As college basketball turns the page into another new season, The Arena Pulse will examine and predict some of the things to watch within the various conferences across the nation.
Let’s take a look at the Big Sky Conference:
Defending Tournament Champion: Northern Colorado
Top Returning Scorer: Will Cherry (Montana, 14.2 ppg)
Last December, Weber State guard Damian Lillard broke his right foot. Northern Colorado went on to win the regular season title and conference tournament championship, but as the 2011-12 season approaches, Lillard is back and Weber State is out for supremacy in the Big Sky.
After averaging 19.9 points per game as a sophomore in 2009-10, Lillard started off the season with a bang in 2010-11, recording games of 28, 25, and 28 offensively. Lillard had been averaging 17.7 ppg prior to his season-ending injury.
Weber State head coach Randy Rahe knows the importance of Lillard to the Wildcats, however, the supporting cast around the 6-foot-2 guard this season will also make its presence felt. Fellow guard Scott Bamforth and forward Kyle Bullinger are back and shaping up to be the team to beat in the Big Sky.
Discounting Lillard’s production, given his season-ending injury, Montana’s Will Cherry returns as the conference’s top scorer after averaging 14.2 points per game in 2010-11. Alongside Cherry, Montana also boasts 7-footer Derek Selvig as the Grizzlies appear to have the best shot at ruining Weber State’s dream of a league title in 2011-12.
Chehales Tapscott returns for Portland State, but the sprint for a conference championship could very easily turn into a two-dog race as the season progresses. Northern Arizona, Montana State, and Northern Colorado, in addition to Portland State, should be among the other notable teams to watch within the conference this year.
No team from the Big Sky has won a game within the NCAA Tournament since Montana did so back in 2006 as a No. 12 seed.
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Weber State
3. Northern Arizona
4. Portland State
5. Montana State
6. Northern Colorado
7. Eastern Washington
8. Idaho State
9. Sacramento State
The Arena Pulse Preseason Player of the Year:
Damian Lillard (Weber State)
The Arena Pulse Preseason All-Big Sky First Team:
G Damian Lillard (Weber State)
G Will Cherry (Montana)
G Scott Bamforth (Weber State)
F Chehales Tapscott (Portland State)
F Derek Selvig (Montana)
*Photo: Damian Lillard *Credit: draftexpress.com
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