Editor’s note: During the 2015-2016 Big Sky Conference basketball season, Skyline Sports attended 30 Big Sky contests, including 28 games at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. With the help of live streaming, we were able to watch every team in the league, men’s and women’s, live at least twice with the exception of the Portland State women. Below are Skyline Sports choices for the major Big Sky awards and the top 15 players each for the men’s and women’s leagues.
Most Valuable Player — Martin Breunig, Montana, senior & Joel Bolomboy, Weber State, senior — The choice is two MVPs because Breunig and Bolomboy are the best players on the league’s two best teams and because Bolomboy missed the only matchup between the two squads this season, yet Weber State still won.
Breunig is the more polished offensive player, the best low-post scorer in the league. He is shooting 65.4 percent in conference play, averaging 19.7 points and 9.1 rebounds along the way.
Bolomoboy might be an NBA Draft pick and his ability to rebound changes games. The 6-foot-9 specimen was averaging 13.1 rebounds per outing, second in Division I, before suffering a knee injury last week. He did not play last weekend but returned in Weber’s 62-58 loss to Idaho on Thursday night. When healthy, Bolomboy has also developed enough offensive skill to become a real threat. The 6-foot-9 jumping jack averages 17.7 points per game on 57 percent shooting against Big Sky opponents.
Defensive Player of the Year – Michael Oguine, Montana, freshman — In a league that continues to become more guard-heavy, Oguine has emerged as a premier perimeter stopper. Although Bolomboy is an elite rebounder, he is only average as a rim protector. No one would call Breunig or Eastern Washington power forward Venky Jois game-changers defensively in the paint, although Jois is second in the league with 1.7 blocks per contest. Idaho State’s Geno Luzcando along with North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker and Geno Crandall all average more steals per game than Oguine, but the Montana defender understands team concepts as well as any young player in the Big Sky.
Newcomer of the Year — Ethan Telfair, Idaho State, junior — Telfair has been the key factor in ISU’s resurgence and honestly could have an argument for MVP. Where would Idaho State be without the smooth scoring, ultra-aggressive point guard? Last season, the Bengals were 4-14 in the Big Sky and lost their two best players (Chris Hanson, Jeff Solarin) from that squad. That’s why Telfair barely edges out Eastern Washington’s Austin McBroom, a graduate transfer from Saint Louis who is tied with Telfair for the league scoring title in conference games.
In Big Sky play, Telfair is averaging league bests with 23.4 points and 5.7 assists per outing. He has made and taken more free throws than anyone in the league and is converting at an 89.4 percent clip. The Redlands CC (Oklahoma) transfer is shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc and his 2.1 steals per game are third-best in conference play.
Top Reserve — Cameron Forte, Portland State, senior — Forte is one of four impact transfers — along with Telfair, McBroom and Montana point guard Walter Wright — who have lit up the Big Sky this season. PSU has struggles (the Vikings are 7-10 in Big Sky play) but Forte has been a monster off the bench. The southpaw graduate transfer from Georgia is averaging 19.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in conference play, converting 61.8 percent of his field goals along the way.
Freshman of the Year — Tyler Hall, Montana State — The league is filled with talented freshmen — Oguine, Crandall, Northern Colorado’s Jordan Davis — but none have shouldered the responsibility of being the focal point on the scouting report night in and night out like Hall. The 6-foot-4 pure shooter from Rock Island, Illinois has obliterated MSU’s freshman scoring record and the school record for 3-pointers in a single season. He has surpassed 24 points nine times and 30 points on two occasions. He is averaging 21.0 points per game during conference play and his four 3-pointers per game tops the league. He is shooting 44.4 percent from beyond the arc and his 93 made 3-pointers are the most ever by a Bobcat.
Coach of the Year — Randy Rahe, Weber State — Rahe’s run of success has been so consistent over the last decade, it’s easy to remember his Wildcats finished eighth in the Big Sky last season and lost in the first round of the tournament. This year, Rahe has his team back on top with the league’s best defense and two of its 10 best players. Earlier this season, Rahe became the Big Sky’s winniest coach, passing former MSU skipper Mick Durham with his 125th league win. The four-time BSC Coach of the Year has won 75.3 percent of his league games at Weber since taking over in 2006.
