February 17, 2011

Men's basketball looks to bust New Mexico State

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Northern Colorado notes | Big Sky Conference notes | New Mexico State notes | WAC notes | In-game blog

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Northern Colorado men's basketball (14-10, 10-3 Big Sky) will be looking for strength-of-schedule help at 6:35 p.m. Saturday night when it takes on New Mexico State (14-12, 8-4 WAC) in an ESPN BracketBusters game on Altitude.

The Bears are making their first appearance in what has become an annual event for ESPN, while the Aggies come in as veterans, with a 5-0 all-time mark in BracketBusters contests.

Northern Colorado finds itself in a loss-column tie with Montana in the Big Sky standings, and if both teams end that way at the end of the regular season the team with a higher RPI will earn the coveted right to host this year's Big Sky Conference Championship.

That's where Saturday night's game against the Aggies comes in. The Bears sit at 130 in the latest NCAA RPI report, while Montana comes in at 107. Northern Colorado could boost its RPI with a victory at the Pan American Center.

GAME DETAILS

  • Game 25: Northern Colorado (14-10; 10-3 Big Sky) vs. New Mexico State (14-12, 8-4 WAC)
  • When: 6:35 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19    
  • Where: Pan American Center (12,482)
  • Coaches: The Bears' B.J. Hill (14-10; 10-3 Big Sky) vs. the Aggies' Marvin Menzies (74-53; 39-19 WAC)
  • All-time series: UNC leads NMSU 2-1 in a series that started in the 1941-42 season. The teams last played in 1961-62 (NMSU, 58-45)
  • TV: Altitude 2    
  • Radio: KFKA-AM 1310    
  • Live stream: none    
  • Live stats: www.nmstatesports.com

The Bears' basics

  • Northern Colorado is ranked No. 130 in the latest NCAA RPI report, coming in only behind Big Sky team Montana (107). Weber State (138) and Northern Arizona (183) are the only other league teams in the top 200. Montana State comes in at 256.
  • The Bears ended last season ranked 124th in the NCAA's final RPI report, and that was their highest end-of-season rating since beginning play at the NCAA Divsion I level. Only Weber State (94) and Montana (101) finished higher in 2010 among Big Sky teams.
  • Northern Colorado is ranked fourth in the country in team free-throw percentage in 2010-11 and it also ranks in the national top 50 in three-point field-goal percentage (23), rebounding margin (24) and 3-pointers made per game (43).
  • Northern Colorado senior Devon Beitzel has made 23 consecutive free throws and enters Saturday's game as the nation's seventh-best free throw shooter at 91.6 percent on the year. Mississippi's Chris Warren (93.8) leads the country in free-throw shooting.
  • Beitzel is the Big Sky's best scorer through the Bears' 24 games this season (19.8). He entered the season having averaged no higher than 14.3 points per game in a season (last season).
  • Northern Colorado redshirt-sophomore Elliott Lloyd is the Big Sky's fifth-best three-point shooter through the Bears' 24 games, pouring in long balls at a 44.3 percent clip. Teammate Chris Kaba ranks eighth in the Big Sky (43.8) in the category.

Some bracket racket

  • Pairings for ESPN's ninth annual BracketBusters event were announced Monday night, Jan. 31, and Northern Colorado drew New Mexico State in a non-national TV matchup this Saturday night. The game will be broadcast in local markets on Aggie Vision and Altitude 2.
  • The Bears will travel to Las Cruces this weekend for a nonconference game against the Aggies and then host New Mexico State in Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion next season prior to Dec. 31 in a non-BracketBusters game.
  • The game will be Northern Colorado's third against New Mexico State (UNC leads 2-1) and its first against a WAC opponent since it defeated San Jose State 93-69 last year in Greeley. The Bears are 7-15 all-time against WAC teams.
  • The Aggies are 5-0 all-time in BracketBusters games, defeating Pacific (2010, 2006), Cal State Fullerton (2009), Long Beach State (2008) and Ohio (2007).

NC on the TV

  • In terms of wins and losses, the Bears turned in one of the best seasons of any team in the country last year, and they've been rewarded in their 2010-11 schedule with myriad television opportunities.
  • The Bears' game against Northern Arizona on Monday, Jan. 31, was the sixth of seven guaranteed TV games this year for Northern Colorado, which has the potential of having two or more games picked up by television outlets, depending how far the Bears advance in the postseason.
  • Those seven TV appearances tie the program record, set during the 2005 season, when the Bears were transitioning to NCAA Divsion 1.
  • Northern Colorado is 7-31 all-time in televised contests and 5-6 in its last 11 televised games.

Under 60 usually gets the job done. Usually.

  • When the Bears allowed just 55 points to Montana on Saturday, Feb. 12, and lost it was the first time in the last two season they surrendered fewer than 60 points and didn't get a victory.
  • Northern Colorado is now 16-1 over the last two seasons when allowing fewer than 60 points.
  • The last time the Bears lost when their opponent scored 60 or fewer points was in a 57-43 defeat to Portland State on Jan. 18, 2008.

Ticket punched

  • With their 85-72 victory against Portland State on Saturday, Feb. 5, Northern Colorado became the first Big Sky team this season to clinch a spot in this year's Big Sky Championship.
  • The Bears, who were first NCAA Division I postseason eligible in 2007, have now qualified for postseason play in three consecutive seasons (2009, 2010 and 2011).
  • Northern Colorado was the fifth seed in the 2009 championship but fell to Idaho State in a quarterfinal game in Pocatello, Idaho. The Bears were the second seed last year but lost to Montana in the semifinals in Ogden, Utah.

Postseason positioning

  • And while the Bears are securely in the 2011 Big Sky Championship field, Northern Colorado still has some work and finger crossing to do.
  • Northern Colorado's loss to Montana on Saturday, Feb. 12, put it in a position where it likely needs to win its remaining three regular-season Big Sky games and have either Portland State or Eastern Washington hand the Grizzlies a loss on UM's Pacific Northwest trip next weekend.
  • If Northern Colorado and Montana both win out, both teams would finish with 13-3 regular-season records, and the Bears would earn a share of this season's Big Sky Conference regular-season title -- although it would be a share of the title.
  • The Grizzlies would likely get to host the conference tournament, however, as the tie atop the standings would be broken by final regular-season RPI (the Big Sky's third tiebreaker), as both teams would have identical records against every Big Sky team.