With the America East and Atlantic Sun having been chronicled, it's time to head to the other side of the country for the latest in the "30 In 30" series of conference previews as the Big Sky takes center stage.
1) Montana - Anthony Johnson may have graduated two years ago, but that hasn't stopped the Grizzlies from competing for a conference title since then. What Montana does have is the man pictured above, seven-foot senior big man Derek Selvig, who shot 39 percent from beyond the arc last year. If he improves his productivity and shooting percentage, he could be a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki. Point guard Will Cherry also returns for his junior campaign as the Grizz enter the season with four returning starters from last year's team.
2) Weber State - The key for the Wildcats this season will be junior guard Damian Lillard, who comes back after being limited to just nine games last season after battling a foot injury. Sharpshooter Scott Bamforth and senior swingman Kyle Bullinger will serve as Lillard's supporting cast for a team that could be a potential sleeper in the Big Sky.
3) Eastern Washington - New head coach Jim Hayford inherits an experienced team that will undoubtedly improve from a sixth-place Big Sky finish and a 10-20 record last season. Leading scorer Glen Dean is gone, but the rising star on this Eagles team is junior point guard Jeffrey Forbes. Last season, the 5-10 dynamo averaged just under ten points per game, but shot 41 percent from downtown and 90 percent at the free throw line. In other words, think Steve Nash with a developing passing game.
4) Northern Colorado - Last year's upstart will be taking a step back, as four starters and the top four scorers from last year's NCAA Tournament team will need to be replaced. Junior point guard Elliott Lloyd and senior forward Mike Proctor are the only sources of experience for the Bears; but a handful of their bench players also return, and will see more minutes as the team progresses during the year.
5) Northern Arizona - Junior guard Gabe Rogers will be the "hub of the wheel," to steal a Steve Lavin terminology, for the Lumberjacks this season in the absence of Cameron Jones, who averaged twenty points a contest a year ago. However, inside presence will be huge for Northern Arizona this season, as junior big man Austin Smith is the only returning player from last year's frontcourt.
6) Portland State - The 2008 NCAA Tournament representative from the Big Sky (who lost to eventual national champion Kansas) gets a boost with the return of senior guard Charles Odum, who will lead the Vikings offense while Chehales Tapscott anchors the paint for a team that will look for increased contribution from 6-10 center Nate Lozeau.
7) Montana State - The Bobcats' top returning player is 6-5 swingman Shawn Reid, who comes into his sophomore campaign off of a 39 percent clip from long range. Reid will be counted on to pace an offense that loses all five of the previous season's starters.
8) Idaho State - Like many other teams in the Big Sky, the Bengals will be reliant upon their senior guards, who averaged just under sixteen points per game combined. This time around, Kenny McGowen and Chase Grabau will need to step their game up for a team that hopes to catch lightning in a bottle with Polish import Jakub Kusmieruk, a redshirt junior transfer from Central Florida who stands 7-4 and is eligible this season.
9) Sacramento State - Native Californian John Dickson is the team leader in the Golden State capital this season. The senior from San Francisco anchors a Hornets team with an improving frontline, while guards Jackson Carbajal and Walter Jackson will be pressed to fill the void left by Sultan Toles-Bey, last year's top scorer.