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Big Sky Preview: Can the Bobcats cap off a historic season?

Montana State seeks their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1996

NCAA Basketball: Northern Colorado at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Montana State Bobcats (26-7, 16-4 Big Sky) captured their first Big Sky regular season title in 20 years this season. On Saturday, the Bobcats will look to clinch their first Big Sky tournament championship since 1996 when they take on No. 3 seed Northern Colorado.

Big Sky Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year Jubrile Belo piloted the Bobcats to their first 20-win season since 2001-02. The London native averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game during the regular season.

Montana State’s leading scorer, Xavier Bishop (13.8 PPG), joined Belo on the All-Big Sky First Team, while Amin Adamu (11.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG) earned All-Big Sky Honorable Mention honors.

The Bobcats punched their ticket to the Big Sky Championship with a comeback win over No. 4 seed Weber State. Montana State trailed the Wildcats 37-31 at the break, as Weber State looked to replicate their 85-75 victory over the Bobcats in the regular season.

The Bobcats mounted a second-half comeback, taking the lead for good with 1:41 remaining en route to a 69-66 victory.

Raequan Battle tied his season-high pouring in 17 points off the bench, as he connected on 13-of-14 attempts from the charity stripe.

Amin Amanu tallied 15 points and four rebounds, while Xavier Bishop assisted the Bobcats’ effort with 14 points and five rebounds.

The Northern Colorado Bears (20-14, 13-7 Big Sky) won the second semifinal contest in Boise, Idaho, knocking off potential Cinderella Portland State 86-79.

Daylen Kountz exploded for a career-high 36 points on 11-of-15 shooting for the Bears. Bodie Hume recorded eight points and 11 rebounds, while Dalton Knecht poured in 17 points off the bench.

Kountz, the country’s 10th leading scorer at 21.2 points per game, paced the Bears throughout the regular season, earning All-Big Sky First Team honors. The Colorado transfer has scored in double figures in 30 games this season.

Matt Johnson II joined Kountz in receiving All-Big Sky honors, as his 14.1 points per game placed the Aurora, Col. native on the All-Big Sky Third Team.

The Bobcats and Bears split the season series, as Northern Colorado won the first matchup in overtime 77-75 and Montana State evened the season series with an 87-85 victory last Saturday.

Kountz paced the Bears in their two matchups, averaging 23.5 points and six rebounds per contest.

Amin Adamu led the Bobcats during their two meetings, pouring in 14.5 points and hauling in 4.5 rebounds per contest.

With both teams scoring 162 points in the season split, the Bobcats and Bears will presumably provide a thrilling contest as an NCAA Tournament birth is on the line.

How to watch

Matchup: No. 1 Montana State vs No. 3 Northern Colorado

When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Idaho Central Arena, Boise, Idaho

TV: ESPNU

DraftKings Line: Montana State -4.5, O/U 145.5

Prediction

As Montana State and Northern Colorado clash for a third time, the finale should be as exciting as the first two contests. Daylen Kountz will showcase his scoring ability and Jubrile Belo will prove why he was voted the Big-Sky’s Most Valuable Player. Although the two teams were dead even in the regular season, I expect Montana State to clinch their first NCAA Tournament bid in 26 years. With a 4.5 point spread, the pick is Montana State to win, but Northern Colorado to cover. The Bobcats and Bears should provide a thrilling contest as they battle for a spot in the Field of 68.