Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
OUTLOOK: The Big Sky was a two-team race last season, with Montana and Weber
State running neck-and-neck to the end. When the smoke cleared it was the
Grizzlies earning the conference title with a 25-7 overall record and a near
flawless 15-1 league ledger. The Wildcats matched Montana's impressive 25
victories, but came up just short in-conference at 14-2.
It looks like more of the same in 2012-13, as both Montana and Weber State are
viewed as the teams to beat.
North Dakota looks ready to compete in its first season in the Big Sky, after
placing second in the Great West a year ago, highlighted by an overtime win
against Big Sky champion Montana.
Other teams that will jockey for position behind Montana and Weber State are
Eastern Washington, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State, Montana State and
Portland State. Four of the five teams posted double-digit wins last year,
although it was only the Pilots who finished with a winning record.
Bringing up the rear in the conference are Southern Utah, Idaho State and
Northern Arizona, all of which will be led by new head coaches.
The Thunderbirds are the other new team to the conference after going 14-17
overall and 8-10 in the Summit League in 2011-12. The Bengals posted just nine
wins a year ago in a tumultuous campaign that saw their head coach resign
midseason, while the Lumberjacks struggled to a conference worst five total
The new-look Big Sky in 2012-13 will see seven teams compete in the conference
tournament. All tournament games will be played at the site of the regular-
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Montana
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Montana, 2. Weber State, 3. North Dakota, 4.
Eastern Washington, 5. Northern Colorado, 6. Sacramento State, 7. Montana
State, 8. Portland State, 9. Southern Utah, 10. Idaho State, 11. Northern
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
MONTANA - The Grizzlies won a conference-best 25 games and almost ran the
table in the Big Sky, winning the conference crown with a 15-1 record. Wayne
Tinkle's squad certainly has a good chance of repeating, thanks in large part
to the return of two of the conference's best players in senior guard Will
Cherry (15.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.3 apg) and junior guard Kareem Jamar (13.6 ppg,
5.6 rpg, 3.9 apg). Cherry, a two-time All-Big Sky First-Team honoree, was
named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12. However, he is
currently sidelined with a foot injury and may not play until December. Jamar
was also a All-Big Sky First-Team member last year and certainly has the
talent to pick up the slack in Cherry's absence. He will get help from senior
forward Mathias Ward (10.9 ppg). Adding to the team's overall potency is juco
transfer Spencer Coleman (6-6 forward), who was an All-American last season
with averages of 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
WEBER STATE - The poster child for consistency, Weber State has won 10 or more
league games in six straight seasons, including 14 Big Sky wins a year ago.
Despite the loss of the Big Sky Player of the Year and All-American Damian
Lillard (24.5 ppg), who was the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Randy
Rahe's Wildcats are once again one of the favorites to win the league crown.
The team loses three starters from last year's team overall, but the two
remaining are certainly a nice nucleus to work with. Senior guard Scott
Bamforth (14.5 ppg) and junior center Kyle Tresnak (10.0 ppg) both earned all-
conference honors a year ago. There is a nice mix with seven returners and
nine newcomers on the roster. Key reserves include junior forward Byron Fulton
(7.2 ppg) and sophomore guard Gelaun Wheelwright (5.6 ppg), while Weber
State's wildcard could be junior swingman Davion Berry, who sat out last
season as a transfer, after being tabbed a Division II All-American as a
sophomore at Cal State Monterrey Bay.
