By: Grant Pomatto
At a very quick look, it would seem that there are really only two contending teams that the Big Sky conference tournament should come down to, the Weber State Wildcats and the Montana Grizzlies. Though these two teams will be the most likely to come away with the hardware, there are plenty of sleeper and upset teams that could make a run at the two juggernaut teams sitting atop the conference.
Coming into the tournament, the reigning defending champs Eastern Washington Eagles come into the tournament in the middle of the pack, looking for a tougher march to their consecutive conference title. Most of their wins (16) have come while in conference (10-6 conference record) meaning that they know their way around the conference and look to open some people’s eyes by doing well in their tournament.
Here is my round by round break down of the 2016 Men’s Big Sky League Tournament
Round 1, March 8
Game one: No. 8 Portland State vs. No. 9 Northern Colorado
This should be a close game between the two teams. When they faced off in the regular season, Portland edged out a three point win against Northern Colorado 89-86. Cameron Forte for Portland state led the way for them with 17 points to go along with five assists and five boards. As for the Northern Colorado Bears, you have to think they will find a way to go through Anthony Johnson on the offensive side who put up 30 points against the Vikings the only time they played. I look for in this game to be tight all the way down to the last minute. If Portland State can find a way to slow down Johnson, this is an easy victory, but I don’t know if their up for the task.
Prediction: Northern Colorado 79 – Portland State 72
Game two: No. 5 Eastern Washington vs. No. 12 Northern Arizona
This shouldn’t even be a contest for Eastern Washington. Northern Arizona is not good and Eastern Washington wants to defend their title. The Eagles have something to prove and that’s to win back to back tournaments. This is sort of a trap game for them though, so Eastern Washington, just finish the Lumberjacks off within the first few minutes. Because once a bad team like this starts getting confident, it’s going to be really tough to stop them and dig yourself out of the gigantic hole you just made for yourself
Prediction: Eastern Washington 87 – Northern Arizona 65
Game 3: No. 7 Montana State vs. No. 10 Sacramento State
Two of the many bottom feeder teams in this conference playing for pride. Losing to Montana State in the regular season Sacramento State wants a little taste of redemption. Most of Sacramento State’s points came from guard play the last time these two teams met up so look for more of an inside out game this time as Montana State will be locking down the perimeter harder and quicker this time around. As for Montana State, let guards Marcus Colbert and Sarp Gobeloglu take you to the next round.
Prediction: Montana State 77 – Sacramento State 73
Game 4: No. 6 North Dakota vs. No. 11 Southern Utah
The last of the 4 games in round one ends with North Dakota vs. Southern Utah. This shouldn’t be a matchup either as the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota beat Southern Utah 88-72 in their matchup in the regular season. For North Dakota, guard Quinton Hooker looks to have another game against the Thunderbirds as he put up 28 points for North Dakota. For Southern Utah, they need to keep their turnovers down and find a way to get the ball back to Trey Kennedy (17 points against North Dakota). I don’t think this is really a matchup though that you can look at and call an upset.
Prediction: North Dakota 81 – Southern Utah 67
Round 2 (Quarterfinals), March 10
Game 5: No. 1 Weber State vs. No. 9 Northern Colorado
Not much of a competition here. There really isn’t anything that Northern Colorado can do to beat Weber State. The only way Weber State loses this game is if they beat themselves. If their turnovers get into the high double digit range, this game becomes much close and Northern Colorado can take advantage of that. That being said, I think Weber State is just too good to lose to a mediocre 9 seed in their conference tournament.
Prediction: Weber State 85 – Northern Colorado 71
Game 6: No. 4 Idaho State vs. No. 5 Eastern Washington
This is the game of the quarterfinals that can go either way. When these two teams played in the regular season, Idaho State squeaked out the win on the road against Eastern Washington. I think this game is more redemption for Eastern Washington against the team that beat them at home and are above them in the rankings. For Eastern Washington, there needs to be another scorer for them besides Ethan Telfair in this game and give him support against Idaho State. As for the Bengals, in order to win against the Eagles they need to keep the Eagles off the offensive glass and have contributions from everybody on the offensive side.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 78 – Idaho State 75
Game 7: No. 2 Montana vs. No. 7 Montana State
For Montana, this is a trap game for them as Montana State is a sleeper team to beat them. Montana State as most of their conference games were close enough for them to have a shot of winning the game. In order for Montana State to win, they need to keep guards Michael Oguine and Brandon Gfeller in check as they both went for 25+ the last time these two played. As for Montana, if they keep Montana State off the glass, specifically the offensive side (11 offensive rebounds last matchup) this game wont be as close as last time. I don’t see Montana keeping the Bobcats off the glass making this a closer game than it should be.
Prediction: Montana State 77 – Montana 73
Game 8: No. 3 Idaho vs. No. 6 North Dakota
Anticipated matchup between these two teams as the regular season game was decided by one point (Idaho edged North Dakota 65-64). The reason for such a close game was the fact that North Dakota turned over Idaho 19 times. It was a sloppy played game force by North Dakota and I don’t think they can repeat that close of a game again. I think Idaho advances in a much bigger fashion. The game will still be close but not as close as the previous one. Idaho advances to the semi-finals
Prediction: Idaho 72 – North Dakota 64
Round 3 (Semifinals), March 11
Game 9: No. 1 Weber State vs. No. 5 Eastern Washington
One of the most anticipated matchups in this tournament. To clinch the regular season for the conference, Weber State was able to squeak out a win on the road against Eastern Washington. As a team, I don’t think the eagles were to happy to lose on their home court and give up the regular season conference also. Eastern Washington is not to happy and will be looking to defend their conference tournament championship and try to win fro the second year in a row. As for Weber State, they want this bad and want to show that they’re no joke. I look for this game to be close but at the end Weber State will start to pull away.
Prediction: Weber State 81 – Eastern Washington 74
Game 10: No. 3 Idaho vs. No. 7 Montana State
Montana State’s luck keep going I think in the semifinals here. Montana State plays confident basketball and when they get rolling, I think it’s pretty hard to stop them, especially when they can now taste the championship. Against Idaho this year, Montana State beat the Vandals 70-68 and I think they have the recipe and the confidence to beat them again here in the semifinals. The big men play for Idaho will propel them into the championship against Weber State.
Prediction: Montana State 72 – Idaho 67
Round 4 (Finals), March 12
No. 1 Weber State vs. No. 7 Montana State
Not much of a matchup here. Weber State is just too good and I think that they end the Cinderella run of Montana State. Weber State has the fire power to make it to the big dance. They have much to improve on in order to make the next step in winning a game in the big tournament but it starts with a good conference championship win and I think they can do that this year.
Prediction: Weber State 70 – Montana State 60
Champion: Weber State
Weber State in my mind is just too good for the Big Sky conference this year and nobody will be able to stop them in their conference. I do feel bad for them that they will have to play a much better team than the opponents that they faced in the conference championship but nonetheless it is always a very good feat to win your conference. Congrats Weber State.