Favorites: Montana returns four starters from a team that finished third in the conference. Leading the way for the Grizzlies is the inside duo of Andrew Strait and Jordan Hasquet, one of the best post combos in the entire country. Strait is very efficient shooting the ball around the basket, and is also a solid scorer and rebounder. Hasquet is another all-conference player who can score inside and outside. In the backcourt, Freshman of the Year Cameron Rundles returns, as does Matt Martin. JC transfers Ceylon Elgin-Taylor and Sean Watson will fight for minutes. Weber State, the defending league champions, loses the conference Player of the Year in David Patten, but returns three starters. Juan Pablo Silveira is an all-conference candidate at guard, and is one of the best shooters in the league. He combines with Dezmon Harris to form a solid backcourt. Daviin Davis will also see ample time on the perimeter. Inside, Tyler Billings and Arturas Valeika also return for the Wildcats. Both players should improve.
Contenders: Portland State has arguably the best trio in the conference, and that will carry the Vikings a long way. It starts in the backcourt with Dupree Lucas and Deonte Huff, both all-league players. Lucas is poised for a huge season, while Huff is a good rebounder as well as scorer. PSU does need to find a point guard, though, but transfers Andre Murray and Jeremiah Dominguez will compete. Scott Morrison is one of the best big men in the league, while Julius Thomas and Rhode Island transfer J.R. Moore will fight for a starting job. Northern Arizona loses three starters from a team that tied for the regular-season title and lost in the championship game, but the Lumberjacks still have plenty of talent to go around. Josh Wilson, one of the best distributors in the country, runs the show from the point. JC transfer Jermaine Bishop is expected to push for a job in the backcourt once he returns from injury, as will Nathan Geiser. Up front, Ryan McCurdy and sixth man Kyle Landry form a very solid forward duo. Both need to improve, though.
Sleepers: Montana State lost three starters, but the key to its season will be a player who didn’t start last year—Carlos Taylor. He was the team’s leading scorer last year despite coming off the bench. He will be flanked in the backcourt this year by Casey Durham, a solid distributor, and Mecklen Davis, a good all-around player. Up front, Branden Johnson and Danny Peipoli return, while JC transfers Marcus Blackshire and Divaldo Mbunga will push them for time. Idaho State looked like a solid team at times last year, but it was inconsistent and the loss of its three leading scorers does not help. Matt Stucki and Logan Kinghorn return, though, giving the Bengals a good place to start. Austin Kilpatrick also returns have seeing extended minutes last year. The newcomers will make an immediate impact, led by guard Rich Jackson and big man Lucas Steijn.
Prediction: The Big Sky does not have the star power it had last year with Rodney Stuckey in the conference, but it will feature another close race for the title, and plenty of quality performers. Montana has the best post duo in the league, as well as a solid backcourt, while Weber State is the defending champion, and Portland State has ample talent among its top three. Don’t count out Northern Arizona, either. In the end, though, I have to go with Montana because of its inside-outside balance, and the fact that no one in the league will be able to stop both Andrew Strait and Jordan Hasquet.
Player of the Year: Andrew Strait, PF, Montana
G- Dupree Lucas, Portland State
G- Juan Pablo Silveira
F- Jordan Hasquet, Montana
F- Andrew Strait, Montana
C- Kirk Archibeque, Northern Colorado
G- Josh Wilson, Northern Arizona
G- Cameron Rundles, Montana
G- Deonte Huff, Portland State
G- Loren Leath, Sacramento State
C- Scott Morrison, Portland State