Big Sky Preview 2015-16

Big Sky Preview

1.     Montana
2.     Eastern Washington
3.     Weber State
4.     Northern Arizona
5.     Southern Utah
6.     Portland State
7.     Northern Colorado
8.     Sacramento State
9.     Idaho
10.  Montana State
11.  North Dakota
12.  Idaho State

Player of the Year: Venky Jois, Eastern Washington
Coach of the Year: Randy Rahe, Weber State
Rookie of the Year: Brad Twombly, Northern Arizona

All-Conference 1st Team
C/F Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
F Venky Jois, Eastern Washington
F Martin Breunig, Montana
G Kris Yanku, Northern Arizona
G Jeremy Senglin, Weber State

All-Conference 2nd Team
C/F Jordyn Martin, Northern Arizona
F Bogdan Bliznyuk, Eastern Washington
G/F A.J. Hess, Southern Utah
G Walter Wright, Montana
G Marcus Colbert, Montana State

All-Conference 3rd Team
C/F Kyndahl Hill, Weber State
F Braxton Tucker, Portland State
G/F Quinton Hooker, North Dakota
G Cameron Michael, Northern Colorado
G Mario Dunn, Montana

All-Freshman Team
C/F Conner Avants, North Dakota
F Ibrahim Sylla, Northern Colorado
G/F Brad Twombly, Northern Arizona
G Miles Seward, Northern Colorado
G Jeremiah Jefferson, Weber State

1. Montana

Key Losses: Jordan Gregory
Key Returners: Martin Breunig

Key Newcomers: Walter Wright, Michael Oguine, Bobby Moorehead, Bryden Boehning    

F Fabijan Krslovic, So.; (4.8/4.7/1.1/1.1/0.6)
F Martin Breunig, Sr.; (16.7/7.3/1.9/0.5/0.8)
G Brandon Gfeller, Jr.; (8.9/2.8/1.1/0.9/0.2)
G Mario Dunn, Jr.; (8.8/3.8/3.8/1.8/0.3)
G Walter Wright, Jr.; (JUCO)

Reserves: Riley Bradshaw, Jack Lopez, Michael Oguine, Bobby Moorehead, Bryden Boehning
Postseason Prediction: 13 Seed (Auto-Bid)
Hey this is a sexy team. I never thought I’d think Montana had a sexy team, but I do - I mean look at this squad. The Griz lose Jordan Gregory, a 17 ppg scorer and an All-Leaguer, but return perhaps the most experienced team in the conference (and perhaps the most talented too). Coach Travis DeCuire led the Griz to a regular season Big Sky championship in his first season and looks to repeat that feat in 2015-16.

At the core of Montana’s sexiness this season is forward Martin Breunig, a 6’8’’ specimen who led the Griz in rebounding and blocked shots in 2014-15, and also was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Gregory. Montana was a poor rebounding team last season, making Breunig’s presence in the lineup that much more impactful. The forward was one of the best finishers in the country last season, shooting 60.7% inside the arc, while also converting on 74.6% of his free throw attempts. Breunig is a sure-fire Big Sky first-teamer and will compete with E Wash’s Jois for CPOY (aside: Jois vs. Breunig this season is going to be the event to watch – mark your calendars for January 23, 2016).

Breunig isn’t a lone wolf in the Montana snow this season; he has a great supporting cast that will help shoulder the load. The returning supporters include Australian sophomore forward Fabijan Krslovic (6’8’’), and a trio of junior guards – Brandon Gfeller (6’4’’), Mario Dunn (6’0’’), and Riley Bradshaw (6’2’’). Krslovic should mature in his second season for the Griz; he played well offensively in 2014-15 and has potential to be a second rebounding force alongside Breunig. Gfeller is strictly a three-point threat – he shot 184 threes last season (40.8%) compared to just 19 twos. Bradshaw, formerly of Utah State, is a locker room leader who should see plenty of time off the pine and even earn a start or two if Dunn’s injury spills over into the season. The aforementioned Dunn is one of Montana’s best offensive weapons and a key ball handler. He is coming off of hand surgery and may be forced to miss time, though coaches are hopeful he will be ready to start the first game of the regular season (which is against Boise State – upset alert!!!).

Montana has a nice set of recruits this season including one that will start immediately and is one of my Big Sky All-Conference picks – Walter Wright. Wright was a JUCO honorable mention All-American last season and put up 31 points in the Griz’s first exhibition game. This guy could set the conference on fire this season and is a perfect complement to Dunn and Gfeller in the starting backcourt. Other newbies with immediate impact potential include freshman guard Michael Oguine, 6’7’’ shooting guard Bobby Moorehead, and 6’10’’ redshirt freshman brute Bryden Boehning. These three men along with returning forward Jack Lopez and Bradshaw should round out a capable 10-man Griz rotation for Coach DeCuire.

The Big Sky is Montana’s to lose this season. They are talented, they are experienced, and they are deep. Though the other top dogs in the conference will challenge them fiercely, expect Montana to lock up the auto-bid and earn between a 12 and 14 seed in the Big Dance.

2. Eastern Washington

Key Losses: Tyler Harvey, Drew Brandon, Ognjen Milijkovic
Key Returners: Venky Jois

Key Newcomers: Austin McBroom, Julian Harrell, Enrico Nuno, Cody Benzel, Bear Henderson, Michael Wearne

F Venky Jois, Sr.; (16.7/7.7/2.0/1.2/2.2)
F Bogdan Bliznyuk, So.; (8.7/4.0/1.1/0.5/0.4)
F Felix Von Hofe, Jr.; (5.1/1.4/0.6/0.3/0.3)
G Sir Washington, So.; (2.6/1.4/0.4/0.5/0.0)
G Austin McBroom, Sr.; (w/ SLU) (6.7/1.2/1.6/0.8/0.0)

Reserves: Kyle Reid, Julian Harrell, Enrico Nuno, Cody Benzel, Bear Henderson, Michael Wearne
Postseason Prediction: NIT
2014-15 was a banner year for Eastern Washington. The Eagles knocked off Indiana early in the season, owned the 39th most efficient offense in the country, represented the Big Sky in the tourney, and featured one of the most exciting players in the nation (Tyler Harvey). The Three-Man-Weave beloved Harvey has now gone to greener pastures unfortunately, as has point guard Drew Brandon, and forward Ognjen Milijkovic. Combine these departures with senior guard Parker Kelly’s graduation and we find the Eagles have lost four starters from their 26-9 (14-4) team. Despite these losses, E Wash is in great shape this season to repeat as Big Sky champions thanks to potential CPOY Venky Jois, rising reserves, and exciting newcomers.

