Big Sky Preview 2016-17

- Matt Cox

Final Projected Standings

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


All Conference Awards

POY: Ethan Telfair, Sr., Idaho St.
Coach of the Year: Brian Jones, North Dakota
Newcomer of the Year: Ahmaad Rorie, R So., Montana
Freshman of the Year:  JoJo Anderson Fr., Northern Colorado


1.  Weber St.

Key Returners:  Jeremy Senglin
Key Losses: Joel Bolomboy
Key Newcomers: Jordan Dallas


Postseason Prediction:  NIT - CBI/CIT

Even with the loss of ex-POTY big man Joel Bolomboy, head coach Randy Rahe should have his Wildcats right back at the top of Big Sky standings this year.  While Bolomboy's elite level of rebounding and low-post scoring production should not be glossed over, there is a ton of promising assets returning on the perimeter.

Jeremy Senglin leads a deep and versatile backcourt that brings all the right ingredients to the table.  Senglin is the unquestioned alpha dog on this team, and might be the most talented scorer in the entire league.  He straight-up torched the nets last season from pretty much everywhere on the floor, but was especially lethal from downtown, connecting on an absurd 43% of his 234 attempts from distance.  Luckily for Senglin, he won't have to over rely on creating open looks for himself with a rapidly developing point guard in McKay Cannon who can feed him on the wing.  Ryan Richardson and Dusty Baker should also provide additional floor spacing offensively with their ability to knock down 3s, while Richaud Gittens gives Rahe a stout defensive presence on the other end.

On the inside, Kyndal Hill will need to emerge this season as the primary rim protector and glass cleaner, two areas where Bolomboy consistently delivered over his time at Weber.  As a plus athlete, Hill is more than capable of patching up the voids left by Bolomboy and actually led the Wildcats in block rate last year, despite standing only 6'7.  Hill will also have some bigger reinforcements to play alongside him, including an improving sophomore in Zach Hill and a promising redshirt freshman in Jordan Dallas.

A major stylistic emphasis for Rahe is his commitment to running shooters off the 3-point line.  His teams are generally among the nation's leaders in fewest 3-point attempts allowed, but are still able to shore up the defensive boards behind the extended perimeter de.  It's a similar formula that's exemplified by other top coaches across the country (see Coach K and Randy Bennett), which forces opponents into taking less efficient two-point jumpers.  As long as the frontcourt can provide reliable help defense behind the pressuring guards, there should be no reason why Weber isn't back in the top-3 of the league standings come March.


2.  North Dakota

Key Returners: Quinton Hooker, Drick Bernstine, Geno Crandall
Key Losses: Adam McDermott
Key Newcomers: Kienan Walter, Billy Brown, Jafar Kinsey (JUCO), Solomon Rolls-Tyson (JUCO)


Postseason Prediction:  CBI/CIT

North Dakota should hands down be the most fun team to watch play in the Big Sky this season.  Fresh off a respectable 10-8 finish in league play last season, the Fighting Hawks return their two-headed point guard monster of Quinton Hooker and Geno Crandall.  We here at 3MW have covered in length why the two point guard system tends to be so effective, and the same theory holds true with this twosome.  While Crandall blossomed into a clear pass-first guard in his freshman season last year, Hooker fits in beautifully playing slightly more off-the-ball as a true lead scoring guard.  However, reducing Hooker's title to simply a "scorer" does not do the completeness of his game justice - just refer to his team leading assist to turnover rate last year.  As you break down the rest of Hooker's advanced stats, there simply isn't anything more you can ask a 6'0 guard to do.  His efficiency scoring inside the arc is what jumps off the page, and he's simply automatic from the foul line. Both Hooker and Crandall also lead the way in sparking the Fighting Hawks' transition attack by generating a ton of steals off of their defensive pressure.  The ONLY knock on this duo was the somewhat shaky ball security of Crandall last year, but the standard freshman to sophomore efficiency leap is a reason to be optimistic for a significant improvement this season.  

