ORU v Weber St

Big Sky conference tournament preview

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Entering the season Montana and Weber State were expected to be the class of the Big Sky and that’s how the race played out, with Weber State’s loss at Montana State proving to be the difference in the race for the regular season crown. As a result it’s Montana who hosts the tournament and receives a bye to the semifinals, but with leading scorer Mathias Ward (foot) done for the year and Will Cherry banged up as well the Grizzlies have health issues to contend with. Weber State is the Big Sky’s deepest team and that could serve them well this weekend. Will the two Big Sky titans once again meet with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line? That certainly seems to be the case.

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The Bracket

Where: Missoula, Montana (Dahlberg Arena)

When: March 14th – March 16th

Final: March 16th, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Favorite: Weber State 

Even though Randy Rahe’s team won’t have home-court advantage they’re the favorite here due to their depth. Seven players play between 22 and 32 minutes per game with guards Davion Berry and Scott Bamforth leading the way, and the Wildcats have quality options inside such as veterans Kyle Tresnak and Frank Otis and freshman Joel Bolomboy.

Bolomboy and guard Gelaun Wheelwright are two of the best reserves in the Big Sky, and Weber State led the conference in many of the major statistical categories both offensively and defensively. A road game in the final against Montana will be difficult but they lost by just two points back on January 26 (76-74). Weber State’s more than capable of turning that result around, especially with Ward injured.

And if they lose?: Montana 

What needs to be pointed out about Wayne Tinkle’s team is that even with the injuries the Grizzlies still won the regular season title outright. A big reason why: junior wing Kareem Jamar, who was named Big Sky MVP. Jamar’s versatility makes him a matchup problem for just about any opponent they face, and if Cherry’s at full strength those two will be a handful on the perimeter.

But without Mathias Ward the interior depth, something that was an issue when Ward was healthy, becomes even more of a concern. Spencer Coleman and Eric Hutchison are two of the players Montana needs to step up if they’re to repeat as Big Sky tournament champions.

Sleepers: How about North Dakota? In their first season in the Big Sky North Dakota won 12 league games, and in guard Troy Huff they’ve got a player capable of carrying them to three straight wins. Montana State (who beat Weber State on January 24) and Northern Colorado (three straight wins) may be able to pull off an upset as well.

Studs: 

– G/F Kareem Jamar (Montana): The league MVP averages 14.2 points per game and ranks in the top ten in the Big Sky in assists (third) and assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh) as well.

– G/F Davion Berry (Weber State): The Cal-State Monterrey Bay transfer hit the ground running in his first season of Division I basketball, averaging 15.1 points and 3.6 assists per game.

– G/F Troy Huff (North Dakota): Huff is averaging 19.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game for Brian Jones’ team.

Prediction: The two favorites will once again meet in the title game, but unlike last season look for Weber State to pick up the win on the road. 

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of the action on the fringe of the NCAA tournament

Fred VanVleet
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Tonight’s bubble action. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

Cincinnati at UCF, 7:00 p.m.
Pitt at No. 12 Miami, 7:00 p.m.
No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.
Ole Miss at Florida, 9:00 p.m.
Georgia at No. 22 Kentucky, 9:00 p.m.
Arkansas at Mississippi State, 9:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A Big 12 and a Big Ten showdown

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 10 West Virginia at No. 6 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

The last time these two teams got together, West Virginia actually knocked off Kansas in Morgantown. It was the third time in the last three seasons that WVU has beaten KU at home. So there’s some revenge at stake here. But there’s also the whole Big 12 title race, which West Virginia currently leads. If the Mountaineers win tonight, they’ll be up by two games on Kansas with the tie breaker and just seven games left to play. The Jayhawks regular season title streak could be over if that happens.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 8 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.

We think the Spartans are back to their early season form after wins over Maryland (at home), Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan. If Michigan State really wants to prove something to the college basketball world, they will go into West Lafayette tonight and get a win. Denzel Valentine vs. Raphael Davis will be fun.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Pitt will pay a visit to No. 12 Miami in a game the Panthers could really use a win in. Pitt hasn’t been the most consistent team in the country and without adding a few quality wins they could be looking at the bubble.
  2. Duquesne will be paying a visit to No. 19 Dayton, who moved into a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 thanks to VCU’s loss on Saturday.
  3. Georgia is right there on the bubble, and they will have a chance to try and push themselves into a better spot when they play at No. 22 Kentucky tonight.
  4. Creighton probably has to win out to have a shot of making the NCAA tournament, and that includes tonight, when they host No. 5 Xavier.
  5. No. 7 Virginia will be hosting Virginia Tech, who picked off the Wahoos in Blacksburg earlier this year.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 1 Villanova at DePaul, 8:30 p.m.
  • No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.