Venky Jois is awesome and is an absolute hoss in the paint at 6’8’’ 230 lbs. Jois is one of the best rebounders in the conference, turned in a 7.8% Blk% (76th nationally), owned one of the best free throw rates in the land, and shot a comfortable 60.5% inside the arc. EWU is in great hands with Jois leading the way.

Jois the Hoss won’t be alone in the frontcourt; rising sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk looks to take the conference by storm this season in his second year donning the red and white. Bliznyuk is 6’6’’, can rebound, and turned in an impressive shooting slash of .580/.537/.776 last season, winning the Big Sky freshman of the year award in the process. The Eagles have easily the best frontcourt duo in the Big Sky in Jois and Bliznyuk, and the two make up maybe even the best mid-major frontcourt pair in the land.  

Two other former reserves looking to receive more PT this season are junior forward Felix Von Hofe and sophomore guard Sir Washington. Von Hofe is money from three-point range, shooting 38/93 (40.9%) from deep in 2014-15. Washington brings a stout perimeter defensive presence to the lineup and is a promising contributor on the offensive side of the ball.

Joining the EWU program this season is former SLU point guard Austin McBroom. McBroom will fill the void at the point left by the departed Brandon. The guard had a nice 2015 for a sucky SLU squad, in which he posted a respectable assist rate and a scorching three point percentage (43.8% on 96 attempts). McBroom’s experience brings a lot to the table for Coach Hayford and crew.

The SLU transfer isn’t the only fresh face sure to make an impact on the Eagles roster this year; E Wash brings in an additional two transfers and three freshman of note. The transfers (both JUCO) are comprised of 6’5’’ guard Julian Harrell (formerly also of Penn) and 6’8’’ forward Rico Nuno. Harrell started a few games for Penn as a freshman before suffering a season-ending injury; he is explosive on offense and brings versatility to the Eagle defense with his ability to guard multiple spots of the floor. Nuno is a big body, which is a welcome commodity for the relatively small E Wash squad. He can step out and shoot the three, but at 250 pounds, is more than capable of mixing it up down low in the post.

The E Wash froshies include 6’4’’ guard Cody Benzel (redshirt), 6’6’’ forward Bear Henderson (redshirt), and 6’2’’ guard Michael Wearne. Benzel is a hard-nosed guard that will spend most of his time raining fire on opposing teams from deep. Bear Henderson (real name Razhaun), is an athletic wing that will bring energy off the Eagle pine. Wearne is perhaps the most promising of all the E Wash freshmen and is poised to take on the mantle of “point guard of the future”; he is athletic, quick, and physical – watch for him to compete with Washington and McBroom for starter’s minutes in the EWU backcourt this season.       

It’s not often a team loses the leading scorer in the country and is still a threat to repeat as conference champs the following season, but that’s exactly the position the Eagles find themselves in. E Wash will be a contender all year in the Big Sky and challenge Montana and Northern Arizona for the conference crown in 2015-16.

3. Weber State

Key Losses: Chris Golden
Key Returners: Joel Bolomboy, Jeremy Senglin, Richaud Gittens

Key Newcomers: Zach Braxton, McKay Cannon, Jordan Dallas, Jeremiah Jefferson, Brenden Morris, Juwan Williams

C Joel Bolomboy, Sr.; (13.3/10.2/0.8/0.7/1.7)
F Kyndahl Hill, Jr.; (7.7/5.1/0.8/0.6/0.8)
G Ryan Richardson, So.; (6.0/1.3/0.9/0.3/0.3)
G Richaud Gittens, Jr.; (9.9/3.0/2.8/1.1/0.1)
G Jeremy Senglin, Jr.; (15.8/3.1/3.4/1.1/0.0)

Reserves: Hayden Hunter, Zach Braxton, McKay Cannon, Jordan Dallas, Jeremiah Jefferson
Postseason Prediction: None
Weber State is coming off their worst season in Randy Rahe’s nine-year coaching run – the Cats went 13-17, finishing 8-10 in conference play. Before last season, Rahe’s Wildcats had never finished below 3rd in the Big Sky; they won 30 games in 2013, won 25 games in 2012 with Damian Lillard, and made the tourney in 06-07 and 13-14. Last year will prove to be an outlier in Rahe’s coaching career as the Wildcats have never been so back. Weber State returns nearly everyone from last year’s squad, including two All-Conference locks, and adds arguably the best recruiting class in the Big Sky. 

The Cats are a solid squad this season, both inside and on the perimeter, and are led by center Joel Bolomboy and point guard Jeremy Senglin. Bolomboy, a 6’9’’ senior, is a force in the frontcourt; the center turned in a 13.4% OR% (48th nationally) and a 23.3% DR% (56th) while blocking 4.7% of the shots he faced (231st). The big man drew over 5 fouls per 40 minutes and shot 72.8% from the line on 158 attempts. Bolomboy shot only 47% from inside the arc, but he takes a lot of mid-range jumpers and exhibits nice touch for a center (he even went 15/41, 36.6%, from deep last year). He is the senior leader for this squad and should be one of the best big men in the conference. Senglin’s season was cut short by injury last season, but in 23 games the guard proved that he has the potential to be great in the Big Sky. Senglin had a high assist rate and relatively low turnover rate as a sophomore while getting to the line nearly as much as Bolomboy and finished with a shooting slash of .454/.350/.776. Those numbers should only improve as Senglin enters his junior year as the undisputed floor leader.

