Northern Colorado Bears

Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill, right, confers with guard Dallas Anglin during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Mississippi State won 93-69. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Northern Colorado dismisses head coach B.J. Hill

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With the men’s basketball program being investigated by the NCAA for possible rules violations, Northern Colorado announced Thursday afternoon that it was parting ways with head coach B.J. Hill.

Hill spent six seasons at the Big Sky program, posting a record of 86-98. During his first season at the helm, Northern Colorado won the Big Sky’s regular season and tournament titles, making the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. But after winning 21 games that season Hill’s Bears finished above .500 just once (18-14 in 2013-14), and in 2015-16 Northern Colorado went 10-21.

According to the school a national search will be conducted to find Hill’s replacement, but the fact that the program is being investigated by the NCAA could complicate things some. Northern Colorado’s top four scorers, led by guard Cameron Michael, all have eligibility remaining with three of those players (Michael, Anthony Johnson and Dallas Anglin) being rising seniors.

Northern Colorado head coach is Jackie Moon (VIDEO)

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The Northern Colorado basketball team got a surprise appearance for Friday afternoon’s practice, as head coach B.J. Hill walked in as Jackie Moon, Will Ferrell’s character from the 2007 comedy Semi-Pro.

Hill went all out, too. He wore the 1970s afro wig, headband, and a full warmups of the Flint Tropics, the fictional ABA team Moon owned, coached and played for. Playing Moon’s hit single ‘Love Me Sexy’ in the background was a nice touch.

The reaction make the video great. Hill pulled a page out of Rob Senderoff’s Halloween playbook. Last year, he wore the entire Flint Tropics uniform for Kent State’s Hoops ‘n’ Halloween.

Hill is entering his fifth season with Northern Colorado, a team that finished 18-14 (11-9 Big Sky) in 2013-2014.

2014-2015 Season Preview: Weber State won’t lack for challengers in Big Sky

Weber State's Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo)
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Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The favorite to win the Big Sky 2014-2015 won’t come as a surprise, despite the fact that the program in question lost four seniors from last season’s NCAA tournament team. Randy Rahe’s Weber State Wildcats enter the season looking to make consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since their run of three straight from 1978-80. Gone are Big Sky Player of the Year Davion Berry, key contributors Kyle Tresnak and Jordan Richardson, and Royce Williams (transfer) and Byron Fulton. However even with those losses the Wildcats return some talented pieces, led by junior forward Joel Bolomboy and sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin. Bolomboy was an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last season, but he’s poised to make a sizeable jump after leading the conference in rebounding (11.2 rpg).

As for Senglin, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year (10.9 ppg) will slide over into the role of primary ball-handler with Berry having moved on. Weber State will be more balanced this season when it comes to scoring, as they lose a player in Berry who factored into more than 30 percent of their possessions in 2013-14. Adjustments will need to be made, with Richaud Gittens (6.9 ppg) and Kyndahl Hill (4.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg) among the returnees who will need to step forward. But even with that being the case, Weber State is more than capable of winning the Big Sky again.

As for the competition, this will be a balanced race once again. Last year seven teams won between ten and 12 conference games (the Big Sky has a 20-game schedule), with the two teams that finished 10-10 (Eastern Washington and Sacramento State) failing to qualify for the postseason tournament. Both the Eagles and Hornets should qualify without much trouble this season, with Jim Hayford welcoming back four starters led by guards Drew Brandon and Tyler Harvey (21.8 ppg) and forward Venky Jois. In total EWU returns its top five scorers from 2013-14, which will make the Eagles a formidable group from an offensive standpoint. If they can get a little better defensively, Eastern Washington will be a contender.

As for Sacramento State, their experienced guard tandem of Dylan Garrity (13.2 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Mikh McKinney (16.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) will be asked to lead the way. McKinney was a first team All-Big Sky selection in 2013-14 with Garrity receiving honorable mention status, and with guard Cody Demps and forward Zach Mills also returning the Hornets welcome back their top four scorers from a season ago. Two other players to watch for the Hornets: senior forward Alex Tiffin and sophomore center Eric Stuteville. Sacramento State broke even on the boards last season thanks to a group effort (seven players averaged between 3.1 and 4.2 rpg), and if Stuteville (5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Tiffin (4.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) can step forward the Hornets will be better for it.

