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Big Sky Tournament Preview: Offense galore & more

All of the top four of the league have a good a chance of making the dance. And you can make a guess for No. 5, too

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 08 Beehive Classic - Utah State v Weber State

If you’re a fan of good offensive basketball, especially 3-pointers, sit your butt down and watch the Big Sky Tournament.

The worst shooting team in the league sits at a 48.8% average from the field while only one team scored less than 62 points in the final week of the regular season, that being second-placed Southern Utah.

It’s another one of those leagues where if you’re a top-four seed, you have a good chance to win it. Shoot, even No. 5 seed Montana has wins over all the teams in the top four except No. 3 Northern Colorado — which UM played close in the first of two games.

Every team wins in a different offensive way and when a team catches fire, they’ll torch you. Take note of the next four days in Boise, folks. Whoever comes out victorious may score 90 on your favorite team in the NCAA Tournament.

Bracket

Schedule

Note: All games will be played at Idaho Central Arena in Boise, Idaho.

First Round (Wednesday, March 9th), ESPN+

Game 1: No. 9 Idaho vs No. 8 Sacramento State, 11:30 a.m. EST

Game 2: No. 10 Idaho State vs No. 7 Portland State, 2 p.m. EST

Game 3: No. 11 Northern Arizona vs No. 6 Eastern Washington, 4:30 p.m. EST

Quarterfinals (Thursday, March 10th), ESPN+

Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs No. 1 Montana State, 2 p.m. EST

Game 5: No. 5 Montana vs No. 4 Weber State, 4:30 p.m. EST

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs No. 2 Southern Utah, 7:30 p.m. EST

Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs No. 3 Northern Colorado, 10 p.m. EST

Semifinals (Friday, March 11th), ESPN+

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

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

Finals (Saturday, March 12th), ESPNU

Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs Game 9 Winner, 8 p.m. EST

The Favorite

Montana State (24-7, 16-4): For the first time in 20 years, the Montana State Bobcats won a Big Sky regular-season title! An 11-game winning streak to open the new year was not only one of the longest in the country this season, but it also put them ahead of the pack in a competitive Big Sky race.

It all starts at the top with the league’s coach of the year, former Montana State player Danny Sprinkle. He has yet to have a season under five hundred in Bozeman and this one just happened to be one of the best in program history. It was another season in the top 50 of free-throw shooting for Montana State and they parlayed that with the 20th best offensive rating in the country and 50th best effective field goal ranking. They have scored at or over 69 points in their last 14 games.

Just how well the offense plays is run through the league’s player of the year, Jubrile Belo. The London kid averaged 13.5 points and seven rebounds this season, shooting 59.2% from the field, and drawing the 13th most fouls in the nation. His backcourt of Xavier Bishop and Amin Adamu — also from England — are the real deal too.

The Darkhorses

Southern Utah (20-10, 14-6): When you play Southern Utah, the first thing many people notice is John Knight III’s fluorescent red hair. The guard deserves more love than just his hair though as he is not only one of the best guards in the Big Sky but one of the best in mid-major basketball. He averages 14.5 points per game, snagging 4.2 rebounds and dishing out 4.0 assists per game too. He does this all while shooting 52.5% from the field. At the forward position, Mason Fausett is not only a glass eater but can hit an occasional three occasionally. Todd Simon has a good team who can make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. The caveat here for the Birds, which are WAC bound after the tournament, is preseason league MVP Tevian Jones is out indefinitely and could miss the entire conference tournament.

Weber State (20-11, 13-7): The Wildcats had a great, great, great start to conference play at 11-1 but have lost six of its last eight with the only two wins being against lowly Sacramento State and Northern Arizona. Marquette transfer Koby McEwen has been an elite addition to this league, scoring 18.2 points per game on a 45.6% field goal shooting. Next to him, Seikou Sisoho Jawara has been an excellent young piece as well as Dillon Jones who is averaging 12.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game as a second-year freshman. Mold all these pieces together and a legendary coach in Randy Rahe, expect them to fight and give their opponents in this tournament a fight every day.

Northern Colorado (18-14, 13-7): This is one nasty offense. Ranking fourth in the country in 3-point percentage and 10th in effective field goal percentage, the Bears have only put up less than 60 points once since the start of the new year. Daylen Kountz runs the offense, but he does it efficiently. When you look at a player who averages 20+ points per game, they usually shoot in the low 40’s or somewhere in the 30’s from the field. Not Kountz though, as the local kid shoots 50.9% from the field. His backcourt mates all have something special going on for them. Matt Johnson is one of the best shooters in the country, Bodie Hume has been the face of the Bears program, and Dru Kuxhausen is one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the country over the past couple seasons.

The Longshots

Montana (18-13, 11-9): The Grizzlies have really struggled down the stretch of the season, losing four of its last five. They have good pieces including Josh Bannan. but as a team have a hard time defending the 3-ball.

Eastern Washington (17-14, 11-9): David Riley has taken over since Shantay Legans left and revitalized Portland, and has the Eagles hot at the right time. The Eagles have won six of their last eight and have one of the most efficient players in the country in Linton Acliese.

Players to Watch

Jubrile Belo, Montana State (13.5 PPG, 7 RPG, 59.2% FG%)

Xavier Bishop, Montana State (13.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.3 APG, 41.9% FG%)

Amin Adamu, Montana State (11.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 49.4% FG)

John Knight III, Southern Utah (14.5 PPG, 4 RPG, 4.2 APG, 52.5% FG%)

Mason Fausett, Southern Utah (12.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 48.5% FG%)

Kobe McEwen, Weber State (18.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 45.6% FG%)

Seikou Sisoho Jawara, Weber State (12.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3 APG, 48% FG%)

JJ Overton, Weber State (12.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 53.5% FG%)

Dillon Jones, Weber State (12.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 53% FG%)

Daylen Kountz, Northern Colorado (20.9 PPG, 4 RPG, 50.9% FG%)

Matt Johnson II, Northern Colorado (14 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 49.4% FG%)

Bodie Hume, Northern Colorado (11.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 44.9% FG%)

Dru Kuxhausen, Northern Colorado (11.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 43.5% FG%)

Kur Jongkuch, Northern Colorado (8.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 64.9% FG%)

Josh Bannan, Montana (15.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 50.4% FG%)

Steele Venters, Eastern Washington (16.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 45.4% FG%)

Bryce Fowler, Sacramento State (18.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 49.7% FG%)

Mikey Dixon, Idaho (16.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 43.3% FG%)

Jalen Cone, Northern Arizona (18.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 38.7% FG%)

Prediction

Montana State and Weber State will face off in a rubber match in the semifinals. They split the season series but I think that the Wildcats come on top with a 76-74 victory and will go on to beat whoever comes out of the bottom side of the bracket. I expect that to be Northern Colorado, but the streaky Bears will be hard pressed against Rahe and Weber who will break through and reach the tourney for the first time since 2016.