Thursday , Nov , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Big Sky Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Big Sky Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: It was a long time coming, but finally after three straight defeats
in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference Tournament, Eastern
Washington finally got over the hump in 2003-04 and captured the league crown
and the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. The Eagles also captured
the Big Sky regular season title (11-3) and gave Oklahoma State a tough time
before bowing out in the first round. Repeating that feat however, will be
difficult, as not only has coach Ray Giacoletti left for Utah, but conference
Player of the Year Alvin Snow has graduated. With those losses, the door is
wide open in the Big Sky which should make for an entertaining 2004-05 season.
Montana, which finished in a tie for sixth place in the league last year, has
a solid core of returning players and is one of the favorites to come out on
top this season. Weber State has been one of the conference’s most consistent
programs the past few seasons, but after a perfect 2002-03 league campaign the
team slipped to 7-7 last season. Portland State, which finished in last place
in 2003-04, could be the sleeper team this year, with several quality players
returning, and should be able to make a move all the way up the ladder. Once
the doormat of the league, Sacramento State has steadily improved over the
years and should make the cut for the Big Sky Tournament despite several key
players lost to graduation. As for Northern Arizona, Idaho State and Montana
State, they were all hit hard by graduation and will struggle to secure one of
the six playoff spots in the Big Sky Tournament.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Montana

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Montana; 2. Weber State; 3. Eastern
Washington; 4. Portland State; 5. Sacramento State; 6. Northern Arizona;
7. Idaho State; 8. Montana State

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

MONTANA – The Grizzlies underachieved during the Pat Kennedy era, posting two
straight losing seasons, including a 10-18 overall finish last year. With
Kennedy now gone, former alum and NBA player Larry Krystowiak has the task of
taking Montana back to the top. Krystowiak, three time Big Sky MVP winner at
Montana during his playing days, inherits a talented team that welcomes back
three starters from a year ago. Included in that trio is forward Kamarr Davis
and guard Kevin Criswell. Davis earned Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors
last season after averaging 14.1 ppg and 6.3 ppg, while Criswell made all-
league honors with 12.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Center John Seyfert is also welcomed
back after posting 3.9 ppg and 5.4 rpg a year ago. Guard Roy Booker averaged
9.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg off the bench last season, and will form a solid backcourt
with Criswell this year. The biggest concern for the Grizzlies this season
is depth, as incoming freshman and juco transfers will be depended upon to
deliver immediately.

WEBER STATE – The Wildcats went 26-6 in 2002-03, but with several key players
gone from that squad, Weber State slipped to just 15-14 last season. Still,
the team remained extremely competitive in the conference, finishing in a
second place tie at 7-7. Much like the rest of the league, Weber State was
decimated by graduation, losing its top three starters. Still, the Wildcats
have enough talent for head coach Joe Cravens to make another run at an NCAA
Tournament berth. The team will lean on center Lance Allred, who averaged 11.7
ppg and 6.0 last season after transferring from Utah. Guard Jamal Jenkins is
the team’s only other returning starter and will need to produce more than the
2.4 ppg he did a year ago. Guard Brett Cox (3.5 ppg) and forward Troy Goddell
(2.9 ppg) move into starting roles this season and will need to step up their
scoring if the Wildcats hope to make a run. Newcomers Dan Barisic (7-0) and
Juan Pablo Silveria (6-8) add size and depth to the frontcourt, and will be
counted on to produce immediately.

EASTERN WASHINGTON – Mike Burns takes over the helm at EWU this season and
inherits a team that is coming off the school’s first two playoff appearances.
The Eagles made their first NCAA Tournament appearance last season and their
first NIT visit the year before. The team also won the Big Sky regular season
crown (11-3) in 2003-04, while finishing 17-13 overall. Repeating last
season’s accomplishments however, will be a tough feat as only two starters
return for the club in forwards Marc Axton and Matt Nelson. Axton, a two time
all-league selection, averaged 12.9 ppg and 5.6 rpg last season, while Nelson
added 7.9 ppg and 5.0 rpg as the league’s Freshman of the Year. Guard Danny
Pariseau (5.9 ppg) and forward Paul Butorac (4.0 ppg) played pivotal roles off
the bench last season, but will be counted on as starters this time around.
Newcomers Rodney Stuckey (guard), Jacob Beitinger (forward) and Henry
Bekkering (forward) will see significant playing time this season and may even
fight for a starting role.

