Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:27 pm

Tiny Dancers: Montana

Wayne Tinkle's Grizzlies took down arguably the nation's top point guard, Weber State's Damian Lillard, to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament. 

This Montana-Weber State championship contest wasn't quite as electric as the last time the two teams met with everything on the line, when Montana's Anthony Johnson went for 42 points, but the result was the same. 

Montana is led by junior guard Will Cherry, but Tinkle has plenty of weapons. 

The Grizz had all five starters reach double-figures in the championship game. Sophomore Kareem Jamar and junior Mathias Ward, who each had 18 in the semifinal win, led Montana with 23. Cherry had 13, senior big man Derek Selvig had 16 points and nine boards and Art Stewart finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. 

The Grizzles, who won their first outright regular-season crown since 1991-92, trailed by five at the break -- but outscored Weber State, 54-30, in the second half to blow the game open. 

Player to know: Will Cherry - The 6-foot-1 junior guard leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, but he's versatile and is also one of the nation's top defenders. He’s topped 20 points on 10 separate occasions this season, and has dramatically improved his outside shooting since last season.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 25-6 overall, 15-1 in Big Sky
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2010
  • We’re thinking: 15
  • KenPom ranking: 97
  • Sagarin ranking: 102
  • RPI: 81
  • Best wins: Long Beach State, Weber State
  • Worst losses: North Dakota
  • Notable stat: The Grizzlies enter the game on a school-record 14-game winning streak.  

 -- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:18 am

What-to-know tourney previews: Big Sky

It was Montana and Weber State neck-and-neck all season. 

Then Wayne Tinkle's Grizzlies knocked off Weber State in the regular-season finale to give Montana its first outright league title since 1991-92. That means the league semis and title game will be in Missoula, Montana.

It also means Weber State star Damian Lillard will have his work cut of for him in order to play in the NCAA tourney.

Montana comes into the postseason tourney on a 12-game winning streak. The Griz returned four starters from last year's squad that came up short against Northern Colorado in the Big Sky championship game.

Weber State has the top player in the league in Lillard and also arguably the elite point guard in the nation, but Randy Rahe's team will have to likely get past a third-seeded Portland State team that is led by the duo of Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott in the semis. That's no easy task.

I've got to admit, though. I'm rooting for a Montana-Weber State title game. The last time that happened it was a game to remember, when ex-Griz guard Anthony Johnson went for 42 points to knock off Weber in Ogden.

The NCAA tournament loves a player and star like Damian Lillard. But Montana could get in the way. (US Presswire)



Schedule: March 3-7

Title game: Wednesday, March 7 (7 p.m. MT on ESPN2)


  1. Damian Lillard, Weber State
  2. Charles Odum, Portland State
  3. Will Cherry, Montana
  4. Kareem Jamar, Montana
  5. Chahales Tapscott, Portland State

Conference RPI: 25

KenPom.com rating: 27

Sagarin rating: 24

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: None

Last NCAA Tournament Appearances:

  • Eastern Washington: 2004, 15 seed (75-56 loss to Oklahoma State)
  • Idaho State: 1987, 16 seed (95-70 loss to UNLV)
  • Montana: 2010, 14 seed (62-57 loss to New Mexico)
  • Montana State: 1996, 13 seed (88-55 loss to Syracuse)
  • Northern Arizona: 2000, 15 seed (61-56 loss to St. John's)
  • Northern Colorado: 2011, 15 seed (68-50 loss to San Diego State)
  • Portland State: 2009, 13 seed (77-59 loss to Xavier)
  • Weber State: 2007, 15 seed (70-42 loss to UCLA)

- By Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 9, 2011 11:26 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2011 11:44 pm

Welcome to the Dance, Northern Colorado

Mike Proctor helped the Northern Colorado Bears to their first-ever NCAA bidMost of the time when we say "Welcome to the Big Dance", we mean it in the context of this one season. For the Northern Colorado Bears, we mean it in a global sense. With just six seasons in the Big Sky under their belts, the team from Greeley, Colorado is going to the NCAA tournament.