The North Dakota frontline seems to be somewhat underappreciated, led by defensive rebounding specialist Drick Bernstine, who averaged a smidge under a double-double last year.  Carson Shanks gives the Hawks elite size at 7'0, but he wasn't a particularly great rebounder last season on a per minute basis.  However, Shanks did provide a rare element of shot blocking that this group desperately needed, given the real lack of size anywhere else on the roster.  While the defense certainly took its lumps last year, the Hawks did show some signs of improvement as the year progressed, with both their block rate and 2-point% defense increasing over the course of conference play.  

The loss of sharpshooting Adam McDermott may limit the Hawk's offensive upside, but it's hard not to expect a major leap from Crandall this season, both as a decision maker and outside shooter.  If the improving sophomores and juniors can be a tad bit more efficient, particularly at scoring inside the arc, North Dakota could blossom into the best offensive squad in the conference. 


3.  Montana

Key Returners:  Walter Wright, Michael Oguine
Key Losses:  Martin Breunig
Key Newcomers: Ahmaad Rorie (Oregon transfer), Sayeed Pridget, Alphonso Anderson


Postseason Prediction:  CBI/CIT

Just like North Dakota, Montana should feature one of the more efficient offenses in the league, but will do so at a much slower pace.  Martin Breunig may have been the reason why head coach Travis DeCuire chose to play especially slow last season, given they needed to cater to his low-post, paint touches so frequently.  With Breunig now gone, the offense should become much more perimeter oriented, which hasn't been the case since Wayne Tinkle was still on the sidelines and had ball dominant guards such as  Kareem Jamar and Will Cherry at his disposal.  DeCuire will look to his own pair of guards in Walter Wright and Michael Oguine to assume a much larger scoring role this season, which could be a major challenge with Breunig no longer demanding attention on the inside.  Wright is certainly the lead ball handler and point guard, but he also emerged as consistent long range shooter from last year and made himself into a complete offensive weapon.  The injury to Mario Dunn may have been a blessing in disguise for Oguine, who has officially gotten a full season of reps under his belt.  Oguine will likely step into the 3rd starting spot on the perimeter, where he will play next to the now healthy Dunn or Oregon transfer Ahmaad Rorie.  Rorie is the potential breakout candidate here that could give DeCuire another plus athlete and slasher on the wing, which is the same type of game that Dunn brings to table.  Rounding out the deep perimeter unit will be 3-point specialist Jack Lopez, who will see his shooting volume spike significantly if DeCuire decides to feature more small ball lineups with Lopez at the 4.

The major question mark is how DeCuire will shake up the new frontline, which now has only one player 6'8 or taller in Fabijan Krslovic.   A few highly regarded incoming freshman in Sayeed Pridgett and Alphonso Anderson should bring some much needed depth up-front, but both are better served as versatile defenders at the 3/4 positions and may have trouble matching up with elite size.   However, the Grizz will have an unbounded level of flexibility with roster combinations and defensive matchups, which will feature multiple bigs capable of guarding multiple positions.  If I were DeCuire, I'd consider a heavy dose of switching in their half-court man-to-man defensive scheme.

The Grizzlies round out the top tier of the Big Sky, which features three teams with potent offenses teams that will be an absolute delight to watch duke it out for the league title.  While Montana is slated to finish just below Weber and North Dakota, I'd argue the Grizz's ceiling may actually be the highest, given the high upside with the incoming freshman class, as well as the unique roster versatility at DeCuire's disposal.


4.  Idaho St.

Key Returners:  Ethan Telfair, Geno Luzcando
Key Losses: Ali Faruq-Bey
Key Newcomers: Hayes Garrity (Utah Valley transfer), Robert Jones (JUCO), Brandon Boyd


Postseason Prediction:  None

Some might say Idaho State's 11-7 performance in-conference was a little flukey last year, given they were actually the 5th worst team in the league on an overall efficiency basis, per's final season rankings.  However, give credit to head coach Bill Evans, who badly needed to show some signs of momentum in his 4th year on the sidelines.  However, that momentum almost came to a screeching halt this offseason when Ethan Telfair, brother of ex-NBA prodigy Sebastian Telfair, decided to test the NBA waters, which would've gutted Evans of his best scorer, passer, shooter AND defender.  Luckily for Evans, Telfair will officially be back for his farewell tour this season, which gives Bengal nation a ray of hope for an even better season than last year.

