By Kevin Sweeney
The one thing that jumps out at me when I look at the Big Sky this season is the amount of star power. For a league that is generally considered to be one of the weaker leagues in Division 1, the conference houses a ton of incredibly high-level players. A remarkable 5 players return who averaged over 17 points per game a season ago. As a result, there should be some super interesting battles throughout conference play this season.
- Montana- The Grizzlies return a very strong nucleus from last year’s squad headlined by dynamic play-maker Ahmaad Rorie, who averaged over 17 points per game a season ago. Key will be the play of a pair of transfers in Donaven Dorsey (Washington) and Jamar Akoh (Cal State Fullerton).
- Idaho- Victor Sanders is one of the best pure shooters in the country, scoring over 20 points per game a season ago on 44% from downtown. Surrounding him is a solid frontcourt and an overall veteran-laden roster that should put the Vandals near the top of the Big Sky.
- Weber State- I have some questions about where all the pieces will fit, but I’ve learned during the Randy Rahe era to not bet against Weber State in the Big Sky. Former top-50 recruit Brekkott Chapman will team up with junior Zach Braxton to form what will likely be the league’s most formidable frontcourt.
- North Dakota- The defending champs lose one of the top players in program history in Quinton Hooker, but junior Geno Crandall seems ready to step into a starring role after playing Robin to Hooker’s Batman in his first 2 seasons.
- Montana State- This Montana State team intrigues me. A pair of 5-game winning streaks led the Bobcats to a 10-3 finish to Big Sky play after a 1-4 start, and all but one major contributor returns. Definitely a team that could make some noise this season.
- Eastern Washington- This was probably the toughest team for me to place in these rankings. On one hand, Bogdan Bliznyuk is one of the most underrated players in the country- a point forward who can truly do it all. Still, the Eagles lose a pair of high-level players including conference POY Jacob Wiley, while also seeing head coach Jim Hayford depart this offseason.
- Sacramento State- Another interesting club, Sacramento State has the best returning big man in the conference in Justin Strings, as well as an outstanding pure point guard in Marcus Graves. That’s a really nice core to build around. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa sighting?
- Northern Colorado- Point guard Jordan Davis got a lot of headlines this summer for his play with the Azerbaijan national team… despite not having any ties to Azerbaijan. He’ll lead the way for a UNC team that should be very fun to watch.
- Portland State- Former Santa Clara assistant Barret Peery takes over the Portland State program, and he inherits some interesting pieces. The senior trio of Deontae North, Bryce Canda, and Traylin Farris will be looked to to carry the load.
- Northern Arizona- Stanford grad transfer Malcolm Allen should play a big role for the Lumberjacks. A tough team to project at this time, but this team has the talent to climb the Big Sky standings.
- Southern Utah- Losing guard Randy Onwuasor to the grad transfer rule (LSU) after a season in which he scored over 23 points per game is absolutely crushing for Todd Simon’s club.
- Idaho State- Not much reason for optimism at Idaho State this year, with star guard Ethan Telfair graduating from a team that won just 5 games a season ago.
Last season’s Montana team was marked by inconsistency. There were certainly highs, like the 4-game winning streak early in conference play that included road victories over EWU & Idaho or winning 6 of 8 to conclude the regular season. However, there were also some bad moments, such as being swept by Sacramento State and several close losses. However, with a more experienced club this year and a star in Ahmaad Rorie leading the way, I believe Montana will be top dog in a wide-open conference.
Dark Horse: Montana State
Montana State has the best player in the conference in Tyler Hall, a promising rising sophomore in Harald Frey, and an impact transfer in Konner Frey (14 ppg, 7 rpg at Utah Valley in 2015-16). That’s the recipe for a potentially dangerous team, especially in a wide-open league like the Big Sky. Konner Frey should solidify a frontcourt that struggled on the glass a season ago, and Hall can flat-out score with anyone in the country. Watch out for the Bobcats in the Big Sky.
First Team All-Conference
- G: Ahmaad Rorie (Montana)
- G: Geno Crandall (North Dakota)
- G: Tyler Hall (Montana State)
- G: Victor Sanders (Idaho)
- F: Bogdan Bliznyuk (Eastern Washington)
Player of the Year: Tyler Hall- Hall first came onto the college basketball scene in late 2015 when he went for 36 points in a New Year’s Eve battle with Southern Utah. Since, he’s done more of the same: score, score, and score some more. Hall is on pace to eclipse 2,000 career points at some point this season, and he’s only a junior! He may not play in the national spotlight, but Hall is definitely one of the best pure scorers in the country.
Breakout Player of the Year: Jerrick Harding (Weber State)- Harding provided instant offense for Weber State as a freshman, averaging over 9 points per game in under 17 minutes per contest. However, with star guard Jeremy Senglin graduating, Harding will likely see his role in the offense expand. He’s an excellent shooter who is more than capable of creating his own offense off the bounce, and I think he could be in for a big year.
Newcomer of the Year: Brekkott Chapman (Weber State)- It’s hard not to salivate at Chapman’s potential at the Big Sky level. A 6-9 skilled forward and former highly-touted recruit at Utah, Chapman will look to revitalize his collegiate career in Ogden. Chapman’s combination of size and versatility will make him a nightmare matchup in this conference. Check out this story from Brett Hein of the Standard-Examiner on Chapman and what he can bring to the table for the Wildcats.