College basketball is weird right now. Really weird.
The obvious being that games are being cancelled left and right.
OK for actual basketball reasons now. The Big Sky (gasp another Big Sky related story on Mid-Major Madness in just a few days) got weird in the first week of conference play. Like, weird enough to warrant my DMs to be a firestorm of amazing and way-too-early conference reactions.
Let’s take a peep into the Big Sky, shall we?
Montana 0-2 to start conference play
You see that record? That isn’t normal. Montana, coached by Travis DeCuire, has been one of the most consistent contenders in the Big Sky along with Eastern Washington. Montana was picked second by the coaches and the media in the preseason polls, so yeah most expected Montana to be good again.
Now, an 0-2 start doesn’t mean the Griz are bad or are doomed. Not at all.
But oh boy does it make for some fun discourse.
Montana was swept by Southern Utah in the new double-road (or double-home depending which side you look at it from) format the Big Sky is using. The first win on Thursday by the Thunderbirds was the team’s first home win over Montana since — checks SUU press release — 1999! Then, 48 hours later, the Thunderbirds went out and did it again.
Both games were decided in eerily similar ways. Southern Utah beat Montana by a combined two points — Thursday was 64-63 and Saturday 75-74. Beyond the minuscule point differential, both games were decided at the free-throw line.
On Thursday, the Thunderbirds’ insanely athletic point guard John Knight III hit one of two free throws late to seal it with around a second left and then on Saturday Nick Flemming broke a tie and won the game for the Birds.
Neither game was particularly good, but in both, it was exciting to see Southern Utah realize it is more athletic than Montana. Montana will probably figure it out, but the undisciplined type of games the Griz played was concerning.
Now, if Southern Utah can just learn to shoot free throws consistently (the Birds went a less-than-good 39-66 from the line, including a 26-40 showing Thursday) then there could be some new blood at the top of the Big Sky.
Due for an upset
This will spill over into the start of the entire season so bear with me for a second.
Anyone who pays attention to west-coast basketball can tell you the Pac-12 hasn’t lived up to its “Conference of Champions” moniker. And oh boy, oh man did Eastern Washington almost add to the hilarity.
The Eagles nearly upset in-state foe Washington State on Thanksgiving weekend only for a flop and some iffy calls by the officials to help the Cougars win by a small margin. Then, against a likely better team in the Arizona Wildcats, the Eagles almost did it again.
Saturday in Tucson, the Eagles led for most of the game after a blistering start only to fall to Arizona by three. The Eagles get a third and maybe final shot to upset a Pac-12 team when they face Oregon on Monday.
Idaho is winless
OK back to some normalcy, I guess.
Idaho was picked to finish last in both preseason polls after it finished last in 2019-20. Now, was there room for improvement with a coach who got his interim tag turned into a long-term deal? Sure. But the Vandals did lose all-conference guard Trevon Allen and he led a team that won just eight games last year.
Also, for some reason, according to Idaho fans in my DMs on Twitter, Idaho actually draws up plays for 17-19 footers. Yes, one of the worst shots statistically in basketball is a shot that Idaho supposedly hunts. Sure.
So the Vandals getting smoked by Sacramento State by 22 points and then a slightly more respectable 16 felt right to me in what was a wacky, weird and wild start to Big Sky play.