Richaud Gittens (6’4’’) and Kyndahl Hill (6’7’’) will rejoin Bolomboy and Senglin in the starting five this season. Gittens played the second most minutes on the team last season and like his aforementioned teammates, got to the line frequently. Gittens is a good three-point shooter (38.8%) and is also a reliable passer on the wing. Hill is a sound rebounder and able complement to Bolomboy down low. Like the star center, Hill has the ability to step away from the basket and knock down jumpers. He is yet another member of the Wildcats that enjoys shooting free throws (Weber State was the 18th best team in the country in getting to the charity stripe last season).

Ryan Richardson, a 6’4’’ sophomore, is poised to step into the final starting slot with the transfer out of Chris Golden. He has potential on the perimeter, shooting 33.7% on 89 three attempts last season.

Weber State’s robust recruiting class this season promises to make them on of the deepest teams in the conference. The following freshmen all have the chops to leave a mark on the Wildcat 2015-16 campaign: Zach Braxton (R-Fr.; 6’9’’), McKay Cannon (6’1’’), Jordan Dallas (6’10’’), Jeremiah Jefferson (6’2’’), Brenden Morris (6’7’’), and Juwan Williams (6’5’’). Braxton is a big center/forward who redshirted last season but was a top ten recruit in the state of Colorado coming out of high school – Bolomboy is a perfect role model and should help Braxton realize his potential while showing him the ropes in the post. Cannon returns to Weber State after serving a two-year LDS Church mission; he is a talented point guard with a knack for scoring. Dallas is a touted three-star recruit out of Long Beach; with Braxton he should form Weber’s frontcourt of the future. Jefferson is another redshirt freshman who was a three-star coming out of high school in 2014 when he was recruited by the likes of Tulsa, Texas Tech, and UTEP. He is a scoring guard who should see time behind Gittens and Richardson. Morris is a skinny forward out of Utah and Williams was a top-50 player out of Texas. Both will fight for time with their fellow froshies.

The Wildcats look to right the ship this season and get back to their winning ways. With the experience of the incumbents and strength of the incoming class, Weber State is a top 3 Big Sky team and are contenders to take the auto-bid from Eastern Washington, Montana, and the like this season.

4. Northern Arizona

Key Losses: Quinton Upshur, Aaseem Dixon
Key Returners: Kris Yanku

Key Newcomers: Felix Rivera-Vega, Junior Searcy, Brad Twombly, Marcus DeBerry, Majestic Tejada, Corey Brown

F Jordyn Martin, Sr.; (7.7/7.7/0.8/0.4/0.4)
F Ako Kaluna, Jr.; (8.6/3.4/0.8/0.5/0.3)
F Brad Twombly, Fr.; 
G Jaleni Neely, Sr.; (7.9/2.8/2.8/0.8/0.1)
G Kris Yanku, Jr.; (13.8/4.5/5.1/1.2/0.0)

Reserves: Felix Rivera-Vega, Junior Searcy, Marcus DeBerry, Majestic Tejada, Corey Brown
Postseason Prediction: CBI/CIT
The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks out of Flagstaff, AZ turned in a successful 2014-15 basketball season. The squad made a run all the way to the championship game of the CIT tournament, where they lost to the Purple Aces of Evansville. Coach Jack Murphy loses two major key pieces off that team in Quinton Upshur and Aaseem Dixon. Despite this, expectations are high for the 2015-16 version of the Lumberjacks, as the team returns its most important player, the conference defensive player of the year, a big fat guy who can shoot threes, and a promising class of youngsters.

Kris Yanku, a 6’4’’ combo guard and NAU’s best returning player, enters the 2015-16 season coming off a year in which he was named to the Big Sky First Team All-Conference squad. Yanku is an excellent passer (37.3 assist rate, 13th nationally in 2014-15) and is one of the very best in the country at attacking the rim and getting to the line - the guard was number one in the country in free throws made last season (225/283; 79.5%). Yanku’s production and NAU’s reliance on him should skyrocket this year without the likes of Upshur and Dixon.

NAU also brings back three key supporting cogs in 6’7’’ forward Jordyn Martin, 6’7’’ forward Ako Kaluna, and 6’0’’ guard Jaleni Neely. Martin was named the conference’s defensive player of the year last season and was also one of the best rebounders in the conference. His toughness inside may be the biggest x-factor for the Jacks this season. Kaluna is a hilarious walking juxtaposition – he is 296 pounds but relies on finesse more than brute force to score; Kaluna was NAU’s most efficient three-point shooter last season (43%). Neely’s season was cut short last year due to eligibility reasons, but when he did play, the guard showed flashes of competency. Now fully eligible, Neely should see at least 30 minutes per contest and is a valuable scorer in the Jack’s offense.

Several youngsters coming into the program promise to make their marks early on the NAU season. Forwards Brad Twombly (6’5’’), Corey Brown (6’8’’), and Felix Rivera-Vega (6’6’’), and guards Marcus DeBerry (6’5’’), Junior Searcy (6’4’’), and Majestic Tejada (6’0’’) will vie for the opportunity to play big-time minutes for Coach Murphy and crew. Twombly fills a void at the wing position; he is a scorer and should get the first crack at the final starting role in his rookie campaign. Brown and Rivera-Vega will offer good size off the bench and bolster the frontcourt tandem of Martin and Kaluna. Searcy is a solid defender from both guard spots, DeBerry is a lanky wing-type of player, and Tejada is a pure point guard with excellent ball handling capabilities. All should play some sort of role in the NAU lineup this season as Coach Murphy figures out the final rotation.

The Lumberjacks have one of the best players in the Big Sky and should be a top four team in the conference this season. They will look to compete all year with Eastern Washington, Montana, and Weber State for the Auto-Bid that comes with winning the postseason conference tournament.

