LEFT COAST LAYUPS (1/30/2013): MONTANA OPENING UP A LEAD IN BIG SKY
By Raphielle Johnson
While the showdown on Saturday between Weber State and Montana may have lost a little luster thanks to the Wildcats being upset by Montana State on Thursday, it certainly didn’t lack for importance. The two favorites in the Big Sky, Weber State and Montana entered the contest looking to either pull into a tie for first (Weber State) or tighten their grip on the top spot (Montana). In the end Wayne Tinkle’s Grizzlies came out on top, beating the Wildcats 76-74 behind 28 points from senior guard Will Cherry.
With the win Montana moved to 10-0 in conference play, two games ahead of the Wildcats (8-2), and their current 10-game win streak is the third-longest active streak in the country. The Grizzlies have taken off in conference play thanks in large part to the return of Cherry, who missed much of non-conference play due to a broken bone in his foot. With Cherry and the versatile Kareem Jamar on the perimeter and Mathias Ward the anchor in the post, Montana has an experienced trio that’s arguably the best in the Big Sky.
In league games the Grizzlies rank second in scoring offense and third in scoring defense, and they also rank in the top half of the conference in regards to field goal and three-point percentages (both offensively and defensively). One thing that’s set them apart from their closest challenger however has been valuing the basketball. Montana leads the Big Sky in assist-to-turnover ratio and also has a positive turnover margin (+1.6), and while the Wildcats are fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio they’re ninth in turnover margin (-2.6) (note: all stats above are for conference games only).
With players such as Scott Bamforth and Davion Berry the Wildcats have been the better offensive team of the two, and outside of forcing turnovers they’ve been better in most of the major statistical categories defensively as well. But the turnovers (minus-9 margin against Montana State) and foul line (Montana State and Montana combined to shoot 62 free throws against Weber State, who attempted 45) combined to hand Randy Rahe’s team two road losses.
Montana’s now the clear favorite even with a trip to Ogden (February 14) looming, with Weber State also in need of some help. That scenario is exactly how the race played out last season, with a loss at Idaho State likely being the difference between hosting the Big Sky title game and having to visit Montana (which the Grizzlies won). And given how well the Grizzlies have played to this point in Big Sky play, history may very well repeat itself this March.
Players of the Week: Montana State guard Christian Moon and Northern Arizona guard Gabe Rogers
Moon and Rogers shared POTW honors in the Big Sky, with the former playing an instrumental role in the first big upset of conference play. In the Bobcats’ 76-74 win over Weber State, Moon scored 16 points. In three games the senior averaged 17.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Rogers helped lead NAU to a 1-1 week by averaging 31.5 points per game, scoring 28 in the Lumberjacks’ 67-65 win over Northern Colorado.
Schedule (Thursday – Saturday)
8:05 p.m. Weber State at North Dakota
9:05 p.m. Sacramento State at Southern Utah
9:05 p.m. Montana State at Eastern Washington
9:05 p.m. Idaho State at Northern Colorado
10:35 p.m. Montana at Portland State
3:05 p.m. Idaho State at North Dakota
9:05 p.m. Northern Arizona at Southern Utah
9:05 p.m. Montana at Eastern Washington
9:05 p.m. Weber State at Northern Colorado
10:35 p.m. Montana State at Portland State
Player of the Week: Cal Poly forward Chris Eversley
Eversley was outstanding in Cal Poly’s wins over Hawai’i and Cal State Northridge, averaging 24.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Eversley followed up his 19 points and eight rebounds in the Mustangs’ 88-59 win over Hawai’i with 30 and 14 in a 75-64 win over Northridge.
Big week for the Mustangs: On the heels of impressive victories over Hawai’i and Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly has the opportunity to cement themselves as a contender in the Big West race this week. On Wednesday night the Mustangs visit UC Irvine, who is just a game behind them in the standings and is 3-0 in conference home games. And there will be no rest for Cal Poly either, as on Saturday they visit first-place Long Beach State. Forward Chris Eversley was outstanding in both games last week, hence his Player of the Week honor, and freshman forward Brian Bennett averaged 17.0 points and 7.5 rebounds on the week. If those two can continue their hot play Joe Callero’s Mustangs could cement their status as a contender for the regular season title.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
10:00 p.m. Cal Poly at UC Irvine
12:00 a.m. UC Santa Barbara at Long Beach State
10:00 p.m. Hawai’i at UC Riverside
10:05 p.m. Cal State Northridge at Cal State Fullerton
7:00 p.m. Cal Poly at Long Beach State
10:00 p.m. Cal State Northridge at UC Riverside
10:00 p.m. UC Santa Barbara at UC Irvine
10:30 p.m. UC Davis at Pacific
11:00 p.m. Hawai’i at Cal State Fullerton
Player of the Week: San Diego State forward J.J. O’Brien
O’Brien isn’t a player who will light up the scoreboard for 30 points in a game but there’s no mistaking the impact that he has on the Aztecs. In wins over Nevada and New Mexico the Utah transfer averaged 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and his versatility allows Steve Fisher to use O’Brien at either the three or the four depending on what SDSU needs.
