollment of more than 30,000 students. In the end, while nothing is set in stone yet, MWC officials have become more and more confident over the past few days that BYU will wind up back in the MWC, at least until it comes up with a better plan a few years down the road.
One interesting rumor that has been bandied about the past couple of days has been a potential MWC/Conference USA agreement to join forces in some as yet undetermined way. Among the possibilities discussed have been a full merger of the two leagues (23 teams), a combination of the most-desirable teams into something like a 20-team league, an alliance between the two leagues resulting in a championship game between the two conferences with the winner of that game earning a BCS bid, or simply a scheduling alliance between the two conferences. At this point, all of this is conjecture, but there was a “strategic” meeting between officials from both conferences on Thursday, although MWC commissioner Craig Thompson claimed that it was a previously planned meeting that had nothing to do with the events of the previous days. This claim that should be taken with a grain of salt, given that Thompson also suggested this week that the invitations of Fresno State and Nevada to join the MWC had nothing to do with the rumors of BYU’s plans to leave for the WAC.
So, while there is plenty still to be sorted out here, we presently stand with a Mountain West Conference that looks like this (or at least will look like this in 2012): Air Force, Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV and Wyoming, with the possibility that the addition of Utah State (bringing the conference to 12 teams) will create a very strong basketball conference of relatively like-minded institutions all reasonably well geographically suited to one another. The fact that the football side of the conference looks solid as well is just an ancillary bonus (at least to this basketball-minded blog). However, even if BYU slinks back to the MWC for a few additional years, they are still very much the squeaky wheel here, unsatisfied with their current crowd. While having their own dedicated cable network, The MTN, is a plus for the conference, there is still the feeling that relying solely on that channel, plus a handful of games on CBS College Sports Network and Versus, the conference is leaving money on the table. However, that television contract is going nowhere soon, as it runs through the 2015-16 season. At some point, BYU is going to find a more suitable partner for its plans, and when that happens, the MWC will be saying goodbye to BYU all over again, this time for good.
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.
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.
Glenn Junkert of Grizzly Journal is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.
Standings (records are CONF/ALL/STREAK)
Portland State (2-0/7-7/W2) Vikings lead the Big Sky in scoring offense at 79.4. Can any team in this defense-oriented league slow them down?
Northern Colorado (3-1/14-3/W4) Senior guard Yahosh Bonner leading the Bears with iron-trap defense… usually against each opponent’s top scoring guard.
Montana State (3-1/8-6/W1) The Cats are taking care of the ball on offense… and just winning.
Weber State (3-1/9-7/W2) Sophomore point guard Damian Lillard best in the Big Sky so far.
Eastern Washington (1-1/5-10/W-1) Speedy frosh guard Glen Dean stepping up as scorer and playmaker for Eagles.
Montana (1-3/10-6/L2) Junior 6’11 post Brian Qvale starting to dominate key on both ends of floor (6.1 rebounds per game and 2.0 blocks per game average)
Northern Arizona (1-3/7-8/L1) Junior guard Cameron Jones scores 26 in Jacks’ first Big Sky win.
Sacramento State (1-3/6-10/L3) Sac State junior guard Sultan Toles-Bey making strides at point for Hornets.
Idaho State (1-3/4-12/L1) Amorrow Morgan leads conference in minutes played (35.1), carrying Bengals on offense (17.0 per game).
Northern Colorado Bears jumped to 16th in this week’s College Insider Mid Major top 25 poll with 249 votes, up from 23rd last week. The Bears are the lone Big Sky team to receive votes.
HOT & NOT
HOT — The Montana State Bobcats and the Northern Colorado Bears – at 3-1 and tied for second going into the third week of conference play – can move into a tie for first with home floor sweeps this weekend. The Bears and Bobcats have already notched important road wins and both are poised to build some early separation in the standings.
NOT — Already at 1-3 in conference play, the Idaho State Bengals and Montana Grizzlies – both pre-season picks to contend – have each suffered home-court losses and are mired in a four-team bottom-tier throng with Northern Arizona and Sacramento State. What’s worse for Montana: the Bengals’ lone win was a last-second stunner over the Grizzlies in Pocatello. Montana then traveled to Ogden and – after leading through much of the second half – lost in the final minute at Weber State.
