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Big Sky Conference Preview

November 6, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big Sky Conference Preview

by Nicholas Lozito

Dear Jermaine Boyette,

No offense, but thanks for getting the hell out of the Big Sky Conference. Your dominance has sickened me over the years. The conference is better off without you, as its newfound parity will make the other seven universities very happy.

Watching your Weber State Wildcats roll to a 14-0 conference record and NCAA Tournament berth last season was like consuming chicken flavored Top Ramen for five-straight days. Please Lord, never put me through that again. Seriously.

With you now graduated, teams like Eastern Washington, Montana and Sacramento State can now make legitimate runs at a Big Sky championship. Players like Seth Scott, Kevin Criswell and Kelly Golob can battle for a scoring title. And no longer will I have to watch officials blow the whistle when an opposing player breathes on you too hard.

Thanks for three seasons of excellence. Good luck as a pro. And as Martin Lawrence might say, “You ain’t gotta go home, but you gotta get the hell outta the Big Sky.”

Nicholas Lozito

P.S. Oh, I almost forgot – and I need a decent segue into the rest of my preview – your graduation also leaves an opening in my preseason all-Big Sky team.

Preseason All-Big Sky Team

G – Alvin Snow, senior, Eastern Washington
Snow has proven over his first three seasons to be one of the conference’s toughest defenders. His muscular frame allows him to bang for rebounds and pound his defender for 40 minutes.

G – Marquis Poole, senior, Idaho State
My kind of point guard – smooth with the ball, pesky on defense and fearless in the lane.

F – Slobodan Ocokoljic, senior, Weber State
With this Yugoslavian-born Ohio State transfer, the Wildcats have a chance to repeat as conference champs. He’ll average over nineteen points with Boyette gone.

F – Joel Jones, senior, Sacramento State
Back from his redshirt season, Jones will be the most athletic players in the conference. He will be tested on Nov. 22 when he goes up against Stanford’s Josh Childress.

F – Kamarr Davis, junior, Montana
How did head coach Pat Kennedy land this first-team Junior College All-American? Easy. He hired his head coach at Sheridan JC as an assistant (Wink, wink).

Honorable Mentions

G – Kevin Criswell, sophomore, Montana
He might not look like a basketball player, but this skinny white kid from Colstrip, Montana can score.

G – Jason Erickson, senior, Montana State
How in the world did this guy take Big Sky MVP honors as a sophomore? I was thinking about leaving him off my honorable mention list.

F – Seth Scott, senior, Portland State
At 6-foot-10, this mid-major version of Dirk Nowitzki will have people wondering how Portland State got so good so quick.

F – Kelley Golob, sophomore, Northern Arizona
I’d like to see the ratio of White Basketball Players With Fluffy Hair vs. White Non-Basketball Players With Fluffy Hair, because this guy just adds to the madness. And he can shoot!

F – Scott Henry, senior, Idaho State
A gritty player who should be among the leaders in double-doubles.

Conference MVP
Slobodan Ocokoljic

Freshman of the Year
Marshal Hartman, forward, Portland State

This one is easy, considering he played five games for the Vikings last season. But due to a knee injury which cost him most of the season, Portland State forward Marshall Hartman was granted a medical redshirt. The bulky Oregonian gives the Viking one of the top front lines in the conference.

Coach on the Hot Seat
Mick Durham, Montana State

If the Bobcats don’t make the Big Sky Tournament for the second-straight year – and they probably won’t – Durham may be out of a job. I don’t care if he’s in his fourteenth season with the Bobcats and won a conference championship in 2002, the Bobcats have far less talent than any other team in this conference.

Here is a preview of each team in the Big Sky, in order of predicted finish. (Note: Top six teams qualify for the conference tournament)

1. Montana Grizzlies

2002-03: 13-17 overall, 7-7 in Big Sky (third place)

A pair of junior college transfers – point guard Roy Booker and small forward Kamarr Davis – should be instant starters for the Grizzlies. Davis comes from Sheridan Junior College as a first-team junior college all-American. Brian Marso, Davis’ head coach at Sheridan, was hired as an assistant by the Grizzlies over the summer (I wink once again).

University of St. Louis transfer John Seyfert will start at center, while fifth-year senior Brent Cummings will start at power forward. Cummings, who sat out last season with a back injury, earned Big Sky Honorable Mention honors as a junior.

Kevin Criswell (15.1 points) will be Montana’s go-to-guy on offense from the shooting guard position. His quick release allows him to get shots off around the basket despite his small frame. Derrick Mansell will back up Booker at the point, while Steve Horne and Victor Ventors, who both started last year, will provide depth at the forward positions.

