Big Sky media members made predictions regarding the men's basketball conference tournament, which begins Tuesday in Reno, Nevada. Their answers are below.
Madison Guernsey (covers Idaho State for the Idaho State Journal): Weber State
The Wildcats were the best team all season. They can kill you from the arc or dump it inside to a trio of posts including Big Sky MVP Joel Bolomboy.
Without Bolomboy, who missed two games with a knee injury, Weber went 2-0 and held No. 2 seed Montana to 54 points in a 60-54 win. Its only conference losses were to No. 5 North Dakota, No. 4 Idaho State and No. 3 Idaho.
WSU has a multi-faceted offense, a stingy defense and the depth to represent the Big Sky at the Big Dance.
Colter Nuanez (covers the Big Sky at skylinesportsmt.com): Weber State
The Wildcats have the most imposing physical presence in the league in Big Sky MVP Joel Bolomboy and one of the best scoring guards in the conference in Jeremy Senglin. But it’s the depth of the Wildcats that make them the favorite. Zach Braxton’s emergence as a solid post defender as a freshman gives Weber the ability to bring Kyndahl Hill off the bench. Hill is one of the five or six best big men in the league as a reserve, hence why Weber was able to go 2-0 even with Bolomboy on the shelf earlier this season. Add in that Randy Rahe is the league’s best coach and the Wildcats are the heavy favorite.
Brandon Garside (covers Weber State for the Standard-Examiner): Montana
They have the balance and experience to get to the championship. Losing the title last year on their own home floor undoubtedly left a bad taste in their mouth that they'd like to wash out. The loss to Northern Colorado woke them at the right time, and they'll be primed to win the championship.
Greg Rachac (covers Montana State for the Billings Gazette): Weber State
The Wildcats consistently proved to be the best team in the league, even when they were without Joel Bolomboy. Now that Bolomboy is back, it will take a great effort to knock them off.
Cody Bashore (covers Northern Arizona for the Arizona Daily Sun): Weber State
As long as Joel Bolomboy is fully healthy, which it seems like he is, I just don’t see Weber failing to close this out. I have thought they seemed like the most complete team all season, so I’d think they can finish off the year.
Ryan Miller (covers Southern Utah for The Spectrum and Daily News): Weber State
Joel Bolomboy is the best player in the league, and the Wildcats won’t have to face Montana, Eastern Washington or Idaho until the final game. It’s their tournament to lose.
Parker Gabriel (covers Montana State for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle): Weber State
It's hard to go against the No. 1 seed. Weber State has talent and depth and, oh by the way, league MVP Joel Bolomboy looked pretty good in his return last week.
The Wildcats have the guard play that is so often seen as key during tournament time, but they can also score inside and get stops. In a guard-heavy league, that will pay off this week.
Sean Kramer (covers Idaho for the Spokesman-Review): Weber State
The Wildcats are the best defensive team in the conference per Ken Pomeroy's metrics and their three conference losses all came on the road by a combined 12 points.
Kyle Franko (covers the Big Sky at bigskybball.com): Weber State
Joel Bolomboy draws the spotlight, but the league MVP is just part of a team that can flat out defend. The Wildcats, during conference play, led the Big Sky in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage defense. It’s what pushed the ‘Cats to the regular-season championship, and it’s the reason they're the favorite.
THE DARK HORSE
The third-seeded Vandals are barely a tier below Weber State and Montana and are mostly healthy after enduring a stretch without leading scorers Victor Sanders and Perrion Callandret.
Idaho holds teams to a league-best 65.5 points per game and has won three straight entering the tournament — against top-seeded Weber, No. 4 seed Idaho State and No. 6 seed Eastern Washington.
The Vandals were able to stay in the hunt for a top-four seed even with point guard Perrion Calendret and small forward Victor Sanders on the bench. Now that those two have returned, Idaho is a real threat. The Vandals are the most solid defensive team in the league and Sanders’ return only increases that reputation.
Garside: Eastern Washington
Don't let their four-game skid and No. 6 seed fool you. This team was fighting for that top spot for most of the season, and those last four games surely have lit a fire underneath the Eagles. After getting past Northern Arizona in the first round, they'll be hungry to get revenge on Idaho after losing by just four in Moscow.
Rachac: Idaho State
Ethan Telfair is the most dynamic guard in the conference. If one player can lead one team deep into the tournament, it’s Telfair.
The one team to beat Weber in the past month, Idaho is coming in with three straight wins against three of the conference’s better teams. With Perrion Callandret and Victor Sanders back, they seem like the team that could stay hot and knock off the two favorites.
