Mega 2018-19 Big Sky Basketball Preview

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Mega 2018-19 Big Sky Basketball Preview

Post by Montana Mint » Fri Dec 28, 2018 12:17 pm

Montana Mint Sports is pumped to welcome Brian Marceau to the team writing about Big Sky basketball. His conference play preview is below (and on our site, where the formatting is a little cleaner)

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The Montana Mint’s Mega 2018-19 Big Sky Basketball Preview

With non-conference play behind us, we’d like to welcome you to the Montana Mint’s 2018-19 Big Sky men’s basketball preview. For your reading pleasure, our league preview is better understood through tiers rather than individual rankings, where teams within each tier occupy interchangeable slots. All rankings referenced are in comparison to a total of 353 Division I basketball programs, unless specified as league specific.

The It Gets Better Because We Play Each Other Tier

#11 - Northern Arizona
Record: 2-8
Record vs. D1: 2-8
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 221
KenPom Ranking: 310
NCAA Net Ranking: 294

Key Players:
Carlos Hines, Guard, So.
13ppg, 37.7 fg%

Jonathan Andre, Forward, So.
12.7ppg, 6.1rpg

Analysis

Northern Arizona finished the 2014-15 season at 23-15 overall and 13-5 in Big Sky play, one game behind both Eastern Washington and Montana for the league title. Though they lost one second team and one honorable mention All-Big Sky selection to graduation, NAU returned first team point guard Kris Yonku and were picked to finish fourth in both preseason polls headed into the 2015-16 year. Over the next three seasons, Lumberjacks won 19 total games.

The bottoming out does not look to conclude this season based on their performance against a not-particularly-impressive nonconference schedule, where five or six (depending where on you draw the line) of the eight losses were by blowout margins. Diagnosing the basics of their issues is not hard: they play at the slowest offensive pace in the conference, yet don’t couple that with defensive stops. At present, they rank last in the conference in field goal percentage allowed, last in defensive rating (points per 100 possessions), third worst in points allowed per game, and worst in points scored per game.

A glass-half-full look at this roster would point to its relative youth as the rationale to this season’s ugly nonconference results. The top two scorers (Carlos Hines and Jonathan Andre) are both sophomores, and not a single senior plays more than ten minutes a game. Lumberjack faithful should expect this season to read similar to the past three, and hope for next year will be contingent upon developments we have not seen out of this year’s underclassmen. 

#10 - Idaho
Record: 3-8
Record vs. D1: 1-7
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 281
KenPom Ranking: 301
NCAA Net Ranking: 313

Key Players:

Trevon Allen, Guard, Jr.
13.6ppg, 4.3rpg, 3.2apg

Cameron Tyson, Guard, Fr.
13.2ppg, 45.8 3pt%, 7.5 3pa

Analysis

Idaho is another team looking at a year of growing pains partially due to extreme youth. Different from NAU, Idaho does not boast a single senior on this year’s roster and only two total juniors. That helps explain why Idaho’s record looks as awful as it does (including a loss to NAIA Northwest Nazarene), though this should feel less as some sort of bottoming out issue, and more the natural result of losing 90% of the team’s scoring and minutes played from 2017-18, Coach Don Verlin’s most successful year in Moscow (22-9, 14-4) and the graduation of first team All-Big Sky forward B.J. Blake and second team All-Big Sky guard Victor Sanders. In simpler terms, an overwhelming majority of minutes are going to sophomores who either did not play or played bit roles last season, and freshmen. This is what it looks like to be one of the youngest teams in the nation.

At the more concrete level, this team has some pieces that could shine in a year or two. Freshman Cameron Tyson is shooting 45.8% from three on 7.5 attempts per game, and junior Trevon Allen is averaging almost ten more points per game than he did as a sophomore. Redshirt Freshman Jared Rodriguez looks like a 6’8” jack-of-all-trades if he develops, and he’s already producing almost ten points and six rebounds per game. Parts of a future contender could exist in Moscow, Vandal fans will just need to be content with glimpses in 2018-19.

