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Big Sky Notebook

January 4, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big Sky Notebook

by Nicholas Lozito

Reevaluating the Big Sky

With the Big Sky Conference schedule waiting in the wings (first game on Jan. 7) the time has come to take a second look at each team and their chances in conference play. Teams are in order of their predicted finish in the Big Sky.

No. 1 — Montana (6-7) sent the biggest shockwaves through the Big Sky this preseason when they upset Stanford, and they will do the same when the win the Big Sky regular season championship. The Grizzlies might not be the best team in the conference right now, but with new head coach Pat Kennedy and a slew of new players they are just hitting their stride. Montana has won four of their last five games, including wins last week over Loyola Marymount and Southern Utah. Shooting guard David Bell leads the team with 16.9 points, while freshman guard Kevin Criswell (14.2) points has had three games with over 27 points. The Grizzlies continue to split time at the point between Derrick Mansell and Sam Riddle. Mansell provides more of a scoring threat, while Riddle has a better assist/turnover ratio.

No. 2 — Jermaine Boyette (20.7 points per game) is still the best player on Weber State, but no longer is he the only legit player. Backcourt mate John Hamilton has emerged as a solid scoring threat, averaging 13.8 points. And with forward Slobodan Ocokoljic recently returning to the lineup the Wildcats (9-4) are at full strength. Weber is the deepest team in the conference as ten players average over ten minutes. The Wildcats are coming off a victory at Maine and a loss at Tennessee-Chattanooga.

No. 3 — Eastern Washington (7-6) was the preseason favorite to win the conference in both the Big Sky media and coaches poll. But after the Eagles recent three-game skid, which consisted of losses to Delaware, Austin Peay and Nebraska, the conference’s best team is now Weber State. If Eastern Washington wants to regain their title, swingman Marc Axton is going to have to step up his game. Axton, who earned Big Sky Newcomer of the Year as a freshman last season, is averaging only 6.3 points and 3.5 boards through thirteen games this year. Axton is fading away as the only frontcourt scoring threat for the Eagles.

No. 4 — Northern Arizona has been the biggest surprise in the Big Sky by far. After suffering the biggest blow to graduation after last season, the Lumberjacks have bolted out to the best preseason record (7-3) in the conference behind the play of Ryan McDade. McDade (17.5 points, 9.3 boards) scored 22 points and grabbed twelve rebounds in Northern Arizona’s win over UCLA. Freshman guard Kelly Golob leads the conference with 3.4 made 3-pointers per game to go along with 14.3 points and 6.8 boards. JuCo transfer Aaron Bond also averages 15.1 points as the Lumberjacks have proven to be the most prolific offense in the Big Sky. Point guard Kyle Feuerbach leads the conference with 5.8 assists. The Lumberjacks are coming off a close loss at Portland.

No. 5 – Montana State (6-5) will have to suffer through the next three weeks without star guard Jason Erickson (10.7 points) who injured his wrist. This will put added pressure on senior guard Pete Conway (15.5 points) and senior forward Casey Reynolds (7.3 points, 5.9 boards). Junior center Bo Segeberg has provided solid play in the frontcourt. If these three players can keep the Bobcats afloat until Erickson’s return, they should make the Big Sky Tourney.

No. 6 – Coming into the season, the thought was that Jeremy Brown would be the only reason Idaho State was not a winless team at this point. As it turns out, Idaho State (6-5) is a winning team and little of it has to do with Brown. The freshman tandem of point guard Marquise Poole (10.2 points, 4.5 assists) and shooting guard David Schroeder (9.4 points) have been key factors in the Bengal turnaround, while junior forward Scott Henry (13.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) has recorded six double-doubles. Brown has still remained a factor averaging 10.5 points and 4.5 boards.

No. 7 – If you asked me three weeks ago about Sacramento State, the school I currently attend, I would have told you they would compete for the Big Sky title. Today, in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Hornets (4-7) are playing the worst basketball in the conference. The three contributing factors to Sac State’s poor play have been a lack of fire, depth and a go-to man. The Hornets have played flat ever since the opening minutes against Oregon State. The team has also been in backcourt foul trouble, as, due to academic ineligibility, head coach Jerome Jenkins is limited to only three guards. The Hornets also have no players averaging over eleven points, and their halfcourt offense seems confused with no go-to guy. Shooting guard Joseph Dawson, who is expected to come back from academic ineligibility this week, could step into that roll. Guard David Joiner and forwards Leo Cravey and Cedric Thompkins are also expected back this week from ineligibility.

No. 8 – Portland State (2-9) has struggled mightily in the preseason. The team has received a recent boost with the return of power forward Seamus Boxley. When freshman forward Marshal Hartman returns from a knee injury and JuCo transfer Seth Scott plays up to expectations, the Vikings should be an improved team. Meanwhile, point guard Jeb Ivey will play all 40 minutes as the team suffers embarrassing losses.

Game of the Week

Portland State and Sacramento State will kick-off the Big Sky schedule this week when the two teams take the court in Portland. If the Hornets are not too worn down from a six-game road trip they should come away with the win. Prediction: Sacramento State 68, Portland State 60.

Player of the Week

Montana freshman guard Kevin Criswell scored 31 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Grizzlies win over Southern Utah.


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