Morning Five: 11.16.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 16th, 2015


  1. Everybody likes to hype the start of the college basketball season, but the reality is that most of the opening weekend games are boring match-ups (at least on paper). As some prominent programs found out this weekend, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will coast to easy wins even in guarantee games. Andrew Gripshover has a solid recap of a strange opening night. The most notable upsets (to our knowledge all “guarantee games”) were William & Mary winning at North Carolina State, Western Illinois winning at Wisconsin, Monmouth winning at UCLA, Sacramento State winning at Arizona State, North Florida winning at Illinois, and Chattanooga at Georgia. [Ed. Note: Radford also beat Georgetown at home, which was not technically a guarantee game, but was still embarrassing for the Hoyas.] We wouldn’t read too much into any of these games for three reasons: its still early in the season, these are 18- to 22-year-olds, and we didn’t think any of those teams would be that good anyways.
  2. Rhode Island‘s hopes of contending for an Atlantic-10 title this season took a massive blow when E.C. Matthews suffered a season-ending right knee injury during Friday’s win over American. Matthews, who was considered a legit Atlantic-10 Player of the Year candidate and a possible late 2nd round NBA Draft pick, averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. The extent of the injury is not known yet (or at least has not been publicly revealed), but we would expect them to release that information sometime this week.
  3. Matthews was not the only significant player to suffer an injury on Friday as NC State’s Terry Henderson tore ligaments in his right ankle and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Henderson, who sat out last season after transferring from West Virginia, averaged 11.7 points per game as a sophomore and was expected to help replace Trevor Lacey. Now without Henderson, the Wolfpack will probably have to rely on freshman Maverick Rowan until Henderson returns to the lineup. Fortunately for NC State, Henderson’s expected return should be around the start of ACC play and their non-conference schedule isn’t exactly challenging to put it lightly.
  4. Over the past few years there has been growing debate around the idea of playing games on aircraft carriers, but it turns out playing games on land can have its own dangers as Gonzaga and Pittsburgh found out during their game in Okinawa, Japan. The game, which is part of the annual Armed Forces Classic, had to be called off with Pittsburgh leading Gonzaga 37-35 at half after several players had fallen on a slippery floor including Pittsburgh’s James Robinson who had to leave the game after a fall that left blood streaming down the right side of his face. While it was disappointing for all involved especially since this was intended to a treat for the members of our military it was clearly the right call. Unlike the aircraft carriers, which are inherently exposed to the elements, this is a somewhat unexpected situation even in a humid location. We aren’t sure what the solution is to this problem outside of trying to get these games in traditional arenas, which would decrease the aesthetic appeal of the games.
  5. One of the problems with prepping a column to be posted in the morning is that sometimes the news changes almost as soon as you get the post up. That was the case with Friday’s Morning Five, which discussed the case of Central Florida freshman Tacko Fall. Perhaps it was just coincidence (or maybe Mark Emmert read our post), but the NCAA reversed course and ruled that Fall was eligible to play immediately. Fall’s case drew attention for several reasons including his height (7’6″), background (moved to the US as a junior after growing up in Senegal), and apparent high academic achievement. Fall had 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 14 minutes yesterday against Davidson. We aren’t sure what kind of impact Fall will have this year, but it is nice to see the NCAA make the right decision even if it took a long time to get to that decision.
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Conference Tourney Primers: Big Sky

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Big Sky Tournament

Dates: March 12-14

Site: Dahlberg Arena (Missoula, MT)


What to expect: Montana clinched the top seed and earned the right to play in its own building, which is bad news for everyone else; the tournament host has won this event five years running. But the Big Sky is also more competitive than it has been in years, with Eastern Washington (co-champions), Sacramento State and Northern Arizona all finishing tied or within a game of the Grizzlies. The Eagles, which snapped Indiana’s 43-game non-conference home winning streak in November, are an especially dangerous team – lethal from behind the arc and proven on the road. Jim Hayford’s bunch was the only Big Sky unit to win in Missoula this season. In reality, the conference race became so unpredictable towards the end of the year that it’s hard to give an advantage to any one contender outside of Montana’s obvious home-court edge.

Favorite: Montana. Montana won eight of its last nine games to end the regular season and now welcomes its Big Sky comrades to Dahlberg Area, where it was 8-1 in conference play. The Grizzlies parlayed home-court advantage into a pair NCAA Tournament appearances in both 2012 and 2013, and while this year’s group might not be as good as those teams, it’s hard to argue with history – especially in a league where home teams went 66-42 in 2014-15.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Boise State, Mikh McKinney, Jay Spoonhour & Appalachian State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 21st, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Boise State. When senior leader and preseason all-conference guard Anthony Drmic was ruled out for the season in late December, it looked as if the wheels might come off at Boise State. The Broncos, which were picked fourth in the preseason in the Mountain West, lost four straight games to begin the New Year – including its first three conference contests – and only once managed to score over a point per possession without their 6’6’’ wing. “The margin for error is really slim without Anthony,” head coach Leon Rice said before his team welcomed UNLV to town on Tuesday. With the talented Runnin’ Rebels on deck before a tricky road trip to The Pit on Saturday, it looked as if things might get worse for Rice’s club before they get better. Luckily, Derrick Marks and James Webb III had other plans.