5. Southern Utah

Key Losses: Tyler Rawson
Key Returners: A.J. Hess, James McGee

Key Newcomers: Adonis Saltes

F Casey Oliverson, Sr.; (7.4/4.1/0.4/0.4/0.3)
G/F A.J. Hess, Sr.; (11.7/3.7/1.0/0.5/0.6)
G Juwan Major, So.; (5.3/1.9/1.3/0.4/0.2)
G James McGee, So.; (8.2/1.5/1.3/0.4/0.1)
G Trey Kennedy, Jr.; (6.1/2.4/2.0/0.5/0.2)

Reserves: Travon Langston, Christian Thompson, Race Parsons, John Marshall, Adonis Saltes
Postseason Prediction: None
The Southern Utah Thunderbirds were one of the most fun teams to gamble on during the 2013-14 season. Though they were objectively awful in every way (winning only 2 games all year), they had a cover streak that seemed to last a lifetime. Led by demi-God Jason Cheesman (see pic above), the T-Birds rattled off cover after cover much to the delight of the three or four people in the country actually betting on them. Last season, the Birds were actually somewhat competitive in the Big Sky, winning 7 games in conference play, and they could achieve their best finish since 2007 when they went over .500 and won 16 games under current Idaho State coach Bill Evans.

SUU returns nearly everyone from a 10-19 squad a year ago. The T-Birds are deep and can shoot the shit out of the ball (11th nationally in 3P% last season). Nine players played over 15 minutes per game last season for the T-Birds, and eight of them return for a curtain call this year. SUU is led by senior guard A.J. Hess, a 6’6’’ sharpshooter. Hess turned in a blazing shooting slash of .465/.419/.833 in 2014-15 while leading the Birds in scoring and minutes played. He will be the team leader as SUU fights for relevance in the Big Sky.

The cavalry surrounding Hess includes five players who played substantial minutes for the Birds last season: Casey Oliverson (6’8’’), Juwan Major (6’3’’), James McGee (6’2’’), Trey Kennedy (6’3’’), and Travon Langston (6’3’’). Oliverson is SUU’s best returning rebounder and one of the very few big men on this roster. The senior is great at finishing around the rim and in the paint, shooting 60.8% inside the arc last season, but appears to be allergic to drawing contact, shooting only 40 free throws last year (making only 40% of them). Major is strictly a slasher type of wing shooting only 13 threes in 2014-15. He is an able finisher, but doesn’t do a whole lot more while on the floor. McGee turned in a fantastic freshman season for the Birds sporting the 5th best O-rating in the country (131.9) (caveat: used only 19.2% of team’s possessions). McGee was the best three point shooter in the country last season percentage-wise shooting 50.8% (61/120) – yowzas. If he doesn’t play more this season I’ll eat my hat. Kennedy and Langston were each just so-so last season, neither is much of a shooter, but Kennedy runs point most of the time and Langston is arguably SUU’s best defender on the perimeter.

Race Parsons (6’4’’), Christian Thompson (6’7’’), and John Marshall (6’1’’) round out SUU’s depth this season. Parsons and Marshall should both regain their supporting roles in the backcourt; Parsons in particular will be relied upon for his long-range shooting. Thompson is crucial for the Birds given the thinness of their frontcourt. He is a strong rebounder and can also shoot outside a bit.

Southern Utah brings in a few freshmen, but really only one has a legitimate shot at cracking the rotation. Adonis Saltes is a 6’2’’ frosh from New Mexico; he is a dynamite scorer and was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2014. Freshman Daniel Melifonwu might earn a minute or two due to the sole fact he’s 6’9’’.

2015-16 is a whole new narrative for the Southern Utah basketball program. Look for the Thunderbirds to be competitive in the Big Sky and fight for a top 5 spot this season.

6. Portland State

Key Losses: DaShaun Wiggins, Gary Winston, Tiegbe Bamba
Key Returners: Braxton Tucker

Key Newcomers: Calaen Robinson, Cameron Forte, Donivine Stewart, Evan Garrison, De’Sean Parsons, Khari Holloway, Isaiah Pineiro, Armani Collins

C Collin Spickerman, Sr.; (4.4/4.3/0.7/0.6/2.5)
F Braxton Tucker, Jr.; (11.5/5.3/0.7/0.5/0.5)
G Bryce White, Jr.; (9.5/4.1/1.8/0.7/0.4)
G Zach Gengler, Jr.; (4.6/2.5/1.4/0.6/0.0)
G Donivine Stewart, Sr.; (w/ SIUE) (8.6/4.3/4.1/1.4/0.0)

Reserves: Cameron Forte, Isaiah Pineiro, Armani Collins, Calaen Robinson, De’Sean Parsons, Evan Garrison, Khari Holloway
Postseason Prediction: None
The Portland State Vikings will be a new-look team in 2015-16. Coach Tyler Gerving and company lose 4 starters, including their three leading scorers - DaShaun Wiggins, Gary Winston, and Tiegbe Bamba. The team adds 8 (!) new players by way of JUCO/D1 transfer and one new freshman of note. With the 8 new transfer additions, the Vikings now have 12 players on their roster that played at a collegiate program before Portland State (80% of the roster, which I’d be stymied to find if that isn’t the most in D1 currently).

So very true, PSU loses a wide array of talent from their 15-14 (9-9) team a season ago, but they bring back two major contributors (both of which were hindered by injuries last year), and the transfers Coach Gerving recruited in this season have the potential to at least replace majority of the production lost with the departed. A return to .500 is certainly not out of the wheelhouse.