The Big Sky’s top scorers are all guards: Damian Lillard (WSU) 19.1; Dominic Waters (PSU) 18.7; Amorrow Morgan (ISU) 17.0; Cameron Jones (NAU) 16.7; Anthony Johnson (UM) 16.4; Will Figures (MSU) 15.9; Devon Beitzel (UNC) 15.4; and Broderick Gilchrest (ISU) 13.9.
Northern Colorado’s 136-341 three point field goals is the Big Sky’s best, slightly ahead of Portland State’s 128-309. The Viks shoot a better percentage though (.414 to .399).
Not only are the Portland State Vikings the most potent offensive team in the Big Sky, they’re the best shooting team. The Viks, who score at a per-game clip of 79.4, lead the league in three point field goal percentage (see above), field goal percentage (.490) and free throw percentage (.755).
Northern Colorado (8-1, 1-1) W1. Assuming role of conference favorite.
Montana (6-3 1-1) W1. Tough homecourt loss in conference play.
Montana State (4-4 2-0) L1. Leads conference standings with two home wins.
Portland State (4-4 1-0) W3. Leads conference in most offensive categories.
Weber State (4-4 1-0)W3. Soph point guard Damian Lillard assuming leadership role for Cats.
Sacramento State (4-6 0-1) L2. Lose last 4-of-5 after hot start.
Eastern Washington (3-5 0-1) L1. Eagles hit road on tough 2-week, five-game swing.
Northern Arizona (2-5 0-2) L3. Jacks face brutal 4-game road swing through hollidays.
Idaho State (2-7 0-0) L3. Injuries, suspensions affect Bengals front-court.
Northern Colorado – Earned a Mid Major Poll rank of 22nd (153 points) with a road breakthrough at 2nd place Montana, the only other Big Sky team with Mid-Major votes (8).
HOT & NOT
Portland State Vikings – after starting the season at 0-3 under first year head coach Tyler Geving – the Vikings have gone 4-1 since, a tear that includes an 86-82 win at Mid-Major 10th ranked Portland and a 23-point, 98-75 conference opener over Eastern Washington.
The road has been long and winding for the 2-7 Idaho State Bengals, who have played seven of nine pre-season games on the road. The Bengals notched one of their two wins on the road, edging UMKC 68-65, but dropped a 79-67 verdict to in-state rival Boise State in Pocatello.
Glenn Junkert of Grizzly Journal is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky Conference.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE REPORT
Northern Colorado 5-0 W5
Montana 4-1 W1
Sacramento State 3-3 L1
Eastern Washington 2-3 L1
Montana State 2-2 L1
Northern Arizona 2-2 L2
Portland State 1-3 W1
Weber State 1-3 W1
Idaho State 1-4 L1
Northern Colorado – Earned a Mid Major Poll rank of 25th with championships in both the Rainbow Classic and the Reggie Minton Air Force Classic and are currently ranked 69th in the USA Today Sagarin Ratings.
Sacramento State – Defeated Oregon State 65-63 in Corvallis.
Montana – Defeated Oregon 68-55 in Portland.
Early results in the Big Sky indicate a return to parity after several seasons of distinct “upper-lower division split.” PROOF: perennial bottom-feeder CSU Sacramento, under the reins of second-year coach (and Sac State alum) Brian Katz, is 3-3 with an impressive 65-63 win at Oregon State and a decent showing at Idaho. Katz’ rebuilding project of a decimated Hornet program appears decidedly ahead of schedule.
It was an odd weekend of basketball. The games weren’t all that interesting — at least when compared to Friday night, for example — but there was plenty to talk about when scores started rolling in. Mainly, it was a weekend that had few storylines other than Pac-10/SEC incompetence and prep work for all of the holiday tournaments that start this week.
Pac-10 Nightmare Saturday.
