It’s a possibility that by the time this article prints, both Idaho State teams will already be eliminated from the Big Sky Tournament in Reno.
Because of this possibility and the fact that this story has to be written no later than Saturday because of deadlines, here is a breakdown heading into the conference tournament even though the first round has already concluded.
The top four seeds get first round buys and do not play until the quarterfinals, meaning that the Bengals could pick up a win in the opening round before having to play a conference juggernaut.
The Bengals grabbed the 6th seed on the women’s side. The women’s team will have already played Montana, and despite losing to the Grizzlies on Friday night, will hopefully be playing Northern Colorado Wednesday night.
The men finished the regular season in 11th place after being picked to finish 5th in the preseason polls and will have already played Sacramento State Tuesday night with the winner playing Eastern Washington.
WHO WILL WIN?
Northern Colorado and Weber State.
The key to winning in March is defense and free throw shooting. As of Feb. 28., the Idaho State women make up the best defensive scoring team in the tournament. The Bengals are giving up an average of 60.9 points per game, but injuries make me hesitant to pick the Bengals.
I think ISU will beat Montana on Monday but I don’t think they can get past Northern Colorado on Wednesday.
The Bengals split with the Bears during the regular season, but injuries have plagued the Bengals this season and I think that will play a factor in the tournament.
I like Northern Colorado because it has the second highest scoring defense in the conference heading into the tournament.
The Bears started out hot but have simmered down coming down the stretch, losing two of the last four after opening the season winning eight of the first 10 with both losses coming to Colorado and Colorado State. Despite this, the Bears have their swagger back and put up 102 on Sacramento State last Friday.
The Bears also have the second best free throw shooting percentage in the conference, crucial in close basketball games which are inevitable during the conference tournament.
The Bears rank 5th in the conference in scoring offense, which should be good enough to complement the stout defense Northern Colorado has played all season.
Weber State’s men’s team ranks in the top five of most major statistical categories in the Big Sky.
The Wildcats have the second highest scoring defense and the third highest scoring offense while ranking 5th in defensive rebounds.
The Wildcats are the most complete team in this tournament and are also a team that knows what it takes to win in March, as Weber only lost one senior in Joel Bolomboy from last year’s tournament championship team.
DOES EITHER ISU TEAM HAVE A SHOT AT WINNING THE TOURNAMENT?
Yes, the women’s team.
Last season, Idaho State as a nine-seed lost in the conference championship game to Idaho. The Bengals needed a buzzer-beater to beat top-seeded Montana State to advance to the semifinals where they again upset four-seeded North Dakota before falling to Idaho after leading at halftime.
I know I just picked Idaho State to lose to Northern Colorado in the quarterfinals, but I think it will be a close game that could go either way. If ISU is able to come up with the victory in that one it will solidify my choice in picking the Bengals as a dark horse.
This is an Idaho State team that has been bothered with injuries all season and still has the best scoring defense in the conference. This means you cannot count ISU out.
The Bengals lost two starters from last year’s Cinderella tournament run, meaning they have been there before and know what it takes to win in Reno and they are in a very similar spot to where they were last year.
Last season, ISU was the nine, this season, it is six and the team has already beat Northern Colorado once this season and played them tight at Reed Gym.
If ISU beats Northern Colorado, the Bengals will most likely get North Dakota in the semis and although the Bengals dropped two to the Fighting Hawks, one was in overtime and the other a seven-point loss on the road.
I can guarantee ISU learned more from both of those close losses than North Dakota did from squeaking out those two wins.