PORTLAND STATE – The Vikings finished in last place for the third straight
time last year, going just 5-9 in league play. The club also finished under
.500 overall at 11-16, but with four starters back, big things are expected
from Portland State. Leading the way for the Vikings will be 6-10 senior
Seamus Boxley. The forward is the reigning league Defensive Player of the Year
and is one of just three returning players from last year’s all-conference
team. Boxley averaged 14.8 ppg and 9.4 rpg last season and will be joined by
guard/forward Blake Walker, who averaged a team-best 16.1 ppg in 2003-04.
Forward Antone Jarrell and guard Will Funn round out the returning starters,
after averaging 8.6 ppg and 7.7 a year ago, respectively. Guard Sheu Oduniyi
may move into the final starting sport following a solid 2003-04 campaign in
which he averaged 7.6 ppg off the bench. Much like the rest of the league, the
Vikings will depend on incoming freshman and juco transfers to add depth.

SACRAMENTO STATE – Once a program that struggled to just stay out of the
cellar, the Hornets have shown a great deal of improvement over the last few
seasons, including a second place finish (7-7) last year. In Jerome Jenkins’
four seasons at the helm of Sacramento State, the team has won five, nine, 12
and 13 games, respectively. However, with just two starters back from last
year’s club that finished 13-15 overall, the Hornets may struggle to finish in
the upper half of the league. Guard DaShawn Freeman and forward Chris Lange
are the two starters welcomed back and are primed for breakout seasons.
Freeman averaged 5.1 ppg, 3.4 apg and 1.75 steals pg last season, while Lange
chipped in 3.8 ppg. Big things are also expected from guard Jameel Pugh, who
averaged 9.3 ppg and 4.9 rpg off the bench a year ago. Forward Alex Bausley
(2.9 ppg) will also move into a starting roll, while newcomers Zance Beckman
(6-9) and Davon Roberts (6-6) add depth to the frontcourt.

NORTHERN ARIZONA – The Lumberjacks had a rather successful 2003-04 campaign,
finishing at .500 in league play (7-7) and one-game over .500 overall (15-14).
The team also made a run in the conference tournament, making it to the title
game before dropping a 71-59 decision to Eastern Washington. This season could
be a completely different story, as guard Kelly Golob is the only returning
starter. The sharp-shooting Golob averaged 13.9 ppg a year ago, while knocking
down 42.5 percent of his three-point attempts. Golob should benefit greatly
from a solid frontcourt that includes Stephen Garrett and Ruben Boykin, who
combined for 11.2 ppg and 6.7 rpg off the bench last season. Guard Kyle
Feuerback, who started 12 of 29 games last season, dished out 112 assists and
should do an even better job in a full-time role this time around. Newcomer
Kyle Landry (6-9) has great size and ability and may move into an immediate
starting position.

IDAHO STATE – The Bengals suffered through an injury-plagued 2003-04 campaign
and stumbled to a 13-18 overall finish. Still, the club was able to hold it
together in league play and finished in a tie for second place at 7-7. This
season there are some major question to be answered with the departure of the
scorers Marquis Poole (19.0 ppg) and Scott Henry (14.1 ppg). Three starters do
return, not to mention David Schroeder, who missed last season with a knee
injury. The 6-2 guard averaged 10.8 ppg in 2002-03 and will fight for a
starting roll with Jeff Gardner and Doug D’Amore. Both Gardner and D’Amore
started for the Bengals last season and averaged 11.1 ppg and 6.6 ppg,
respectively. Jesse Smith is the club’s only returning starter in the
frontcourt and contributed 6.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg a year ago. Nate Rede (6.3 ppg)
was one of the team’s top reserves last season, and will join Smith in the low
post as a starter this time around. Freshman forward Antione Miguel Millien
was the team’s top recruit this past offseason and has the athletic ability to
make an immediate impact.

MONTANA STATE – The Bobcats have missed the postseason tournament the last two
seasons, including a dismal seventh place finish (6-8) in 2003-04. However,
Montana State was one of the few teams in the Big Sky to finish above .500
overall last season with 14 wins against 13 losses. With only one starter
returning from last year’s club, the Bobcats are in serious danger of missing
the Big Sky Tournament for the third straight season. Guard Frank Brown, the
only returning starter, averaged 7.7 ppg and 4.4 apg last season and will be
counted on to lead a young team in 2004-05. Brown should benefit from a
formidable frontcourt which includes Nick Dissly, Matt Towsley and Marvin
Moss. Dissly averaged a solid 9.1 ppg and 3.1 rpg as a true freshman last
season, while Towsley added 8.2 ppg and 4.2 rpg. As for Moss, he is a budding
star and averaged an impressive 20.0 ppg and 10.0 ppg in junior college a
season ago. He will certainly give the Bobcats some much needed scoring, as
will the four other juco transfers signed by Montana State this past
offseason.