With averages of over nineteen points and six rebounds per game last season, North Dakota's Troy Huff will become a household name this year if he posts similar numbers. (Photo courtesy of the University of North Dakota)
The second of our two "32 In 32" conference previews tonight moves into the Northwest to shed some further light on the 20-game schedule played by the eleven members of the Big Sky Conference, a league won once again by Montana in 2012-13. Here's our best attempt at predicting the Big Sky, including whether or not the Grizzlies will make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament:
1) North Dakota - The Fighting Sioux return four starters from a team that finished 16-17, but went 12-8 in conference play. If he comes anywhere close to his numbers from last season, senior shooting guard Troy Huff will not only win Big Sky Player of the Year honors, but could parlay his success into an NBA career if all goes well. With fellow seniors Aaron Anderson, Jamal Webb and Josh Schuler in the backcourt, Huff plays more of a stretch four role for North Dakota, whose experience will serve them undoubtedly well while senior forward Alonzo Traylor returns up front after being limited to just eight games last season.
2) Montana - Wayne Tinkle doesn't rebuild in Missoula, he reloads, and this year is no different with the reigning Big Sky champion Grizzlies. Point guard Will Cherry has graduated, but Kareem Jamar is more than capable of playing on the ball after leading Montana in assists last season to add to a 36 percent clip from three-point range. Junior Jordan Gregory will have a breakout season in the backcourt as Jamar's running mate,
3) Weber State - Best known among casual fans for being the school that introduced the world to Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, the Wildcats have a pair of solid point guards in their next generation of future pros, led by senior swingman Davion Berry and combo guard Jordan Richardson, a fellow senior who had an assist to turnover ratio of more than 2:1 last season. With Frank Otis gone, 6-10 senior Kyle Tresnak becomes the primary option in the paint.
4) Northern Colorado - Big Sky champions in 2012, the Bears have a formidable inside/outside scoring duo in seniors Derrick Barden and Tate Unruh, who averaged a combined 27 points and 13 rebounds per game last season. Junior guard Tevin Svihovec will be the go-to guy for Northern Colorado in the backcourt.
5) Montana State - With Christian Moon no longer around, senior forward Flavien Davis will be given the keys to the car for Montana State. Senior point guard Antonio Biglow will be looking to improve from a quietly successful season that saw the Los Angeles native average eleven points and over three assists per game.
6) Idaho State - Junior swingman Chris Hansen, who shot 37 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, is the hub of the wheel for the Bengals in the absence of leading scorer Melvin Morgan. Senior guards Tomas Sanchez and Andre Hatchett provide a supporting cast that can not only back up what Hansen does, but can also add their individual abilities to a promising young contingent for Idaho State.
7) Northern Arizona - Sophomore guard DeWayne Russell may only stand 5-11, but if he improves his ball handling just slightly, the floor general will guide the Lumberjacks to a higher finish in the conference, perhaps inside the top five. Junior Gaellan Bewernick will need to improve after averaging six points per game last season.
8) Sacramento State - With John Dickson no longer around, junior point guard Dylan Garrity becomes the face of the Hornets after his averages of over eleven points and five assists per game a year ago. His backcourt running mate Mikh McKinney seeks to improve a 37 percent clip from three-point range as he enters his junior season.
9) Portland State - Burgeoning big man Aaron Moore, who posted averages of over thirteen points and seven rebounds per game a year ago for the Vikings, could approach a double-double per contest if he gets enough touches during this, his senior season. Junior guard Gary Winston is a lethal weapon from beyond the arc, having made 47 percent of the triples he attempted last season for Portland State.
10) Eastern Washington - Sophomore forward Venky Jois is another potential double-double per game player for Jim Hayford and the Eagles, who are intent on bettering last season's 10-21 mark. Guard play will be a major concern for Eastern Washington, however, as they have no incumbent point guard after a season in which they managed an average of just over thirteen assists per game.
11) Southern Utah - Each of the Thunderbirds' four leading scorers has departed, leaving the offense in the hands of 6-11 senior center Jayson Cheesman, who averaged nearly seven points and six rebounds per game last season. Sophomore swingman A.J. Hess must make a considerable impact in the backcourt for a Southern Utah team looking for consistency among its guard stable.