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports)

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness/USA TODAY Sports)

In a game broadcast remotely by ESPN, Marks gave Boise State offensive life against UNLV, scoring 28 points (on a whopping 26 attempts) and responding to any would-be Rebels’ runs with big shots of his own. After the visitors grabbed a late two-point lead, the senior calmly attacked the lane, stopped on a dime and hit a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, the Broncos – which had dropped their last three contests that were decided by six points or less – came up with enough winning plays, including a flurry of steals at around the two-minute mark, to eke out an 82-73 victory. “That monkey has been flipped off our backs and thrown to the ground, no question,” Rice said of his teams relieving victory. Webb, an athletic forward whose minutes have picked up dramatically in Drmic’s absence, added 12 points and 15 rebounds in the win, including a high-flying breakaway dunk in overtime. Read the rest of this entry »

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#rushthetrip: Wrapping Up 12 Games, 17 Days and 5,476 Miles on the Road

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on February 25th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

They say that all good things must come to an end, and so is the case for my 17-day journey through college basketball’s Western lands. Large cities and small towns alike took turns as temporary homes, while the miles of passing scenery morphed from desert to snowy mountains and back to desert again, with plenty of change in between. The whirlwind ride reinforced the breadth of variety in the towns, arenas, and fan bases that stand behind Divison I’s basketball programs — only further mythologizing the notion of a “typical college town.” They make you work out West (note to future college basketball road trippers: the Heartland will be far kinder to your car’s odometer), but the payoff was worth every exhausting mile. By the numbers and some personal favorites, here’s the story of my trip.

Opening Night Was The Highlight Of This Trip, When The Pit Proved Worthy Of It's Elevated Standing Among The Home Floors Of College Hoops

Opening Night Was The Highlight Of This Trip, When The Pit Proved Worthy Of It’s Elevated Standing Among The Home Floors Of College Hoops

#rushthetrip, By The Numbers

  • Days: 17
  • States: 10
  • Games: 12
  • OT Games: 3
  • Miles Driven: 5,476
  • Distance from Tucson, AZ, to Spokane, WA: 1,494 miles
  • Tickets Received: 2
  • Biggest Arena: BYU (capacity of 20,900, sixth in D-I)
  • Smallest Arena: Sacramento State (capacity of 1,200, 348th in D-I)
  • Most Points (Individual): Stephen Madison, 42 (Idaho)
  • Smallest Margin Of Victory: 1, Boise State over New Mexico
  • Largest Margin Of Victory: 15, Gonzaga over Pepperdine
  • Best Team (by KenPom ranking): Arizona (#1)
  • Worst Team (by KenPom ranking): Southern Utah (#351)

#rushthetrip Favorites

Best Venues

  1. The Pit, Albuquerque, NM
  2. Marriott Center, Provo, UT
  3. McKale Center, Tucson, AZ

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#rushthetrip Day Six: Division I Basketball, Off the Beaten Path

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 12th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

Last Thursday night, I was able to see the second best team in the country play – on their famed, raucous home floor, no less. Monday night I had a date with the second worst team in all the land, and we met up in the fourth smallest gymnasium in Division-1. This Southern Utah-Sacramento State matchup did stand out from all others on my itinerary (and probably not in the most flattering of ways), but games like this one cut to the core of why this trip exists. On their own, small-conference programs rarely find the spotlight (although Sacramento State can tell you that when they do, it’s kind of fun…), but college basketball would not be the same without them. The Tournament wouldn’t be the Tournament without 1991 Richmond, 2001 Hampton, or 2013 Florida Gulf Coast; consider college hoops without its flagship event, and the sport would certainly need some redefining.

Welcome To The Hornet's Nest, Home Of Sacramento State And Full-Court Buzzer Beaters

Welcome To The Hornet’s Nest, Home Of Sacramento State And, At Least For The First Night Of February, Full-Court Buzzer Beaters

My focus typically lies with the home team when I’m visiting a new venue, but the host Hornets had to share my attention with their visitors from Southern Utah last night. Yes, Rush the Court is fast becoming the Thunderbird Times, but don’t pretend that you could avert your eyes from a train-wreck in progress, either. Nick Robinson’s team entered Monday night with a Ken Pom ranking of 350 (out of 351), still seeking their first D-I victory of the season. When #351 Grambling snapped a 45-game D-I losing streak midway through the action in Sacramento, Southern Utah was suddenly facing a must-win if they sought to avoid the true basement of the rankings.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 18th, 2012

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC Correspondent for the Big Sky Conference. You can find him on Twitter @bigskybball.