While Telfair is undoubtedly the headliner here, Geno Luzcando is a sneaky good complementary scoring option in the backcourt, who in many ways resembles the same style of play of Telfair.  Both are lightning quick off the dribble and love to absorb contact when they attack the rim, which earned them a combined 361 free-throw attempts last season.  It's also probably worth mentioning that Telfair's 90% clip from the stripe (142/158) in league play was tops in the Big Sky last year.  However, their biggest value as a backcourt tandem may actually be on the defensive end, where both are exceptionally disruptive in forcing turnovers at the top of Evans' zone scheme.  The third critical piece to the perimeter unit is 3-point marksmen Gary Chivachyan, who is #blessed to play alongside two guards that routinely spoon feed him open looks from the outside.  Utah Valley transfer Hayes Garrity should also get plenty of run in the rotation, as a steady ball handler and 3-point shooter.

While the guards will surely run the show for the Bengals, the frontcourt doesn't look all too shabby either.  With the bulk of the scoring resting on the shoulders of Telfair and Luzcando, the Bengal bigs simply need to rebound and convert easy opportunities around the rim.  The combined trio of Stephen LennoxKyle Ingram and Novak Topalovic are more than capable of doing the dirty work on the inside, especially with  beginning to emerge as one of the better rim protectors in the conference.

The bullishness on the Bengals is rooted in a breakout senior year from the backcourt duo of Telfair and Luzcando, both of whom have plenty of headroom to be even more efficient in their high usage roles than last year.  I'm officially betting on the brother (Ethan) of the pride of Coney Island (Sebastian) to carry Idaho St. to a top-4 finish in the Big Sky.


5.  Idaho

Key Returners:  Victor Sanders, Perrion Callandret
Key Losses: Chris Sarbaugh
Key Newcomers: Brayon Blake (JUCO), Tre’von Allen, Myles Franklin, Tyler Brimhall


Postseason Prediction:  None

The Vandals may have been the Big Sky's biggest surprise team last season,  finishing with an impressive 21-13 campaign and 12-6 record in the conference.  Despite dealing with persisting turnover issues for much of the year (a lot which was as result of key injuries in the backcourt), Idaho's commitment on the defensive end kept them competitive in virtually every game.  However, the head-scratching part was that of their 6 conference losses, none of them came against Montana or Weber St., who the Vandals went 2-0 against last year.  And now with only one major piece departing (Chris Sarbaugh), Idaho should once again be in the mix at the top of the standings.

The Vandals are led by a pair of athletic guards in Perrion Callandret and Victor Sanders, who will be expected to share the ball handling duties that were owned by Sarbaugh last year.  The good thing here is that Sarbaugh was a huge contributor to the turnover woes last season, exemplified by a god awful 31% TO rate.  While Callandret and Sanders, along with long range specialist Chad Sherwood, are not proven point guards by any means, they will surely be more effective at taking care of the ball then Sarbaugh was last season.  Sherwood in particular needs to prioritize this part of his game, given his role as a floor spacer and spot-up shooter should not be prone to a lot of turnovers.  

Chad's brother Nate Sherwood will join rebounding menace Arkadiy Mkrtychyan (don't spell check that please) as the main assets up-front.  However, expect head coach Don Verlin to throw out an array of forwards at the 4 and 5 spots, all of whom were effective on the boards last season.  The Vandals were the best overall rebounding team in the league last year, a lot of which was because of the guards' willingness to chip in on the defensive glass.  It's hard to see any reason why this "by-committee" approach to securing missed shots should regress this season, especially with Mkrtychyan back to lead the charge.  Look for Idaho to be knocking on the door of the top-4 spots in the league standings, but I just don't see the offensive firepower that the aforementioned Weber St., North Dakota, Montana and their in-state rival Idaho St. possess.


