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Montana Grizzlies near-unanimous Big Sky Conference men’s basketball favorite

Posted at 12:04 PM, Oct 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-18 14:04:05-04
Montana head coach Travis DeCuire looks on during an early season practice. (MTN Sports photo)

(Editor’s note: Big Sky Conference media release)

OGDEN, Utah – After sweeping the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles in 2017-18, Montana has been tabbed an overwhelming favorite to repeat as conference champions in the league’s preseason coaches’ and media polls.

Coaches could not vote for their own team while the media – made up of the league’s sports information directors and Big Sky media members – could vote for all 11 teams.

Montana collected 10 first-place votes and 100 points in the coaches’ poll while earning 33 of 35 first-place votes in the media poll to tally 383 points. The Grizzlies return over 85 percent of their scoring from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad that posted a 26-8 record and a 16-2 mark in the Big Sky Conference.

Montana welcomes back four senior starters including three All-Big Sky honorees from a season ago. Highlighting Montana’s experienced squad is senior guard Ahmaad Rorie, the Big Sky Preseason MVP, who averaged 17.2 points, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game to be selected to the All-Big Sky First Team in his junior campaign. The Grizzlies and fifth-year head coach Travis DeCuire will also rely heavily on another preseason all-conference pick in senior guard Michael Oguine (All-Big Sky Second Team) as well as senior post Jamar Akoh (All-Big Sky Third Team) and senior guard Bobby Moorehead.

Weber State came in second in both the coaches’ and media polls. The Wildcats collected one first-place vote and 90 points from the coaches while totaling 346 points and two first-place nods by the media.

Under the Big Sky’s all-time winningest head coach Randy Rahe (248 wins), the Wildcats return three starters off last season’s 20-11 squad that finished in a tie for third in the regular season standings with a 13-5 record. Junior guard Jerrick Harding, a preseason all-conference selection, ranked second in the league last season with 22.0 points per game to be named a unanimous All-Big Sky First Team honoree. Weber State will also look to senior forwards Zach Braxton (All-Big Sky Third Team) and Brekkott Chapman to return the Wildcats to the postseason in 2018-19.

Capturing the league’s first postseason title by winning the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) last season, Northern Colorado was voted third in both polls. The Bears totaled 70 points from the coaches while tallying 261 points in the media poll. In just his second season, Jeff Linder guided the Bears to a school-record 26 wins while finishing fifth in the league. A Big Sky Preseason All-Conference pick, senior guard Jordan Davis looks to lead the Bears to another postseason appearance after falling just short to top seed Montana in overtime in the Big Sky semifinals last season, 91-89.

Eastern Washington was tabbed fourth with 63 points in the coaches’ poll and 261 points by the media. The Big Sky Championship runners-up return four starters for the 2018-19 campaign, but will have to look for someone to step into the leading scorer role after losing last season’s Big Sky MVP Bogdan Bliznyuk to graduation. The Eagles posted a 20-15 record under first-year head coach Shantay Legans while tying for third in the conference to appear in the College Basketball Invitational.

Portland State (55 points) edged out Montana State (53) and Southern Utah (53) for fifth place in the coaches’ poll while Idaho State closely followed with 50 points for eighth. The Vikings posted the best non-conference record across the conference last year with a 10-3 mark before finishing with a 20-14 overall record and an appearance in the CIT.

Montana State senior guard Tyler Hall, a Big Sky preseason selection, is one of four returning starters for the Bobcats. Hall enters his senior season ranked 11th on the Big Sky career scoring list with 1,861 points after earning second team honors from the Big Sky last season.

Rounding out the coaches poll was Idaho (34), Sacramento State (27) and Northern Arizona (10).

In the media poll, Montana State came in fifth with 194 points while Idaho totaled 192 for sixth. Portland State fell in closely behind with 189 points for seventh. Idaho State (176), Southern Utah (128), Sacramento State (115) and Northern Arizona (46) completed the poll.

The 2018-19 Big Sky men’s basketball season gets underway Tuesday, Nov. 6 with seven teams hitting the hardwood. The 2019 Big Sky Basketball Championships take place March 11-16 at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. Tickets are available for purchase by visiting BigSkyInBoise.com.

2018-19 Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ Poll

*Total points at right, first-place votes in parentheses

1. Montana — 100 (10)
2. Weber State — 90 (1)
3. Northern Colorado — 70
4. Eastern Washington — 63
5. Portland State — 55
T6. Montana State — 53
T6. Southern Utah — 53
8. Idaho State — 50
9. Idaho — 34
10. Sacramento State — 27
11. Northern Arizona — 10

2018-19 Big Sky Preseason Media Poll

*Total points at right, first-place votes in parentheses

1. Montana — 383 (33)
2. Weber State — 346 (2)
3. Northern Colorado — 280
4. Eastern Washington — 261
5. Montana State — 194
6. Idaho — 192
7. Portland State — 189
8. Idaho State — 176
9. Southern Utah — 128
10. Sacramento State — 115
11. Northern Arizona — 46