Top Storylines

  • The Injury to Will Cherry – Cherry was the runaway favorite for Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, and one of the best perimeter defensive players in the country. However, he will miss the start of the year with a broken foot. The most likely scenario is that he misses the non-conference portion of the schedule and returns for conference play. However, nobody is sure if he will be 100%, and there has even been a little talk that he could redshirt if he can’t come back fully healthy this year. With Cherry, Montana is the favorite. Without him, the conference race is wide open.
  • Change is Everywhere – There are two new teams in the Big Sky, as North Dakota and Southern Utah join the fray. This brings the total number of teams to 11, and with each team playing everyone else twice, everyone will be playing 20 conference games. There will also be an increase from six teams in the Big Sky Tournament to seven teams this season. Three new coaches enter the league. Changes are all around (and more on them later).

Kareem Jamar Will Have To Step In As Will Cherry Recovers From Injury. (AP Photo/Jake Schoellkopf)

  • Life Without Damian Lillard – Lillard was the best player to come out of the conference in a long-time, as he was the sixth pick in the NBA Draft and arguably the best college point guard in America last season. Now, Weber State must move on. Either Jordan Richardson or Gelaun Wheelwright will step into the starting lineup, and they have big shoes to fill. They will need multiple people to step up and perform, and they will have the personnel to do it.
  • Weber State and Montana Reign Again – Heading into last year, these two teams were the media and coaches top two choices. Heading into this season, it will be more of the same. Simply put, they are the most talented and deepest teams in the conference, and they have continuity on the coaching staff. With the way they are recruiting, it won’t be a surprise if the two teams stay in the top two for a long while to come.

Reader’s Take


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Weber State (17-3)
  2. Montana (16-4)
  3. Northern Colorado (13-7)
  4. Sacramento State (12-8)
  5. North Dakota (11-9)
  6. Montana State (10-10)
  7. Eastern Washington (9-11)
  8. Portland State (8-12)
  9. Northern Arizona (5-15)
  10. Southern Utah (5-15)
  11. Idaho State (4-16)

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Washington State Week: Running Down The Returnees

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 2nd, 2012

Washington State returns four players who were part of the rotation last year, highlighted by Brock Motum – a preseason candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year – but also extending down to a guard that is back for his senior season after leading the team in minutes per game, a sophomore shooting guard primed to build off a solid freshman campaign, and yet another guard who will probably enjoy a similar role to what he saw last year. We’ll go through all of those guys below, in order of last year’s scoring totals.

Brock Motum Will Be The Key To Any Cougar Success In 2012-13

Brock Motum, Senior, Forward (18.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 0.4 BPG) – After a quiet first two seasons at Washington State, Motum exploded onto the scene in 2012-13. The junior forward took on the minutes left by departing senior DeAngelo Casto, and he showed the Cougar coaching staff immediately what he could do with them. From the very beginning of the year, he introduced a new style of game to the team’s offense. Motum led the team in scoring in the Cougars’ first two games, dropping 17 in a nationally televised contest at Gonzaga, and 23 in their second game against Sacramento State. He took on a “point-center” type role, one where the big man could handle the ball up top and act as a triple threat against opponents. His ability to drive and hit a pull-up jumper made him one of the toughest forwards to defend in the Pac-12, evident by his 18.0 PPG, the conference’s best. Not only a threat to score, but also a force on the glass, Motum pulled down a very respectable 6.4 RPG. Those two feats combined earned him the title of “Most Improved Player” in the Pac-12. Some of Motum’s critics will say he took a lot of defenses by surprise last season, but the truth is, the Cougars were just a tough team to defend. With Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore able to score the ball consistently, Motum was bound to get a few extra looks a game. And he took advantage, making him one of the deadliest players in the league.

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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2011

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

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Weber State Starts Hot– Weber State was projected as the team to beat before the season, and they have done nothing to change that perception. The biggest win was a home victory over in-state rival Utah State, which is a start to get them on the map nationally (more on that later). Star player Damian Lillard has quelled any concerns that his injury last year might longer, as he has looked as explosive as ever. The Wildcats are getting great guard play, but they need some more contributions from the frontcourt.

Weber State and Lillard Might Have an Outside Shot at a Bid.

  • The League of Moral Victories – The Big Sky has played a lot of good teams well this year, but has come up short of any signature victories. Consider the following losses – Eastern Washington lost at Gonzaga and Oregon (and led in the second half in both games), Montana State lost by six at Arizona State (though they did beat Utah), Idaho State lost by four at Oklahoma, and Sacramento State lost by 11 at Washington State (but led much of the second half). Unfortunately, national respect is earned by real victories; moral victories need not apply.
  • Northern Colorado Struggles On The Road: Perhaps no team in the Big Sky has had a tougher schedule to begin the year, and it has showed. The Bears started the year with a tight home loss to New Mexico State, got blown out on at Wyoming, and lost to Northern Iowa. (At the time of this being written, the game against Iowa State had not been played). They are clearly talented, but they are very young. Some Bears fans thought the momentum from last season would carry over to a top three finish, but that seems unlikely.

Power Rankings (records as of Tuesday, November 22)

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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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Checking in on… the Big Sky

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2010

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.

Power Rankings

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 23rd in 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 Sacramento State.  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.

  • 2009-10: 22.8 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.9 SPG
  • 2010-11: 31.6 MPG, 15.6 RPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 4.0 SPG

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.

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