BIG SKY PREVIEW
-1. NORTHERN ARIZONA. The Lumberjacks went 12-2 in conference play last season and finished first in the standings, but fell in the title game to Montana. Although they lost their leading scorer, four starters return to the lineup and they once again appear to have a very talented team. Ruben Boykin is a great scorer and rebounder. Guard Tyrone Bazy also averaged in double figures last year. Guard Steven Sir came off the bench last year, but averaged 11.1ppg and is a terrific outside shooter. Their first three games are on the road against Arizona, Arizona State and Kansas so they may get off to a slow start, but after that they should be a very tough team to beat.
-2. EASTERN WASHINGTON. The Eagles were just 15-15 last year, but they finished the season very strong and have four starters back this season. Sophomore guard Rodney Stuckey
was voted player of the year in the conference his freshman year. He averaged 23.6ppg last season and can hold his own against virtually anyone in the country. He has a pretty good supporting cast as well. Forward Paul Butorac can score and rebound and is a big presence in the paint. Expect for them to contend for the league title this year.
-3. MONTANA. The Grizzlies had a tremendous season last year. They won the conference tournament and then upset Nevada in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Their entire front court is back, including center Andrew Strait who can both score and rebound. The problem is that they lost both their guards, including Kevin Criswell who averaged 16.1ppg last season. In order for them to repeat as conference champions someone will have to step up in the backcourt.
-4. PORTLAND STATE. The Hornets never really got it going last season, but they did show some promise down the stretch as they won their last four games prior to losing in the conference tournament. They have a lot of experience this year and a very big and talented front court. Juma Kamara, Anthony Washington and Scott Morrison can all score and rebound well underneath. Guard Ryan Sommer averaged in double figures last season as well. This team could be considered a dark horse because they have the potential to be very dangerous.
-5. SACREMENTO STATE. Many expected the Hornets to compete for the conference title last year, but they went just 5-9 in league play. Three starters are back and they do appear to have some talent, but they had talent last year and it didnt result in the kinds of wins one would expect. Forward Alex Bausley is a player to watch for. He averaged 13.6ppg and 5.4rpg last season. Guard Loren Leath will likely be a big contributor as well. The potential is there for this to be a good team. Whether theyll live up to it or not remains to be seen.
-6. MONTANA STATE. Many believe the Bobcats underachieved last year considering all the talent and experience they had. They appear to have less talent and definitely have less experience this year so theyll have to begin to rebuild. Guard Derrick Evans came off the bench last year, but averaged 8.8ppg and saw significant minutes, so he should be a contributor this year. They dont appear to be very strong in any particular area, but they arent really incredibly weak either. Still, I dont see them finishing above the middle of the pack.
-7. WEBER STATE. The Wildcats were one of the best teams in the conference during the 2003-04 season, but in a very short time they have become one of the worst. They underwent a coaching change after winning just ten games last year and finishing dead last in the league. This year they have nine new players, so its hard to say what kind of a team they are going to have. Still, overall, this is a good program and it may not take them long to rebuild it.
-8. NORTHERN COLORADO. The Bears won just five games last season in their first year as a div1 program, but they do have some talented players and return four starters from last years team. They arent in a position to contend for the league title, but they are doing what they need to do in order to build themselves up. Guard Sean Taibi is a very good shooting guard who averaged 15.3ppg last season. Center Kirk Archibeque is a good scorer and rebounder as well. Still, they are going through the growing pains that come with making the jump to div1.
-9. IDAHO STATE. There were a few isolated incidents last season where the Bengals showed a little promise, but for the most part it was a very long year. Its been a long time since they have put together a competitive team and it doesnt look like this is the year either. They have virtually no big men at all. David Schroeder is a very talented guard and averaged 15.4ppg last season, but other than that they dont appear to be strong in any areas.
RANDOM ORDER OF FINISH
-For those that missed my first blog entry, each conference preview will also include a random order of finish. It sounds just like what it is. Teams are drawn at random and placed in order. The purpose for this is to demonstrate that at the end of the season, generally every single major and minor media preseason preview (including my own) isnt all that more accurate than simply randomly picking the teams.
2. Weber State
3. Idaho State
4. Montana State
5. Northern Arizona
6. Eastern Washington
7. Sacramento State
8. Portland State
9. Northern Colorado
-Please feel free to send me feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org, whether its good or bad. Some conferences are harder to research and write about than other conferences, so every comment and critique helps so long as its constructive.