Sunday, October 4, 2009

Don't Look Now, but It's Hoops Time!

I consider the arrival of the Big Sky men's basketball prospectus as the official opening of the basketball season, even though teams can't start practicing for a week and a half. Since I received the prospectus from the Big Sky office last week, I'm already running late in putting together my early, early Big Sky preview. So let's get to it already.

I've sneaked a peak at a couple of college basketball preview magazines on the newsstands, and I'm going to preview the BSC teams in the approximate order the magazines have placed them. I'll give you my predictions as we get closer to the start of the season:

Weber State

Performance Over Last Five Years: The Wildcats have posted a 47-29 record in league play over that time period, including last year's 15-1, regular-season title effort. The Wildcats were shocked by Montana State in the Big Sky semifinals on their own floor just one week after punishing the Bobcats by 20 in Bozeman.

Outlook: With four starters back from a 21-10 team, WSU will very likely be a heavy favorite to win the league again this year. The one missing piece is a big one, however: league MVP Kellen McCoy, an amazing competitor for his size who led WSU in scoring and steals, finished second in assists and was the unchallenged leader of the Wildcats. Guard Damien Lillard, the first true freshman in league history to earn first-team all-league honors, is expected to inherit that leadership mantle. He averaged 11.5 points and 2.87 assists last year, and those numbers should increase significantly this year. Forwards Steve Panos, Kyle Bullinger, Trevor Morris and Darin Mahoney return a combined 33 points and 20 rebounds per game, and Pocatello's Nick Hansen is back after hitting 38 percent of his 3s.

Intriguing Newcomer: Guard/forward Franklin Sessions averaged a double/double at Saddleback JC last year (14.6 points and 10.5 rebounds).

How They Did Against Idaho State: The Wildcats came from behind to win in overtime in Pocatello, then enjoyed a 14-point win in Ogden.


Performance Over the Last Five Years: The Griz have been 48-28 over that time, including an 11-5 mark last season. They were upset in the first round of the Big Sky tournament by a Montana State team they beat handily twice during the regular season.

Outlook: With Anthony Johnson, the overwhelming pre-season Player of the Year, and three-point specialist Ryan Staudacher (45 percent from 3) both back on the wing, and big men Brian Qvale, Jack McGillis and Derek Selvig upfront, the Griz have a lot of depth and experience. Johnson single-handedly wills the Griz to a lot of wins (although there has been some concern raised on the Montana message board recently about a potential knee injury with Johnson.)

Intriguing Newcomer: The Griz hope 6-6 F Raason Young, a summer pick-up out of traditional JUCO power Hagerston CC, will finally provide a consistent back-to-the-basket presence on the offensive end. Freshman PG Will Cherry out of Oakland is equally intriguing, offering the Griz a true PG they lacked in recent years.

How They Did Against the Bengals: The two teams split, each defending home court by a comfortable margin.

Portland State

Performance Over the Last Five Years: PSU has posted the best record in the league over that period, 50-26. The Vikings took advantage of MSU's two stunning upsets in the league tournament to get back to the Big Dance after finishing 11-5 in the regular season. They lost to Xavier 77-59 in the tourney.

Outlook: The Vikings are the only team in the league with a new coach after Ken Bone took over at Washington State and was replaced by assistant Tyler Geving. PSU lost former Big Sky MVP Jeremiah Dominguez, but they still return plenty of talent, including guard Andre Waters (41 points against NAU), forward Phil Nelson (scored in double figures 17 times), and inside players Jamie Jones and Julius Thomas, who combined for 13 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

Most Intriguing Newcomer: Melvin Jones, a 5-10 PG, shot 48 percent from three last year at North Idaho Junior College.

How They Did Against the Bengals: After the two teams split home-court blowouts in the regular season, the Vikings won the rubber game, 61-53, in the Big Sky tournament on their way to the league championship.

Montana State

Performance Over the Last Five Years: The Bobcats have been 37-39 in league play over that time, including 6-10 last year, but then they rose from the dead to shock Montana and Weber State in the league tournament before falling to Portland State in the championship game.

Outlook: Who was the real Montana State: the team that barely squeezed into the post-season tournament, or the one that pulled two huge upsets once they got there? The pre-season magazines seem to be saying the later, as they have ranked MSU ahead of an Idaho State team that was three games better during the regular season. Guard Will Bynum and wing men Bobby Howard and Erik Rush combine to return over 30 points per game. MSU will have to find an inside presence to replace leading rebounder Divaldo Mbunga.