#9 - Montana State
Record: 3-7
Record vs. D1: 2-7
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 121
KenPom Ranking: 307
NCAA Net Ranking: 312

Key Players:

Tyler Hall, Guard, Sr.
-Preseason All-Big Sky
-2017-18 2nd Team All-Big Sky
19.2ppg, 36.2 3pt%, 9.2 3pa

Harold Frey, Guard, Jr.
-Honorable Mention All-Big Sky 2017-18
12.7ppg, 4.5apg, 35.5 fg%

Analysis

Tyler Hall had a sophomore season in 2016-17 that thrust him into the national spotlight as maybe the next mid-to-low major guard who would climb NBA Draft boards. There was reason for the hype: as a freshman he made All-Big Sky second team, then made the first team as a sophomore while averaging 23 points per game on 47% shooting, leading Montana State to a 16-16 season including 11-7 in conference play. He looked the part of a transformational guard that could bring stability, or maybe more, to Bozeman, where the Bobcats have finished over .500 only four times since 2000.

Both Hall and Montana State regressed last year, and the senior guard appears to have settled into something less than transformational: just historically good. Hall owns the record for made three-pointers already, and he trails Bogdan Bliznyuk by only 117 points for the all-time lead in points scored, a record he will easily hold barring season-ending injury within the first three weeks of conference play.

How could a team have a record-setter like Hall yet appear at number nine in our Conference Preview? The Bobcats post the second worst defensive rating in conference, they give up the most points per game, and their offensive stats don’t make up for what they surrender on the other end. Hall and junior guard Harald Frey, the Bobcats’ top two scorers, combine to shoot 38% on almost 27 shots per game, which is emblematic of the Montana State offense: they play at the fourth fastest pace, yet are the fourth worst scoring team in the conference. The most positive spin at this point is to site a relatively difficult nonconference schedule as the backbone of this team’s struggles, and to expect their offensive efficiency to improve in conference play, while their defense simply cannot get worse than it has been thus far.

#8 - Eastern Washington
Record: 2-9
Record vs. D1: 1-9
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 29
KenPom Ranking: 268
NCAA Net Ranking: 313

Key Players:

Mason Peatling, Forward, Jr
2017-18 Honorable Mention All-Big Sky
Missed all but one non-conference game due to injury

Jesse Hunt, Forward, Sr.
15.8ppg, 7.8rpg, 43.2 3pt%

Jacob Davidson, Guard, So.
9.4ppg, 39 fg%, 29 3pt%

Analysis 

Eastern Washington is another of our bottom-dwellers in the midst of transition. This will be the first year since 2012-13 the Eagles will not suit up at least one first team All-Big Sky performer, an incredible run of talent coaches Jim Hayford (now at Seattle University) and Shantay Lagans brought to Cheney that included one player selected in the NBA draft (Tyler Harvey), another with NBA experience (Jacob Wiley), and the Big Sky’s all-time scoring leader (Bogdan Bliznyuk). When something like that runs dry, fans should expect some turnaround time.

Whether this is truly a rebuilding year is hard to gauge with the Eagles based on their nonconference schedule, which included four games against Power 5 teams, and three more against NCAA tournament hopefuls. EWU lost six of those games in blowout fashion, and the seventh was still a ten point margin. Knowing the Eagles don’t have the same all-conference talent they’ve had the last five seasons, stumbling into conference play isn’t a surprise, but their level of competition requires us to throw most of their overall stats out the window, as they’re essentially ugly by design.

The bright side for the Eagles is they could start a couple of the league’s better forwards in junior Mason Peatling, an All-Big Sky Honorable Mention in 2017-18 that’s missed all but one game due to injury, and senior Jesse Hunt, who has picked up the slack left by Peatling’s health. How those two coexist is a separate question, but this roster has the shooters (including Hunt, Cody Benzel, Jack Perry, Ty Gibson) to space the floor and let their forwards go to work. Of this tier, Eastern feels like the most likely candidate to outperform their nonconference marks, but they need to show us something their schedule and health have not allowed them to show before moving them toward the middle of the pack.