Northern Arizona is another team to consider, with head coach Jack Murphy doing a good job of rebuilding the program. Senior guard Quinton Upshur (15.3 ppg), who was the conference’s best newcomer last season, and fellow guards Aaseem Dixon and Kris Yanku will lead the way offensively with Yanku manning the point. Add in leading rebounder Gaellan Bewernick (5.9 rpg), and the Lumberjacks have the pieces needed to contend. Montana, even with the loss of do-it-all guard/forward Kareem Jamar, will be formidable and the same can be said for Northern Colorado, Portland State and Idaho as well.

The top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament, with the regular season champion playing the role of host. And just like last season, the race for those spots won’t lack for suspense this winter.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Idaho
Out: None

PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington

Harvey averaged 21.8 points per game overall last season, and he was even better in conference games (23.8 ppg) of the Eagles. And in addition to being one of the best scorers in the country as a sophomore Harvey was also one of its best shooters, shooting 44.3% from the field, 43.3% from three and 89.7% from the charity stripe.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SKY TEAM:

  • Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State: In addition to the 16.6 points per game, McKinney was also third in the Big Sky in offensive rating amongst players who factored into at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions in 2013-14.
  • Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona: Upshur was the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, averaging 15.3 points per game.
  • Joel Bolomboy, Weber State: Bolomboy’s already a high-level rebounder, and he made strides in expanding his offensive skill set this summer.
  • Jeremy Senglin, Weber State: Sacramento State’s Dylan Garrity was another option, but the pick is Senglin due to his solid freshman year and what he can do in moving to a primary ball-handler role as a sophomore.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @bigskybball

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Weber State
2. Northern Arizona
3. Sacramento State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Montana
6. Northern Colorado
7. Portland State
8. Idaho
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12 Southern Utah

Colorado State guard Dwight Smith transfers to Northern Colorado

Dwight Smith, Roscoe Smith
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Northern Colorado picked up a transfer this week as it was reported by Zachary Boyd of KUSA that former Colorado State guard Dwight Smith has transferred to the Big West program.

A 6-foot-4 junior guard from Omaha, Nebraska, Smith appeared in 18 games in the 2013-14 season for the Rams and averaged 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game on 43 percent shooting. Smith exploded for 21 points (10-of-14 shooting) and eight rebounds in 31 minutes during Colorado State’s final game against Utah State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

Smith has battled injuries during his career at Colorado State and will get a fresh start to finish out his final season at Northern Colorado.

Northern Colorado finished 18-14 (11-9) last season, which was good enough for fifth in the Big Sky. The team also added former Rice guard Drew Bender this offseason as another transfer.

2014 Big Sky Tournament Preview: Hard-luck Weber State’s quest for an elusive bid

Joel Bolomboy
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Weber State may be the nation’s unluckiest team. Over the course of the past five Big Sky conference tournaments, the Wildcats, which haven’t received lower than a three seed, have consistently lost to a team from Montana, and consequently found themselves outside of the bubble each of those five seasons. In fact, Randy Rahe’s squad hasn’t made the NCAA field since the 2006-07 season, but WSU is persistent, again reached the top of the Big Sky rankings, earning the top seed, an honor that means the team not only gets a first-round bye to then play the lowest-remaining seed for their first game, but also has home court advantage throughout the multi-day tournament. It would seem that Weber State would have a cake walk to the postseason, but the Wildcats may still miss out. This is arguably the closest league tournament field in recent years, and WSU could possibly face Montana or Northern Colorado, two teams who have beaten the Wildcats once this season, in their opening contest.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 13 – 15

Where: Dee Events Center, Ogden, Utah

Final: March 15, 8 PM (ESPNU)

