RTC Conference Primers: #18 – Big Sky Conference

Posted by jstevrtc on October 18th, 2010

Rush The Court is seeking a Big Sky Conference correspondent. If you are interested in covering this league, email us for more information at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Weber State (14-2)
  2. Montana (12-4)
  3. Northern Colorado (11-5)
  4. Northern Arizona (11-5)
  5. Montana State (10-6)
  6. Eastern Washington (8-8)
  7. Portland State (6-10)
  8. Sacramento State (5-11)
  9. Idaho State (3-13)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parenthesis)

  • Damian Lillard (G) – Weber State (19.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 85.3% FT)
  • Cameron Jones (G) – Northern Arizona (19.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 50.2% FG)
  • Devon Beitzel (G) – Northern Colorado (14.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG)
  • Brian Qvale (C) – Montana (10.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 61.5% FG)
  • Bobby Howard (F) – Montana State (14.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 51.8% FG)

Sixth Man

  • Broderick Gilchrest (G) – Idaho State (15.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.0 SPG)

Top Newcomer

  • Vaughn Autry, Montana

Lillard, Now Only A Junior, Is Your Reigning Big Sky MVP

What You Need To Know

  • In the mood to watch some Big Sky hoops? You’re in luck. The only thing standing between you and it is either a road trip to a game, or a visit to www.bigskytv.org, where the conference will live-stream every game played at any Big Sky gym — and it’s free!
  • The Big Sky Tournament is one seriously exclusive gathering, probably second only to that in the Garden of Eden. Only six teams get into the conference’s post-season bash — the bottom three regular season finishers can start studying for finals early.
  • It might be a small conference, but they don’t exactly grow ‘em small in Big Sky country. Montana will boast nice length along their front line, starting 6’11 Brian Qvale and 7’0 Derek Selvig (6.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG last year in 20.8 MPG). They’ll get their shots at the big time when they travel to Nevada, Utah, and UCLA early in the season and host Oregon State on December 15.

Predicted Champion

  • Weber State (NIT) — The Wildcats are the class of this field, and the biggest reason is that they’ll bring back the reigning Big Sky Player of the Year in Damian Lillard. And this is just his junior year. He’s not flying under anyone’s radar, though. NBADraft.net has him projected as a late first round pick in their 2012 mock draft. After 18 years as an assistant at six other schools, head coach Randy Rahe starts his fourth year in charge and is generally regarded as the best in the league.

Top Contenders

  • Montana (NCAA Seed #14) will be breathing down Weber State’s neck the entire conference season and they’ll make it a race. The returning Grizzlies will want to revisit the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament like they did last year when they scared the tar out of New Mexico in the first round before falling by a mere five points.
  • We think Northern Colorado will surprise some prognosticators and make a strong showing to give Northern Arizona a run for their money in the battle for third place in the conference. We like NOCO’s experience coming back and, even though Tad Boyle has moved on to Colorado, the promotion of assistant B.J. Hill to the top spot means no surprises for his returning players and it’s met with the approval of Bears’ supporters.

Top Five RPI Boosters

  • Nov. 16 — Eastern Washington at Washington — The Eagles’ second game of the season will provide an early litmus test against a Huskies squad that’s being tapped for big things.
  • Nov. 30 — Eastern Washington at Gonzaga — This will be EWU’s third game in six days, and Gonzaga will be turning up the tempo this year compared with recent seasons.
  • Dec. 5 — Montana at UCLA — Just as important a game for the Bruins as it is for the Griz. UCLA needs to show early that it can win games against possible conference champions to convince itself that it’s on the mend.
  • Dec. 12 — Northern Colorado at Illinois — Beitzel will get a chance to show off that deep range of his against a big-conference opponent.
  • Dec. 21 — BYU at Weber State — Fredette and Co. make the trip to Ogden for a game you know WSU has circled. Jimmer vs Lillard will be excellent.

Key Conference Games

  • Dec. 31 — Weber State at Montana — These two meet early in the conference slate with the reciprocal coming on Feb. 3. The winner of the first one will have the mental edge for the rest of the season.
  • Feb. 3 — Montana at Weber State — It’s a shame the return trip between the Big Sky’s two best comes almost a full month before the start of the conference tournament, but that doesn’t diminish its importance.
  • Feb. 5 — Montana at Northern Arizona — Watch out, Grizzlies. As noted above, your second game against Weber State happens just two days before this one, against what might be the third best team in the league. And it’s Montana’s third road game in a row.
  • Feb. 24 — Montana State at Eastern Washington — What’s this, you say? Why, it could be the battle for sixth place…that final spot in the Big Sky Tournament. And it’s the second-to-last conference game for each team. When you’re in games like this, the stakes seem as big as anything else.

Digging Deeper

  • That Montana State at Eastern Washington game above could be the battle for the last conference tournament spot because Portland State is ineligible for any post-season fun for this one year due to academic shortcomings (which seem to be improving now).
  • One of the best stories in all of college basketball got some national exposure (and well it should have) last year when Anthony Johnson lost his freaking mind in the finals of the Big Sky Tournament and blew up for 42 points to put the Griz into the dance. Check out our write-up of Johnson as a Mountain Region Impact Player from last year’s pre-season, and how he and his wife acting as a package deal was the best thing for everyone. As single stories go, it’s right up there with Butler’s achievements as our favorite story from last season.

NCAA Tournament History

The Big Sky’s last win in the NCAA Tournament was in 2006 when #12-seed Montana beat #5 Nevada in the Minneapolis region (remember that one-season retitling of regions?). Before that, you’ve got to travel back to 1999 when #14-seed Weber State with Harold “The Show” Arceneaux — still one of our favorite nicknames, ever — dropped 20 in the second half (and 36 total) against #3 North Carolina and stopped the Tar Heels’ streak of 20 straight first round wins. The last time a Big Sky squad won two games in the dance was 1977; Idaho State got to the Elite Eight after wins against Long Beach State and UCLA (two years post-Wooden) before falling to UNLV.

Final Thoughts

If Weber State does indeed end up winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament, the very name automatically puts opponents on upset alert because of that 1999 upset of UNC. A 14-over-3 upset had happened 13 times before but it’s only happened three times since then. The shock came from the sheer difference in size between the two programs, of course. But with that single win, Weber State has assured that all future NCAA Tournament opponents will never take them lightly.

We suggest you take advantage of the free streaming of games on the site linked above. We’ve found that using tools like this to learn about smaller-conference teams during the season only enriches your enjoyment of the NCAA Tournament when it rolls around. Montana is on a mission to knock off Weber State as the almost consensus Big Sky pick this season and get back to the dance, and those two big fellows in Qvale and Selvig comprise one of the biggest duos west of the Mississippi. The Big Sky has a few possible NBA talents, too, so if you get tired of the steady prime-time diet of the same set of huge-conference teams usually offered on the networks, you’re only a few clicks away from some good hoops on a smaller scale in terms of conference size, but not passion.

jstevrtc (547 Posts)


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