The aforementioned key returners are 6’6’’ junior forward Braxton Tucker and 6’5’’ junior guard Bryce White. Tucker turned in a fine season for the Vikes in 2014-15, averaging 11.5 points per game while gobbling o-boards like Pac-Man gobbles blue ghosts. The offense will likely go through Tucker in the post as Gerving’s style of play tends to shy away from the long ball as a first option (especially without Wiggins and Winston). White played in only 13 games last season before a back injury shut him down. The junior has potential to be a very effective “three and D” guy and has the athletic ability and size to guard nearly anyone on the floor. His development this season, particularly in his shot, will be the x-factor for PSU’s season.

Supporting the two main pieces will be Zach Gengler, a 6’2’’ shooting guard, and Collin Spickerman, a 6’8’’ center. Gengler earned a few starts in his sophomore season and will be relied upon as the Vikings’ number one three-point threat on offense this season. Spickerman is a fantastic shot blocker; the center has a 7’2’’ wing span and blocked 2.5 shots per game in 20 minutes per contest last season (12.4% Blk %, 12th nationally). He should also help lock down the boards alongside Tucker.

Now we reach the crap shoot that is figuring out which of the 9 newcomers will play the biggest roles this season for Portland State. The most important addition appears to be point guard and SIUE graduate transfer Donivine Stewart. Stewart is a true point-guard and a very reliable ball handler. His experience as the floor leader for SIUE (for which he played 80% of his team’s minutes in 2014-15) should allow him to better ease into the new scenery in Portland. Cameron Forte (6’7’’, 220 lbs.) figures to be the key frontcourt backup; he averaged 4.0 points and 2.8 boards with Georgia last season. On the wings, Isaiah Pineiro (JUCO), Armani Collins (Fr.), and De’Sean Parsons (JUCO) should also see the floor and one of the three may wrench a starting spot from Gengler. Calaen Robinson (Arizona St.), Evan Garrison (Clark College), and Khari Holloway (JUCO) make up the backcourt bench. Garrison will be a key reserve in the point guard slot behind Stewart, as will Robinson, the former 19th best point guard out of high school.

A lot of folks are down on Portland State this season, but if Gerving is able to mesh the many new faces, the Vikes have potential to make noise in the middle of the Big Sky.

7. Northern Colorado

Key Losses: Tevin Svihovec, Tim Huskisson, Dominique Lee
Key Returners: Cameron Michael, Jordan Wilson

Key Newcomers: Jordan Davis, Miles Seward, Tanner Morgan, Jamal Evans, Ibrahim Sylla

F Jeremy Verhagen, So.; (3.1/2.0/0.3/0.2/0.3)
F Ibrahim Sylla, Fr.;
G Cameron Michael, Jr.; (12.9/2.9/1.3/0.7/0.1)
G Miles Seward, Fr.;
G Jordan Wilson, Jr.; (8.8/1.9/2.3/1.0/0.0)

Reserves: Anthony Johnson, Jordan Davis, Tanner Morgan, Jamal Evans, Jon’te Dotson
Postseason Prediction: None
The Northern Colorado Bears last season had the 63rd most efficient offense in the country per, a number that shocks the eyes to see considering they finished 15-15 with 10 wins in one of the weakest conferences in the country. They were also, however, the 349th ranked defensive team in the land – better than only Northwestern St. and The Citadel. This season shows no signs of (substantial) defensive improvement and with the losses of three of their top four scorers, the Bears appear to be headed towards a plummet in their offensive efficiency.

Three double-digit per game scorers are gone for UNC: Tevin Svihovec, Tim Huskisson, and Dominique Lee. Returning is Cameron Michael, a capable shooter and decent playmaker, and Jordan Wilson, a 5’7’’ sure-handed point guard. Michael was deadly from deep last year for the Bears, shooting 40.1% on 162 attempts, and also showed ability to create and finish mid-range jumpers. The 6’5’’ guard will serve as UNC’s number one scoring option this season. Wilson too was a strong three-point shooter last season (39.1% on 110 attempts) and owned a turnover rate of 11.9%, the 142nd best rate in the country, impressive for a primary point guard. As one can imagine, Wilson (again, 5’7’’) has quick hands capable of creating steals on the defensive end, a rare ability on this Bears roster.

Northern Colorado was one of the smallest teams in the country last season, most of the time playing a lineup consisting of three 6’5’’ guys, a 6’2’’ guy, and a 5’7’’ guy (Wilson). Jeremy Verhagen, a 6’10’’ sophomore, has the potential to break the mold on the little-man dominated lineups. Verhagen was stick-thin last season, weighing in at 195 pounds. According to his roster bio, Verhagen is now 220 lbs., still on the skinny side for a 6’10’’guy, but that is quite an increase. Verhagen has the rebounding and rim protecting potential to make a major impact this season for the Bears in an increased role.

The Bears returning reserves aren’t much to write home about (or ride home if you don’t send mail), but they are experienced, which is valuable in college ball. Anthony Johnson (6’2’’) and Jon’te Dotson (6’3’’) are two returning guards who should receive playing time and possibly start a few games. Johnson actually posted fantastic efficiency numbers in limited time last season and could be a real breakout candidate this year (and then we can all write/ride home about him).

UNC brings in a pretty nice recruiting class headlined by three-star Canadian prospect Miles Seward. Seward is a top 20 recruit from Canada and should be a source of scoring and playmaking early on in his D1 career. Jordan Davis, a 6’2’’ guard out of Las Vegas, should also see his fair share of court time behind Wilson and the like. Wilson can score, rebounds well for his size, and is an excellent distributor. The Bears add options in the frontcourt with redshirt freshman Ibrahim Sylla (6’8’’), JUCO transfer Tanner Morgan (6’9’’), and JUCO transfer Jamal Evans (6’7’’). If Coach B.J. Hill decides to go the traditional two tall-guy lineup, one of these players will slot in alongside Verhagen in the starting lineup. My money on who earns the starting slot is Sylla, a big, athletic, rebound machine that could change the way we think about Northern Colorado defense (does anyone ever think of Northern Colorado defense?).

Expect a slight decline this season for Northern Colorado, something like a 6th to 8th place finish in the Big Sky feels right with between 7 and 9 conference wins. This is however a completely different type of team than last season, giving them an air of unpredictability.