Miller: Idaho State
Special guards can take over tournaments and the Bengals have a pretty dang special guard. In my opinion, Ethan Telfair is the best backcourt player in the conference, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him lead Idaho State to the title.
Can you call a No. 3 seed a dark horse? Idaho's interesting, mostly because not everyone has seen it at full strength. Perrion Callandret and Victor Sanders make the Vandals very dangerous, and Don Verlin's team appears to be playing well at the right time.
If a top-four team doesn't count as a dark horse, then it's got to be No. 6 Eastern Washington. If the Eagles get hot from the 3-point line this week, they can beat anybody.
Kramer: Eastern Washington
The defending conference tournament champions have had a rough go of things because of a putrid defense, but the Eagles can shoot their way to a win over anybody in the Big Sky. Four straight losses might be a concern, but the talent is there with Venky Jois and Austin McBroom to play with anyone.
Franko: North Dakota
Tabbing any of the top-four seeds as a “dark horse” feels like cheating, so I’ll go with the newly minted Fighting Hawks.
North Dakota, assuming it gets by Southern Utah, matches up well with Idaho State and the Hawks went 1-1 versus Weber State, their potential matchup in the semifinals. Like WSU, UND is one of the better defensive teams in the conference, and guard Quinton Hooker is the kind of stud who could win the Hawks a game or two by himself.
My big concern with UND (or any of the 5-12 seeds) is the fact the Hawks played two road games last week and if they make it to Saturday’s championship, it would be their sixth game in 10 days. Even for young college legs, that’s brutal.
In a rematch of the highly-anticipated showdown with Weber State, the Grizz will knock off the Wildcats to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013.
UM matches up well with Weber's inside-out offense and has the depth to match. Walter Wright, Martin Breunig, Brandon Gfeller and company create a perfect storm to compete with the mighty Wildcats.
Nuanez: Weber State
The Wildcats are the most experienced, deepest, crispest and most well-coached team in the league. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking down the Wildcats, although the first matchup between Montana’s Martin Breunig and Bolomboy (he missed the UM game with a bone bruise in his knee) will be fascinating and the battle of the tournament if they face off.
If the Vandals didn't lose their two leading scorers for a good chunk of conference play, there's a good chance they'd be tied or above the Wildcats for that top spot. The bad news for everyone else in the Big Sky is that they're healthy, and playing again at the high level in which they started conference play.
The best-coached team in the league will also be the most prepared. The Grizzlies will punch their ticket back to the NCAA tournament.
Bashore: Weber State
Despite that loss, that came in Moscow, I’d probably take Weber to win it over Idaho or Montana in the finals. Personally, I’d like to see the top two scoring defenses face off in the finals with Weber and Idaho with much of the game coming down to stops late in the game and the battle on the boards.
Miller: Weber State
Best team. Nice path to title game. I like the Wildcats to hoist the trophy.
Gabriel: Weber State
For the same reasons stated above. The Wildcats are big, tough and deep. They're built to withstand the things that plague teams in tournaments like scoring droughts and foul trouble. Plus, Randy Rahe can match personnel with just about anybody in the Big Sky.
Montana can't be happy about letting an NCAA Tournament berth slip through its hands on its home floor last year. Travis DeCuire will notch his second straight 20-plus win season at Montana with a conference championship over Weber State in the final.
In the Big Sky’s brave foray into a neutral site for the postseason tournament, picking someone not named Weber State or Montana feels like the right thing to do.
Two of Idaho’s starting guards, sophomore Victor Sanders and junior Perrion Callandret, missed chunks of time during the season and the Vandals still managed to snag the tournament’s No. 3 seed — while beating Weber State, Montana, Idaho State, North Dakota and Eastern Washington along the way.
If any team can come close to rivaling Weber State defensively, it’s Idaho. And I think the Vandals can muster up just enough offense to win the school’s first Big Sky men’s tournament since 1990.
Guernsey: Martin Breunig, Montana
The Montana big man has been deadly from close range with a 62.9 field goal percentage on the season. He averages a team-best 18.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and is hard to contain with other weapons earning an equal focus of opposing defenses.
Nuanez: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
Bolomboy has posted a double-double in 25 of the 28 games he’s played this season. He can take over a game on both ends and is the league’s best rebounder, bar none. The extra possessions he can create and the rim protection he provides will not waiver no matter how his offensive game plays out this week.