6.  Sacramento St.

Key Returners:  Justin Strings, Marcus Graves
Key Losses: Cody Demps
Key Newcomers: George Dancer, Izayah Maurihooho-Le’afa, Chibueze Jacobs


Postseason Prediction:  None

After a breakthrough season in 2014-15, Brian Katz and his Hornets came back down to Earth last year, meandering their way to a poor 6-12 record in league play.  The highlight of the season came all the way back in early November, when Sac St. flew down to Tempe, AZ and took down Bobby Hurley's Arizona St. squad in their own building.  Trailing by 8 with just over 6 minutes to go in the 2nd half, the Hornets pulled off an impressive comeback to beat the Sun Devils and kick off the '15-'16 campaign with a bang.  Even against a stout backcourt, the young Marcus Graves proved to be up to the challenge, scoring 20 points and adding 5 assists to help the Hornets secure the upset.  It's this kind of potential that Graves needs to demonstrate day in and day out this season if the Hornets want to get back above .500 in conference this year.

While Graves at times played 2nd fiddle on the perimeter to his teammate Cody Demps, it's clear he is capable of assuming the full-time spot at point-guard.  This is good news for the Hornets' leading returning scorer Justin Strings, who will need Graves to get him the ball in a variety of different spots on the floor.  At 6'7 230 pounds, Strings presents a challenging matchup for opposing teams, given there aren't many defenders with his size/strength that can step out and defend on the perimeter.  This is precisely where Strings transformed his game last season, raining in a team best 39% from behind the arc after attempting literally zero 3s as a freshman.   Strings also plays a pivotal role on the other end as a defensive rebounder, along with Eric Stuteville and Nick Hornsby up-front.  This should be an improved team on the glass this year because Katz will likely feature his most effective lineup much more frequently, which puts Strings, Hornsby, and Stuteville at the 3, 4 and 5 respectively.

The Hornets certainly had their ups and downs last year, but the continuity looking ahead to this season surely bodes well for this group, particularly on the defensive end.  And while many will immediately react to the loss of Demps, Graves has proven he's more than capable of taking over at the point guard spot.  The Hornets should be an improved bunch this season, but don't expect a 20-win season that the Hornets tallied two years ago.


7.  Eastern Washington

Key Returners:  Bogdan Bliznyuk, Felix von Hofe
Key Losses:  Austin McBroom, Venky Jois, Will Ferris (transfer)
Key Newcomers: Jacob Davidson, Luka Vulikic, Mason Peatling, Geremy McKay (Albany transfer), Jake Wiley


Postseason Prediction:  None

Eastern Washington may be the toughest team in the Big Sky to project this year.  Last season, the Eagles superb offense was once again offset by an atrocious defense, in which EWU lead the conference in offensive efficiency, but ranked a dismal 9th in overall defense, just ahead of Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Southern Utah (each of whom you'll need to scroll much further down to find their names in this preview).   The Eagles now lose their leading scorer and leading assist man in ex-SLU transfer Austin McBroom, along with their 2nd leading scorer and leading rebounder in Venky Jois, so that potent offense from a year ago suddenly appears to be in jeopardy.

The hope for maintaining another plus year on the offensive end rests in the hands of Felix Von Hofe and Bogdan Bliznyuk, who hail from Australia and Ukraine respectively.  Bliznyuk is a super versatile wing scorer, who can shoot it from all over the floor.  Von Hofe is a weapon from behind the arc, who cashed in on 42% of his 241 3s last season.  The question is who will be in charge of getting Hofe and Bliznyuk the open looks that McBroom and Jois created so easily from them a year ago...

That responsibility will likely belong to another Aussie in redshirt freshman Michael Werne, who missed the majority of the '15-'16 campaign with a hip injury.   Werne is a true pass-first point guard and should also help solidify the perimeter defensive unit playing next to the athletic Sir Washington at the 2.  The one concern here is that neither Werne or Washington are particularly good long range shooters, which has been the primary weapon of the Eagles' offense over the last four seasons.  Look for Julian Harrell and Cody Benzel coming off the bench to help space the floor, along with the proven shooting prowess of Von Hofe and Bliznyuk.

