1) What’s the atmosphere of Reno going to be like?
If not for the Big Sky Conference’s decision to change its postseason format, the tournament would be in Ogden, Utah, this week where Weber State averaged a league-high 6,943 fans for home conference games.
Instead, everybody is in Reno, Nevada, an eight-hour drive from Weber State, 13 hours from the University of Montana and 25 hours from Grand Forks, North Dakota.
How many fans will travel for the games? Tuesday’s first round could be lifeless, but will they start to filter in for the quarterfinals and semifinals Thursday and Friday?
The league’s hierarchy has said they understand fan turnout may be mediocre this year. But the goal is to put on a great event, and ensure that those who do visit Reno go home and convince more folks to attend in the future.
Center court at the Reno Events Center for the @BigSkyMBB Tournament. #BigSkyMBB #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/hkfTXmWGAq— Kobee Stalder (@KobeeAlon) March 6, 2016
Superquick look at the Reno Events Center during the Big Sky hoops tourney. #BigSkyMBB #BigSkyWBB pic.twitter.com/6Z9nxRXNXH— Madison Guernsey (@MGuernsey_ISJ) March 7, 2016
A look at the Reno Events Center for the Big Sky tournament. #BigSkyMBB #BigSkyWBB pic.twitter.com/KPx2WNHXaj— Madison Guernsey (@MGuernsey_ISJ) March 7, 2016
2) The top-four seeds and their big-time advantage.
Weber State, Montana, Idaho and Idaho State worked their butts off to finish in the top four. Yes, it means those teams skate through automatically to the quarterfinals, but the biggest advantage lies one step further.
For any of the 5-12 seeds to win a Big Sky title, they’ll have to win games Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Keep in mind, that’s after playing twice last week.
So they’re actually playing Thursday, Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. That’s a possible six games in 10 days. It’s the stuff of legends if anyone pulls it off.
3) North Dakota is the most likely team of the 5-12 seeds that could make a run to the championship game.
I like North Dakota’s draw. The Fighting Hawks can’t sleepwalk past Southern Utah, but they’re a seven-point favorite and should move on to play Idaho State — a team UND has tormented in recent history.
Win those two games and North Dakota is suddenly in the semifinals. That’s when I’d expect the fatigue to start kicking in, but UND does regularly go eight deep into its rotation. Assuming junior Quinton Hooker, the team’s top scorer, can fend off exhaustion, they’re the best bet of the 5-12 seeds to contend for a championship.
4) Can we finally see Bolomboy vs Breunig?
Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy missed Martin Breunig and Montana when the Grizzlies traveled to Ogden during the regular season.
Bolomboy’s Wildcats pulled out the win without him, but it’d be fun to see the league’s best two forwards clash if they meet in Saturday’s championship tilt.
Bolomboy and Breunig took the top two spots on Ken Pomeroy’s all-kenpom.com team thanks to fantastic senior seasons for each. Bolomboy is fifth in the country in defensive rebounding percentage and 65th in effective field goal percentage. Breunig doesn’t get after it on the boards like Bolomboy, but he’s a more refined product on offense where he’s 19th in the country in effective field goal percentage and boosts a 120.1 offensive rating to Bolomboy’s 115.9 (both are very good).
Listen, that essentially a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Getting down to it, it’d just be fun to see UM-Weber, Breunig-Bolomboy go at it underneath.
5) The two big men at UM and WSU are the league’s best players, but the Big Sky is all about the guards.
The top players in the Big Sky Conference are two forwards in Ogden and Missoula, but the league, as usual, is dominated by its guard play. And the 2015-16 season has its share of quality small guys skirting around the perimeter.
ISU junior Ethan Telfair has single-handedly changed the Bengals’ fortunes with his combination of competitiveness, unmatched speed and ability to rise to the moment in the closing minutes of games.
North Dakota junior Quinton Hooker had a fine start to his career in Grand Forks as a freshman and sophomore, starting 44 games, but he’s taken a monumental step forward this year.
Eastern’s Austin McBroom has drained 106 3-pointers this season and needs three more to tie former Eagle Tyler Harvey for third all time in the conference for a single season.
Idaho’s starting trio of Victor Sanders, Perrion Callandret and Chris Sarbaugh may be the most unappreciated set of guards in the league.
Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin is terrific. Montana State’s Marcus Colbert can be a load, especially if his 3s are falling. Northern Colorado’s Anthony Johnson can drop 30 if he heats up. Montana has a healthy dose of talented, versatile guards.
The list doesn’t seem to stop. We’ve gone this far and not even mentioned NAU’s Kris Yanku, a first-team all-Big Sky selection a year ago.