It wasn't easy. UNC had to take down the defending champs first. The Montana Grizzlies had the size advantage inside, but the Bears gradually lured big man Brian Qvale and his frontcourt mates into foul trouble to close out a 65-60 win. Guard Devon Beitzel was the hero once again, as he has been all season long. This time, he scored 27 points to give fans in Butler-Hancock Hall the thrill of a lifetime.

Mike Proctor (right) contributed nine big defensive rebounds to keep the ball in play for the home team, and forward Neal Kingman tossed in 10 points to become the only other UNC player in double figures.

The Vitals

Record: 21-10, 13-3 Big Sky

Team colors: Blue and gold

We’re thinking: 15 seed

KenPom ranking: 123

RPI: 109

Best win: Montana (twice)

Worst loss: Louisiana-Monroe

Notable stat: The Bears are a top-ten free throw shooting team nationally, hitting 78.1 percent overall.

Photo: US Presswire

posted by Eric Angevine

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Posted on: March 9, 2011 12:42 pm

Big Sky championship game preview

Once again, the seeding process has held true to form for the Big Sky Conference. No. 2 Montana (21-9, 12-4) defeated No. 3 Weber State (18-12, 11-5) on March 8 to advance and face host Northern Colorado (20-10, 13-3). The No. 1-seeded Bears beat No. 4 Northern Arizona (19-12, 9-7) and will play for their first NCAA bid on their home floor. The game will be televised at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2

The Northern Colorado Bears got here in harrowing fashion, needing a late comeback to beat the Lumberjacks 73-70 in the semis. Their rock all season long has been senior guard Devon Beitzel, and he came through again with 25 points and 9 defensive rebounds. Forward Chris Kaba contributed 14 points and 2 blocked shots, and senior forward Neal Kingman kicked in 10 points.

The Bears will need that production up front as they prepare to take on Brian Qvale and the defending champion Montana Grizzlies. Qvale is a 6-foot-11, 260 lb. behemoth on the blocks, averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds per game. Most importantly, he's good for about 3 blocked shots per game, and that could turn the tide. Montana is the experienced team here, and may find a way to win in the rubber match. The Griz lost by 18 when they visited Greeley in December, but that was a long time ago.

One thing's for certain, though. The Big Sky will be sending a student wearing a bear costume to the Big Dance.

Big Sky tourney bracket

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Eric Angevine

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: March 7, 2011 9:19 am
Edited on: March 7, 2011 9:20 am

Big Sky semifinal matchups are set

Way out west, the seeding has held true to form. The Big Sky tournament semifinals match No. 1 seed Northern Colorado (19-10, 13-3) with No. 4 Northern Arizona (19-11, 9-7), while No. 2 Montana (20-9, 12-4) will get another shot at No. 3 Weber State (18-11, 11-5). The semifinals and final will all be played at Northern Colorado's Butler-Hancock Athletic Center, starting Tuesday, March 8.

Damian Lillard and Will Cherry battle for a loose ball in the 2010 Big Sky tourneyAs the two top seeds, NoCo and Montana have yet to play a tourney game. They have been rewarded with the extra rest that a first-round bye imparts, and will get their feet wet on Tuesday.

Weber State got to this point by defeating the league's upset kings, the Eastern Washington Eagles, in a Saturday quarterfinal. EWU had almost single-handedly set the postseason seedings by closing out wins over Montana and Weber State to finish the regular season, and had their eye on doing the same to the Wildcats in the tournament. The Eagles ran up a 15-point advantage on Weber State that lasted into the second half, before junior forward Kyle Bullinger got on his horse, finishing with 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals to advance his team one step closer to a hoped-for Big Dance invitation.

Northern Arizona's road to the semis was eerily similar, as the Lumberjacks overcame a 16-point deficit to Montana State thanks to the heroics of two high-scoring players. Guard Cameron Jones scored 27, and reserve Eric Platt added 20, including a late game go-ahead three pointer that secured the eventual win.

In the regular season, Northern Colorado defeated the Lumberjacks by ten on the road and just one at home. Montana split the season series with Weber State, also experiencing success away from home.