Favorite: Weber State

The Wildcats are stacked. Davion Berry was recently named the conference’s player of the year, sophomore center Joel Bolomboy was honored with a defensive player of the year nod, and Jeremy Senglin, who made 41 percent of his threes in his inaugural Wildcat season, was crowned the freshman of the year. Thanks to the squad’s proficiency from beyond the arc — other than Senglin, Berry and Jordan Richardson convert more than 35 of their attempts — Weber State’s effective field goal percentage tops the league. However, if the team is going to get through the tournament’s three days unscathed, their defense will have to propel them. It starts with Bolomboy, a 6-foot-9 big who needs to develop an offensive game before he can mentioned as one of the nation’s best forwards; Bolomboy has posted a stellar defensive rebounding percentage of 28 percent and when combined with his lack of fouls, it is very difficult to engineer additional possessions when Bolomboy is on the court. The rest of the team is equally as defensive minded — 1.03 OPPP, which leads the Big Sky.

And if they lose? Northern Colorado

The Bears are the team to watch during the Big Sky tournament. They beat Northern Arizona, the conference’s hottest team, twice during league play, have defeated Montana twice (once in overtime), and split with Weber State. They haven’t shown any propensity for defense — only Southern Utah has allowed more points per possession in league play — but BJ Hill’s team is fun to watch operate within the arc. UNC grabs a high rate of their own misses, and spend most offensive possessions converting twos, making 55 percent of their attempts.

Sleepers:

  • Montana: This squad isn’t reminiscent of Montana teams of yesteryear (they are uncharacteristically poor on defense), but the Grizzlies have to be included as a title candidate since Kareem Jamar is still on the squad. The senior’s last Big Sky tournament go-around, the guard again had an outstanding season, upping his offensive rating to 116 and drawing two more fouls per 40 minutes than a year ago. Jamar will have to carry Montana if the team is to make a tourney run.
  • Northern Arizona: Jack Murphy is easily the conference’s coach of the year. A year after finishing well below .500, the Lumberjacks posted a 15-16 record and garnered the Big Sky’s No. 3 seed. Some even consider NAU as the favorite to take the league’s title. The team has won their last four games, a streak which included victories over Weber State and Montana. Quinton Upshur, a transfer from VMI, has provided offensive balance to a team that lost both Gabe Rogers and Dewayne Russell after the 2013 season.

Studs:

  • Davion Berry, Weber State: After a strong junior year, the 6-foot-4 Berry needed to prove he could both run a team’s offense while still providing a scoring punch, and he succeeded in both areas, boosting his assist rate to nearly 30 percent and becoming more efficient within and beyond the arc while attempting fewer shots.
  • Derrick Barden, Northern Colorado: Though he stands just 6-foot-5, Barden is UNC’s best frontcourt option. As an unabashed fan of undersized bigs, watching Barden dislodge larger opponents is enjoyable, and the ex-juco forward is skilled converting on the interior (61 percent around the bucket).
  • Troy Huff, North Dakota: The senior rarely gets a break. He is such a high usage player, attempting more than 30 percent of the team’s shots in each of his four seasons, but what is most impressive about the 6-foot-5 Huff is his ability to get to the free throw stripe at a higher clip in 2014. He has attempted over 200 free throws, and is drawing two more fouls per 40 minutes than last year.
  • Kareem Jamar, Montana: A sentimental favorite. Jamar is still playing at a high level, and has been crucial to Montana’s past two NCAA tourney teams.

CBT Prediction: It’s a toss up between Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado, and unfortunately for fans of the Big Sky, the two teams play each other in the opening round. NoCo, though, has the offense and experience to earn the league’s automatic bid.

Undersized Northern Colorado beating up on bigger Big Sky opponents

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The 2012-13 season was a tough one for the Northern Colorado Bears as they finished the season with a 13-18 record, the second consecutive year in which the Bears finished below .500. With five players who possessed starting experience returning there was the expectation that the Bears could be a factor in the Big Sky race, but for all that experience and talent Northern Colorado wasn’t going to reach that potential without changing their mindset.

