In some conferences in which the chances of receiving an at-large bid are slim (and that’s generous in some cases), there’s been a move to ensure that the regular season champion receives some perks in the conference tournament. In the case of the Big Sky that means the regular season champion gets to host the conference tournament, an eight-team affair scheduled for March 12-14.
In the case of Sacramento State (11-3 Big Sky), which is a half-game out of first place and has hopes of making its first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, this brought about an important question that needed to be addressed. With their home court deemed unsuitable to host a conference tournament for capacity reasons (it can only hold just over 1,000 spectators), where could the Hornets host the event should they win the regular season title?
Friday afternoon, the Big Sky conference announced that it has come up with the answer.
After inspecting Sacramento State’s recreation and wellness center, the conference determined that the event could be played there should Sacramento State earn the right to host. Preparations will begin immediately, and the good news for Sacramento State is that they’d be able to use the perk meant to reward the regular season champion.
Roughly 3,000 seats, a portable court, a lighting structure, and basketball stanchions will be moved to “The WELL” to create a suitable venue for the championship. The Sacramento Kings NBA franchise will provide the basketball stanchions.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” said Big Sky Conference Deputy Commissioner Ron Loghry, who toured ‘The WELL’ on Thursday. “Everyone on Sacramento State’s campus is working hard to make it a reality. It will be a great venue for the championship.”
With a site determined, the job now for Sacramento State is to go about earning the right to host by winning the regular season title. Brian Katz’s team, led by senior guards Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney, plays its final home game of the season against North Dakota on Saturday.
Following that are three straight road games to end the regular season, and they’ll need help in the form of at least one Eastern Washington (11-2 Big Sky record) loss as well.
2014-2015 Season Preview: Weber State won’t lack for challengers in Big Sky
The favorite to win the Big Sky 2014-2015 won’t come as a surprise, despite the fact that the program in question lost four seniors from last season’s NCAA tournament team. Randy Rahe’s Weber State Wildcats enter the season looking to make consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since their run of three straight from 1978-80. Gone are Big Sky Player of the Year Davion Berry, key contributors Kyle Tresnak and Jordan Richardson, and Royce Williams (transfer) and Byron Fulton. However even with those losses the Wildcats return some talented pieces, led by junior forward Joel Bolomboy and sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin. Bolomboy was an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last season, but he’s poised to make a sizeable jump after leading the conference in rebounding (11.2 rpg).
As for Senglin, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year (10.9 ppg) will slide over into the role of primary ball-handler with Berry having moved on. Weber State will be more balanced this season when it comes to scoring, as they lose a player in Berry who factored into more than 30 percent of their possessions in 2013-14. Adjustments will need to be made, with Richaud Gittens (6.9 ppg) and Kyndahl Hill (4.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg) among the returnees who will need to step forward. But even with that being the case, Weber State is more than capable of winning the Big Sky again.
As for the competition, this will be a balanced race once again. Last year seven teams won between ten and 12 conference games (the Big Sky has a 20-game schedule), with the two teams that finished 10-10 (Eastern Washington and Sacramento State) failing to qualify for the postseason tournament. Both the Eagles and Hornets should qualify without much trouble this season, with Jim Hayford welcoming back four starters led by guards Drew Brandon and Tyler Harvey (21.8 ppg) and forward Venky Jois. In total EWU returns its top five scorers from 2013-14, which will make the Eagles a formidable group from an offensive standpoint. If they can get a little better defensively, Eastern Washington will be a contender.
As for Sacramento State, their experienced guard tandem of Dylan Garrity (13.2 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Mikh McKinney (16.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) will be asked to lead the way. McKinney was a first team All-Big Sky selection in 2013-14 with Garrity receiving honorable mention status, and with guard Cody Demps and forward Zach Mills also returning the Hornets welcome back their top four scorers from a season ago. Two other players to watch for the Hornets: senior forward Alex Tiffin and sophomore center Eric Stuteville. Sacramento State broke even on the boards last season thanks to a group effort (seven players averaged between 3.1 and 4.2 rpg), and if Stuteville (5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Tiffin (4.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) can step forward the Hornets will be better for it.
Northern Arizona is another team to consider, with head coach Jack Murphy doing a good job of rebuilding the program. Senior guard Quinton Upshur (15.3 ppg), who was the conference’s best newcomer last season, and fellow guards Aaseem Dixon and Kris Yanku will lead the way offensively with Yanku manning the point. Add in leading rebounder Gaellan Bewernick (5.9 rpg), and the Lumberjacks have the pieces needed to contend. Montana, even with the loss of do-it-all guard/forward Kareem Jamar, will be formidable and the same can be said for Northern Colorado, Portland State and Idaho as well.
The top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament, with the regular season champion playing the role of host. And just like last season, the race for those spots won’t lack for suspense this winter.
In: Idaho Out: None
PRESEASON BIG SKY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington
Harvey averaged 21.8 points per game overall last season, and he was even better in conference games (23.8 ppg) of the Eagles. And in addition to being one of the best scorers in the country as a sophomore Harvey was also one of its best shooters, shooting 44.3% from the field, 43.3% from three and 89.7% from the charity stripe.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SKY TEAM:
Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State: In addition to the 16.6 points per game, McKinney was also third in the Big Sky in offensive rating amongst players who factored into at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions in 2013-14.
Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona: Upshur was the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, averaging 15.3 points per game.
Joel Bolomboy, Weber State: Bolomboy’s already a high-level rebounder, and he made strides in expanding his offensive skill set this summer.
Jeremy Senglin, Weber State: Sacramento State’s Dylan Garrity was another option, but the pick is Senglin due to his solid freshman year and what he can do in moving to a primary ball-handler role as a sophomore.
1. Weber State
2. Northern Arizona
3. Sacramento State
4. Eastern Washington
6. Northern Colorado
7. Portland State
9. North Dakota
10. Idaho State
11. Montana State
12 Southern Utah