Loyola Marymount 67, USC 59. Will this ultimately be the worst BCS team loss of the entire season? LMU won a total of three games last season, and while the Lions are undoubtedly better, there is absolutely no excuse for them to beat a Pac-10 team on their homecourt. Ever. We understand that Kevin O’Neill has virtually no depth at his disposal, but come on…
Sacramento State 65, Oregon State 63. Regression to the mean on OSU this year? All the great work Craig Robinson put in to make a horrid team competitive seems to have gone by the wayside this year, as the Beavers laid another stinker against a team they should easily handle at home. Down 22 at the half, OSU rallied back behind Seth Tarver’s 14/10, but it was too little too late. The Pac-10 RPI continues to sink.
Portland 88, Oregon 81. This is actually the one loss that should have been expected, as Portland is likely to be the better team this year. Nik Raivio had 24/8 and his frontcourt mate had 17/8 as they shredded the Duck defense for 53% from the field and 58% from deep. This will end up being a win that Portland will look favorably upon later this season.
More Upsets This Weekend.
VCU 82, #17 Oklahoma 69. This seemed like a trap game when reviewing schedules, and it turned out to be one. Willie Warren had a disastrous game, shooting only 3-14 (0-8 from three) and committing six turnovers in the outing. Freshmen Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin combined for 25/18/6 assts, but VCU’s stars Larry Sanders (17/4/3 blks) and Jay Gavin (20/5/3 assts) outperformed them in Jeff Capel’s return trip to his old coaching haunt.
Temple 71, Siena 67. The Saints found themselves on the wrong end of a 13-0 second half run by Temple that gave up their hard-earned halftime lead. Juan Fernandez led the Owls with 20/3 assts, but it was Siena’s poor three-point shooting (1-9) that ultimately doomed them in this game. Alex Franklin had 22/6 and Ryan Rossiter had 8/11, but Siena will need to play better in coming weeks to make a push for an at-large should they not win the MAAC Tournament.
Vermont 77, Rutgers 71. Vermont should be proud to have gone into a Big East arena of a team that some expect to make waves this season and get a big win. Marqus Blakely did everything — 17/9/2 assts/4 stls/5 blks — as UVM gutted out a hard-fought victory in Piscataway.
Kansas State 83, #21 Dayton 75. Really not much of an upset, but a good team was going to leave Puerto Rico 1-2, and Dayton is the unlucky recipient. Jacob Pullen had 26/5/4 assts for K-State, while Dayton’s Chris Wright came through with 15/10 on the other side.
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:
Weber State (22-9, 12-4)
Montana (20-8, 11-5)
Montana State (16-12, 11-5)
Idaho State (13-16, 10-6)
Portland State (14-15, 9-7)
Northern Arizona (11-17, 8-8)
Northern Colorado (12-18, 5-11)
Eastern Washington (8-21, 3-13)
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
Franklin Session, Weber State
Eric Platt, Northern Arizona
Raason Young, Montana
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 Champion. Weber 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.
Jordan Freemeyer is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Big Sky conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Portland State (20-9, 13-3)
Northern Colorado (21-10, 11-5)
Idaho State (15-14, 10-6)
Montana (18-11, 10-6)
Weber State (13-16, 8-8)
Northern Arizona (12-15, 7-9)
Montana State (11-17, 6-10)
Eastern Washington (10-19, 5-11)
Sacramento State (6-23, 2-14)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). The Big Sky is a nine-team conference stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the southern Rocky Mountains. The Big Sky has historically been an eight-team conference, but added Northern Colorado as its ninth member in 2006. Unlike most conferences that feature a balanced eight or twelve team tournament, only the top six Big Sky teams get the chance to go dancing. The conference is generally a power in FCS (formerly I-AA) football, but does not have a rich men’s basketball tradition. However, Weber State in particular has been noted for big upsets in the NCAA Tournament. In 1995, a #14 seed Weber State team beat #3 seed Michigan State 79-72, and in 1999 the Wildcats repeated the feat, taking down another #3 seed, North Carolina, 76-74. More recently, Montana made a run to the second round in 2006 with a wins over #5 Nevada.
