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NAU Hoops: Jacking Up Opponents

By Max of Doc's Sports Predictions

In college hoops, there are over 300 teams that play Division I basketball. And, unlike football, all of the teams have a chance to play for the National Championship in April. But like football, most of the national attention is given to the Big Six conferences. The attention is deserved; it's been since that incredible 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels team that someone from a non-BCS conference won the national title.

The lines are much sharper in those Big Six conference games because of the vast amounts of information the public has when it comes to those teams. Believe me, it's tough to make a living beating the books by only playing major conference college basketball games. And by the time April rolls around you'll likely be looking at a short stack.

However, there is a lot of money to be made by playing the mid-major conferences, especially some of the more obscure ones. If you dig deep and do your homework you can actually gain a sizeable advantage over square bettors by becoming an expert in some of the lesser-known leagues. In this article, we're going to try to shed some light on an area of the college basketball landscape that not too many common bettors wander: the Big Sky Conference. And in particular we're going to break down one team from the Big Sky that's been filling up scoreboards and stat sheets, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.

This team from Flagstaff, Arizona is one of my favorite teams to play on as a handicapper with Doc's Sports. In their 15 games this season they've scored over 90 points five times and have cracked the century mark on three occasions. The Lumberjacks played a brutal non-conference schedule that included games against Kansas, Arizona, Arizona State and UNLV. They actually went into Tempe and beat their in-state rivals, the Sun Devils, on Nov. 13, 75-71. Also, they are nearly unstoppable at The SkyDome, the same building where the NAU football team plays and where the Arizona Cardinals host their training camp. The Lumberjacks have been beaten just once at SkyDome, losing to Weber State in a game that NAU actually led at halftime.

In contrast to their difficult nonconference slate, the Lumberjacks have actually been very fortunate with their Big Sky schedule. Their first four league games were at home and here at Doc's we've been able to cash in with the Jacks in three of those four contests. We've been partial to them in part because of the fact that their offense scores at such a high rate that they're able to cover some monster numbers. They play a lot of guys - eight players average 15 minutes per game - and they love to get up and down the court.

Balance is the key for this squad, with Ruben Boykin leading the team in points with just over 16 per game. The 6-feet-7 forward does much of his damage inside and is the model of consistency, scoring in double figures twelve straight times. Tyrone Bazy, a senior guard from Texas that likes to beat his opponents off the dribble, is the main man on the perimeter. He has really come on of late, scoring 57 combined points in his last two conference games, and single handily earned us the victory against Eastern Washington last Saturday by shooting 71 percent from the field and 92 percent from the charity stripe. The balance of this team continues with four players averaging around double figures. All of this has allowed the Lumberjacks to be electric on offense, averaging over 81 points per game. And that number includes the Kansas game in which the Jacks managed just 57 points.

With such an outstanding team on offense, it may seem to some that this team would never lose, but that is not the case as they currently sit at 8-7 on the season. The tradeoff for scoring so many points is that their defense suffers. They lead the conference in turnovers, averaging over 19 per game. This is an astonishing number, considering they average just 18 assists per game. They play a gambling style of defense and already have over 100 steals on the young season. However, when they miss their opportunity it leads to easy baskets for the opposition. A perfect example of this style is their game against Eastern Washington. NAU shot 60 percent from the field - including a remarkable 73 percent from behind the arc - but only won the game by 8 points, 109-101.

Northern Arizona is one of my favorite teams to watch and you can expect to see their games as selections for the remainder of the year. This is a team you want to play at the SkyDome and play against when they are on the road. I would never play the under with them, regardless of how high the total is. Hopefully, we can continue to hit 75 percent on them!

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