Players to watch:

Devon Beitzel, 6-foot-1 senior guard, Northern Colorado

Neal Kingman, 6-7 senior forward, Northern Colorado

Brian Qvale, 6-11 senior center, Montana

Will Cherry, 6-1 sophomore guard, Montana

Kyle Bullinger, 6-6 junior forward, Weber State

Lindsey Hughey, 6-3 senior guard, Weber State

Cameron Jones, 6-4 senior guard, Northern Arizona

Stallon Saldivar, 6-1 sophomore guard, Northern Arizona

Big Sky tournament bracket

Other conference tournaments

Photo: US Presswire

Postedy by Eric Angevine

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: March 3, 2011 10:20 am
Edited on: March 3, 2011 1:46 pm

Conference tourney preview: the Big Sky

The Big Sky conference doesn’t mess around. Of the league’s nine teams, only six make the postseason. That’s just the beginning. The top two seeds, in this case Northern Colorado (19-10 overall, 13-3 Big Sky), and Montana (20-9, 12-4) don’t have to play until the semis on Tuesday, March 8. On Saturday the 5th, the four bottom seeds battle it out to see who gets to go on, but it’s still not a straight bracket situation. After the first round, NoCo gets the lowest remaining seed and Montana gets the highest, and the rest of the tournament is played in the top seed’s building. Talk about protecting your No. 1 team.

Northern Colorado has that advantage on its own merits, but owes a huge debt of thanks to sixth-seeded Eastern Washington (10-19, 7-9). After enduring a four-game losing streak in February, the Eagles rebounded to win their final two games against Montana and Weber State (17-11, 11-5), the only teams that had a chance to sneak into the top slot in the conference.

Northern Colorado and Montana dueled for the auto bid last season as wellNorthern Colorado may be the most surprising success story in the league. The Bears have only been in the Big Sky since 2006, and only in D-I since 2004. They’re atop the league under a first-year coach, B.J. Hill (who took over from Tad Boyle when he ascended to the Big 12), and went 4-7 against D-I competition in the non-conference season, making the surge to the top of the standings all the more unexpected. Senior guard Devon Beitzel has a lot to do with that, putting up a conference-best 20.6 points per game.

Montana’s greatest threat is Brian Qvale, the 6-foot-11 senior who nearly led the Grizzlies to an upset of New Mexico in last year’s NCAA tournament. This year, his numbers are even better: 15 points per game, 62 percent shooting from the floor, 8.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. He helped Montana forge a season split with the Bears (you won’t find any more rugged mascots than in the Big Sky) and can easily power this team to another auto-bid, even from the second slot in the tourney.

If there’s a dark horse in this race, it’s probably the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (18-11, 9-7), a team that has five seniors, a long-term coach in Mike Adras and the nifty ballhandling of Stallon Saldivar (3/1 assists to turnovers ratio) providing the intangibles that could fuel a run to the title.

Since NoCo won the regular-season championship, the semis and final will be held in Greeley, CO regardless of results, so it may all come down to the Bears’ ability to protect their house, where they haven’t lost a game all season long.

Big Sky tournament bracket


Title game: 9:00 p.m. ET, Wednesday, March 9 (ESPN2)


  1. Devon Beitzel, Northern Colorado
  2. Brian Qvale, Montana
  3. Stallon Saldivar, Northern Arizona


Conference RPI: 24

KenPom.com rating: 22

Sagarin rating: 23

NCAA tournament Locks:

NCAA tournament Bubble Teams: None


Last NCAA tournament Appearance:

Northern Colorado: N/A

Montana: 2010 (62-57 loss to New Mexico)

Weber State: 2007 (70-42 loss to UCLA)

Northern Arizona: 2000 (61-56 loss to St. John’s)

Montana State: 1996 (88-55 loss to Syracuse)

Eastern Washington: 2004 (75-56 loss to Oklahoma State)

Note: Portland State, which won back-to-back auto bids in 2008 and 2009, has been ruled ineligible to participate in the 2011 Big Sky tournament.

Posted by Eric Angevine

Photo: US Presswire

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com