OGDEN — After three games in the Big Sky’s opening two weeks, Weber State men’s basketball embarks on a once rare home-road pair of games this week, a nuance of the 20-game conference schedule.
Weber State hosts sharpshooting Northern Colorado on Thursday before traveling to defensive juggernaut Sacramento State on Saturday.
Northern Colorado comes to Ogden with a 2-1 conference mark and is the Big Sky’s highest-rated team by both Ken Pomeroy (119) and the NCAA’s NET rating (105). The Bears took an opening loss at Portland State (69-65) before defeating both Montana State (68-59) and Montana (74-66) at home.
The Bears shoot at a top-100 rate on both 2- and 3-pointers, and don’t often turn the ball over, which makes them a potent offensive team.
“They want to space the floor with shooters and they’ve got good ones,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said.
Bodie Hume (38.5%) and Matt Johnson (46.6%) are the 3-point marksmen in the starting lineup, and Trent Harris comes off the bench at a 38.1% clip. Hume and Harris each knock down three 3s per contest.
While Northern Colorado is good offensively, it doesn’t usually play fast. But two combined stats illustrate how Rahe said the Bears “want to space the floor” — the team is bottom-30 in average length of offensive possessions but top-30 in the percentage of field goal attempts that are 3-pointers (45.4%). That means the Bears work relentlessly for good looks from behind the arc.
UNCo appears poised to vie for the Big Sky title despite losing last year’s league MVP, Jordan Davis, to graduation. That’s largely because senior Jonah Radebaugh has added scoring (16 points per game, up from 9.5 last season) to his all-around game (he’s a two-time Big Sky defensive player of the year).
“Radebaugh’s kind of picked up what Davis was doing, the ball’s in his hands, he’s a fifth-year senior,” Rahe said. “So they’re still experienced, they’ve been able to keep it going. Jeff (Linder) does a really good job coaching them. They know their roles very well, they’re a solid team in every area.”
The Bears are no slouches defensively, holding the nation’s No. 1 marks in limiting opponents’ 3-point attempts and in limiting assists, while also limiting opponents’ free-throw attempts at a top-50 rate. That indicates UNCo forces plenty of isolation plays for 2-point attempts.
Weber State is 13-0 all-time at home against Northern Colorado and split last year’s pair with the Bears. Pomeroy tabs the visitors with a six-point advantage and a 71% win probability.
After hosting Northern Colorado, Weber State travels to Sacramento State’s gym on Saturday. It’s called the Hornets Nest but, drawing inspiration from the Mike Conley-Tony Allen-Zach Randolph era Memphis Grizzlies, might more appropriately be called the Grind House.
That’s because the Hornets make it hard to score in nearly every way imaginable.
The Hornets are 1-2 to start conference play, losing big to Montana State before falling 52-50 to Montana, then pummeling Idaho State 68-49.
By field goal percentage defense, Sacramento State ranks 18th nationally in defending the 3 (27.9%) and 22nd nationally in defending the 2 (42.8%) while also limiting opponents to a 3-point rate of 26.5% of their attempted field goals, fifth fewest nationally.
The Hornets can’t shoot from deep worth a lick and don’t really care to. But they work every possession for the best possible shot, averaging the 15th longest average possession length in college basketball. They’re also experienced, clocking in as the country’s 38th most experienced team.
“There’s nothing fancy about that team but they know who they are, they’re going to guard you, they’re physically going to bully you, and they’re going to run their offense until they get the shot they want,” Rahe said. “They really understand their roles and teams with that kind of experience do that, you can see it on film, they know who they are.”
Exactly one of 12 opponents has reached 70 points against Sacramento State. The Hornets have held seven of their 10 Division-I opponents to below 60 points (an eighth, Santa Clara, scored exactly 60).
“They can impose their will, and that’s what they’re doing this year,” Rahe said.
Big man Joshua Patton is a force inside, leading Sac State in scoring at 13.7 points per game in only 27 minutes, shooting 58% while adding 2.2 blocks per contest defensively.
Weber State is 18-6 all-time at Sacramento State, splitting last year’s pair of games with a 78-76 road loss. Pomeroy’s numbers have Sac State winning by nine at a 79% probability.