NORTH DAKOTA - North Dakota took second place in the Great West a year ago,
but once again turned it up when it counted the most, winning its second
straight conference tournament. Any thoughts about not being able to compete
in the new league were dismissed with last year's 88-81 overtime win against
Montana. Brian Jones' team won 17 games a year ago and that number is
certainly a realistic goal this time around. Jones returns four starters,
which accounted for over 60 percent of the team's offense, led by junior
swingman Troy Huff (13.1 ppg). Junior guard Aaron Anderson (11.0 ppg) also
posted double figures, while fellow juniors Jamal Webb (9.5 ppg) and Brandon
Brekke (9.2 ppg) finished just under that mark. Newcomers of note include
Texas Tech transfer Jaron Nash (6-8 forward) and juco transfer Alonzo Traylor
EASTERN WASHINGTON - Jim Hayford's first season with Eastern Washington was
certainly a step in the right direction, as the team went 15-17 overall (five
wins better than the year before), 8-8 in-conference, and won its first Big
Sky Conference Tournament game since 2006. Making it two straight successful
runs in the postseason is the ultimate goal, but Hayford certainly has some
obstacles to get past to deliver on that. Last year's squad was a veteran
bunch, but four seniors have moved on. The team boasts of two returning
starters, three players who redshirted a year ago and six newcomers. Senior
forward Collin Chiverton (13.9 ppg) is the go-to-guy this season after earning
Big Sky Newcomer of the Year a year ago. Senior guard Jeffrey Forbes (6.9 ppg)
anchors the play in the backcourt. The hope is that Saint Joseph's transfer
Justin Crosgile (5-11 guard) and Oregon transfer Martin Seiferth (6-10
forward) can add quality depth both up front and in the backcourt.
NORTHERN COLORADO - The Bears took a step back in 2011-12, posting a
disappointing, although not completely surprising 9-19 overall record,
including a meager seventh place finish in the Big Sky, after representing the
league in the NCAA Tournament the year prior. Heading into the new campaign,
there is a great deal of optimism in Greeley, as Northern Colorado returns its
top three scorers from a team that led the nation in three-point accuracy last
season (.444). The perimeter game will once again be a strength for B.J.
Hill's squad, spearheaded by junior Tate Unruh (11.3 ppg) and sophomore Tevin
Scihovec. Throw juniors Paul Garnica (9.3 ppg) and Emmanuel Addo (9.6 ppg)
into the mix and there is plenty of scoring depth. Unruh shot a scorching .462
from behind the arc last year and trailed only Garnica (.485) in that
category. Adding to the firepower is a bona fide frontcourt presence in juco
transfer Derrick Barden, who earned All-American honors after averaging 19.6
points and 11.9 rebounds per game in 2011-12.
SACRAMENTO STATE - The Hornets went a modest 10-18 overall and 5-11 in Big Sky
play, but Brian Katz has Sacramento State heading in the right direction, as
last year marked the first time the team finished with double-digit wins since
the 2006-07 campaign. It was really a tale of two halves for the Hornets, who
started the league slate 0-8, but finished 5-3. With the top five scorers
back, another step in the right direction is certainly attainable. Of those
five, three were double-digit performers in forward Josh Dickson (12.4 ppg),
swingman Joe Eberhard (11.1 ppg) and guard Jackson Carbajal (11.1 ppg). Center
Konner Veteto (9.0 ppg) and point guard Dylan Garrity (8.1 ppg) weren't far
behind. Newcomers of note that could vie for minutes include freshman Cody
Demps (6-4 guard) and sophomore Mikh McKinney (6-1 guard).
MONTANA STATE - The team that takes the floor in early November for Brad Huse
certainly isn't the one he expected, as center Mohammed Fall (7.0 ppg, 5.4
rpg) lost his senior year (eligibility) and Shawn Reid (10.6 ppg) transferred
out. Both were to be key pieces to the puzzle for Montana State, following a
season in which the Bobcats went 12-17, including a 7-9 mark in the Big Sky.
All is not lost however, as the team does have a nice nucleus returning with
three quality starters in guards Xavier Blount (11.7 ppg) and Christian Moon
(10.4 ppg) and forward Tre Johnson (9.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Jamie Stewart (9.1 ppg)
showed great promise in 12 games before losing eligibility a year ago, but he
is back in the fold and should add scoring punch to the backcourt. A great
deal is expected of juco transfer Antonio Biglow as well. The 6-0 junior was
named the Southern California Junior College Player of the Year after
averaging 22.4 ppg in 2011.
