Weber State vs. Southern Utah 04

Weber State's Jerrick Harding (10) goes up to shoot the ball while guarded by Southern Utah's Dre Marin (4) in the first half of a men's NCAA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, at Dee Events Center in Ogden.

The Big Sky’s two top-rated teams, according to Ken Pomeroy and the NCAA Net Rating, are Northern Colorado and Southern Utah.

As it happens for the 2019-20 season, Weber State men’s basketball faces both on the same road trip.

First, the Wildcats (7-13, 3-6 Big Sky) finish the first half of their Big Sky schedule by visiting the Thunderbirds (118 KenPom, 128 NET) Thursday in Cedar City, then go to Greeley, Colorado, to face the Bears (103 KenPom, 111 NET) on Saturday.

Here’s a look at those matchups.

SOUTHERN UTAH

Southern Utah University logo

While the Thunderbirds are 5-3 in conference play, one loss came in overtime at Eastern Washington, another was by three to Northern Arizona, and the third was a two-point home loss to Montana without the services of athletic big man Dwayne Morgan.

Morgan returns for his second season with SUU after being granted a sixth year of eligibility on a medical hardship that forced him to miss last season. The former five-star recruit who began his career at UNLV scores 11.1 points per game and, at 6-foot-8, is part of a lineup that features hard-to-penetrate defensive length and athleticism.

Morgan, Andre Adams and Cam Oluyitan, all seniors, help the T-Birds to the best defensive marks in the Big Sky, even surpassing Sacramento State’s grinder by doing everything but forcing turnovers well: holding teams to low shooting marks inside and out, blocking shots, and limiting offensive rebounds and 3-point attempts.

Offensively, Oluyitan scores 13.8 points per game, followed closely by John Knight III, the Utah State transfer, who averages 13.1. Knight’s speed is the catalyst for SUU’s slashing, attacking style that values paint penetration and shots inside.

WSU leads the overall series 32-10, including a 10-4 mark since SUU joined the Big Sky in 2012. The T-Birds ended a six-game skid in the series by taking both matchups last season.

NORTHERN COLORADO

Northern Colorado Bears logo

While Northern Colorado rates as the Big Sky’s best team, WSU has a 65-64 loss to draw from only three weeks ago as it travels to Greeley. Weber led by three with 1:30 left and Jerrick Harding gave his team a one-point lead with 13 seconds left before Kai Edwards scored at the rim with 4 seconds remaining to open the escape hatch for the Bears.

That was UNCo’s only “close” game (per Ken Pomeroy’s parameters, decided by less than four points or in overtime) this season until the Bears fell 89-84 Monday at Eastern Washington.

With the 20-game schedule peppering in Monday games, every team in the Big Sky plays one stretch of four games in eight days. So perhaps it favors WSU that Saturday is the final game of Northern Colorado’s four-in-eight run.

But the Bears are still just as formidable in all the same ways: offensively efficient by shooting well and not turning the ball over (top 10 nationally in lowest offensive turnover percentage), and by creating isolation plays and limiting 3s defensively (first nationally in defensive 3-point shooting rate and assist-to-field-goal ratio).

Senior Jonah Radebaugh leads UNCo with 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. Matt Johnson shoots 50% from the 3-point line and Bodie Hume, Trent Harris and Sam Masten are all deep threats.

WSU is 20-8 all-time against UNCo, all since the Bears joined the Big Sky in 2006, with a 7-6 mark in Greeley. Weber had won three straight in Greeley before last season’s 85-61 beatdown.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3/@WeberHQ and at facebook.com/WeberStateSports.

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