Saturday, March 6, 2010

Big Sky Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big Sky Conference had a solid race for the league title, as Weber State eventually edged out Northern Colorado by one game. However, Northern Colorado’s loss to Weber State on Feb. 13 essentially clinched the league championship for Weber State, as it gave them a two-game lead with four games left. Weber State finished at 13-3, with Northern Colorado went 12-4. Montana and Montana State both finished 10-6 in Big Sky play, while Northern Arizona went 8-8. Only the top six reach the conference tourney, so it should be a competitive event.

Favorite: Weber State has home-court advantage, the Player of the Year, wins in 10 of its last 12 games and a regular season championship. As a result, the Wildcats are the favorites. They are a very good offensive team, with the ability to score inside and outside the arc and take care of the ball. Defensively, they rebound effectively, but that’s about it. Guard Damian Lillard is an all-around stud that can really stroke it from deep, while Steve Panos is an efficient scorer and rebounder. Swingman Franklin Session can do a little of everything.

Contenders: Northern Colorado started 15-3 before losing three of the next eight and losing its grasp on first-place. The Bears are accurate offensively, especially from three-point range. They also get to the foul-line effectively. Defensively, they force turnovers and control the glass. The backcourt duo of Will Figures and Devon Beitzel will attempt to carry Northern Colorado to the Big Dance. Montana lost the tie-breaker to Montana State, but the Grizzlies have a better chance at winning the tournament. They are a slow-down team, but they are very effective offensively and can hit shots from inside and outside the arc. Defensively, they guard the two and crash the boards. Guard Anthony Johnson is a big-time scorer, and Brian Qvale provides balance. 

Sleeper: With only six teams in the conference tournament, not too many candidates remain for sleeper status. However, we will go with the sixth seed, Portland State. The Vikings have already defeated both Weber State and Northern Colorado and won its last two league games. They are an excellent offensive team, with five double-figure scorers and the ability to hurt opponents from anywhere. Dominic Waters and Jamie Jones are a solid inside-outside duo.

Prediction: Even though it’s not as fun when conferences don’t invite every team to the league tournament, this should be a fun one to watch. There is no real clear-cut favorite, although Weber State’s homecourt advantage gives the Wildcats an advantage. In the end, though, I think that the Wildcats will get the automatic bid. They have a better inside game than Northern Colorado, and Damian Lillard is good enough to carry them to the NCAA Tournament. Weber State will get back to the Big Dance.

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