PORTLAND STATE - The Vikings went 17-15 last season and finished third in the
Big Sky at 10-6. Matching those numbers would be a huge surprise for a team
that returns just two starters and loses a pair of All-Big Sky First-Teamers
in Charles Odum (19.1 ppg) and Chehales Tapscott (14.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg). Fourth-
year head coach Tyler Geving will certainly have his work cut out for him in
2012-13. The backcourt this year is well-stocked with Lateef McMullan (9.4
ppg), Michael Harthun (8.6 ppg) and Gary Winston (6.5 ppg) all poised to
contribute on a daily basis, while forward Renado Parker (9.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
looks like the top playmaker up front. The hope for Geving is that some of the
new blood on the team can fit in and contribute right away, including a couple
of big bodies in Lamont Prosser (6-8, 275) and Aaron Moore (6-8, 215). Juco
transfer Marcus Hall (6-4 guard) should help in terms of scoring, while
Washington State transfer Dre Winston (6-1 guard) is a defensive specialist.
SOUTHERN UTAH - The Thunderbirds, who closed out their stay in the Summit
League with a 14-17 overall mark and an 8-10 league ledger, begin their new
life in the Big Sky with a new coach at the helm, as Nick Robinson takes over
for the retired Roger Reid. Robinson has been left with some talent to work
with in returning senior starters Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir.
Stevenett, a 6-4 forward was a Second-Team All-Summit League honoree last
season, pacing Southern Utah in both scoring (14.1 ppg) and rebounding (5.7
rpg). Heuir has the ability to help in a number of areas after averaging 10.8
points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 2011-12. There isn't a whole lot
returning in terms of significant contributors outside of Stevenett and Heuir,
so the team will need some newcomers to make immediate impacts. Those likely
to do so include 6-6 freshman guard A.J. Hess, who was the Arizona Small
Schools Player of the Year (19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.8 bpg), 6-11 juco transfer
Jayson Cheesman and 6-0 freshman Drake Thomas (5.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), the team's
point guard of the future.
IDAHO STATE - Longtime Southern Utah head coach and recent Montana assistant
Bill Evans takes over in Pocatello as the new head coach for Idaho State. The
Bengals won just nine games last season, but seven of them came in-conference.
Idaho State used its fifth-place finish in the conference to get into the Big
Sky Tournament for the first time in three years. While the team does return
two starters from that squad in Melvin Morgan (12.2 ppg) and Andre Hatchett
(7.4 ppg), Evans is going to put his stamp on this team, one that will be more
defensive-minded. There is some depth at the point, as Morgan is going to
share time with juco transfer Tomas Sanchez (6-3, 185). Joining Hatchett out
on the wing is another solid juco transfer in Nnamdi Ezenwa (6-6, 204). The
frontcourt is a mystery heading into the season, but optimism is high on
players like Jakub Kusmieruk (7-4, 265), Neveij Walters (6-6, 240), Dejan
Kostur (6-8, 215) and Avibakuro Preh (6-9, 220).
NORTHERN ARIZONA - Following a miserable 5-24 record that saw the Lumberjacks
post only a single Big Sky victory, Northern Arizona heads in a different
direction under first-year head coach Jack Murphy. An assistant at Memphis
the last three seasons, Murphy may find his foray into Big Sky action a bit
rough, especially since last year's Big Sky Freshman of the Year James Douglas
(12.2 ppg) has transferred. The Lumberjacks do have some talent to work with,
including senior guards Gabe Rogers (10.2 ppg), Stallon Saldivar (6.7 pg, 4.9
apg) and Michael Dunn (6.8 ppg). There is no proven performer up front. Juco
transfer Len Springs (6-10, 220) may be called on to man the low post, but his
defensive game is much better than his offensive game at this time.
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