Likely nearing the end of their third straight disappointing season, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks will face the Northern Colorado Bears Tuesday in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament in Reno, Nevada.
Entering as the Big Sky’s No. 12 seed thanks to a 2-16 conference record included in their 5-26 regular season, a school record for losses, the Lumberjacks will need to upset the No. 5-seeded Bears (20-11, 11-7) to extend their season.
A 95-60 loss in the lone meeting between the teams stands as one of Northern Arizona’s worst in the Big Sky this season, with a 40-point loss at Weber State the only larger margin for the Lumberjacks.
The Bears hit 73.3 percent from the field in the game, as the Lumberjacks’ offense could not keep pace with a 43.2 percent day from the field. Northern Arizona’s offense proved to be a struggle again in the 2017-18 season, as it finished the regular season 338th of 351 Division I schools in adjusted offensive efficiency according to Kenpom.com.
Sitting at 94.5, it fell well below the national average of 105.6 and easily behind Sacramento State’s 100.7 that finished 11th in the Big Sky. The difference of 6.2 between the Lumberjacks and the Hornets surpassed that of the Hornets and the Bears, who finished sixth at 106.7.
Adjusted offensive efficiency, which measures points scored per 100 possessions, has constantly been a struggle for the Lumberjacks in recent years. Finishing 326th nationally in 2016-17 and 334th in 2015-16, Northern Arizona hasn’t avoided last place in the Big Sky’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating since its record-breaking 2014-15 season.
The Lumberjacks finished seventh with a 102.2 rating as they broke the school record for wins (23) in a season thanks to a run in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. However, the win total that season accounts for 33.8 percent of head coach Jack Murphy’s 68 career victories with the Lumberjacks. After compiling a 49-53 record with a 34-28 Big Sky run including the conference tournament during the first three years, the past three have seen a steep drop off -- 19-74 overall and 11-45 in the Big Sky.
The 2014-15 season also included Northern Arizona’s lone Big Sky tournament win under Murphy, a 63-57 victory against Northern Colorado in order to reach the semifinals. Otherwise, Northern Arizona’s five tournament losses have come by an average margin of 13 points, though two have come by two points.
Since expanding to include all schools in the conference tournament, the Big Sky has had two double-digit seeds pull off a first-round upset. No. 10 seed Sacramento State beat No. 7 seed Montana State in 2016, with No. 11 Southern Utah pulling off an upset in triple overtime against No. 6 seed Montana State in 2017.
With a victory, Northern Arizona would face No. 4-seeded Weber State as the Big Sky does not reseed its bracket. The Wildcats outscored the Lumberjacks 182-110 in two games this season and have won the last five meetings over the past three years. Another loss for Northern Arizona will tie the Big Sky Conference record for losses in a season.