8. Sacramento State

Key Losses: Mikh McKinney, Dylan Garrity
Key Returners: Cody Demps

Key Newcomers: Joshua Patton, Grant Dressler

C Eric Stuteville, Jr.; (7.1/3.6/0.2/0.2/1.0)
F Nick Hornsby, Jr.; (6.8/5.2/1.6/1.3/0.3)
G Cody Demps, Sr.; (9.8/5.1/3.3/1.0/0.4)
G Dreon Barlett, Sr.; (2.7/1.3/0.3/0.1/0.1)
G Marcus Graves, So.; (1.2/0.3/0.3/0.2/0.0)

Reserves: Justin Strings, Joshua Patton, Grant Dressler, Jiday Ugbaja
Postseason Prediction: None
Sacramento State turned in its best season in its history last year, winning 21 games and making their first ever postseason tournament (CIT). The major reason for this success was senior guard Mikh McKinney, a do-it-all point guard and one of the best players in the conference. McKinney has graduated and he takes his 19 points per game with him. Dylan Garrity, the Hornets’ second leading scorer in 2014-15, is also gone, leaving Sac State in a rebuilding situation after its one-year run of competitiveness.

This will be kind of a “yikes” year for Sacramento State. With their lost production and utter lack of depth (McKinney played 91% of the team’s minutes and Garrity played 83.5%), the Hornets will be reliant upon players with little to no experience. Three returning starters, Cody Demps (Sr. 6’4’’), Eric Stuteville (Jr. 6’11’’), and Nick Hornsby (Jr. 6’7’’) will be counted on to help show the newbies the ropes.

Demps was Sac State’s third leading scorer last season at just under 10 per game and its second leading rebounder at just over 5 per contest. He is far and away a drive-first wing attempting only 21 three-pointers a season ago. Demps is a very good finisher inside and he gets to the line a ton, where he shoots 80.5%. Stuteville is a big body that does work on the offensive glass. The 250 pound behemoth isn’t a great defensive boarder, but he likes to block shots, something he does fairly well (5.8% Blk % in 2014-15). Hornsby is the team’s best rebounder and is an effective shooter from 15-20 feet and around the rim.

The backcourt is a giant unknown for the Hornets in 2015-16. The best bet is we see a combination of Dreon Barlett, a 6’3’’ senior, and Marcus Graves, a seldom used 6’0’’ sophomore, starting to begin the year. Barlett attempted 38 three pointers last season – that is the most among any of the Sac State returners. The good news is the guard hit 17 of them (44.7%), meaning he’s potentially a knockdown shooter (small sample size), at least the Hornet fans can only hope. Graves barely played last season, but nobody on the roster new or old played very much at the point last season behind McKinney. He will be asked a lot of in his sophomore campaign and it will be interesting to see how he responds in his newly assumed role.

Justin Strings, a 6’6’’ 210 pound forward and Jiday Ugbaja, a rarely utilized 5’11’’ sophomore, should see minutes off the pine in 2015-16.

The freshman class isn’t strong for Sac State. Joshua Patton (6’8’’) and Grant Dressler (6’6’’) have the greatest chances to make an immediate impact. Patton is an athletic rebounder and Dressler can shoot the trey ball (a rarity on this squad). 5’10’’ freshman Aaron Harmetz may even see some floor time due to his superior three-point shooting ability as well.

The Hornets will not be a top 4 Big Sky team in 2015-16 as they were last season. With the amount of talent they lose, retain, and add, this squad will fight to stay above the cellar dwellers of the Big Sky.

9. Idaho

Key Losses: Connor Hill, Mike Scott, Sekou Wiggs, Bira Seck
Key Returners: Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, Perrion Callandret

Key Newcomers: Myles Franklin, Pat Ingram, Jake Straughan, Chris Sarbaugh, Skyler White

C Paulin Mpawe, Sr.; (2.6/2.9/0.2/0.2/0.4)
F Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, So.; (8.8/4.8/0.5/0.4/0.1)
G Victor Sanders, So.; (3.8/1.7/0.9/0.3/0.1)
G Perrion Callandret, Jr.; (6.7/2.5/1.6/0.6/0.2)
G Pat Ingram, Jr.; (JUCO)

Reserves: Ty Egbert, Jordan Scott, Myles Franklin, Jake Straughan, Chris Sarbaugh, Skyler White
Postseason Prediction: None
The Vandals are a young team this season coming off a 13-17 (8-10) year from which they lose four important players. Connor Hill, Mike Scott, and Sekou Wiggs were Idaho’s three leading scorers last season (in that order) and Bira Seck, the team’s best rebounder, was a vital piece inside. Four players who each started at least one game last season and two key reserves return. Despite this and the influx of a couple potentially effective transfers, the Vandals will struggle this season to get back to 8 wins in conference play.

Offensively, the Vandals will turn to junior guard Perrion Callandret and sophomore forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan (whose last name looks like I just hit the keyboard with my palm) for production. Callandret was very efficient in his 20 minutes or so per contest last season; he shot 42% from deep and showed the ability to put the ball on the floor from time to time. With Hill and Scott, the team’s two best three-point shooters departing, Callandret will be looked at to fill the trey-bomb void in the Vandal offense. Mr. M (the other guy I mentioned above; I don’t want to palm his name again) is Idaho’s leading returning scorer at just under 9 per game last year. The 6’7’’ forward is a strong rebounder and gets to the line better than anyone on the team. Mr. M gets most of his shots around the rim, so despite the European influence his name appears to have; this four-man is not of the stretch persuasion.