Predicted Champion.Portland State (#14 NCAA). This is a relatively safe pick, as the Vikings won both the regular season and tournament championships last season. Portland State returns three starters, including 2007-08 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year Jeremiah Dominguez (pictured below). The 5’6” Dominguez scored 14.4 points per game last season, while averaging 4 assists per game and leading the conference with 1.9 steals per game. Also returning for the Vikings is junior Kyle Coston. The 6’8” forward averaged 7.4 points per game last season and made over 40 percent of his three-point attempts. PSU lost leading rebounders Scott Morrison and Deonte Huff, but return enough firepower offensively to make them the favorites in the Big Sky.
Others Considered. Behind the Vikings is a pack of about four teams that can challenge them. Northern Colorado is my pick to finish second in the league. The Bears return nine letterwinners from last season, the most in the conference, and are led by all-conference center Jabril Banks. Banks led UNC last season with 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Idaho State should also contend for the conference title; the Bengals are led by guards Matt Stucki and Amorrow Morgan, who combined to average just under 22 points per game last season. Perrenial favorites Montana and Weber State should also be in the mix, led by forward Jordan Hasquet and guard Kellen McCoy, respectively.
Important Conference games.
Northern Arizona @ Montana State (1/10/09) – This game could go a long way toward determining the final berth in the Big Sky Tournament.
Portland State @ Northern Colorado (1/19/09) – This is just Northern Colorado’s third year in the conference, but Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion is already proving to be one of the toughest places to play. The Bears were 9-4 there last season.
Idaho State @ Weber State (1/31/09) – Dee Events Center should be rocking for this matchup between rivals that will have a big impact on what the top of the conference standings look like.
Montana at Montana State (2/7/09) – It’s Montana against Montana State, when is it ever not important?
Big Sky Championship Game (3/11/09)
Northern Colorado @ Colorado State (11/18/08) – This is perhaps the biggest college basketball rivalry in the state of Colorado. The Bears beat the Rams, 72-59, last year.
North Dakota State @ Northern Arizona (11/25/07) – This is the first of two meetings between the two teams this season, and catches the Bison in the midst of a very tough three-game road trip.
BYU @ Weber State (12/3/08) – This is yet another chance for the Big Sky to prove itself against an in-state rival. You can bet the biggest venue in the Big Sky will be nearly full for this one.
Portland State @ Washington (12/14/08) – This game presents a good chance for the Vikings to make a statement against a quality Pac-10 opponent.
Idaho @ Idaho State (12/29/08) – The Bengals host their former conference-mate and in-state rival at Holt Arena with a chance to prove basketball supremacy in the state of Idaho.
Neat-O Stat. Sacramento State hired a new head coach for the 2008-09 season, Brian Katz. This is Katz’s first NCAA head coaching job, but he is not the only coach in the league that is in a relatively new place. Only one coach in the Big Sky, Northern Arizona’s Mike Adras, has been at his school for more than four years. Portland State’s Ken Bone is entering his fourth season with the Vikings, and is the second-longest tenured coach in the conference. Idaho State’s Joe O’Brien, Montana’s Wayne Tinkle, Montana State’s Brian Huse, Northern Colorado’s Tad Boyle and Weber State’s Randy Rahe are all in their third season with their respective teams. Last year, Eastern Washington brought coach Kirk Earlywine into the mix.
65 Team Era. The Big Sky is only 3-24 (.111) over the era, but as stated above, it has some quality upsets on its resume, with #14 Weber St. in both 1995 and 1999, and #12 Montana breaking into the second round in 2006. Its champion typically receives a #14 or #15 seed in the NCAAs, but generally avoids the dreaded #16. Here’s an amusing YouTube clip of some of Portland State’s practice and media session before playing #1 Kansas in last year’s first round below.
Final Thoughts. The Big Sky should be a very interesting conference to watch this season. There are about five or six teams that could win the regular season title, and the conference tournament should amount to a crap shoot. Whoever wins the league, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see them upset a big conference team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.