Big Sky Conference Basketball: Power Rankings Through Non-Conference Play

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2011

Big Sky Conference Basketball: Power Rankings Through Non-Conference Play

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    The Big Sky Conference will begin its conference games on December 29th.  

    Behind star Damian Lillard, the Weber State Wildcats have emerged as the conference favorites.  

    However, Montana, Eastern Washington, and Portland State have put together solid seasons so far, and they will look to take down the Wildcats for the conference crown.

    Let's take a look at how each Big Sky Conference team has performed so far in the 2011-12 season. 

No. 9 Idaho State Bengals (2-9)

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    Best Win: North Dakota 76-63

    Worst Loss: @ Utah 71-59

    While Idaho State is currently 2-9, they have battled through a rough schedule.  They have actually been very competitive in losses to Oklahoma (78-74) and Loyola Marymount (79-76 and 80-72, both in overtime).

    The Bengals do have solid talent in guard Kenny McGowen and forward Abner Moreira.  

    After a tough non-conference schedule, we will find out how good the Bengals really are as they enter conference play.

No. 8 Sacramento State Hornets (5-6)

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    Best Win: Central Arkansas 75-54

    Worst Loss: McNeese State 68-63

    Sacramento State is still recovering after losing three starters from last season.  

    Junior John Dickson leads the Hornets in points per game with 13.7, and junior Joe Eberhard leads the team in rebounds per game with 6.4.  

    Sacramento State finished their non-conference slate with a close 77-76 loss to Southeast Missouri State.  

    The Hornets will open conference play at Northern Arizona on December 29th.

No. 7 Northern Colorado Bears (3-8)

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    Best Win: Western Carolina 74-57

    Worst Loss: (NAIA) Westminster 73-60

    The reigning Big Sky Conference champion, Northern Colorado is also coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance.  

    The loss of Big Sky MVP Devon Beitzel contributes to their disappointing 3-8 start.  

    A 73-60 loss to Westminster, an NAIA school, makes matter worse.  

    Senior Mike Proctor and junior Elliott Lloyd will lead the Bears through conference play.

No. 6 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (4-8)

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    Best Win: @ Arizona State 69-68

    Worst Loss: @ Sam Houston State 73-49

    Northern Arizona will enter conference play with mixed feelings.  

    On one end, the Lumberjacks sneaked past Pac-12 foe Arizona State by a point, but on the other, the Lumberjacks lost by 24 points to 4-7 Sam Houston State.  

    Freshman James Douglas has emerged as a leader for Northern Arizona, leading the Lumberjacks in points per game with 12.5.  Junior guards Gabe Rogers and Stallon Saldivar are other prime performers for the Lumberjacks.

No. 5 Montana State Bobcats (5-6)

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    Best Win:  @ Utah 70-64

    Worst Loss:  Seattle 85-73

    Montana State, still adjusting to the loss of four starters from last season, is heading into conference play coming off of three straight losses.  

    However, the Bobcats do have strong victories over San Jose State, Cal State Bakersfield and Utah.  

    Guards Xavier Blount and Rod Singleton have emerged as leaders on the court for the Bobcats.  

    Montana State will open up conference play with visits by Eastern Washington and Portland State.

No. 4 Portland State Vikings (6-6)

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    Best Win: Louisiana Tech 66-48

    Worst Loss:  @ Utah Valley 93-87

    The Vikings have emerged from the non-conference slate as a dark-horse contender for the Big Sky Conference title.  

    Senior guard Charles Odum leads Portland State with 16.7 points per game.  Senior forward Chehales Tapscott leads the Vikings in rebounds per game with 8.8.  

    Portland State will face tough tests right off the bat with road games at Montana and Montana State to open the conference season.

No. 3 Eastern Washington Eagles (6-6)

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    Best Win: @ Hawaii 89-72

    Worst Loss:  @ Cal State Fullerton 91-76

    First-year Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford has to like what he has seen so far from the Eagles.  

    Eastern Washington has returned all but one player from last season, and they have not lost to a team with a losing record in non-conference play.  

    Junior forward Collin Chiverton and senior guard Cliff Colimon will help the Eagles contend for the Big Sky Conference title and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004.

No. 2 Montana Grizzlies (7-5)

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    Best Win: Long Beach State 73-71

    Worst Loss:  @ North Dakota 88-81 OT

    Montana has returned their entire team for this season with exception of all-conference center Brian Qvale.  

    The Grizzlies have had mixed results in non-conference play but have emerged with a winning record.  

    Behind guard Will Cherry and forwards Kareem Jamar and Derek Selvig, Montana will contend for their first Big Sky Conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.

No.1 Weber State Wildcats (8-3)

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    Best Win: Utah State 73-63

    Worst Loss:  @ Brigham Young 94-66

    Weber State is firing on all cylinders behind MVP Damian Lillard, who has scored an impressive 25.4 points per game.  

    The Wildcats are 14th in the country in points per game with 80.5.  And junior guard Scott Bamforth and senior forward Kyle Bullinger have also put together nice seasons so far for Weber State.  

    The Wildcats have strong victories over in-state rivals Utah and Utah State, and are the significant favorites to claim their first NCAA Tournament appearance and Big Sky Conference Title since 2007.