Thursday, October 23, 2008

Big Sky Conference Preview


The Big Sky Conference had a rather ordinary season last year, ranking No. 25 in conference RPI, with Portland State winning the league by three games over Northern Arizona. The Vikings started just 2-2, but won their last 14 Big Sky games to run away with the conference. NAU seemed like a contender until it lost four of five games in the middle part of the league season. Only one other team finished above .500 in league play. Not surprisingly, PSU continued its winning ways in the conference tournament, defeating Northern Arizona in the title game to win the automatic bid. The Vikings were blown out by Kansas in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament, but they are the favorites heading into the season and will look to advance this time.

Favorite: Portland State could be a mid-major team to watch this season late in the year. The Vikings are coming off a great season, in which they won their final 14 Big Sky games, including the conference tournament, before falling to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the loss of two starters, PSU could be even better this year. Player of the Year Jeremiah Dominguez returns, as does guard Andre Murray and forward Kyle Coston. It’s the transfers that have people excited, though, namely guard Dominic Waters (Hawaii), forward Phil Nelson (Washington) and forward Jamie Jones (Portland).

Contenders: Idaho State finished in a tie for fourth last season, but the Bengals will be improved this season. Leading the way will be the perimeter trio of all-conference guard Matt Stucki, Amorrow Morgan and Austin Kilpatrick. They have the size and talent to create mismatches in the backcourt. Lucas Steijn is the main man up front. Montana is perennially near the top of the standings, and this year won’t be any different. The Grizzlies have an imposing frontline with all-conference forward Jordan Hasquet, Oregon State transfer Jack McGillis and forward Joey Sharp. The backcourt duo of shooter Ryan Staudacher and senior Ceylon Elgin-Taylor is solid. Northern Arizona is coming off a second-place finish, but will likely fall back. The Lumberjacks are led by their perimeter group, starting with all-conference point guard Josh Wilson. Flanking him will be seniors Matt Johnson and Jermaine Bishop, and journeyman transfer Jermaine Calvin. Up front, Zarko Comagic and Nick Larson will be the go-to-guys.

Sleepers: Weber State is coming off a solid season which saw the Wildcats go 16-14 and finish in third place. However, they lose three starters. Fortunately, they return a variety of serviceable players and bring in some solid newcomers. Daviin Davis is an all-conference candidate, while guard Kellen McCoy can score. Steve Panos and Trevor Morris can play up front. Northern Colorado is expected to be much-improved after winning 13 games last year. In the backcourt will be Will Figures and Robert Palacios, as well as junior college transfer Yahosh Bonner. The frontcourt is the team’s strength, with all-conference performer Jabril Banks the headliner. Jefferson Mason also returns up front.

Rounding out the Pack: Eastern Washington returns four starters from last season, most of which is on the perimeter. Adris DeLeon is an all-conference candidate at the point, with fellow starters Trey Gross and Gary Gibson joining him. Milan Stanojevic can score off the bench. Leading the way down low is Brandon Moore. Montana State brings back just one starter, not a good sign considering the team finished in sixth-place last year. The one starter is very good, though, as Divaldo Mbunga could be an all-conference selection down low. Branden Johnson and Bobby Howard also return up front. Only one player has experience in the backcourt, James Hennesey. Newcomers will have to make a huge impact. Sacramento State will look to get out of the cellar after winning just four games overall last season. Loren Leath is still gunning for the Hornets, but there is not much besides him. Donald Thomas and Justin Eller are solid up front, while guard Antonio Flaggs leads a deep recruiting class.

Prediction: Portland State could be a real threat this season, not just in the Big Sky. The Vikings have a lot of talent, including conference player of the year Jeremiah Dominguez and a host of transfers. Dominic Waters and Phil Nelson immediately become two of the best players in the league. No one came close to catching PSU last season after its early struggles, and it looks like the Vikings will be even better this year. Idaho State has a great backcourt and Montana has a solid frontline, but neither has the inside-outside balance to compete with Portland State. Watch out for the Vikings come March – they will definitely be in the Big Dance.

Player of the Year: Jeremiah Dominguez, G, Portland State

All-Conference Team:
G- Jeremiah Dominguez, Portland State
G- Josh Wilson, Northern Arizona
F- Jabril Banks, Northern Colorado

F- Jordan Hasquet, Montana
F- Divaldo Mbunga, Montana State

Second Team:
G- Adris DeLeon, Eastern Washington
G- Matt Stucki, Idaho State

G- Loren Leath, Sacramento State
G- Amorrow Morgan, Idaho State
F- Daviin Davis, Weber State


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