With premier high-volume and efficient scoring options like Tyler Harvey and Venky Jois no longer in the mix, the sustainability of the Eagles offensive firepower is certainly up in the air.  With that said, Bliznyuk does have potential to emerge into the lead scoring option that Jois did last year after Tyler Harvey left town.  There also may be some reason for optimism on the defensive side of the ball, particularly on the perimeter, an area that has been downright awful the last four seasons.  However, with the complete and utter lack of rim protection still a lingering wart for this bunch, it's hard to see the Eagles ascending back into a top-3 or even top-5 finish in the Big Sky standings.


8.  Montana St.

Key Returners:  Tyler Hall, Quinton Everett, Zach Green
Key Losses: Marcus Colbert, Danny Robinson
Key Newcomers: Devonte Klines (JUCO), Joe Mvuezolo (JUCO), Harald Frey, Devin Kirby


Postseason Prediction:  None

The Bobcats bring a similar team identity as Eastern Washington, both of whom make opposing defenses pay with a perimeter focused offensive attack, but struggle to protect the rim on the other end.  The main characteristic embedded in this style is a 4-out, 1-in attack that features a big with the ability to stretch the floor.   The stretch forward for this squad is Sarp Gobeloglu, who rained in an impressive 38% of his 3-balls last year playing primarily at the 5.  This floor spacing allows a deep backcourt, led by Tyler Hall, Quinton Everett and Zach Green ,to attack their defenders one-on-one off the dribble and get themselves open looks off penetrate and kick action.  Hall is the real gem of this bunch and the most notable scoring threat, both from inside and outside the arc.  Everett and Green are less polished offensive players, but are capable slashers and surprisingly good rebounders at the guard position.  The question is now with ball dominant senior leader Marcus Colbert graduating, whose assist rate led the entire league last year, who will slide over to play point. Hall's offensive skillset makes him the most qualified candidate, so expect his usage rate to surge as he becomes the primary scorer and facilitator for this team.

The real blow this offseason was the denial of grad transfer Konnor Frey's eligibility appeal.  Frey was Utah Valley's best player last year and would've been an absolute godsend for head coach Brian Fish this season, who is desperate for a solid 2nd scoring option and proven rebounder.  Frey would've filled both needs seamlessly and fit well playing alongside Sarp in the frontcourt.   Now it seems a combination of wings/forwards will need to step up, with Sam Neumann as the most notable returnee here.

Brian Fish has shown over his past two seasons in the Big Sky that he wants to space you out offensively and beat you with a barrage of 3s.  That core strength should not be going anywhere this season, with his two most efficient and highest volume 3-point shooters in Hall and Gobeloglu both returning.  However, with Frey now officially ineligible, he'll likely need some immediate help from a few incoming JUCO transfers to patch together some solid production at the 4 position in order to remain in the middle of the pack of the conference standings.


9.  Portland St.

Key Returners: Calaen Robinson, Zach Gengler
Key Losses: Cameron Forte, Isaiah Pineiro, Donivine Stewart, Bryce White
Key Newcomers: Tyrell Henderson, Brendan Rumel, Michael Mayhew (JUCO), Deontae North (JUCO), Brandon Hollins (JUCO), Traylin Farris (JUCO), Bryce Canda (JUCO)


Postseason Prediction:  None

Portland St. leads off the bottom and final tier of the Big Sky, which features four teams ranked in the bottom-50 of's national preseason rankings (for reference, every team listed above Portland St. here is inside the top-250).  The Vikings do however return a veteran starting lineup, which features a couple pockets of talent that should separate them from the remaining pile of garbage at the bottom of this league (no offense Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado & Southern Utah).  

