Among the many beautiful things about March Madness is the notion that any team can make it. Every conference gets one automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. Most automatic bids are awarded to the winner of each respective conference tournament. Each article will preview a different conference tournament with a full bracket breakdown.
9 Sacramento State def. 8 Northern Colorado
7 Portland State def. 10 Northern Arizona
6 Montana def. 11 Idaho
1 Southern Utah def. 9 Sacramento State
5 Montana State def. 4 Idaho State
2 Eastern Washington def. 7 Portland State
3 Weber State def. 6 Montana
1 Southern Utah def. 5 Montana State
2 Eastern Washington def. 3 Weber State
2 Eastern Washington def. 1 Southern Utah
80 teams in college basketball average at least one assist per five possessions. Eastern Washington is the only team in the Big Sky in that group while also having the fastest tempo of any Big Sky team. It’s no surprise, then, that the Eagles are the highest scoring offense in the conference having scored fewer than 75 points only twice in 15 conference matchups. The winners of nine of their last ten are led by junior forward Tanner Groves who was recently named Big Sky Player of the Year. In addition to a stellar conference season, the Eagles lost close road games to Washington State, Arizona, and Saint Mary’s proving that they can hang wth higher competition. Eastern Washington is poised to go dancing for the first time since 2015.
One of the most common traits of surprise showings in conference tournaments is senior experience and leadership. Montana is the opposite. Of their top ten players by minutes played, only one is a senior. The young team only returned about 40% of last seasons minutes but has played the best of the Big Sky close. The Grizzlies lost to Southern Utah by one point in both of their meetings and split their series with Weber State. They have the best three-point shooting in the conference and second best free throw shooting. A team built on underclassmen winning four games in four days seems unlikely but stranger things have happened.
Matchup to Watch
Eastern Washington vs Weber State
Another entry in the winner takes all logs, each of these teams has taken down top-seeded Southern Utah during the season. Though the Eagles and Wildcats never got the chance to square off in the regular season, an exciting showdown is a sure thing. Weber State’s Isiah Brown and Eastern Washington’s Tanner Groves were each named unanimous first team all-Big Sky. Each player ranks top five in points per game and field goal percentage during conference play. Neither team has made the NCAA Tournament since 2016, though each has been conference tournament runner-up in the meantime. Both teams are offensively gifted with high marks in every shooting category. This game has coin flip odds but may determine the automatic bid from the Big Sky conference.
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