The We’ll Talk Ourselves Into It Tier

#7 - Portland State
Record: 5-6
Record vs. D1: 2-6
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 147
KenPom Ranking: 283
NCAA Net Ranking: 252

Key Players:

Holland Woods, Guard, So.
Preseason All-Big Sky
14.5ppg, 5.1apg, 39.3 fg%

Michael Nuga, Guard, Jr.
14.7pg, 3.2rpg, 38 3pt%

Analysis 

Looking at overall records, Portland State does not appear to belong in the bottom tier, but subtract their non-Division I wins and we’re looking at overall production nearly identical to the rest of the pack limping into conference play. Most of their team stats are disproportionately inflated from a 123-40 win over the Portland Bible College Wildcats, a school with an enrollment Wikipedia reports to be 220.

Preseason All-Big Sky selection sophomore guard Holland Woods looks to build from his Newcomer of the Year freshman season and carry Portland State back to title contention for the first time since 2009, when the Vikings made their second consecutive NCAA tournament. Portland State plays at the fastest pace in the league, but they remain second-to-last in field goal percentage (40.9%) and three-point percentage (27%), and remember, that’s with an 83 point win making up nearly ten-percent of their total minutes played. The Viking’s defensive stats are mostly middle-of-the-pack, which is to say their route to moving up a tier is simple enough for a squad that finished .500 in conference and 20-14 overall in 2017-18: Holland Woods and his band of mostly underclassmen need to make a few more of the many shots they take each night. That should help fill the stands of the newly opened 3,000 seat Viking Pavilion.

#6 - Sacramento State
Record: 6-3
Record vs. D1: 3-3
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 183
KenPom Ranking: 226
NCAA Net Ranking: 256

Key Players:

Marcus Graves, Guard, Sr.
15ppg, 6.1rpg, 5.6apg

Joshua Patton, Center/Forward, Jr.
14.3ppg, 6.1rpg, 63.2 fg%

Analysis

The question for Hornets’ fans will be whether this defense is for real, and how far it can take them. Thus far, Sacramento State leads the league in defensive rating, points allowed, three-point percentage allowed, and sits second in field goal percentage allowed. Some of those stats are inflated from three blowout wins against sub-Division 1 opponents, but they held the University of Washington to 57 points in a loss in Seattle, making it appear as though some of their defensive ability should translate to conference play.

Another question Sacramento State has not definitively answered is whether they’ll be able to score enough to be among the league’s top half. They’ve scored less than 60 in half their Division 1 games, but scored more than 80 twice, giving them a definitive Jeckyll-Hyde persona explained by how they fare from the field. The Hornets shoot a league-worst 26.5% from three, second-to-last 63.6% from the free throw line, and are in the bottom half of the league in overall field goal percentage at 43.7%. Marcus Graves is their do-everything senior guard and best returning player from last season’s 7-25 step backward, and plays like he’s emblematic of the Hornets’ soul: a hardnosed contributor across the board who shoots 23.9% from deep.

#5 - Idaho State
Record: 4-5
Record vs. D1: 2-5
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 88
KenPom Ranking: 264
NCAA Net Ranking: 253

Key Players:

Brandon Boyd, Guard, Jr.
2017-18 Honorable Mention All-Big Sky
15.6ppg, 4.2apg, 36.4 3pt%

Chier Maker, Forward, Jr.
10ppg, 7rpg, 30.2 3pt%

Analysis

Idaho State has a total of five winning seasons since 1988-89, with only one of those taking place in the 21st century. This roster finished .500 in conference last season, and their 14-16 record was quite successful relative to the Bengals’ performance the last few decades.