Aside from Callandret and Mr. M, four other returners have potential to perform as impact players in the Idaho lineup this season: Paulin Mpawe (6’10’’), Victor Sanders (6’5’’), Ty Egbert (6’9’’), and Jordan Scott (6’6’’). Mpawe started 25 games last season for the Vandals, yet only played just under 14 minutes per contest, which tells me he either fouls a lot (meh, so-so at 5.4 FC/40), he’s out of shape (6’10’’ 227 lbs. I doubt it), he’s not very good (yeah but then why does he start), or his Dad made them start him (best guess). Mpawe is long but doesn’t block as many shots as you’d hope from a 6’10’’ guy, but he does rebound well, particularly on the offensive end. We’ll see if he can get more than 14 minutes per game this season. Sanders has promise on the wing as a deep threat; his freshman season he shot 40% from three on 50 attempts (good for 4th most attempts on the team). His playing time will see a big spike this year as he assumes a starting role. Egbert and Scott both saw limited minutes last year but played when given the opportunity; each play inside and each can finish around the bucket and offer a little rebounding here and there.

Three transfers coming into Moscow (Idaho not Russia) are guard Chris Sarbaugh (San Diego), guard Pat Ingram (JUCO), and Skyler White (George Washington). Ingram most likely gets first crack at filling the empty starting point guard slot for Idaho; he is a sturdy fella at 6’2’’ 218 pounds and played 19 games for Iowa before transferring to a junior college after his freshman year. Ingram feels like a glue guy, a calming presence at the top of the key, someone who can run an offense. Sarbaugh is an experienced graduate transfer who can shoot. White didn’t do much as a freshman for GW, but he’s a solid 6’7’’ forward who should find better success at the mid-major level.

Two freshman guards, Jake Straughan (R-Fr.) and Myles Franklin will compete for PT behind/with Ingram in the backcourt.

Idaho is poised to take a small step back this year. They weren’t a good team last year and they won’t be a good team this season either. Expect a 7th to 9th place finish in the Big Sky.

10. Montana State

Key Losses: Michael Dison
Key Returners: Marcus Colbert, Stephan Holm, Danny Robison

Key Newcomers: Tyler Hall, Tyson Kanseyo, Quinton Everett

C Shy Blake, Jr.; (JUCO)
F Danny Robison, Sr.; (9.2/4.6/0.7/0.3/0.3)
G Zach Green, So.; (4.3/2.2/0.8/0.5/0.2)
G Stephan Holm, Jr.; (9.8/2.2/0.4/0.3/0.0)
G Marcus Colbert, Sr.; (13.1/3.1/4.7/0.9/0.0)

Reserves: Tyler Hall, Tyson Kanseyo, Quinton Everett, Quinn Price
Postseason Prediction: None
Head Coach Brian Fish had a rough 2014-15 leading the Montana State Bobcats to a paltry 7-23 record (4-14). A program renaissance wasn’t necessarily expected in Fish’s first season as captain, but something over 7 wins probably wasn’t too much to ask for. Nevertheless, Coach Fish has an opportunity to improve upon his past season woes as he brings back a team that loses only one major piece and adds a slew of new talent.

Now when I say “improve upon the past”, I mean this squad is more than capable of winning about 10 games. Losing leading scorer Michael Dison is certainly a huge blow, but the pieces returning have 10-game winning season written all over them. Marcus Colbert, a 5’11’ senior point guard, will be the Bobcats’ leader this year. Colbert is one of the best assist-men in Montana State history (prestigious?) and turned in the 17th highest assist rate in the country last season (36.6). The guard is also a lights out shooter from deep (42.7% on 117 attempts) and strong from the line (75.7% on 107 attempts). Colbert’s 27% usage should push up even higher this season with no Dison in the backcourt stealing touches.

Danny Robison (6’8’’ Sr.), Stephan Holm (6’3’’ Jr.), and Zach Green (6’4’’ So.) return to form the remainder of the Bobcats nucleus. Robison, the team captain, plays more of a stretch four style of forward, shooting 85 threes last season (37.6%) compared to 112 twos (52.7%). He’s not the greatest rebounder, but he can fill it up on O. Holm is a three-point specialist who earns his keep jacking up shots from outside. He offers little else on the floor besides a smile and the occasional high-five. Green is one of the more athletic Bobcats. The wing is not a shooter at all, but he does a passable job finishing inside the arc and driving through traffic. He should develop in his sophomore season and is a positive on the defensive side of the ball.

Several newbies will challenge for starting roles this season. The rookies of note include 6’7’’ JUCO center Shy Blake (real name is Shikei, both are great names), 6’4’’ freshman Tyler Hall, 6’8’’ JUCO forward Tyson Kanseyo, and 6’3’’ JUCO guard Quinton Everett. Blake is a strong (though undersized) center who all but certainly will be lined up alongside Robison on opening day. Hall is a dynamite scorer out of Rock Island, IL. Kanseyo should offer physicality, rebounding, and rim protection off the pine; he is a nice complement to Robison and Blake. Everett is a defensive-minded guard who will be invaluable to a Montana State team that couldn’t guard its shadow last season.

I really kind of like this team given its returners and fresh blood. But, considering these guys won 7 games last year and 4 in the Big Sky, expectations must be tapered a bit. I’m calling for at least 10 wins total out of this group, but no more than 13 to 14. Finishing outside of the bottom three is certainly a possibility, but for now, we will slot them there.

11. North Dakota

Key Losses: Jaron Nash, Estan Tyler, Terrel de Rouen
Key Returners: Quinton Hooker

Key Newcomers: Corey Baldwin, Adam McDermott, Cortez Seales, Connor Avants, Drick Bernstine

C Carson Shanks, So; (6.0/3.5/0.7/0.1/1.4)
F Conner Avants, Fr.;
F Dustin Hobaugh, Sr.; (2.9/2.4/0.4/0.5/0.1)
G Cortez Seales, Fr.;
G Quinton Hooker, Jr.; (12.8/4.3/4.2/1.5/0.3)

Reserves: Bryce Cashman, Corey Baldwin, Adam McDermott, Drick Bernstine
Postseason Prediction: None
North Dakota’s nickname history is far more interesting than their basketball squad this season. UND currently has no nickname, which is unique in the college sports world. The university started as the “Flickertails”, which is a ground squirrel, before moving to the “Sioux” in 1930. Later in 1999, the Sioux nickname was updated to the “Fighting Sioux”. However, due to a controversy over racial allegations, the Fighting Sioux nickname was retired in 2012 and the university was prohibited to introduce a new nickname until 2015. Hey! This year is 2015! Currently, UND is down to a five name vote for which moniker will go down as the school’s new identity of the future; the names are as follows: Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders, Sundogs. It appears Nodaks is the most popular amongst the masses, and I agree that seems to be the best option (or Sundogs, which I also like). For now though, the team is simply known as the University of North Dakota.

