This season of Big Sky basketball is going to be fun and the biggest reason for that is because of all the stars that are returning to face off against each other. Twelve of the 20 all-conference selections from last season return, including two of the conference’s top 10 scorers. Beyond offense, the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year is also coming back, so points will not always come in bunches.
Point is: Breaking down Big Sky awards and predicting who will take home the hardware will be fun because it truly is up for grabs.
Player of the Year: Jerrick Harding, Jr., G, Weber State
You’d be hard-pressed to find a player across the NCAA who can score the way Harding can score. With his left-handed jumper, handles like a star and sweet stepback shot, it would not be crazy to see the resemblance he has to NBA superstar James Harden. Now, obviously Harding has a long way to go before becoming Harden — or even just a regular NBA starter — but he does have the talent.
Averaging 22 points per game last season, you would think Harding might be a high-volume, inefficient shooter. But this was not the case. Harding shot a tremendous 53 percent from the field last season and 42 percent from beyond the arc. Add to that an 88 percent from the charity stripe, and the junior almost joined the 50-40-90 club.
Additionally, Harding has the ability to score near the basket with ease thanks to a quick first step and a finishing ability that might the best in the conference. Last season, Harding took a big step from his freshman year; if he can repeat that this year, this conference might have a new leader of the pack. That is how talented he is: He could carry this team past Montana, the favorite to win the conference.
Don’t just take my word for it. Ask Montana State how they felt after he dropped 46 on them.
Newcomer of the Year: Jonathan Andre, So., F, Northern Arizona
Usually when you are coming off a season in which you were the worst team in the conference, there isn’t a whole lot to be excited about. And yet, I would argue NAU fans should be excited to see Jonathan Andre, who could prove to be the difference this season. In his one year at Wallace State, a junior college in Alabama, Andre averaged a very solid 13 points per game while adding 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
Beyond that, Andre is also a guy that can play multiple positions effectively. His 6’7 frame and 205 pounds definitely screams forward, but playing some guard would not be out of the question. Overall, a skilled shooter who can play multiple positions and does everything pretty well seems like a good candidate to revive a program that was beaten down last season.
Darkhorse Team: Northern Colorado
In a conference as tight as this one, it’s hard to truly consider what team might be a darkhorse candidate. Still, if there has to be one, then it should be the one that was minutes away from knocking off eventual conference champion Montana.
The Bears had their best season in program history from a winning standpoint by notching a school-best 26 wins. Now, that was in large part due to transfer Andre Spight — who graduated after last season — but now the team belongs to senior guard Jordan Davis, who can fill Spight’s role. Averaging 16.3 points per contest and 3.2 assists, Davis is set for a knockout senior season. And if you combine him with proven Head Coach Jeff Liner, then maybe this team can knock off Montana this season.
All-Big Sky Preseason First Team
Ahmaad Rorie, Sr., G, Montana
Michael Oguine, Sr., G, Montana
Jerrick Harding, Jr., G, Weber State
Holland “Boo Boo” Woods, So., G, Portland State
Tyler Hall, Sr., G, Montana State
The aforementioned Harding will be amazing to watch because of his innate ability to score the basketball. Tyler Hall from Montana State is also a pure scorer and could be the conference’s all-time leader in scoring once all is said and done.
However, if there are two guards that might have a chance at shutting them down, it would be Montana seniors Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine.
Oguine is the league’s reigning defensive player of the year who can also drop buckets and crash the boards, as he averaged 15.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last year — not to mention his three-ball is deadly at times. As for Rorie, he is a pure playmaker as he led the team in points per game (17.2) and assists per game (3.2). His 1.2 steals per game were also eighth in the conference, so he too has a knack for that side of the ball.
Speaking of pure playmakers, if there was one way to describe Holland “Boo Boo” Woods game, it would be a pure playmaker. As a freshman, Woods led the league in assists averaging 5.6 per game and tallied more than 10 in one game four times. His 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio was also the second-best margin in the Big Sky. If Woods worked on his scoring ability this offseason, then watch out because he is a force.
All-Big Sky Preseason Second Team
Brandon Boyd, Jr., G, Idaho State
Jared Stutzman, Jr., G, Idaho State
Jonathan Andre, So., F, Northern Arizona
Jordan Davis, Sr., G, Northern Colorado
Zach Braxton, Sr., F, Weber State
Idaho State guards Brandon Boyd and Jared Stutzman have great opportunities this season. After not starting every game last year — and even still both leading the team in scoring by averaging 14.9 points per game apiece — it will be interesting to see how the juniors can put it together with a full year of work slated ahead of them.
Jonathan Andre and Jordan Davis are both players that have already been mentioned, but their offensive games could be key in helping lead their teams to a better record this season.
Rounding out the list is Weber State’s Zach Braxton, who is heading into his final year. If Braxton, who averaged 13 points per game last season, can continue being a scoring and rebounding force down low (he averaged nearly eight rebounds per game last year), then Weber State might just have the team to knock off Montana.