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After the departure of Southern Utah to join the WAC, things look a little different in the Big Sky this year.

For those familiar with the conference, the departures of Brian Katz (Sacramento State) and Randy Rahe (Weber State), the two longest-tenured head coaches, are the most significant changes.

Travis DeCuire (Montana) is now the conference’s longest-tenured head coach, entering his ninth season. With so many other changes in the Big Sky, consistency has been a Grizzlies basketball pillar. Montana has finished at or above.500 for 14 straight seasons and has won the conference in four of the last ten.

With ten teams, the Big Sky schedule will be expanded to 18 games, with the first and second seeds receiving byes into the quarterfinals. Can Montana’s advantage in coaching experience propel it back to the Big Dance?

Odds for the 2022-23 Big Sky Regular Season

TeamOdds 
Montana State+220
Northern Colorado+280
Weber State+450
Montana+600
Eastern Washington+700
Sacramento State+1000
Portland State+1200
Northern Arizona+1500
Idaho State+3500
Idaho+4000

Contenders

Bobcats of Montana State

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 17-15-1 (53.1%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 18-15-0 (54.6%)

The defending conference champions are the favorites to repeat, as expected given the return of last year’s Conference Player of the Year, Jubrile Belo.

The Bobcats, on the other hand, must replace their starting point guard and top two rebounders. To accomplish this, they bring in a large number of transfers, nearly all of whom have talent, but the group may lack the leadership that the three departures possessed.

Montana State has the talent to return to the top of the conference, and I have no doubt it will finish in the top three if no unforeseen issues arise.

However, without the leadership of three fifth-year seniors, the Bobcats face a more difficult challenge against teams like Montana and Northern Colorado.

Bears of Northern Colorado

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 16-17-2 (48.5%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 22-12-1 (64.7%)

Daylen Kountz, who led the Bears to one of the best offenses in the country last year, is one of the best scorers in the country.

However, the team fell short of making the Big Dance, falling to Montana State in the conference championship.

How far will Kountz be able to take the Bears this season?

Northern Colorado finished 23rd in the country in points per game (77.1) last season, and with the return of two of the country’s best guards, there’s no reason it won’t be there again.

Defensively, the Bears don’t have to finish in the top 25 in the country to win the Big Sky, but they must be better than 335th, which they were last season.

Riley Abercrombie, a graduate transfer from Rice, joins the team and should improve the defense.

Kountz is capable of leading this team to a Big Sky title and an NCAA tournament berth. But he’ll need some help from the rest of the Bears’ defense to do so.

Grizzlies of Montana

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 13-15-1 (46.4%
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 18-11-0 (62.1%)

The last two years do not reflect the standard established in Missoula. The Grizzlies had their first losing season since 2004 in 2021.

Then, after an 8-2 start, they finished the season on a 3-7 run, capped off by a loss in their first Big Sky Tournament game.

Montana returns two of its top three scorers from last season, as well as an intriguing group of transfers.

Regardless of the previous two seasons’ results, anything less than a top-three finish this year would be a failure for DeCurie and his Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies’ two best returnees, Josh Bannan and Brandon Whitney, are all-conference players.

Simultaneously, the addition of Dischon Thomas — a standout at Colorado State and a solid threat from beyond the arc — can be a game changer for the Grizzlies right away.

I fully expect the Grizzlies to return to the top of the conference standings.

Potentially Successful Groups

Wildcats of Weber State

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 14-17-0 (45.2%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 18-12-1 (60%)

Eric Duft will be filling some big shoes at Weber State. Rahe won three Big Sky Tournaments, five regular season titles, and four times was named Big Sky Coach of the Year.

Furthermore, Duft’s team returns only one starter, Dillon Jones. While Jones may not receive the same attention as other top Big Sky players, he has the potential to be one of the conference’s best.

With the additions of Junior Ballard and Keith Dinwiddie Jr., Weber State’s defensive play should be among the best in the conference. Last year, they were both members of one of the best defensive units in the country at San Diego State.

The Wildcats have talent on both ends of the court, and while Duft is in his first year as head coach, he has been an assistant coach at Weber State for over a decade.

It won’t be long before he adjusts, and I believe this team can be a strong contender for the conference title.

Eagles of Eastern Washington

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 20-12-0 (62.5%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 19-12-1 (61.3%)

The Eagles have been one of the most consistent programs in the Big Sky, finishing with a winning record in seven of the last eight seasons.

Last year, however, they finished two games above.500 (fifth in the conference) and were eliminated in the second round of the conference tournament.

Head coach David Riley is the conference’s youngest coach, but he has been with the Eastern Washington program since 2011.

Few teams in the country shared the ball better than the Eagles last season, as they ranked 28th in assists per game. Because six rotation players are returning, expect that aspect of their game to remain.

