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The Big Sky Championships: who’s gonna win

March 6, 2012 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments

This is what the head honchos wrote on Monday:

Big Sky (March 3)
Top seed: Montana. The Big Sky regular-season championship came down to the final game, in which the Grizzlies avenged their only loss in Big Sky play by beating Weber State in Missoula.
Tournament stakes: Although Weber State and Montana have 23 wins apiece, neither team will reach the NCAA Tournament without the Big Sky’s automatic bid. If either team claims the Big Sky championship, it will probably enter the NCAA Tournament as a No. 15 seed. If any other team finds a way to win, it would likely receive a No. 16 seed.
Spoiler alert: No. 3 Portland State. The Vikings are the only other team in the tournament with a winning record, and Portland State won six of its final seven. Although they fell short in games against Denver, Wyoming, Oregon, Montana and Weber State, the Vikings kept games close against a few heavy favorites. This lineup featuring mostly juniors and seniors could find a way to make a run.
Predicted champ: Montana. The Grizzlies have lost just twice at home this season, and that was to San Francisco and Nevada by a combined nine points. Since mid-December, the Grizzlies have been shredding opponents, winning by double digits in 14 of 18 victories. A championship game against Weber State would likely be a thriller, but the Grizzlies should be heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

Here’s three reasons why the Griz will capture it all.
1) Dahlberg Arena. There are benefits to having one of the loudest, tightest, most packed game-to-game arenas in the Big Sky. It averages roughly 4,500 a game, but can jam in almost 7,500. Montana is 41-6 at home in the past three seasons. And did I mention it gets loud in there when the Griz go hunting?

2) Will Cherry. The junior guard, recently named First Team All-Big Sky Conference, netted 16.1 points per game and 3.3 assists per game in Big Sky play. He’s money at the line, sinking 82.6% of his foul shots 71-of-86) and sinks 49.7% from the field (87-of-175). More importantly, he was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honors after pacing the conference with 2.6 steals per game (sixth in the nation) and spearheaded a Griz defense that allowed a league-low 61.4 points per game, a league-low 39.8% shooting, and a league-low 32.8% from 3-point range.
And did I mentioned he held Weber State’s Damian Lillard, the conference MVP, to 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting, including a 2-of-11 3-point effort. If you watched that game, you noticed Lillard was hounded by Cherry every time he touched the ball in the winner-take-all game last Tuesday. Lillard did have three steals, but had no assists – and Lillard is a point guard.

3) The veteran presences and leadership. Of the five key contributors to the Griz, most of them have started much of their careers. Senior Derek Selvig has played in 91 games, starting 57 of them. Classmate Art Steward has played in 61 games in two seasons, starting 47 of them. Juniors Cherry and Mathias Ward have played in a 91 games, the most possible, and Cherry has started 80 of them. Sophomore Kareem Jamar has played in 56 games and started 37.
And we haven’t even touched on the coaching staff that’s been there since 2006 – or the fact the Griz have been to the last three BSC title games. So let’s touch on that by repeating it – UM has been to the last three BSC championship games.

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