Big Sky Conference First-team
C — Joel Bolomboy, Weber State, senior
PF — Martin Breunig, Montana, senior
G — Ethan Telfair, Idaho State, junior
G — Austin McBroom, Eastern Washington, senior — Tyler Harvey led the country in scoring a year ago and turned his stellar season into hearing his name called in the NBA Draft as only a junior. His early departure left a huge void for the Eagles and McBroom has filled it. The Saint Louis transfer is averaging 23.4 points per game in league play and his 21.9 points per game overall will win the BSC scoring title. McBroom is doing it at an incredibly efficient clip, shooting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc despite launching a league-high 233 3s.
G — Quinton Hooker, North Dakota, junior — Hooker might be the Big Sky’s most improved player. After a solid sophomore season, the tough-nosed guard has carried UND this season, averaging 21.3 points and 4.3 assists per game in league play. He is shooting 53.3 percent against Big Sky opponents, including 46.9 percent from beyond the arc. Hooker earned National mid-major Player of the Week honors last week by scoring 38 points against Portland State and 34 against Sacramento State.
C — Venky Jois, Eastern Washington, senior — It’s hard to leave such an efficient, dominant player off the first team, but Jois is just one step below Breunig and Bolomboy. He has been almost automatic out of isolation sets in EWU’s up-tempo offense however, scoring 18.2 points per game on an unbelievable 71.2 percent shooting. He has only missed 49 of the 170 shots he’s taken in league play. He is also averaging 9.3 rebounds against BSC opponents and his 1.7 blocked shots are third in the conference.
F — Cameron Forte, Portland State, senior
G — Walter Wright, Montana, junior — Many wondered how Montana’s backcourt would perform with the loss of Jordan Gregory to graduation and Mario Dunn to an early injury. Wright and Oguine answered the bell instantly, helping Montana make a run at its fourth regular-season crown in five seasons. The quick, aggressive Wright is one of the league’s best penetrators and he rarely comes off the floor. In 35 minutes per game, the Snow (Utah) College transfer averages 14.3 points and 5.5 assists during conference play. He is shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc and 81 percent from the free throw line.
G — Tyler Hall, Montana State, freshman
G — Jeremy Senglin, Weber State, junior — Part of Weber State’s struggles a season ago stemmed from the broken jaw that cost Senglin eight games. The Freshman of the Year two seasons ago has bounced back in a big way. Rahe moved him off the ball and his scoring has been prolific. He is averaging 18.4 points per game, shooting 51 percent from the floor and leading the league by shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arc.
F — Drick Bernstine, North Dakota, sophomore — The drop off after the top four bigs in the league – Breunig, Bolomboy, Jois, Forte — is stark but Bernstine has carved out a niche as the top underclassmen post in the league. The Denver University transfer has been solid, averaging 11.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game during conference play. He is shooting it at a 55.3 percent clip.
F — Bogdan Bliznyuk, Eastern Washington, sophomore — Last season’s top freshman has evolved into one of the league’s most versatile players. Earlier this season, he had the first triple double in the Big Sky since 2013. During conference play, he has stuffed the stat sheet, averaging 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals all while shooting 49.7 percent from the floor.
F — Justin Strings, Sacramento State, sophomore — Like Blizynuk, Strings is a versatile forward who can sometimes stretch the floor and contribute in multiple ways. During league play, the long-armed sophomore is averaging 16.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor.
G — Marcus Colbert, Montana State, senior — Colbert is the odd man out for the first two teams in a league stacked with guards, but when it comes to leadership, rising to the occasion and showing toughness, there’s few veteran guards in the league that top Colbert. During his senior season, he is averaging 15.6 points and 5.3 assists per game in league play, the latter the second-best mark in the league. After a hot shooting start, Colbert has struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just 22-of-72 3-pointers in conference play. Still, he’s started 103 of his 121 career games, the most ever by a Bobcat.
G — Geno Luzcando, Idaho State, sophomore — Along with Hooker, Luzcando is one of the league’s most improved players. The Chilean has added substantial strength to his 6-foot-3 frame and has shown an uncanny ability to finish through contact. He is shooting 53.2 percent from the floor, including 61 percent from inside the arc. He is averaging 17.1 points per game playing opposite of Telfair and has posted a few perfect stat lines. He has gone 10-for-10 in a game on two different occasions this season, one of which he scored 30 points.
C — Eric Stuteville, Sacramento State, junior
F — Ako Kaluna, Northern Arizona, junior
F — Victor Sanders, Idaho, sophomore
G — Kris Yanku, Northern Arizona, junior
G — Anthony Johnson, Northern Colorado, junior
G — Michael Oguine, Montana, freshman
G — James McGee, Southern Utah, sophomore