The headliner here is lead guard Calaen Robinson, who was a highly touted 3-star recruit once upon a time coming out of high school.  Robinson just hasn't matured into an efficient offensive player over his collegiate career, which featured a brief stint at Arizona St. two years ago.  His athletic upside is more evident on defense, where he posted the 2nd highest steal rate in the Big Sky last season and helped generate a ton of easy runouts in transition on the other end.  Robinson has a real opportunity to seize control of the offensive playmaking this season, especially with the departure of two high-usage bigs in Cameron Forte and Isaiah Pineiro.  However, knowing just how effective this interior duo was last year, I'm certainly not sold that this will be a net positive.

Paint bruiser Braxton Tucker returns this year after missing all of last season with a leg injury.  While he certainly is a force on the offensive glass, there will still be a TON of rebounding production left on the table with Forte and Pineiro now gone.  De'Sean Parsons appears to be the only returning candidate capable of helping Tucker prevent a major regression in the Vikings' rebounding effectiveness.  

Head coach Tyler Geving welcomes a flood of newcomers this season, including 5 JUCO players that should all see some immediate run.  Deonate North is the highest ranked of this bunch, per, who could emerge an another threat on the perimeter next to Robinson and Zach Gengler.  If the Vikings want to dig their way out of the Big Sky basement, Gerving will need to get an unexpected boost from one or two of the newbies.  

Editor's Note: Of the 100 or so roster photos I've seen over the past few months, this one is my favorite and it isn't close...

How in the world did the players convince the coaches to get on board with this?  Also, the official roster references only 6 coaches in total, but yet there are 8 guys here repping jet black suits in power stances, which begs the question - which two hardos pulled off the photobomb of the century???

Regardless, take notes Coach K, Bill Self and Tom Izzo... THIS is how you send a message.  


10.  Northern Arizona

Key Returners:  Ako Kaluna, Jaleni Neely
Key Losses: Kris Yanku
Key Newcomers: JoJo Anderson


Postseason Prediction:  None

It was just two years ago that head coach Jack Murphy had Northern Arizona knocking on the door of an NCAA tournament berth, after finishing just a game behind Eastern Washington and Montana in league play.  The Lumberjacks then proceeded to follow up one of the best seasons in program history with one of the worst, finishing 5-25 overall on the year with two of those wins coming against non-D1 programs. If that wasn't disastrous enough, Murphy's living nightmare continued into the offseason, as NAU lost their best player Kris Yanku to the transfer market and 3-star incoming freshman recruit Ray Robinson to a season ending ACL injury.  That now leaves an already barren roster even more starved for production and will place a huge burden on the shoulders of a pair of veteran forwards: Ako Kaluna and Jordyn Martin.    

A major reason for last year's collapse was the unexpected blow of losing Martin just three games into the season with a foot injury.  He now returns to anchor a frontline that was once a dominant rebounding unit on both ends of the floor.  Just to put in perspective how much of an impact Martin made on the glass, here's a look at NAU's team rebounding rate figures in 2014-15 (when Martin was playing major minutes) compared to last season:`

While the departure of Len Springs also played a hand in this demise, Martin's top-50 nationally ranked Off Reb %, coupled with Kaluna's team leading Def Reb % last year, should help the Lumberjacks get back to being competitive on the glass.  This duo should also play well together on the offensive end, with Kaluna preferring to drift further away from the basket while Martin camps out in the paint.

The backcourt features two improving sophomores in Michael Green and Marcus DeBerry, along with another returning veteran fresh off his own season ending injury in Jaleni Neely.  Both Green and DeBerry were a tad inefficient in their freshman campaigns, most of which was due to their poor percentages shooting inside the arc.  Neely had a similar issues two years ago as a junior, converting on an abysmal 23% of his 2-point attempts, albeit it was in a limited sample size.  While all three of these guards' are reliable 3-point shooters, none of them are elite athletes or big-time talents that can emerge as a go-to scoring option on the perimeter.  Murphy is hoping incoming 3-star freshman JoJo Anderson can provide an additional scoring punch, and also begin to solidify himself as the point guard of the future, now with Yanku gone.

