ORU v Weber St

Big Sky conference tournament preview


Entering the season Montana and Weber State were expected to be the class of the Big Sky and that’s how the race played out, with Weber State’s loss at Montana State proving to be the difference in the race for the regular season crown. As a result it’s Montana who hosts the tournament and receives a bye to the semifinals, but with leading scorer Mathias Ward (foot) done for the year and Will Cherry banged up as well the Grizzlies have health issues to contend with. Weber State is the Big Sky’s deepest team and that could serve them well this weekend. Will the two Big Sky titans once again meet with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line? That certainly seems to be the case.

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The Bracket

Where: Missoula, Montana (Dahlberg Arena)

When: March 14th – March 16th

Final: March 16th, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Favorite: Weber State 

Even though Randy Rahe’s team won’t have home-court advantage they’re the favorite here due to their depth. Seven players play between 22 and 32 minutes per game with guards Davion Berry and Scott Bamforth leading the way, and the Wildcats have quality options inside such as veterans Kyle Tresnak and Frank Otis and freshman Joel Bolomboy.

Bolomboy and guard Gelaun Wheelwright are two of the best reserves in the Big Sky, and Weber State led the conference in many of the major statistical categories both offensively and defensively. A road game in the final against Montana will be difficult but they lost by just two points back on January 26 (76-74). Weber State’s more than capable of turning that result around, especially with Ward injured.

And if they lose?: Montana 

What needs to be pointed out about Wayne Tinkle’s team is that even with the injuries the Grizzlies still won the regular season title outright. A big reason why: junior wing Kareem Jamar, who was named Big Sky MVP. Jamar’s versatility makes him a matchup problem for just about any opponent they face, and if Cherry’s at full strength those two will be a handful on the perimeter.

But without Mathias Ward the interior depth, something that was an issue when Ward was healthy, becomes even more of a concern. Spencer Coleman and Eric Hutchison are two of the players Montana needs to step up if they’re to repeat as Big Sky tournament champions.

Sleepers: How about North Dakota? In their first season in the Big Sky North Dakota won 12 league games, and in guard Troy Huff they’ve got a player capable of carrying them to three straight wins. Montana State (who beat Weber State on January 24) and Northern Colorado (three straight wins) may be able to pull off an upset as well.


– G/F Kareem Jamar (Montana): The league MVP averages 14.2 points per game and ranks in the top ten in the Big Sky in assists (third) and assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh) as well.

– G/F Davion Berry (Weber State): The Cal-State Monterrey Bay transfer hit the ground running in his first season of Division I basketball, averaging 15.1 points and 3.6 assists per game.

– G/F Troy Huff (North Dakota): Huff is averaging 19.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for Brian Jones’ team.

Prediction: The two favorites will once again meet in the title game, but unlike last season look for Weber State to pick up the win on the road. 

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.