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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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.
– 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.