Two players left the Montana program over the summer. Point guard Sam Riddle transferred to Montana-Western University while forward Mike Chavez left for personal reasons.

Question mark: With four new players in the starting lineup, how long will the Grizzlies take to jell? With legendary coach Pat Kennedy at the helm, probably not long at all.

PG – Roy Booker, junior
SG – Kevin Criswell, sophomore
SF – Kamarr Davis, junior
PF – Brent Cummings, senior
C – John Seyfert, sophomore

2. Eastern Washington Eagles

2002-03: 18-12, 9-5 (second place)

If there ever was a year for Eastern Washington to snap their streak of three-consecutive losses in the Big Sky Championship Game, this is it. Their only significant loss from last season is forward Chris Hester, and senior point guard Alvin Snow (2.19 steals) is more than capable of taking over as the team leader.

With a three-guard lineup, consisting of Snow, Brandon Merritt and Washington transfer Josh Barnard, Eastern Washington will be able to keep their up-tempo style of play.

A player to watch is swingman Henry Bekkering, a freshman from Alberta, Canada. Bekkering, who also serves as a kicker on the football team, has an incredible vertical leap and could team up with Sac State’s Jameel Pugh to be the best dunking duo in any conference.

Question mark: Who will be the Eagles go-to-guy on offense? With Hester gone, and Snow being more of a distributor, forward Marc Axton will have to step into this role. If he can’t, opposing defenses will key in on the Eagles’ plethora of guards. With the graduation of T.J. Williams and Hester, the front line is definitely Eastern Washington’s weakness.

PG – Alvin Snow, senior
G – Brandon Merritt, senior
G – Josh Barnard, senior
PF – Marc Axton, junior
C – Gregg Smith, senior

3. Weber State Wildcats

2002-03: 26-5, 14-0 (first place)

It’s not that Weber State is worse off this season – even though they lost their best player in Jermaine Boyette – it’s just that the rest of the conference is so much better.

Power forward Slobodan Ocokoljic returns as the conference’s best player, and one of the conference’s very few skilled big men. He can take his defender to the 3-point stripe or bang him in the post. Ocokoljic should also lead the conference in rebounding.

Junior college transfer Ryan Davis should get the starting nod at the point guard position, while John Hamilton will start at shooting guard. Nic Sparrow returns to start at small forward, while Utah transfer Lance Allred will start at center.

Sophomore Jamal Jenkins will backup at the guard position, while Snow Junior College transfer Troy Goodell will backup in the front court.

Question mark: Depth. Weber State has very little after losing seven seniors, and it’s most apparent at the point guard position.

PG – Ryan Davis, junior
SG – John Hamilton, senior
SF – Nic Sparrow, senior
PF – Slobodan Ocokoljic, senior
C – Lance Allred, junior

4. Sacramento State Hornets

2002-03: 12-17, 5-9 (fifth place)

While the Hornets lost their top-three scorers from last season, they will still be a vastly improved team. Mainly because they return their top-two scorers from two seasons ago, Joel Jones and Joseth Dawson, who both redshirted last season.

The Hornets have incredible depth at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions. Dashawn Freeman (led conference with 2.41 steals last year) and Washington State transfer E.J. Harris will battle for the point. Freeman’s quickness should get him the starting nod, as Hornet head coach Jerome Jenkins looks to press for 40 minutes this year.

At shooting guard, Dawson looks to have an edge on last year’s starter Brandon Guyton. Jones and Massachusetts transfer Jameel Pugh are both small forwards, however, Jenkins will most likely start Pugh at power forward against smaller teams.

Question mark: Who will step up in the post? Center Tony Champion had a break-out season last year – that is until he struggled down the stretch. Senior Cedric Thompkins could start at center against smaller teams, and sophomore Chris Lange has the best post moves of the three.

Freshman Alex Bausley and senior Djibril Diop will also see minutes at power forward and center, respectively.

PG – Dashawn Freeman, sophomore
SG – Joseth Dawson, senior
SF – Joel Jones, senior
PF – Jameel Pugh, junior
C – Tony Champion, senior

5. Portland State Vikings

2002-03: 5-22, 3-11 (eighth place)

I know Portland State wasn’t great last season. I know they lost their best player and team leader in Jeb Ivey to graduation. And I know they will have to start two junior college transfers in the back court.

So why do I have the Vikings at No. 5, let alone making the Big Sky Tournament? Because their front line is heads and shoulders above any other in the conference.

