Big Sky Conference

Wildcats, Griz top men’s basketball polls

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Big men mean big expectations in this year’s Big Sky Conference.

In the 2015-16 men’s basketball poll, Weber State and Montana split the designation of preseason favorites thanks to big time returners in the paint. The Montana Grizzlies earned 14 of 19 first-place votes in the media poll and 220 points overall to edge Weber, which received two first-place media votes. The Wildcats edged the Griz in the coaches’ poll with 114 points to UM’s 113 as the schools split the six first-place votes. Eastern Washington was picked third in each poll.

Montana forward Martin Bruening

Montana forward Martin Bruening

The common thread among the three front-runners is the presence of stud post players on each roster. Last season, Montana won the regular-season Big Sky title thanks to the performance of unanimous first-team All-Big Sky selection Martin Breunig. The 6-foot-9 former University of Washington transfer averaged 16.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Montana returns four starters, including Breunig and Mario Dunn, a two-time honorable mention all-league pick.

Last season, Weber State underachieved after being picked to win the league in the preseason, posting a 13-17 record that included an 8-10 mark in Big Sky play. The Wildcats return the 2013-14 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Joel Bolomboy, a 6-foot-10 senior who averaged 13.3 points and a league-best 10.2 rebounds per game last season. Point guard Jeremy Senglin, the Freshman of the Year two seasons ago, averaged 16.4 points per game last season after returning from a broken jaw.

Eastern Washington won 26 games last season, including 14 in the Big Sky and three in the Big Sky Tournament en route to an NCAA Tournament bid. Star guard Tyler Harvey left early for the NBA, but Venky Jois, a two-time All-Big Sky selection, returns. The 6-foot-8. Jois averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 boards and 2.2 blocks last season. Jois will be joined by last season’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year, Bogdan Bliznyuk. The sophomore forward averaged 12 points per game and 5.6 rebound in his rookie season.

Northern Arizona came in fourth in both polls following last season’s 23-win campaign, the most ever at NAU. Behind Kris Yanku’s first-team All-Big Sky season, the Lumberjacks advanced to the championship game of the College Insider Tournament.

Eastern Washington forward Venky Jois

Eastern Washington forward Venky Jois

Montana State loses three seniors — Mike Dison, Eric Norman and Blake Brumwell — and head coach Brian Fish overhauled the roster in the off-season. Fish cut Terrell Brown, Bradley Fisher and Joey Frenchwood, meaning senior point guard Marcus Colbert, junior shooting guard Stephan Holm and sophomores Zach Green and Quinn Price are the only returning Bobcats.

Fish added eight newcomers to his team. He signed guards Nahjee Matlock and Quinton Everett and posts Tyson Kanseyo, Shikei Blake and Sarp Gobeloglu from the junior college ranks. Fish inked guards Tyler Hall and Mandrell Worthy along with forward Sam Neumann from the prep ranks.

The Bobcats, a 7-24 team last season that finished 11th, is again picked 11th in this year’s poll. The Bobcats earned 31 points in the coaches’ poll and 64 points in the media poll.

Rounding out the coaches poll: Southern Utah was picked fifth, Portland State was picked sixth, Northern Colorado earned the seventh spot, Idaho and North Dakota were tied at eighth, Sacramento State earned the No. 10 spot and Idaho State rounded out the coaches’ poll.

Sacramento State was tied with NAU in the media poll while Northern Colorado earned sixth. Idaho and Portland State were tied for seventh, Southern Utah was picked ninth, North Dakota was No. 10 and Idaho State rounded out the media poll.

The 2016 Big Sky Conference Basketball Championships will take place March 7 through 12 at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nev. All 12 Big Sky teams will qualify for the tournament this season.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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