The 2017 Big Sky Tournament tips off Tuesday at the Reno Events Center. Eleven teams enter the tournament with a trip to the Big Dance on the line.
North Dakota is the No. 1 seed after capturing its first-ever Big Sky regular season championship. The Fighting Hawks went 14-4 during conference play, including a 4-0 record against top contenders Eastern Washington, Weber State and Idaho. UND is led by senior guard Quinton Hooker, who was named first-team all-conference for the second consecutive season on Monday. Hooker is averaging 19 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists per game, and shooting a staggering 45 percent from three. Hooker and back court mate Geno Crandall have the Fighting Hawks sitting as the favorite to earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid.
EWU and Weber State are the top candidates to spoil UND’s fairy tale season. EWU blew its shot at a share of the regular season championship with aloss to Northern Arizona on the final day of the regular season. Big Sky Player of the Year Jacob Wiley and the Eagles will be hungry for their second conference tournament championship in three years.
This year’s tournament bracket will look slightly different than it has in the past since Northern Colorado is currently serving a self-imposed one-year postseason ban for a variety of NCAA violations. The 11-team format awards first-round byes to the top five teams, instead of the usual four. Montana is the beneficiary of the new layout, and it will face Idaho in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The three first-round games will be played Tuesday beginning with Portland State vs. Northern Arizona at 2:35 p.m. PT.
How to watch
The entire tournament can be streamed for free on WatchBigSky.com and on the Big Sky app. The championship game can be seen on ESPNU.
(All times Pacific)
Opening Round: Tuesday, March 7
No. 8 Portland State vs. No. 9 Northern Arizona, 2:35 p.m.
No. 7 Sacramento State vs. No. 10 Idaho State, 5:35 p.m.
No. 6 Montana State vs. No. 11 Southern Utah, 8:05
Quarterfinals: Thursday, March 9
No. 1 North Dakota vs. 8/9 Winner, 12:05 p.m.
No. 4 Idaho vs. No. 5 Montana, 2:35 p.m.
No. 2 Eastern Washington vs. 7/10 Winner, 5:35 p.m.
No. 3 Weber State vs. 6/10 Winner, 8:05 p.m.
Semifinals: Friday, March 10
Semifinal 1, 5:35 p.m.
Semifinal 2, 8:05 p.m.
Championship: Saturday, March 11
Championship, 5:30 p.m., ESPNU
Three Things to Watch
1. How far can Jacob Wiley carry Eastern Washington?
Wiley is the first EWU player to be named Big Sky Player of the Year since Rodney Stuckey in 2006. In his first and only season with the Eagles, the JuCo transfer averaged 20 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game and 2.8 blocks per game. EWU’s prospects hinge heavily on his ability to produce. Wiley is coming off his worst game of the season, as he tallied just five points on 2-of-6 shooting in the Eagles’ 76-61 loss to Northern Arizona. You can bet he will be looking to avenge that poor performance when the Eagles take the court on Thursday.
2. Which Weber State team will show up?
The defending Big Sky Tournament champions appeared to be in the drivers seat to take home the regular season crown before dropping four in a row during the final weeks of the season. That skid dropped the Wildcats to the No. 3 seed. They played well in their season finale, beating Montana State at home by nine points. If the Wildcats play up to their potential, they could find themselves dancing for the third time in four years. If they play like they did over the final three weeks of the season, they could find themselves on the wrong side of an early upset.
3. While North Dakota is the favorite, the tournament is still wide open.
Kenpom currently has Weber State, UND and EWU ranked 184, 185 and 188, respectively. This tournament may very well be won by whichever team has the best individual player on the floor that night. Hooker, Wiley and Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin have all shown that they are capable of carrying their respective teams; it will likely come down to who steps up on Friday and Saturday.
UND edges out Weber State 84-80 in the championship. Quinton Hooker outlasts Jeremy Senglin down the stretch, and the Fighting Hawks hear their name called on Selection Sunday for the first time in school history.