The enormity of what happened on Tuesday night cannot be exaggerated.
The Big Sky quickly turned into a two-team race this season. While Weber State got all of the press thanks to their uber-talented point guard Damian Lillard, Montana slowly chugged along, winning game after game. As the wins piled up, it became quite clear that the regular season title was going to be determined when the Wildcats visited that Grizzlies in Missoula.
And on Tuesday, Montana took home a 66-51 win over WSU, giving them the outright regular season title. But the win was so much more important than that. You see, the way the Big Sky Tournament is structured, the semifinals and the title game are played on the home court of the regular season champ.
What that means is that not only will Weber State be forced to play their semifinal game on a neutral court, if they are going to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament, they are going to have to do it by going through the Grizzlies on their home floor. Weber State lost by 15 to Montana at Montana. Weber State beat them by 16 at home. That’s a big swing.
Where: Higher seeds in the first round, Missoula, MT, for the semis and final
When: March 3rd-March 7th
Final: March 7th, 9:00 p.m., ESPN2
I watched the entirety of Montana’s win against Weber State on Tuesday, and I have to admit, this team is really growing on me. They defend. Hard. And its not the kind of defense where they are forcing steals and blocking shots by the dozen. No, the Grizzlies make things difficult by their opponents by digging in and forcing tough shots. Its old school, but it works. It also helps that they have size, a balanced offensive attack and a pair of quality guards in Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. Cherry completely outplayed Lillard on Tuesday, while Jamar had a triple-double against New Mexico State.
And if they lose?: Weber State
I like Montana, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit to you guys that I am rooting for Weber State. Its not just because I picked them in The Jerome, either. I want to see Damian Lillard on a big stage. Lillard is as thrilling of a scorer as you are going to find this season. He’s a dynamic, athletic point guard that is a lights-out shooter and as efficient of a playmaker as you will come across. He’s a better athlete, but based on the pace he plays with, I’ve seen NBA folks comparing him to Chauncey Billups. I’ll take it. He’s gone for 40 this season. If he gets hot, it won’t matter when the conference title game is played.
Sleepers: Honestly, I don’t think that either Weber State or Montana will get upset. The two teams split. The only other team to beat them this season was Idaho State, and they needed a three-pointer at the buzzer to do it. But if I have to pick a sleeper, I’ll go with Portland State? They finished third …
– Charles Odum, Portland State: … and they have the best scorer in the conference who isn’t named Damian.
– Scott Bamforth, Weber State: Lillard is the one that gets all the attention for the Wildcats, but Bamforth is having an impressive season as well. He’s fifth in the conference at 15.0 ppg and would probably be averaging more if Lillard had actually been recruited by Pac-12 schools.
– Will Cherry, Montana: Cherry is a dynamic scorer that can reel off a bunch of points in a row when he gets it going.