Thursday, September 9, 2010

Big Sky: 2010-2011 Preview

The Teams

Eastern Washington

The Eagles finished just 5-11 in the Big Sky last year. They had very interesting rebound splits. Offensively, their rebound rank was 330th in the country. Yet the Eagles were the 30th ranked defensive rebounding team. The 300 difference was almost certainly one of the biggest in the country. A pretty strong sophomore class is back for their second year at Eastern Washington. Glen Dean, Jeffrey Forbes, Kevin Moore each played significant visits in their rookie seasons. All three are under 6'0", which will create some problems for Kirk Earlywine's squad. The Eagles will look to Laron Griffin or incoming big men to fill out their frontcourt. Another rebuilding year is probable.

Idaho St.

The Bengals could not get stops last year on defense. Don't let the slow pace fool you, Idaho State's defense was one of the worst in the entire country. To make matters worse, five out of their six most significant players are lost to graduation. Broderick Gilchrest will be the go-to guy for Coach Joe O'Brien. 7'0" Deividas Busma, who started 17 games in 2008-2009, will be back from injury. However, there will be a bunch of new faces for the Bengals. It will be interesting to see the new guys, but expectations are low.


The Grizzlies went dancing after squeaking by Weber St. in the conference finals last season. Then, they managed to give a suspect New Mexico team a scare in round one. They could flat out shoot it last year from two and three. Star guard Anthony Johnson will be greatly missed this season. Ryan Staudacher and his 128.7 ORtg will also be missed. Montana took another hit when wings Michael Taylor and Raason Young both decided to transfer. However, the Grizzlies will still look to avoid a rebuilding year. The froncourt should be exceptional. 7'0" Derek Selvig and 6'11" Brian Qvale form a great duo. Selvig had great percentages from both behind the arc and twos last season. If he can improve his turnovers, he will be one of the top big men in conference. Qvale shot 62% with great rebounding, shot blocking and turnover prevention. The incoming recruiting class will be vital for the Grizzlies. Belgium native Idris Lasisi along with several other new guys will be counted on to keep Montana at the top.

Montana St.

Led by rising senior Bobby Howard, Montana St. shot the ball well and didn't turn it over last season. The Bobcats lose a bunch of key players from that team, but retain a strong backcourt. They do have some experience playing undersized. Montana St. played small for most of the year last season. They managed fairly well on offense, but the lack of size did hurt them on defense. It is hard to see the Bobcats matching their 10-6 conference record from last year.

Northern Arizona

The 8-8 team from last year has just about everyone coming back for more this season. This has caused a few people to get excited about the potential of the Lumberjacks. Cameron Jones is a star, but his per game stats from last year are a bit inflated from the amount of minutes he played. Overall, the Lumberjacks really weren't contenders last season. They shot the ball well and got to line well, but turned the ball over a ton and did not offensive rebound. Defense was not great either. The team will almost certainly improve with another year of experience under their belt and have a couple of guys key additions. First, a healthy Eric Platt is a great breakout candidate. He was both efficient and highly used in limited time last season battling injuries. Second, big man Austin Smith will be eligible this season after sitting out a year transferring from Liberty. Smith posted good numbers in very limited minutes his freshman season. Northern Arizona will certainly be a contender this season, but improvements from last year will need to be established to win a conference title.

Northern Colorado

The other UNC was not a fluke last year. They were solid on both offense and defense. Major contributor Will Figures graduated, but basically everyone else is back for the Bears. UNC will miss Figures, but they have plenty of efficient options. Devon Beitzel should be ready to become the go-to guy. In his junior season he posted an awesome 123.5 ORtg with a 20.6 %Poss. He shot the cover off the ball and valued the ball too. Chris Kaba, Mike Proctor, and Taylor Montgomery are all efficient scorers and rebounders. The one wildcard might be Neal Kingman. Kingman struggled from long range last year at just under 30%, but was at 42% the year before. Splitting the difference, Kingman can become yet another efficient scorer. The defense shouldn't be much different from last year: forcing turnovers and rebounding misses well. Northern Colorado may be the Big Sky favorite for the first time in their short history.

Portland St.

Portland St. was an interesting team last year. They had the best offense in the Big Sky and the second worst defense. However, they lose their three most efficient players entering this season. Waters, Jones, and Thomas are all very tough losses. The Vikings have the pieces to keep their offense at acceptable levels. Phil Nelson had a very nice year and could become the go-to guy for Portland St. Phillip Thomas played very well in limited minutes. Melvin Jones and Dane Johnson are too more players with ORtg's well past 100. The defense was so bad last year, however, that Portland St. did not finish over .500 in conference. Losing the three seniors makes it unrealistic to expect much improvement in that record. The Vikings will likely be an average team at best in the Big Sky.

Sacramento St.

Brian Katz's club struggled to a 3-13 conference record last season. It doesn't figure to get too much better this season with the graduation of three relatively good seniors from the squad. Rising senior Sultan Toles-Bey is back with his high usage play. He struggled shooting last year with a 2FG% of just 33%. Sacramento St. will likely remain in the cellar of the Big Sky for another year.

Weber St.
Damion Lillard is as good as advertised for Weber St. He returns with great efficiency and high usage for the defending conference champions. Steve Panos and Nick Hansen are unfortunate losses, as well as the transfering of Franklin Sessions. The Wildcats have competent potential replacements. They will be competing for another conference title. Lindsey Hughey, Kyle Bullinger, Trevor Morris, and Darin Mahoney will be the keys. If one or two can emerge as great second and third options to Lillard, they will be tough to beat.

The Players

Player of the Year: Damian Lillard, Weber St.

Lillard is the defending POY in the Big Sky. This season with the graduations of Panos and Hansen, Lillard will be the absolute go-to guy for Weber St. As a sophomore, he had a True Shooting Percentage of 59.4% (168th in D1). He led his time in ARate and was second in TORate. He was able to attack the hoop and get to the free throw line. Weber St. will be contending for the Big Sky title and Lillard will be by far the biggest reason why.

Best of the Rest:
1) Devon Beitzel, Northern Colorado
2) Bobby Howard, Montana St.
3) Cameron Jones, Northern Arizona
4) Broderick Gilchrest, Idaho St.
5) Chris Kaba, Northern Colorado

Breakout Player: Mathias Ward, Montana

The 6'7" freshman played sparingly last season for the Grizzlies. He is not a sure thing this season by any means, but showed signs that he could be ready to become a key contributor for Montana. When he was in the game he had a pretty big impact last season. He shot the ball efficiently and rebounded well. His flaw last season was turning the ball over. However, one big problem as a young player is fairly normal. Ward can be an average player as is, but with almost certain improvement in the turnover category he can take it to another level. Ward will be interesting to watch this seaosn.

Best of the Rest:

1) Eric Platt, Northern Arizona (22.5 %Min, 112.9 ORtg, 22.7 %Poss)
2) Phillip Thomas, Portland St. (14.3 %Min, 107.4 ORtg, 21.7 %Poss
3) Duro Bjegovic, Sacramento St. (40.9 %Min, 100.7 ORtg, 20.7 %Poss)
4) Phil Nelson, Portland St. (49.4 %Min, 105.5 ORtg, 20.0 %Poss)

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