The Eagles’ top three three-point shooters are back.

In addition, the addition of transfers Deon Stroud (Fresno State) and Cedric Coward (Division III Willamette) should result in significant defensive improvements.

Eastern Washington will be competitive in the Big Sky again, but its defense must improve if it is to break into the conference’s top ranks. Even if the defense improves, overs should continue to be profitable.

Bottom of the Class

Vikings of Portland State University

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 16-13-0 (55.2%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 15-14-0 (51.7%)

The Vikings aren’t the best team in the Big Sky, and they won’t beat Gonzaga in their fifth game of the season. But I strongly advise you to watch Portland State whenever you have the opportunity this season.

Second-year head coach Jase Coburn is one of the most animated coaches I’ve ever seen on the sideline — his passion is nearly unrivaled.

Last year’s Vikings team had a strong defense, and I expect that to continue this year despite only returning one starter.

They return two talented big men in Hayden Curtiss and Jacob Eyman, both of whom missed significant time last season due to injury.

Portland State is on the right track under Coburn’s leadership. However, given the turnover, it will take some time for the Vikings to reach their desired heights. In the Big Sky, I see the Vikings finishing in the middle of the pack.

Bengals of Idaho State

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 11-17-0 (39.3%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 17-11-0 (60.7%)

The Bengals finished fourth in the conference two years ago, which raised expectations for last season.

However, their defensive struggles last year relegated them to the bottom of the conference.

From a betting standpoint, fading the Bengals and betting the over would have quickly converted any bettor into an Idaho State fan.

When it came to covering the number, Idaho State was the worst in the Big Sky and among the worst in college football.

Idaho State got lucky when center Kolby Lee changed his mind about retiring from basketball. The former BYU standout has the potential to be one of the best big men in the Big Sky.

The Bengals will improve from last season, but I believe they will need to do more on offense to be in the league’s middle of the pack.

Lumberjacks in Northern Arizona

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 14-16-0 (46.7%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 13-15-2 (46.4%)

Northern Arizona has no choice but to go up.

The Lumberjacks have only finished above.500 twice in the last ten seasons, and they have only had double-digit wins twice in the previous seven.

Jalen Cone is a Big Sky standout and NAU’s best returning player. Incoming freshman Oakland Fort looks promising and should relieve some of the pressure on Cone, who is one of the best players in the conference.

Despite having one of the best players in the Big West, I believe the Lumberjacks will still struggle. Last season, NAU was one of the worst teams in the country at the free-throw line, finishing 307th in free-throw percentage.

And, while Cone and Fort are fantastic, they are both under six feet tall. With both on the floor, size could be an issue.

The Lumberjacks will be entertaining to watch this year, but jockeying for position in the middle of the conference appears to be their ceiling.

Hornets of Sacramento State

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 11-15-1 (42.3%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 12-14-1 (53.9%)

Sacramento State has a new head coach and one of college basketball’s most impressive transfer classes. The only question is whether the Hornets can pull it off.

David Patrick, the team’s first-year head coach, previously worked as an assistant at Arkansas, LSU, and Oklahoma. He led UC Riverside to its first winning season in over a decade as head coach.

Despite the fact that the Hornets have only finished above.500 three times in their Division I history, Patrick believes he can get them competitive quickly.

Every one of the six incoming Sacramento State transfers has a track record of success and has been a key component of another program. Callum McRae (Riverside) and Akol Mawein are two of his former players (Oklahoma).

There is no doubt that the Hornets have the talent to win. The only remaining questions are whether the players can work together and whether Patrick can make the team flow.

Sacramento State’s ceiling is as high as any team in the Big Sky, but getting to the top will require a lot of hard work.

Vandals from Idaho

  • 21-22 ATS Record
  • 18-10-1 (64.3%)
  • ’21-22 O/U Record
  • 16-11-2 (59.3%)

Since Zac Claus took over four years ago, the Vandals have only won 11 conference games in the last three years.

This is to be expected following an NCAA investigation into rule violations that resulted in a two-year probation.

However, this year’s team may finally be able to compete at a level commensurate with the impressive arena in which they play. (Yes, the ICCU arena is on my wish list.)

Idaho lost its top two scorers from the previous season, but Claus has demonstrated his ability to find success through the portal. Last season, the Vandals’ top three scorers were transferees.

Terren Frank (who has already visited TCU and Vanderbilt) and Trey Smith (San Jose State) are two newcomers who should make an immediate impact.

Finishing in the top half of the Big Sky Conference would be a significant accomplishment for the Vandals. They have a wealth of experience between returning players and newcomers, and this is without a doubt Claus’ best team yet.

However, the team as a whole has little experience with winning.


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