Given this is a basketball preview, I will now move on to the basketball preview of the University of North Dakota. Let’s make this quick though because frankly this isn’t a great basketball team; UND won 8 games last season and will be without four of their top five scorers after the departure of Jaron Nash, Estan Tyler, Terrel de Rouen, and Lenny Antwi. Coach Brian Jones and the No-Names will be investing all their money in Quinton Hooker stock. Hooker, UND’s leading scorer last season, is the team’s point guard and undisputed head honcho. The 6’0’’ guard is a gifted playmaker and passer and resists the urge to cough the ball up. Most of his scoring comes from drives and free shots from the line, but Hooker can also step outside and shoot a bit from range (34.8% in 2014-15). Hooker will most likely need a chiropractor at the end of this season from carrying the entire weight of the UND basketball program this year.

As alluded to above, Hooker’s supporting cast isn’t much to get excited about. 7’0’’ Carson Shanks will be his greatest ally. Shanks, as his height suggests, is a big, big man and will be the go-to guy for UND in the middle. Shanks is a good rim protector and competent rebounder, both valuable attributes in the Big Sky. The only other two returners of note are 6’4’’senior wing Dustin Hobaugh and 6’10’’ sophomore Bryce Cashman. Hobaugh played well in limited minutes last season and has promise as an outside shooting threat. Cashman will complement Shanks’s size with more size, an asset a basketball team can never have too much of.

Newcomers will be the saving grace for the Nodaks (I’m just calling them that now) this season. 6’7’’ power forward Conner Avants is poised to grab a starting spot early, and freshman guard Cortez Seales should compete for starter’s minutes in the backcourt. Corey Baldwin, a 6’3’’ JUCO guard, and Adam McDermott, a 6’4’’ freshman wing, will bolster the backcourt; Baldwin particularly could have a major impact on the UND lineup. Drick Bernstine has a funny name and is also 6’8’’, so he will be added to active forward backup duty.

UND won’t be good this season; they are likely a bottom three team in an overall poor conference, but I wish them the best of luck in finding a name to call their sports teams.       

12. Idaho State

Key Losses: Chris Hansen, Jeffrey Solarin, Nnamdi Ezenwa
Key Returners: Ben Wilson

Key Newcomers: Clint Nwosuh, Ethan Telfair, Gary Chivichyan, Novak Topalovic, Brandon Boyd, Ali Faruq-Bey, Stephen Lennox, Kyle Ingram

C Novak Topalovic, Fr.;
F Stephen Lennox, Fr.;
G Ben Wilson, Sr.; (6.9/3.4/3.6/1.1/0.1)
G Evann Hall, Sr.; (4.5/2.2/0.5/0.7/0.0)
G Ethan Telfair, Jr.; (JUCO)

Reserves: Geno Luzcando, Erik Nakken, Gary Chivichyan, Clint Nwosuh, Brandon Boyd, Ali Faruq-Bey, Kyle Ingram
Postseason Prediction: None
Idaho State was a bad basketball team last year. The Bengals went 7-23 (4-14) while having the 7th most experienced team in the nation, proving that age isn’t everything in college basketball. We will see a completely different Idaho State squad this season under Bill Evans, one that promises to be more athletic, faster, and deeper. Though, if a hippo paints a spot on his back to look like a jaguar, we all still know he’s a hippo (credit: Along Came Polly) – Idaho State will still be bad.

Ben Wilson, a 6’6’’ senior guard, is the Bengals’ only returning starter from 2014-15 and is also their leading returning scorer (6.9 ppg). Wilson does a little bit of everything on the floor for the Bengals – he scores, rebounds, and passes as well as anyone on the team. He will be the blind man leading the blind in 2015-16.

The returning Bengals with D1 experience include Evann Hall (6’4’’), Geno Luzcando (6’3’’), and Erik Nakken (6’3’’). Nakken barely played last season, but Coach Bill Evans has attested to his ability to play 15 guys this season, so Nakken may see more PT in his sophomore season – the guard can shoot the long ball. Hall and Luzcando each turned in very sub-par seasons last year, giving the ball away at a high rate while turning in shooting slashes of .361/.238/.458 and .442/.270/.516, respectively.

Idaho State will rely mostly on newcomers this season; the team brings in eight guys that could all play significant roles this season (as crazy as that seems). Point guard duties will be handled by JUCO transfer Ethan Telfair and freshman Brandon Boyd. The starting nod will probably go to Telfair, who averaged 14/4/4 in JUCO last year. Off-guard duties will be split between JUCO transfer Clint Nwosuh, freshman Gary Chivichyan, and JUCO transfer Ali Faruq-Bey. Chivichyan is a 2-star recruit and should get the first crack at the lead guard reserve. Novak Topalovic, a 7’0’’ redshirt freshman, Stephen Lennox, a 6’8’’ freshman, and Kyle Ingram, a 6’8’’ JUCO transfer, make up the frontcourt for the Bengals. I like Topalovic and Lennox to start early, but really this lineup will be ever-changing all season long as Evans figures out which players mesh best with his style of play.

Idaho State will yet again be a bottom tier Big Sky squad. The injection of new blood relishes hope in Pocatello, Idaho, but the Bengals likely fall short of a mediocre finish this season.