Most Intriguing Newcomer: DiMarco Bourgaudt, a 6-5 F from France, got a lot of experience on European club teams.

How They Did Against the Bengals: Idaho State dominated the Bobcats last year, sweeping both games and holding MSU to a Holt Arena record for fewest points in a half.

Idaho State

Performance Over the Last Five Years: The Bengals were 32-44 in Big Sky play, but 25-23 under Joe O'Brien. ISU was 9-7 last year, losing in the semifinals of the league tournament to Portland State.

Outlook: All-league wing man Amorrow Morgan (sixth in the league in scoring, third in assists) leads a group of eight seniors who have played a ton of basketball at Idaho State. The question is: who among those other seven will step up to replace the scoring and leadership of the departed all-league Matt Stucki?

Most Intriguing Newcomer: There aren't many, but long-time Bengal fans are hoping JUCO PG Broderick Gilchrest is the equivalent of Terrence Fleming, who arrived as a one-year transfer in 1994 to lead a veteran Bengal team to a tie for the league regular season title. High-flying F Rolando Little would bring some much-welcomed athleticism if eligible.

Northern Colorado

Performance Over the Last Five Years: The Bears have only been in the league for three years, and they've been 16-32 during that time. Last year was their best at 8-8, and they lost to Idaho State in the first round of the league tournament.

Outlook: Diminutive PG Will Figures (12.1 PPG), outstanding wing shooter Devon Beitzel (49 percent from 3) and a number of role players return. The Bears will have to find a power player to replace the departed Jabril Banks.

Most Intriguing Newcomer: Emmanuel Addo, a 6-7, 230-pound F out of Minnesota, will get the first shot at taking Banks' minutes.

How They Did Against the Bengals: The Bears gave the Bengals matchup fits, but ISU eventually won the season series, including an OT win in the regular season and seven-point post-season victory, both in Holt.

Northern Arizona

Performance Over the Last Five Seasons: The Lumberjacks have been 43-33, including a nice 34-12 run sandwiched in between 4-10 and 5-11 seasons, the later coming last season when the Axers missed the post-season.

Outlook: Cameron Jones (who averaged 15.6 points in league play) and Shane Johannsen (shot 82 percent in the Big Sky) both emerged nicely as sophomores last year. Shane Lepley, 6-10, showed a lot of potential as a freshman. The Axers could be the surprise team in the league if those three continue to develop.

Intriguing Newcomer: Eric Platt, a 6-5 guard, saw a lot of playing time during two seasons at Wyoming. He averaged 6.5 PPG as a freshman for the Cowboys, and will likely line up at the wing opposite Jones.

How They Did Against the Bengals: In one of the key games of the season, NAU blew a big second-half lead against ISU to lose in Flagstaff, then the Bengals punished an injury-depleted Axer team in Reed Gym, 71-49, at the end of the regular season.

Eastern Washington

Performance Over the Last Five Seasons: Eastern has been 34-42 in league play during that time, including back-to-back 6-10 seasons under Kirk Earlywine.

Outlook: The Eagles return leading scorer Benny Valentine, a 5-7 PG, and leading rebounder Brandon Moore, 6-9 C, but that's about all the experienced talent.

Intriguing Newcomer: Would have been Treymayne Johnson, a 6-7 F who was recruited by some heavyweights early on, but I was told over the weekend that he is ineligible. The Eagles are bringing in three freshmen guards and two JUCO forwards, but none of them catch your eye immediately.

How They Did Against the Bengals: The two teams split, each winning on their home courts.

Sacramento State

Peformance the Last Five Seasons: The Hornets have clearly been the worst program in the conference over that time with a 21-55 mark. Their last non-losing season, and the last time they've been in the post-season, was 2004-05, when they went 8-8.

Outlook: Justin Eller, a 6-8 C who averaged 10 points and 6.7 rebounds, and fourth-leading scorer Antonio Flaggs, a 6-3 G who averaged 7.7 points, return. Six junior college transfers and two freshmen lend an air of mystery to the roster.

Intriguing Newcomer: Sultan Toles-Bey, a 5-10 G, averaged 17 points and 5 assists a game at Fresno City College last year.

How They Did Against the Bengals: Sac State earned its only conference victory against the Bengals at home, then ISU blew out the Hornets 74-39 on the last weekend of the regular season.

--Brad B.

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Smart blog. I'm doing everything in my power to look beyond this football season too.