The Lumberjacks may in-fact be ranked too low here at 10th in the Big Sky, but that's assuming a full year of good health for both Martin and Neely.  There is a promising sophomore class that should improve a ton this season, but the Lumberjacks are likely still a year away from competing with the upper and middle tier teams in the league.


11.  Southern Utah

Key Returners:  James McGee
Key Losses:  Travon Langston
Key Newcomers: Randy Onwuasor (Texas Tech transfer), Christian Musoko (JUCO)


Postseason Prediction:  None

Coming off a depressing season in Cedar City, the Thunderbirds somehow managed to "outkick their program coverage" by luring in ex-UNLV assistant Tod Simon to take the reigns as head coach.  Simon was the interim coach for a chunk of last year for the Runnin Rebels, after they tossed Dave Rice to the curb midseason.  Simon brings an elite recruiting pedigree to a school that certainly has had major problems luring in even mediocre talent needed to be competitive in the Big Sky.

After a few major transfer departures, the leading returning scorer is James McGee, who emerged as one of the league's best outside shooting threats last year (42% on 177 3-point attempts).  Senior Race Parsons is another capable long range bomber who should provide some consistent shooting off-the-bench.  Both of these shooters will be pivotal this year to help draw defensive attention away from incoming Texas Tech transfer Randy Onwuasor.  Onwuasor is a blessing for a bottom-tier Big Sky program that badly needed a talent influx.  He is already starting to turn heads after a 35 point outburst in an exhibition game last week, which included a scoring hot 4/10 3-point shooting display and 5 steals.   Expect him to drive one of the highest usage rates in the league, especially with a barren cupboard of talent in the backcourt.

While Onwuasor will provide some degree of intrigue to this Thunderbird group, the focus this year is the rebuilding process.  Look for Simon to play a ton of newcomers early and often, as he looks to identify the core pieces for this program's future.


12.  Northern Colorado

Key Returners:  All 5 starters
Key Losses:  None
Key Newcomers: Chazz Glotta (Southern Illinois transfer), Mike Ranson


Postseason Prediction:  None

Welcome to vast cave of darkness that is the Northern Colorado basketball...

Last April, after the program had already been proven guilty for prior NCAA violations, administrators decided to fall on the sword themselves by tacking on an additional round of self-imposed sanctions.  While the released penalties were comparable to that of a speeding ticket in severity, ex-head coach BJ Hill and his staff were promptly fired soon after, raising additional suspicions to what had really occurred.  While researching the current status of the NCAA's investigation process (which likely won't be done until 2050), I stumbled across this local editorial column that sheds even more light into the persisting lack of transparency that the NCAA and its institutions so stubbornly protect.  This appears to be yet another case of schools and programs' strategically slapping their own wrists when the athletic outlook looks bleak on the playing field...

Putting all NCAA-related rants aside, the Bears on-the-court outlook doesn't appear to look much better.  In February, Cameron Michael announced he would be forgoing his final year of eligibility and retiring from basketball.  Michael had already suffered an unfathomable five concussions through the first two years of his collegiate career, and was a budding star on the perimeter for the Bears.  After missing all of last season, he made the decision to hang it up for good, citing his daily suffering with the effects of concussion symptoms.  

With Cameron out of the mix, this will officially be Anthony Johnson's team, who is coming off a superb season.  After getting minimal clock as a sophomore, Johnson had a breakout junior year campaign,  cashing in on 38% of 3s and converting an absurd 86% from the charity stripe.  He'll be joined in the backcourt by rising sophomore Jordan Davis, who is an effective slasher and creator offensively, as well as a disruptive defender on the other end.  Incoming transfer Chazz Glotta could also wind up being a hidden gem on the perimeter, which could give new head coach Jeff Linder a ray of hope to be competitive this season.

Regardless of how Linder mixes up his rotations, improving the defense must be the top priority this season.  The Bears have managed to finish as the 3rd worst and 4th worst overall defense respectively over the past two years.  While the perimeter unit presents a glimmer of optimism, the Bears will likely be looking up at the other 11 teams when its all said and done this year.