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Big Sky Tournament bracket and schedule: Montana looks for its second straight NCAA berth

Yet the Griz haven’t been as dominant as expected.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan vs Montana Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Did you remember to set your alarms this morning to watch some Big Sky basketball? Believe it or not, the play-in games of the Big Sky Tournament start at 9:30 a.m. local time, as the 8-seed Northern Arizona Lumberjacks take on the 9-seed Sacramento State Hornets. For the first time, the CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho will host a Big Sky Tournament that has seen four different schools win over the past four years. And no team has won back-to-back Big Sky Tournaments since the Portland State Vikings went back-to-back ten years ago.

Naturally, No. 1 seed and defending tournament champion Montana wants to change that. With a 23-8 record and three, PAC-12 transfers, the Griz are the only Big Sky team close to the national radar; so far, they’re the only Big Sky team to be ranked in our Other Top 25 Poll. Unsurprisingly, the Griz are also the highest in KenPom (No. 141) and the NET (No. 124).

Things haven’t been easy for the Griz, despite returning three seniors — Jamar Akoh (15.4 points, 8.5 rebounds per game), Michael Oguine (13.2 points, 5.4 rebounds per game) and Ahmaad Rorie (14.4 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game) — from last year’s 26-8 NCAA Tournament team. To make matters worse, they’re going to have to do it without Akoh, who has been injured since taking a hard fall against Idaho on Feb. 7.

The emergence of junior forward Sayeed Pridgett (15 points, 5.1 rebounds, 60.7 FG%) has worked wonders for the Griz, who have only won three of their last five coming into the tournament. Although that might not seem bad, this team was supposed to have a stranglehold on the conference given the star power it returned, plus the additions of Oregon State transfer Kendal Manuel and Washington transfer Donaven Dorsey.

But throw expectations out the window. The top-seeded Griz could flip the script with solid performances in Boise, yet Northern Colorado and Portland State might have something to say about that.

Bracket:

First Round (Wednesday, March 13)

Pluto.tv will stream all three games.

Game 1: Sacramento State vs. Northern Arizona, 11:30 a.m.

Game 2: Idaho State vs. Southern Utah, approx. 2 p.m.

Game 3: Idaho vs. Montana State, approx. 4:30 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 14)

Pluto.tv will stream all four games.

Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. Montana, 2 p.m.

Game 5: Portland State vs. Weber State, approx. 4:30 p.m.

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. Northern Colorado, 7:30 p.m.

Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. Eastern Washington, approx. 10 p.m.

Semifinals (Friday, March 15)

Pluto.tv will stream both games.

Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner, 7:30 p.m.

Game 9: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner, approx. 10 p.m.

Championship (Sat., March 16)

Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)

Prediction

Although college basketball has seen two play-in teams make the WCC semifinals, 8-seed Western Illinois knock off 1-seed South Dakota State and seven 1-seeds fail to win their conference tournaments, do not expect one of the lower seeds to make a run. The teams in today’s play-in games are some of the sport’s bottom-feeders, ranging from a team that took a major step backward after losing seniors from last year (Idaho), to teams that haven’t been good in years (Northern Arizona, Idaho State), to teams that have simply never been good (I’m sorry, Southern Utah). Yes, someone has to win this thing; those someones are coming from the top half of the bracket.

Montana has been the favorite all season, but will need Jerrick Harding, his 21.9 points per game and 38 percent clip from three to lead Weber State past Portland State for some peace of mind. Should Montana make the championship game, a matchup with 2-seed Northern Colorado is the most realistic outcome.

Although Northern Colorado beat Montana on last-second free-throws in Missoula — which is a hard place to play! — the Griz are 8-2 against the Bears under Travis DeCuire. What Northern Colorado does have is the conference’s leading scorer in senior point guard Jordan Davis (23.7 points, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game) and aspirations to build on last year’s CIT title.

So, why does knocking out Portland State matter? If there’s one team that’s coming into the Big Sky Tournament on a hot streak (relatively speaking, of course), then it’s them. The Vikings have won seven of their last eight, and have wins over every team in the conference except Northern Colorado. Most impressively, they’ve swept Montana. Believe it or not, that 81-point performance over the Griz was the most points Montana has surrendered in conference play since losing to Idaho in the first round of the 2017 Big Sky Tournament.

Realistically, it’ll be Montana. But since Big Sky conference play has been anything but realistic, don’t expect all chalk.