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George Pfeifer understands what the numbers say.

The numbers tell him and everybody else, that once again, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference will be a very difficult place to play this season.

The top six men's teams are a combined 46-16 as league play begins this week. "That's pretty good," said the Montana State Billings men's basketball coach. "And the teams behind them are pretty good too."

During non-conference play, Alaska Anchorage defeated Division I Louisiana Tech, while Saint Martin's topped Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo.

CSU pummeled the University of Montana, 85-55, on the same basketball court. The Saints are ranked No. 15 in the latest NCAA Division II poll.

Making comparisons

"You can make too much out of scores," said Pfeifer, sitting at his desk Monday, sifting through scattered papers as he planned practice, recruiting trips and put together game plans. "A lot of it has to do with matchups and things like that.

"But if you're speculating, like you do for the stock market, then you certainly have to take in that information."

He paused, and threw out his own comparative numbers.

"Seattle Pacific beat Mary by 40 (actually 39)," he offered. "And we split with Mary. Take it for what it's worth.

"For us, we certainly have to take care of our own business."

MSUB begins GNAC action with games at Western Washington and SPU this week, places where the home team rarely loses.

"I've been in the conference before, so there is some familiarity," said Pfeifer. "Brad (Jackson) has been at Western Washington forever. I was watching film and it was like 1995, a time warp. It was different players, different situations, but same schemes."

The Yellowjackets do ride a modest two-game win streak into the state of Washington, including a confidence-building win over Chadron State.

"I thought our last three games, we were scrappy," Pfeifer said. "We've continued to do a good job of sharing the basketball. We're running our offense better and we're getting better on defense."

And Pfeifer has some numbers he would like to see.

"We haven't had a night where (Michael) Hall and (Travis) Bunker have big scoring nights in the same game," said Pfeifer. "I'd like to see that … real soon."

Sense of urgency

The GNAC women's basketball teams have been even more impressive in the pre-conference than their male counterparts.

The top six teams are a combined 51-15, with both Alaska Anchorage (No. 3) and Seattle Pacific (No. 17) ranked among the top 25 nationally.

"I think the league is very good, very deep," said Kevin Woodin, the MSU women's head coach.

"The league has more depth than last year. I think it's better than last year.

"You have to give every game your full attention."

The Yellowjackets have an opportunity for a fast start, opening GNAC play with four straight home games, including a big test against Seattle Pacific on Saturday at Alterowitz Gymnasium.

MSUB has won five of its last six, including four wins away from Billings.

"I like to think we have a sense of urgency," Woodin said. "Last year, we had no seniors and this season, we have great senior leadership. They are doing a good job of setting the tone in practices and in games."

In its long, successful history, the Yellowjackets are a staggering 100-0 when scoring 80 points or more. MSUB has scored 91 points or more in four games this season and is averaging just under 80 points a game.

With a faster-paced offense and unselfish attitude, the Yellowjackets are handing out almost 20 assist a game. They rank seventh nationally for assists per game.

"I like our versatility," said Woodin. "Last year, when we subbed, it would sometimes change what we did on the court. We have more players who can play different positions. The parts are more interchangeable."

And while the points are nice, Woodin understand what wins in the GNAC.

"I think we need to continue to get better defensively," he said. "We're way ahead where we were last year in terms of defense and rebounding. Those were two areas we focused on coming into the season."

Contact Joe Kusek at jkusek@billingsgazette.com or 657-1393

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