The Big Sky is full of dynamic scorers.
Last season, the league featured six players who averaged 20-or-more points per game. Three of them will return this year. Couple that with a boatload of key transfers from Gonzaga, Washington, Iowa, and beyond, and even more players have breakout potential.
Here’s who will pull through for some trophies:
Individual Big Sky Awards
Player of the Year: Tyler Hall (Montana State)
The 23-point-per-game scorer is already the best player Montana State has ever had. He went from being a sharpshooter on a seven-win team to now being the leader of a realistic NCAA Tournament team. He’s also strong in the paint, leading the Bobcats with 5.4 rebounds per game. If he continues his blistery 43 percent three-point pace and limits his turnovers to under two per game, he can become a household name. And not just in Montana.
Newcomer of the Year: Jamar Akoh (Montana)
The former Cal State Fullerton guard is finally eligible to play for Montana. As a sophomore with the Titans, he averaged a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game. With dynamic scorer Ahmaad Rorie in the fold and a fresh start, Akoh could be the best rebounder in the Big Sky. The big man can also shoot, as show by his seven double-doubles for the Titans.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bogan Bliznyuk (Eastern Washington)
With an especially strong season, Bliznyuk will be within reach of the Big Sky Player of the Year award, but he is nearly a lock to be the best defensive player. He crushed it last year with a stat line of 26.6 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds per game. With Jacob Wiley gone, his stats will probably be even more padded this year.
First Team All Big Sky
Tyler Hall : Duh. See above.
Victor Sanders Jr: Sanders almost went pro, but he’s back now and better than ever. Hey, most people are even putting Idaho in the hunt for the championship because he’s that good. Another scoring phenom with a 44 percent rate from beyond the arc and 20.9 points per game overall, Sanders can heat up at any moment. He’s even a dark horse candidate for conference Player of the Year.
Bogdan Bliznyuk: Again. Duh. See above.
Ahmaad Rorie (Montana): Over 20 points in 13 games: check. Over 20 points off threes in five games: check. Rorie can score in any fashion, but he’s best from distance. Let’s see what the leader of the Grizzlies can do this year.
Geno Crandall (ND): Quinton Hooker’s opposite, no more! Crandall has a lot on his plate to lead North Dakota back to the chip, but he’s more than capable. He ended last year with 15.5 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game, and now he returns with a bigger role and the deepest team in the conference.
Second Team All Big Sky
Justin Strings Jr. (Sacramento State): Strings will return as Sac State’s leading scorer and rebounder. He’s got a nice touch, shooting 42 percent from the field, and is able to defend and rebound. If Sacramento State is going to have a successful season, it will be because of Strings.
Jordan Davis (Northern Colorado): Certainly the guiding force of the Northern Colorado program, Davis is poised for another strong season. Last year, he averaged 19.3 points per game, along with 1.2 steals. He can exceed expectations by taking better care of the ball and developing more of a three-point shot.
Zach Braxton (Weber State): Braxton is a strong big who will now be tasked with leading Weber State. Last season, he pitched in a balanced 10.4 points and six rebounds per game. If he improves his free-throw shooting, those numbers should rise.
Harald Frey (Montana State): Frey can certainly make the jump from Freshman of the Year to second-team all-conference. He can stroke it (40 percent from three), and also dish and drive (3.4 assists per game). Look for him to get Hall going even more this year.