Big Sky Notebook: Winning is the common denominator for league MVP award

2014-02-24T23:15:00Z 2014-02-25T18:09:04Z Big Sky Notebook: Winning is the common denominator for league MVP awardBy GREG RACHAC The Billings Gazette

How do you quantify “value” in college basketball? With stats? Clutch performances? The ability to make those around you better?

In the Big Sky Conference it’s usually a combination of those factors, plus one overriding consideration — winning. Eight of the league’s past 10 Most Valuable Players were from the regular-season champion, including Montana’s Kareem Jamar last year and Northern Colorado’s Devon Beitzel in 2011.

The two exceptions — Weber State’s Damian Lillard in 2012 and Eastern Washington’s Rodney Stuckey in 2006 — led their teams to top-three finishes … and then went on to prominence in the NBA.

Overwhelmingly, the Big Sky coaches bestow the MVP award upon the top player from the top team.

There’s still two weeks remaining in the regular season, but the contenders for this year’s award are fairly discernable. Following is a breakdown of the top candidates:

• Davion Berry, G, Weber State: Berry is the fourth-leading scorer in the Big Sky at 18.9 points per game. He also ranks in a tie for fifth in assists. When the Wildcats took command of the league by winning nine of 10 games between Dec. 28 and Jan. 30, Berry averaged 18.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

Though it lost two of three games last week, first-place Weber State is on the verge (15-9, 12-4) of clinching at least a share of the league title, and that would probably put Berry in the MVP driver’s seat.

• Mikh McKinney, G, Sacramento State: The Hornets are in the midst of their best conference season since joining the Big Sky in 1996, and McKinney is a major reason. He ranks sixth in scoring (16.4 ppg) and second in assists (4.3 apg) and is shooting better than 48 percent.

Sac State has won seven of its past eight conference games. In that span, McKinney averaged 22.5 points, six assists, and 5.5 rebounds. The Hornets are 9-7 in the league (13-12 overall) and in a tie for third place. They have a chance to finish with a Big Sky record above .500 for just the second time.

• Kareem Jamar, G, Montana: The Grizzlies (14-11, 9-7) aren’t winning at the same clip as the previous two seasons, though they’re still in striking distance in third place. And Jamar, the reigning MVP, is the Big Sky’s most complete player.

Jamar is tied for second in the league in scoring at 19.5 points per game, and also ranks among the best in the Big Sky in rebounding (5.6 rpg, ninth) and assists (4.1 apg, fourth). In fact, Jamar is the only player in the league that ranks in the top nine in those three statistical categories.

• Others: Eastern Washington guard Tyler Harvey and North Dakota guard Troy Huff are also in the conversation.

Harvey is the league’s top scorer at 21.8 points per game, which also ranks 11th in Division I. His 95 3-pointers lead the Big Sky, and are the seventh-most for a single season in league history. At 8-8 (13-14 overall) EWU is in a tie for fourth place.

Huff is tied with UM’s Jamar for second place on the league scoring list (19.5 ppg). He also averages 7.3 rebounds, which ranks fifth. His 2.4 steals per game lead the Big Sky and rank ninth nationally. UND is 9-7 (12-14 overall) and in a three-way tie for third.

Around the league

Sac State’s McKinney was named the Big Sky men’s player of the week on Monday. McKinney averaged 24 points, 7.5 rebounds and six assists as the Hornets picked up victories over North Dakota and Northern Colorado last week. … North Dakota’s Madi Buck and Weber State’s Kalie Matthews shared the women’s player of the week award. Matthews helped the Wildcats beat Idaho State last week, which was their first conference victory in 51 tries.

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