The 2013-14 season saw one of the Big Sky’s signature programs, and the one that has given it arguably the biggest NCAA Tournament wins in recent memory, return to the Big Dance. It wasn’t that Weber State wasn’t good; they have been a consistent postseason team. They just couldn’t knock off one particular team in the conference tournament that had their number.
Since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2007, Weber State lost three times – all to Montana – in the Big Sky championship game. This time around, the Wildcats didn’t have to go through the Grizzlies, who were bounced in the quarterfinals, and handily beat North Dakota in the championship game. It finished what was pretty much a dominating season for them, as they also won the regular season title and dominated the postseason awards.
Montana still had a nice season, finishing in a three-way tie for second. The Grizzlies then watched Wayne Tinkle take the head coaching job at Oregon State. However, they made a nice hire with alum and former California assistant Travis DeCuire, so they should remain a consistent contender going forward. That wasn’t the only coaching change, however, as their arch-rival had a chance with Brad Huse resigning after eight years as head coach at Montana State, replaced by Oregon assistant Brian Fish.
The conference tied a record for postseason teams with four, as they had that many in 2011. Included was newcomer North Dakota, who made a postseason tournament for the fourth straight season. None of those teams won a game, and that will be the next step.
Next season, Idaho joins the conference in all sports except football, bringing the conference to 12 teams.
All three games in the quarterfinals were single-digit affairs. North Dakota was the only higher seed to advance, as they held off Sacramento State 79-76 to open it. After that, Northern Colorado edged Northern Arizona 62-60 and Portland State beat Montana 70-63.
The higher seeds took over in the semifinals a day later, as North Dakota beat Portland State 79-63 before Weber State needed overtime to edge Northern Colorado 66-63. That set up a championship game that was basically never a contest, with Weber State rolling to an 88-67 win. For the fourth year in a row, the top seed won the conference tournament.
Player of the Year: Davion Berry, Weber State
Newcomer of the Year: Quinton Upshur, Northern Arizona
Freshman of the Year: Jeremy Senglin, Weber State
Coach of the Year: Randy Rahe, Weber State
Defensive Player of the Year: Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
Reserve of the Year: Jamal Webb, North Dakota and DaShaun Wiggins, Portland State
Davion Berry, Sr. G-F, Weber State
Tyler Harvey, So. G, Eastern Washington
Troy Huff, Sr. G-F, North Dakota
Kareem Jamar, Sr. G-F, Montana
Mikh McKinney, Jr. G, Sacramento State
Quinton Upshur, Jr. G, Northern Arizona
- A record-tying four teams made it to a postseason tournament.
- Weber State head coach Randy Rahe became the first to win the conference’s Coach of the Year award four times.
- Davion Berry was the Player of the Year and followed that up with MVP honors in the conference tournament.
What we expected, and it happened: Weber State was the conference champion. The Wildcats were selected atop both preseason polls (media and coaches) with almost all of the first place votes.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Northern Arizona was expected to finish in the bottom half, but was instead a contender. The young Lumberjacks finished tied for second and were the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, and look poised to do well next year.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey led the conference in scoring. It wasn’t just putting up good points on a bad team, either, as he shot over 43 percent from long range to rank fourth in the conference in three-point field goal percentage. His scoring average more than tripled from 7.1 points per game a year earlier.
Team(s) on the rise: Eastern Washington. The Eagles will return all five starters, led by Harvey, from a team that had a .500 record in conference play. Head coach Jim Hayford earned a new contract this off-season. Also: Northern Arizona, as the Lumberjacks were young and look like they could contend next season.
Team(s) on the decline: Montana State. It’s no accident that a coaching change happened here, as the Bobcats just went through their fourth straight losing season. They have hovered around the .500 mark in conference play for a few years now.
2014-15 Conference Outlook
Favorites for next season have to start with a couple of the usual suspects in Montana and Weber State. Montana has a new head coach and lost Kareem Jamar, but has just about everyone else back and is likely first on that list. Weber State loses three big starters, but has good talent right behind them such as Jeremy Senglin and Joel Bolomboy, and Rahe will be back on the bench.
Beyond them, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington come to mind next. The Lumberjacks will return four starters from a team that surprised some by tying for second place in the conference, while the Eagles return all five starters including the reigning scoring champ. North Dakota and Northern Colorado each lose production but have been well-run programs and probably won’t drop off too much. Newcomer Idaho could be a factor right away, but loses their leading scorer.