Aztecs better be careful Thursday: Steve Fisher’s team shouldn’t need a warning as to what can happen to teams who show up at Air Force unprepared to play. That was the case last season, and San Diego State ended up leaving Colorado Springs with a 58-56 loss. That game was the last of a three-game stretch that began with a trip to UNLV and a home game against New Mexico (both losses), so that may have had something to do with the Aztecs shooting 34.6% from the field and turning the ball over 16 times. With Michael Lyons leading the way the Falcons (12-6) are a much-improved team and sit just a game out of first place at 3-2. But San Diego State enters Saturday’s game playing some of its best defense of the season, and in Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley they’ve got two guards playing solid basketball. This time around, they’ll be ready.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
9:00 p.m. Boise State at Colorado State (ROOT)
9:00 p.m. Fresno State at Air Force
9:00 p.m. No. 20 New Mexico at Wyoming (ROOT)
3:00 p.m. No. 22 San Diego State at Air Force
7:00 p.m. Wyoming at Colorado State (ROOT)
8:00 p.m. Nevada at No. 20 New Mexico (NBCSN)
9:00 p.m. UNLV at Boise State
Player of the Week: Arizona State forward Carrick Felix
In wins over USC and UCLA Felix posted double-doubles in each game, tallying 16 points and ten rebounds in the 98-93 overtime win over the Trojans and following that effort up with 23 and 11 in a 78-60 win over UCLA. Felix is the first three-time winner of the Player of the Week award this season, and he may have a case for Pac-12 Player of the Year at this rate.
Sun Devils worthy of more national respect: Many (yours truly included) expected Herb Sendek’s team to improve due in large part to the addition of point guard Jahii Carson. But how many expected the Sun Devils to be title contenders? Two big reasons (besides Carson) why they’re 5-2 in conference play are senior forward Carrick Felix and junior center Jordan Bachynski, with both ranking among the most improved players in the country.
Felix is averaging 15.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, both marked improvements on his 2011-12 numbers (10.5, 4.0), while Bachynski ranks among the nation’s best in blocked shots (4.3 bpg) while also averaging 10.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. In the win over UCLA both posted double-doubles, with Felix going for 23 points and 11 rebounds and Bachynski putting up 22 and 15 along with six blocks. Arizona State may not be a particularly deep team but they’re definitely one to keep an eye on entering February.
Schedule (Wednesday – Sunday)
10:00 p.m. USC at UCLA (P12N)
11:00 p.m. No. 10 Oregon at Stanford (ESPNU)
9:00 p.m. No. 8 Arizona at Washington (ESPN)
10:00 p.m. Oregon State at California (ESPNU)
11:00 p.m. Arizona State at Washington State (P12N)
2:30 p.m. Colorado at Utah (FSN)
4:30 p.m. No. 10 Oregon at California (FSN)
9:00 p.m. Arizona State at Washington (ESPNU)
10:00 p.m. No. 8 Arizona at Washington State (P12N)
3:00 p.m. Oregon State at Stanford (P12N)
Player of the Week: Saint Mary’s forward Beau Levesque
Levesque was a key reserve for the Gaels in wins over San Diego and Pepperdine, as he averaged 19.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. In 21 minutes of action against the Toreros Levesque scored a career-high 20 points while also grabbing five rebounds.
Cougars and Gaels have work to do: With Gonzaga looking like a safe bet to reach the NCAA tournament, if not grab a “protected” seed, the question regarding the WCC is just how many bids can they grab come Selection Sunday. The two most likely candidates are BYU and Saint Mary’s, with the Cougars ranking 43rd in the most recent NCAA RPI rankings and the Gaels at 61. But their schedules (strength of schedule of 66 for BYU and 153 for Saint Mary’s) may have them in precarious positions. BYU’s “best” win? That was their 82-64 win at Santa Clara on January 12, which makes that loss to the Gaels at the buzzer on January 16 sting a little more.
As for Saint Mary’s, that win over BYU was their best to date with a comeback win over Harvard being the second-best. Saint Mary’s has the head-to-head edge on BYU currently but with a non-conference strength of schedule of 235 the Gaels may be the one in (slightly) worse shape. Both teams get another shot at Gonzaga and there’s also the conference tournament, and a lot could be riding on those opportunities.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
10:00 p.m. Saint Mary’s at San Francisco
10:00 p.m. BYU at Pepperdine
10:00 p.m. Portland at Santa Clara
11:00 p.m. No. 7 Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount
5:30 p.m. San Francisco at Pepperdine
7:30 p.m. Portland at Saint Mary’s
9:00 p.m. Santa Clara at BYU (BYUtv)
11:00 p.m. No. 7 Gonzaga at San Diego (ESPNU)
Player of the Week: Texas State forward Joel Wright
In road victories over Idaho and Seattle the junior from Brooklyn averaged 28.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game. In Texas State’s 78-73 win over Idaho Wright scored 37 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench, scoring 15 of the Bobcats’ final 22 points.
Will New Mexico State be without a key component? This is the question Aggie fans may be asking in the aftermath of senior forward Tyrone Watson being named a suspect in the beating of an NMSU student. According to KDBC News in Las Cruces, Watson is the lone suspect with four witnesses being listed in the police report.
According to the news station one of the witnesses told them that “Watson grabbed [19-year old Miguel] Rascon by the neck and threw him to the ground and ‘stomped on his head multiple times’ after Watson thought Rascon was flirting with a girl he was with.”
According to the station the school offered no comment on the allegations or the status of Watson, who is averaging 10.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. But to say the least losing Watson would be a serious blow to the Aggies, who trail Louisiana Tech by two games in the WAC standings.
Schedule (Thursday – Saturday)
8:00 p.m. New Mexico State at Texas State
8:00 p.m. Denver at UTSA
10:00 p.m. Utah State at Idaho (ESPN3)
10:00 p.m. San Jose State at Seattle
3:00 p.m. Denver at Texas State
7:00 p.m. New Mexico State at UTSA
8:00 p.m. UT-Arlington at Louisiana Tech
10:00 p.m. Utah State at Seattle (ROOT)
10:05 p.m. San Jose State at Idaho
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