Senior power forward Seth Scott has a complete offensive game and will average close to fifteen points this season. UTEP transfer Antone Jarrell, who averaged 4.4 points as a sophomore with the Minors, will start at small forward.

Freshman Marshal Hartman, who redshirted last year after suffering an injury in the fifth game, will battle with senior Seamus Boxley for the starting job at center. Brandon Haughton will also see significant time on the front line.

A pair of San Bernardino Junior College transfers, point guard Will Funn and shooting guard Blake Walker, will most likely start in the back court, while Fresno Community College transfer DeShawn Anderson will back up Funn.

A herd of freshmen and junior college players will provide depth across the board for Portland State.

Question mark: Experience. With two junior college transfers in the backcourt, along with freshmen and more junior college players backing them up, expect some early season jitters. But come conference time, this team should be in full tilt.

PG – Will Funn, junior
SG – Blake Walker, junior
SF – Antone Jarrell, junior
PF – Seth Scott, senior
C – Seamus Boxley, senior

6. Idaho State Bengals

2002-03: 15-14, 7-7 (fourth place)

The loss of shooting guard David Schroeder, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury during Idaho State’s Midnight Madness festivities, drops the Bengals down at least two slots in my predictions.

However, with seniors Marquis Poole (4.2 assists) returning at the point and Scott Henry (8.2 rebounds) at forward, Idaho State should still manage to squeak into the conference tournament.

Snow Junior College transfer Jeff Gardner will take over Schroeder’s spot at guard, while another junior college transfer, Doug D’Amore of Scottsdale Community College, will start at small forward. Junior Jesse Smith, 6-foot-10, 270 pounds, will start at center.

Junior college transfers Che’ Jordan and Nate Rede will backup in the front court, while Arzelle Lewis and Maurice Thomas will see time in the back court.

Question mark: Scoring. Without Schroeder, the Bengals will rely heavily on Gardner and D’Amore.

PG – Marquis Poole, senior
SG – Jeff Gardner, junior
SF – Doug D’Amore, junior
PF – Scott Henry, senior
C – Jesse Smith, sophomore

7. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

2002-03: 15-13, 6-8 (fifth place)

Northern Arizona definitely overachieved in reaching the Big Sky Tournament last year. And they’ll have to do the same this season after losing all-conference center Ryan McDade to graduation.

The Lumberjacks have a solid distributor at the point in Kyle Feedback (5.3 assists), along with a pair of scorers returning on the wing, Kelly Golob (14.1 points) and Aaron Bond (11.5 points). Freshman Ruben Boykin, who averaged 33 points in high school, should get a starting spot at forward by conference play, if not in the opener.

Senior Stephen Garnett will return to start at shooting guard, where Kodiak Yazzie will back him up. Chris Ferguson, who redshirted last season, will backup at the point.

Three letter winners, Ben Powell, A.J. Minney and Kendall Minor, left the program over the summer for various reasons. The Lumberjacks also went 3-1 in a five-game trip through Mexico over the summer. The fifth game was called of due to a leaky roof.

Question mark: Center. The starting lineup listed below doesn’t have a player over 6-foot-7, mainly because the ‘Jacks lack a proven center after McDade’s departure. Freshman Paul Menyen is an option, as well as junior college transfer Joakim Kjellborn, a Swedish native who has a better chance of seeing playing time.

PG – Kyle Feuerback, junior
G – Stephen Garnett, junior
G – Kelly Golob, sophomore
F – Aaron Bond, senior
F – Ruben Boykin, Jr., freshman

8. Montana State Bobcats

2002-03: 11-16, 5-9 (seventh place)

Well, what can you say about the Bobcats? They weren’t too good last year, and they don’t seem to be any better this time around.

Four of the team’s top-five scorers left the program – Pete Conway and Casey Reynolds graduated, Shea Washington transferred and Bo Segeberg is no longer enrolled at the university.

The Bobcats do return shooting guard Jason Erickson – the worst choice for conference MVP ever, when he was given the awarded in 2002 – and have added center Matt Towsley, a University of Portland transfer. Towsley averaged sixteen points and nine boards as a sophomore at Portland.

Frank Brown returns to start at point guard, while returnees Josh Barsh and Calvin Ento will start at the forward positions. Seven freshmen, led by forwards Nick Dissly, Carson Durr and P.J. Owsley, along with the coaches’ son, guard Casey Durham, will be the foundation of the Bobcats’ future.

Question mark: Will the Bobcats win a conference game? Probably so, but no more than two.

PG – Frank Brown, sophomore
SG – Jason Erickson, senior
SF – Josh Barsh, senior
PF – Calvin Ento, senior
C – Matt Towsley, junior


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