It’s an ugly background to drop-in from, but Idaho State has some foundational pieces that could be solid for the next couple years. The first being their odd composition, where all of their top eight scorers are juniors, most of whom return from last year’s team. Junior guard Brandon Boyd leads the way, while the rest of their contributors have a next-in-line feel with only 1.7 points per game separating their second leading scorer (Chier Maker, 10ppg) from their sixth (Jared Stutzman, 8.3ppg). Stutzman has been particularly hard to read through the Bengals difficult nonconference schedule. His points per game are down by six compared to his sophomore year, when he shot over 50% from behind the arch. Stutzman’s field goal percentages thus far mirror his performance at Utah Valley before transferring after his freshman season, making it difficult to differentiate whether the junior just struggled with the nonconference slate, or whether he has returned to a truer form.

As a whole, the Bengals lead the league in three-point shooting (40%) and run the second most efficient offense in the league, and this is with the second hardest nonconference schedule. For the Bengals, this year has the makings of relative success, though they lack a little of the star power to push them toward NCAA tournament contention.

#4 - Southern Utah
Record: 5-4
Record vs. D1: 3-4
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 163
KenPom Ranking: 191
NCAA Net Ranking: 241

Key Players:

Dwayne Morgan, Forward, Sr.
13ppg, 4.8rpg

Cameron Oluyitan, Guard, Sr.
12.9ppg, 47.3 fg%, 35.1 3pt%

Analysis

Southern Utah is the singular eye-of-the-beholder team for the 2018-19 season. Are they the team that beat Idaho State, then second seeded Idaho before falling to Eastern Washington in the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament? Or are they the team that went 5-13 (13-19 overall) in conference play outside of Reno? They return all but two contributors from last season’s team, with transfers Cameron Oluyitan (Boise State), Andre Adams (Arizona State), and Jason Richardson (Cal State Northridge) producing  more than the departed Jamal Aytes, Jadon Cohee, and Christian Musoko. The Thunderbirds also sport the largest divide in analytics rankings with a 50 slot gap between how KenPom and NCAA Net view the Thunderbirds.

Worth noting is the presence of Dwayne Morgan, a 6’8” forward considered a top 25 prospect when he signed at UNLV out of high school. Though our sampling is only four games due to injury, Morgan appears to have developed the jump shot he lacked through his first three years (medical redshirt) at UNLV and last year in Cedar City. In 2017-18 he made 25% of the 1.3 threes he took per game, while this season he’s hitting 37.5% on four attempts per game. He’ll need to hit at that rate for an extended period to perform at the All-Big Sky level, but like the rest of the Southern Utah roster and its six Division 1 transfers, no one doubts the raw talent. It’s the execution that will determine if the Thunderbirds finish with their third winning season since 2000-01, but the tools are there. 

The NCAA or Bust Tier

#3 - Northern Colorado
Record: 6-5
Record vs. D1: 4-5
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 183
KenPom Ranking: 139
NCAA Net Ranking: 182

Key Players:

Jordan Davis, Guard, Sr.
Preseason All-Big Sky
2017-18 3rd Team All-Big Sky
24ppg, 5.5rpg, 4.7apg

Jonah Radenbaugh, Guard, Jr.
12ppg, 5.6rpg, 40.4 3pt%

Analysis

Though some of this is supported by a 70 point opening night win against Division III Colorado College, Northern Colorado leads the league in points per game and offensive rating, they’re tied for first in field goal percentage and they’re second in three point percentage. They’ve limped toward the finish line of nonconference play, losing their last four while playing only one Division I game at home (with six road games and two neutral site games), but the Golden Bears appear to be replacing the lost production of 2017-18 First Team All-Big Sky Andre Spight, and a lot of that is thanks to senior guard Jordan Davis.

Davis isn’t a new name for Big Sky fans. He made the All-Big Sky Third Team as a sophomore and a junior, but this year he’s putting it together in a way he has not done before. His raw numbers (24 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists) are overpowering, and he’s showing a jump shot that hasn’t been part of his arsenal (37.5% from three at 4.4 attempts per game) in years past. His off the dribble game is sound (7.6 free throw attempts per game), and Coach Jeff Linder surrounds his star with shooters (Trent Harris, Bodie Hume, and Jonah Radebaugh) hitting at or above 40% from three. As a whole, the Golden Bears appear a half-step behind the two legacies ahead of them in our rankings, but if the shooting from nonconference play holds, Northern Colorado will be as tough a matchup as the conference has.

