Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Predicting the Big Sky -- How'd We Do?

I'm a big believer in personal accountability, so when I make predictions, I like to revisit them -- even when that review confirms that I am clueless. So with the end of the men's regular basketball season in the Big Sky Tuesday night, I figured it was time to look back at my pre-season and mid-season prognostications. Here they are, team-by-team, according to how the Big Sky squads actually finished the season:

1. Weber State. I have to admit, I never bought into Weber as the best team in the league. I picked them sixth in the pre-season, based on the fact they didn't return a single double-figure scorer. At mid-season, I still had them sixth, based on a very nondescript pre-season in which they beat the teams they should, and endured predictable losses to BYU and Utah State. I completely missed one clue -- when they lost by only six at Arizona near end of the non-conference slate.

But the Wildcats shocked the league by sweeping the Eastern-Portland State road trip the first weekend of the season and they never relented. Weber finished unbeaten on the road, and suffered only a home hiccup to Montana State. They head into the post-season on a 12-game win streak, and yet there are still doubters out there who don't see dominating personnel. I'm one of them. I think the Wildcats can be had in the tournament, but you can see what kind of credibility I have after picking Weber to finish sixth -- twice.

2. Portland State. Just as I was stubborn when it came to Weber, I refused to give up on Portland State. I picked the Vikings to win the league twice, and after they beat Gonzaga in Spokane near the end of the non-conference, who wouldn't have? But PSU, despite being one of four Big Sky teams to go 7-1 at home, turned out to be a dicey road club, just breaking even. PSU really lacked an inside game and, even though they could shoot anybody out of the gym when the threes were falling, they could just as easily shoot themselves out of the game. Oh, don't kid yourself, nobody wants to play these guys in the tournament, but everybody in the tournament knows the Vikings can be beaten.

3. Montana. This was a team I bailed on at mid-season. I picked the Griz to finish second in my pre-season poll, but after they got off to a 6-7 start, including blowout losses to Portland State and Washington and the loss of their starting point guard, I buried them at No. 7. But who knew Anthony Johnson was going to emerge as the best player in the league, literally carrying the Griz on his back in the second half of league play? I'm still not sold on Montana as conference contenders, however, but they should blow out Montana State in their first-round matchup Saturday night in Missoula.

4. Idaho State. I picked the Bengals third in the league in the pre-season poll, then dropped them to fourth in my mid-season predictions, based on their staggering offense. Bingo. The good news, of course, is that the Bengals made some offensive adjustments in the last seven games of the conference and won five of those -- four at home. ISU has a tough first-round game with an emerging Northern Colorado on Saturday, but you certainly could not ask for the Bengals to be going into the tournament with any more momentum.

5. Northern Colorado. I picked the Bears fourth in the pre-season, and adjusted them down one spot in my mid-season rankings, based on the mid-season transfer of forward Jefferson Mason and the lack of a signature win. The Bears did finish fifth, but they would have been a top four team if not for blowing two close games at PSU and EWU in the season's penultimate weekend. The Bears looked great in dispatching Montana and Montana State last weekend. They will give the Bengals all they want on Saturday night.

6. Montana State. A total miscalculation here. I had the Bobcats at No. 7 in my pre-season rankings, but moved them up to No. 3 based on three preseason road wins, including one over Colorado, and an overtime road loss to Oregon State. MSU actually looked like they might live up to that higher rating when they stunned Weber State in Ogden, but they quickly deflated those outsized hopes when ISU held them to 12 first-half points two nights later. MSU looks like a quick out in the Big Sky tourney.

7. Eastern Washington. I really over-reached here. too I originally picked the Eagles to finish eighth in the pre-season, then moved them way up to second in my mid-season review, based on road wins over UC-Irvine and Portland, and a home win by 10 over a decent Idaho team. But the Eagles suffered a disasterous five-game mid-season losing streak (four of those on the road), then finished the season losing four out of five.

8. Northern Arizona. The Axers represented my best "recalculation," after I dropped them from No. 5 in the pre-season to No. 8 in my mid-season review. I dropped NAU based on the fact that they were winless on the road, and blew a 10-point second half lead in their first Big Sky game in Greeley. That turned out to be a trend -- the Axers coughed up four double-figure leads in Big Sky games and never recovered.

9. Sacramento State. This was an easy one -- the Hornets had a new coach, lost the Big Sky Freshman of the Year to transfer, and have a long history of bad basketball. I picked them last both times, and they lived down to all those expectations, finishing 2-27 overall, and winning a single conference game.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't easy, but it's always fun.

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