A Brief Preview
Having clinched a Big Sky Tournament berth for the fourth-consecutive season, the Sacramento State men''s basketball squad (14-13, 5-8) will play its final regular season game of the season on Monday, Feb. 27, at Montana State. Tipoff is set for 6:05 p.m. PST.
The Hornets are currently in fifth place in the Big Sky standings, a game behind Montana State (14-14, 6-7). No matter what the outcome of Monday''s game, Montana State and Sacramento State will be playing each other in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament on Saturday, March 4. If the season ended today, Montana State would host the Hornets in Bozeman on Saturday by virtue of having the No. 4 seed while the Hornets are the No. 5 seed.
However, Sacramento State would earn the right to host Saturday''s playoff game if it knocked off Montana State AND Idaho State loses to Eastern Washington on Monday. Should Idaho State win on Monday, next Saturday''s game between the Hornets and Bobcats would be played in Bozeman no matter the outcome on Monday between the two teams.
Because Sacramento State and Montana State each posted the same season records against the top three teams in the conference (Northern Arizona, Montana and Eastern Washington), the next tiebreaker should the two teams finish with the same Big Sky record would come down to record against the sixth-place team. If Idaho State loses on Monday, Portland State would get the No. 6 seed and the Hornets were 2-0 against the Vikings while Montana State was 1-1. Should Idaho State get the No. 6 seed, MSU would have the tiebreaker by virtue of its 2-0 record against ISU while the Hornets were 1-1 against the Bengals.
All of this confusing tiebreaker stuff will not even come into play if Montana State defeats Sacramento State on Monday. With a Bobcat win, no matter what happens in the other games, MSU would host the Hornets on Saturday.
Like every game this season, Monday''s contest can be heard live on KTKZ 1380 AM and 105.5 FM as well as www.hornetsports.com. Steve McElroy, who is currently in his ninth season as voice of the Hornets, will handle the play-by-play.
Both Montana State and Sacramento State have fallen on hard times of late. Including Monday''s 92-72 home loss to Northern Arizona on Saturday (the largest margin of defeat at home during Jerome Jenkins'' tenure as head coach), Sacramento State has now lost eight of its last nine games after beginning the conference season 4-0. However, of those eight losses, six have come by six points or less and the Hornets have had an opportunity to tie or win with the last possession in five of those losses, but failed to score each time. That included a 78-75 home loss to Montana State on Jan. 19 when the Hornets missed a pair of three-point attempts in the waning seconds of the game.
Montana State has lost five of its last six games, including an 87-53 defeat at Eastern Washington on Saturday. The only win during the last six games was a Bracket Buster home victory over Idaho. The Bobcats'' losing streak against Big Sky teams is currently at five straight and each of those losses came by at least nine points. However, four of those five losses came on the road where MSU is 3-8 this year. At home, the Bobcats are 11-3 overall and 4-2 against Big Sky opposition.
Regardless of Monday''s schedule that features three Big Sky games, Northern Arizona has clinched the regular-season championship and will host the semifinal and championship rounds on March 7-8. Montana has secured the No. 2 seed and will receive a first-round bye in the tournament along with NAU. Eastern Washington is the No. 3 seed and will host either Portland State or Idaho State in the first round on March 4. The bottom two teams in the Big Sky do not advance to the tournament as Weber State has already been eliminated.
Entering Monday''s game in Bozeman, Sacramento State has enjoyed more success away from home this season (7-8) than any other year during the team''s Div. I era (1991-pres.). The Hornets are 3-3 against Big Sky competition on the road, including victories over Weber State, Idaho State and Portland State. In fact, the three Big Sky road wins are already the most that Sacramento State has achieved since joining the Big Sky in 1996-97.
Despite its recent struggles, Sacramento State is still assured of finishing with a regular-season winning percentage of at least .500 for the first time since the 1988-89 season. In addition, the Hornets'' 14 victories are the most in the Div. I era (1991-pres.) and the most since 1989-90.
What makes the Hornets'' struggles even more baffling is the team was 4-1 without the services of senior swingman Jason Harris, who missed the first five Big Sky games because of academic ineligibility. Harris is currently averaging 14.0 points per game and was selected as the Big Sky preseason player of the year by five different publications. However, since his return to the lineup, Sacramento State is 1-7 and Harris has scored in double figures four times during that stretch.
Montana State, which was picked to finish first in both the Big Sky preseason and coaches polls, has three players averaging double figures. Those three are all seniors, comprised of guard Ja''Ron Jefferson (14.6 ppg), forward Marvin Moss (11.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and center Al Beye (11.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
Montana State is averaging a Big Sky-best 8.15 three-pointers per game as six different players have buried at least eight three pointers this season against conference competition. In fact, more than 30 percent of the team''s field goals during league play have been from beyond the arc.