#2 - Weber State
Record: 6-5
Record vs. D1: 4-5
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 136
KenPom Ranking: 170
NCAA Net Ranking: 173

Key Players:

Jerrick Harding, Guard, Jr.
Preseason All-Big Sky
2017-18 First Team All-Big Sky
21.2ppg, 40.4 3pt%, 7.4 fta

Cody John, Guard, Jr.
16.1ppg, 49.6 fg%, 3.8rpg

Analysis

Coach Randy Rahe returns the core of a 20 win team including the other nonconference frontrunner for Big Sky player of the year in junior guard Jerrick Harding, the conference’s second leading scorer (21.4ppg), who made the preseason All-Big Sky roster in addition to being a 2017-18 first team All-Big Sky honoree. Harding is joined in the backcourt by junior Cody John, who’s more than doubled his output (up to 16.1ppg) from a season ago. Those two combine as maybe the best guard combo in the league, high praise considering the top team in our rankings starts two preseason All-Big Sky guards.

While the top scorers are juniors, the Wildcats’ window for the NCAAs may be now. Seniors Zach Braxton (10.2ppg, 7.9rpg) and Brekkott Chapman (11.3ppg, 7.6rpg) makeup the frontcourt and help create one of the two most well-rounded starting lineups in the league.

As a team, Weber State averaged the second most points in conference during the nonconference schedule while playing the third fastest pace with the third highest offensive rating. Like much of the Big Sky, some of those stats are inflated from a 70-point win over a non-Division I opponent, but with wins over Central Michigan (10-2) and BYU (8-6), the Wildcats have shown a conference championship is within reach.

#1 - Montana
Record: 7-4
Record vs. D1: 5-4
Nonconference Strength of Schedule: 74
KenPom Ranking: 109
NCAA Net Ranking: 134

Key Players:

Ahmaad Rorie, Guard, Sr.
Preseason Player of the Year
2017-18 First Team All-Big Sky
14.9ppg, 3.5apg, 46.8 fg%

Michael Oguine, Guard, Sr.
Preseason All-Big Sky
2017-18 Defensive Player of the Year
2017-18 Second Team All-Big Sky
14.3ppg, 5.6rpg, 59.3 fg%

Analysis

The reigning Big Sky champions prepped themselves for an expected run into March with the second hardest nonconference schedule in the league, including matchups against six teams with tournament aspirations. The Grizzlies played shorthanded at times due to injury (Jamar Akoh, 13.3ppg, 7.8rpg) and suspension (Timmy Falls, sixth man), and somehow underwhelmed their fanbase by finishing 7-4 with wins against three teams competing for conference championships, including a win at South Dakota State, where the Grizzlies snapped the longest home winning streak in the nation.

Montana’s biggest threat for 2018-19 may be expectations, where winning in March is the barometer for a successful season. The Grizzlies start two preseason All-Big Sky selections in the backcourt, where preseason Player of the Year Ahmaad Rorie runs the point, while 2017-18 Defensive Player of the Year Michael Oguine fills in on the wing. In the post, Akoh may have the best back-to-the-basket game in the conference, and junior forward Sayeed Pridgett scores from all over. We haven’t touched the addition of Pac-12 dropdowns Kendal Manuel (Oregon State) and Donaven Dorsey (Washington), who are either contributing now or are expected to be meaningful role players by the end of the season.

On the court, the Grizzlies play at the second slowest pace in conference, which makes their points per game stats look bad, but they rank fourth in offensive rating (again, against one of the most difficult schedules), meaning they play slow but execute quite well. A relative weakness for the Grizzlies is one shared by all teams that play at slower paces: they’re engineered to be frontrunners, and struggle when playing from behind, which could be a problem for Montana should they advance to the NCAA tournament. As for Big Sky play, Montana is the class of this season until someone proves otherwise.


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