An Early-Season Analysis

Wildcat center Alex Tew goes up for a two-handed slam during a game on Jan. 7.

The men’s basketball season is fully underway, and Weber State University is ranked No. 5 in the Big Sky Conference with new head coach Eric Duft at the helm. Almost halfway through the season, it’s time to see how each conference team stacks up.

Eastern Washington University (Conference 4–0, Overall 10–7)

Strengths: Eastern Washington has the best record in the conference, with their in-conference record of 4–0. The team averages 74.6 points a game. Sophomore guard Steele Venters leads the team with 15.7 points a game. Their biggest strength is their efficiency. They’re one of the most accurate teams in the conference from the field and beyond the arc.

Weaknesses: On the defensive side of the ball, they’re only limiting their opponents to 70.6 points per game, which is one of the worst in the league. They also have one of the worst free throw percentages in the conference, shooting only 73% from the line.

Montana State University (Conference 4–1, Overall 11–7)

Strengths: Montana State has one of the most complete teams in the Big Sky conference, dominating on both ends of the floor. Guard RaeQuan Battle leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.1 points per game. Defensively and offensively, they are conference leaders statistically, having a 9.5 scoring margin and holding teams to 66.9 points per game.

Weaknesses: Against top teams, they need help executing in the clutch. Their last loss was against Eastern Washington, where they lost by 3 points. They dominate against lesser opponents without an issue and will be formidable once they find a way to get stops against big-time opponents and dominate in the clutch.

Sacramento State University (Conference 3–1, Overall 10–7)

Strengths: Sacramento State can light it up from downtown. They shoot 36.8% from 3-point range, which is efficient for any team. The Hornets are very dependable on both ends of the floor when they put their minds to it. Many of their games are close, and they are getting a lot of experience with playing in the clutch.

Weaknesses: Sacramento needs help separating themselves from other teams. They are still one of the top teams in the conference, but their lack of balance can make them seem average. They have a scoring margin of 0.5, so their games are either neck-to-neck or a clear steamroll.

Idaho State University (Conference 3–1, Overall 6–11)

Strengths: Idaho State’s overall record isn’t too great, but their in-conference record is 3–1. The Bengals’ defense is put together well. On average, they limit their opponents to 69.2 points per game. Senior guard Brock Mackenzie leads their team, shooting 50% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc.

Weaknesses: A significant flaw with Idaho State’s defense is their high amount of fouls. They should expand offensively to lead to better shooting. If they were more efficient offensively, they would pull out more wins.

Weber State University (Conference 3–1, Overall 8–9)

Strengths: Coming off a close win in Missoula, the Wildcats are currently looking strong despite having a new coach and new players. Guard Steven Verplancken transferred to Weber from Southern Illinois over the summer and has performed well since.
As a whole, Weber State is solid on the defensive side of the ball. Forward Dillon Jones leads the Wildcats with 14.9 points per game on offense. An aggressive player, Jones is great at getting to the line, making 86% of his free throws.

Weaknesses: The Wildcats need more offensive production. The team averages only 66.9 points per game, one of the lowest in the conference. Their defense keeps them in games, but a better offense could make them Big Sky championship contenders.

University of Montana (Conference 2–3. Overall 8–9)

Strengths: As a team, they have a good shooting percentage from the field at 45%. Forward Josh Bannan leads the Grizzlies’ offense and has had a great season thus far. The Grizzlies are in the middle of the pack with a chance to improve this season.

Weaknesses: The Grizzlies must improve in the clutch and when facing top-tier teams. They have a 0.1 scoring margin, so they have had many close games they could win. They aren’t in the top tier, but have the potential to make it there by the end of the season.

Portland State University (Conference 2–2, Overall 8–9)

Strengths: Offensively, Portland State is on par with some top teams. They average 78.3 points per game. They average 8.3 3-pointers per game and shoot 44% from the field. Offensively, they can play against anyone.

Weaknesses: Portland State often turns the ball over and doesn’t get enough defensive stops to win games. These aspects of their game are derailing their potential.

Northern Arizona University (Conference 1–4, Overall 5–13)

Strengths: Northern Arizona is a bottom-tier team, and they’ve had a tough season to show for it. Their offense is okay, averaging 71.4 points per game. If they can find a way to draw more fouls, they could have a really good offense by the conference’s standards.

Weaknesses: The Lumberjacks’ defense struggles. Opponents tend to get what they want against them, which has been their downfall this season. They have a lot of potential, but they won’t win games if they can’t start stepping up and getting stops.

University of Idaho (Conference 0–4, Overall 6–11)

Strengths: Idaho loses against the majority of the teams that they play. That said, they’ve had close games against some fairly good opponents like Sacramento State. They average 75.9 points per game, but ultimately, they’ll need more than that if they want to start winning games.

Weaknesses: Outside of the conference, Idaho is an okay team. Within the conference, they sit at 0–4. They struggle with closing out games and often giving up runs for opponents to snowball off of. If they can improve on closing out games and securing their lead, they have potential to climb higher in the standing. As of now, they are low in the Big Sky’s rankings.

Northern Colorado University (Conference 0–5, Overall 5–12)

Strengths: Northern Colorado has an average offense that scores 70.9 points per game. They shoot decently from the field and their offense is good enough to win games.

Weaknesses: They have the worst defense in the Big Sky with a point differential of -8.8 points per game. The Bears have given up an average of 79.7 points per game to their opponents this season. With players like guard Daylen Kountz, this team has potential, but they won’t return to the conference championship game they reached last season playing defense the way they are now.

Last season, Montana State won the Big Sky conference championship to advance to the NCAA tournament. With a long season ahead, each team has a chance to take the crown.