College Basketball Insider

College basketball previews: Will Cherry ready to lead Montana to Big Sky title

Montana guard Will Cherry hopes to lead the Grizzlies to a Big Sky title. (Getty Images)
Prediction
1.
Montana
Grizzlies
2.
Weber St.
Wildcats
3.
North Dakota
Fighting Sioux
4.
E. Washington
Eagles
5.
N. Colorado
Bears
6.
Sacremento St.
Hornets
7.
Montana St.
Bobcats
8.
Portland St.
Vikings
9.
S. Utah
Thunderbirds
10.
Idaho St.
Bengals
11.
N. Arizona
Lumberjacks


The Big Sky became nationally relevant -- or at least a part of NBA scouts' travel schedule -- last season because of the emergence of Weber State's Damian Lillard. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 24.5 points per game before the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft.

Now it's Will Cherry's league.

The Montana point guard probably won't average 24.5 points per game, and there's no way he'll be the sixth pick in next June's draft. But he's good.

We have him listed as one of the nation's top-30 point guards. He'll team with Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward to give Montana three returning double-digit scorers, and they might just be good enough to advance in what should be their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.

But don't count out Weber State completely.

Yes, the Wildcats lost Lillard and two other starters in Kyle Bullinger and Darin Mahoney. But Scott Bamforth and Kyle Tresnak are both back after averaging double-figures in points last season.

That's a core that could have Randy Rahe pushing for his fourth Big Sky Coach of the Year award in the past seven years.

Don't sleep on North Dakota, Eastern Washington or Northern Colorado. While they're not as strong as Montana and Weber State, each of those teams should finish in the top half of the league.

Coach's take

"Montana is by far the favorite. The Big Sky will have lots of new faces both on the court and on the sideline, so it will be every interesting to see where everyone ends up. There will be a lot of surprises, as well as ups and downs until a few schools establish themselves as a contender."

The league's best

  • Preseason Big Sky Player of the Year: Will Cherry, Montana Broke his foot in September and will consequently miss some early games, but Cherry is expected to be back no later than early December, at which point he'll establish himself as the Big Sky's next really good point guard.

  • Scott Bamforth, Weber State. Overshadowed by Lillard last season even though he averaged 14.5 points per game.

  • Kareem Jamar, Montana. Averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 rebounds as Cherry's sidekick last season.

  • Collin Chiverton, Eastern Washington. Named Big Sky Newcomer of the Year last season after averaging 13.9 points per game.

  • Kyle Tresnak, Weber State. Talented big even though he should be averaging more than 4.0 rebounds per game given that he's 6-foot-10.

Numbers to know

3: That's the number of former Big Sky players currently in the NBA. The players are Eddie Gill, Rodney Stuckey and Damian Lillard.

19: That's the number of consecutive double-digit scoring games that Cherry had last season before he was held to nine points in a 73-49 loss to Wisconsin in the Round of 64. Cherry was 3-for-14 from the field in that game.

33: That's the age of first-year Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy, which makes him the youngest coach in the Big Sky. He comes to NAU from Josh Pastner's staff at Memphis.

Previously in previews:

No. 29 -- America East
No. 30 -- MEAC
No. 31 -- Big West
No. 32 -- SWAC

For more college basketball news, commentary and discourse, follow @EyeonCBB and @GaryParrishCBS on Twitter. And be sure to like us on Facebook.

 
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