Garside: Victor Sanders, Idaho
Dude's gonna ball out like crazy this week, wanting to prove himself as a first-team all-conference player after being named to the second team.
Rachac: Martin Breunig, Montana
Everything runs through Breunig, a multi-talented big man. He will lead the Grizzlies in Reno.
Bashore: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
Probably the boring pick given what he has already won, but if Weber ends up facing Idaho in the finals, Bolomboy will have to come up big. He will have to do a bit better than he did in the last meeting after finishing 8 of 13 from the free-throw line, but I imagine he will be able to.
Miller: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
He’s been pretty much unstoppable all year. I don’t think that’s stopping now.
Gabriel: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
If the knee holds up as the weekend action wears on, who's going to stop him?
Kramer: Martin Breunig, Montana
It would be Joel Bolomboy if I picked Weber State to win — he is clearly the best rebounder in the conference and has ridiculously efficient scoring to add to it — but this honor will go to Martin Breunig. The Germany native will have a chip on his shoulder with all of the love for Bolomboy.
Franko: Victor Sanders, Idaho
At 6 foot 5, 195 pounds, Sanders is a silky smooth athlete who sat out seven league games with a broken hand. When Sanders returned to the floor Feb. 18 against Portland State, he finished with seven points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Since then, though, Sanders has gotten better and better. He had 25 points, including five 3-pointers, in Idaho’s last game, an 82-68 win against Idaho state. That’s the level he’ll have to play at if Idaho is going to win a championship.
UPSET PICK (SINGLE GAME)
Guernsey: No. 10 Sacramento State over No. 7 Montana State (first round)
The Bobcats' offense is predicated on 3-pointers, and the Hornets have the second-best 3-point defense in the league at 32 percent.
Another upset possibility is No. 5 North Dakota over No. 4 Idaho State in the quarterfinals. The Fighting Hawks are a bad matchup for the Bengals with good size, a strong defense and good arc protection.
Of ISU's seven conference losses, six are against teams that rank in the top five in scoring defense (two losses to UND).
Nuanez: No. 5 North Dakota over No. 4 Idaho State (quarterfinals)
Not much of an upset, but I think UND is a close second as the dark horse in the league because of Quinton Hooker’s ability to take over and because of how hard UND plays. Idaho State is the most improved team in the league, but take away Ethan Telfair and what does ISU have?
Garside: No. 12 Southern Utah over No. 5 North Dakota (first round)
The Thunderbirds have nothing to lose and everything to prove. Time and again this season they fell only after going tooth and nail. They'll put together a great game while the Fighting Hawks will overlook their opponent, with SUU coming out on top in close battle.
Rachac: No. 2 Montana over No. 1Weber State (championship)
Weber State won the only matchup between these teams in the regular season to grab control of the No. 1 seed. Montana will atone for that in the championship game Saturday night.
Bashore: No. 7 Montana State over No. 2 Montana (quarterfinals)
I’m not sure we get an upset other than maybe the No. 9 beating the No. 8 or No. 5 beating the No. 4, but if we do I would look at the possible Montana State-Montana game. The numbers would say this is pretty unlikely, but this time of year is crazy, and what better time would there be for the Bobcats to knock off the Grizzlies for the first time since, I believe, 2010?
Miller: No. 7 Montana State over No. 2 Montana (quarterfinals)
Montana is easily the better team, but it’s hard to beat a rival three times in the same season. So, pretty much only for that reason, I’m taking the Bobcats.
Gabriel: No. 6 Eastern Washington over No. 3 Idaho (quarterfinals)
I'll revisit my darkhorse selections and say EWU over Idaho in the quarterfinals Thursday. I guess I should have just gone with the Eagles as that pick, too.
I'll say this, though, I'm expecting something nutty to happen. I just have no idea when or who will be the victim.
Kramer: No. 6 Eastern Washington over No. 3 Idaho (quarterfinals)
This is an upset based on seeding only, but Eastern Washington has proven to be a poor matchup for Idaho in the past. The Vandals' packline defense is designed to allow contested 3-point looks in favor of not allowing high-percentage looks in the paint. The Eagles can hit them from deep, contested or not.
Franko: No. 10 Sacramento State over No. 7 Montana State (first round)
If I’m forced to pick one, give me Sacramento State in the first round against Montana State. The Hornets have been downright mediocre offensively, and that’s being kind. But I could see Sac upsetting MSU, a team that relies heavily on a freshman and making 3-point shots, because the Bobcats play flat in their opening game.