That was especially true on the defensive end of the floor.

Northern Colorado finished the 2012-13 season ranked eighth in the Big Sky in field goal percentage defense (46.0% in league games) and ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency per kenpom.com, numbers that are too high for a team with hopes of contending. And through 13 games the Bears have made progress defensively, ranking second in the Big Sky in both field goal and three-point percentage defense and first in adjusted defensive efficiency. The result: a 10-3 overall record and a 4-0 start to Big Sky play.

“We had to make some personnel changes,” Northern Colorado head coach B.J. Hill told NBC Sports. “We had some guys in the program who weren’t about the identity we were trying to establish. So we went out and tried to find guys that we thought would take [our identity], and so far they have.”

Among the newcomers are freshman guard Jordan Wilson, who is averaging less than one turnover per game and recently moved into the starting lineup, and junior guard Corey Spence. Combined the point guard tandem is averaging around nine points and four assists per game, and given the other productive offensive options at Hill’s disposal neither has to be a lights-out scorer for the Bears to be successful.

Offensively the Bears are a balanced group, with four players scoring in double figures led by senior forward Derrick Barden (13.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg). Northern Colorado leads the Big Sky in both points per game (75.6 ppg) and field goal percentage, shooting 49.2% from the field, and their three-point percentage of 39.9% ranks second in the conference. Those numbers have contributed to Northern Colorado leading the Big Sky in offensive efficiency.

“Offensively we’re very balanced. We’ve had a different guy step up basically every night,” noted Hill. “Hopefully two or three of those guys are playing well [on a nightly basis]. That competition every day in practice makes everybody better. The best thing about them is that they don’t get hung up on it; they’re very unselfish and they’re playing for each other.”

While the triumvirate of Barden, Tate Unruh and Tevin Svihovec were all double-digit scorers last season, junior forward Tim Hukisson (11.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg) has increased his scoring output by nearly four points per game compared to the 2012-13 campaign. He, Barden and junior Dominique Lee are key figures in the front court for Northern Colorado, which has just one player in its rotation who stands taller than 6-foot-5 (senior forward Connor Osborne).

The 6-foot-5 Barden’s led the way on the boards for the Bears, and he’s posted two 17-rebound efforts this season with the first coming in their season-opening win at Kansas State. While that game was a step forward for Northern Colorado as a team, it was also a step forward for Barden.

His numbers are slightly better than his averages of a season ago, but there has been a noticeable difference in the way in which Barden approaches the game according to Hill.

“I think Derrick’s biggest improvement is from the shoulders up,” said Hill. “He’s shown a greater maturity when going against bigger, stronger guys and a more consistent work ethic day in and day out.”

Northern Colorado’s win in Manhattan was an important one for the program, and not solely because of the fact that they beat the reigning Big 12 co-champions. The importance of that result also came from the fact that Northern Colorado cut a 12-point first-half deficit to five by the intermission, keeping them within striking distance of the Wildcats. That may not seem like a big deal to most, but according to Hill that’s an occurrence that may not have happened last season, with it being a clear illustration of this team’s growth.

“The biggest thing about that game is that we fell behind early,” said Hill, noting the competitiveness of his team. “They got down 12 but fought back and got [the deficit] down to make it a five-point game at the break, and in the locker room they were very confident.”

Northern Colorado’s off to a 4-0 start in conference play, but all four of those games were played in Greeley. This week brings about the challenging Montana road trip, with the Bears facing games against Montana State and Montana. The Bobcats are off to a 3-1 start in Big Sky play, and while Wayne Tinkle’s Grizzlies have lost three of their last four games they still have the Big Sky’s reigning Player of the Year in Kareem Jamar.

In order to build on their success to date the Bears will need to continue to execute on both ends of the floor, especially defensively. That was missing last season, but after getting back to who they are as a program Northern Colorado looks more than capable of contending in the Big Sky.