Last year four teams ended their seasons with a championship win. The University of Northern Colorado Men’s basketball was one of those, winning the College Insider Tournament trophy.
The CIT Championship is the premier college trophy of Mid-Major basketball (middle size and smaller division one basketball programs). UNC also did well in the Big Sky as they were fifth in conference standings and third in the conference tournament.
UNC ended last season with a program best 26-12 record and ranked No. 28 among Mid-Major teams.
Andre Spight, Anthony Davis and Tanner Morgan are all substantial losses to the roster strength, but the Bears still have talent that can win games.
Jordan Davis is known well for his athleticism and SportsCenter highlights, Jonah Radebaugh has been a talented and well balanced walk-on and Jalen Sanders showed moments of greatness in his freshmen campaign.
With those key players, a decent bench and an above average recruiting class the Bears are poised to do as well or better in the Big Sky assuming injuries are limited.
Looking at 2018-2019
UNC hosted Colorado Christian Oct. 30 as their first and only exhibition game, a 92-59 win.
The first regular season home game will be against Colorado College Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.
Following that will tough, hosting Pepperdine, a traditionally talented West Coast Conference team.
The Bears will then go on the road for a tough out of conference road schedule. Incarnate Word, Texas Tech, Denver and Wyoming will all be team-testing games to see how the Bears truly deal with pressure and talented opponents.
Coming home almost a month later UNC will host Johnson & Wales University for what should be a confidence booster for the Bears.
UNC will not return to the BOCA (Bank of Colorado Arena) until Jan. 5 as they will be playing four games in the Las Vegas Classic mid-season tournament.
Tournaments like this are often most useful for coaches and the budget as this gives the team new schemes to face and often are compensated for travel, more so if the Bears win though.
Game one will be against 2018 CIT playoffs opponent San Diego in California.
Game two will be in New Mexico as the Bears take on mid-major No. 7 New Mexico State.
Game three will travel back to the tournament’s home site with the Bears facing No. 30 Rider University.
Game four would depend on the standings with SIU Edwardsville or Cal State Northridge as the last opponent.
A much needed holiday week off for the Bears will take place before they travel to Sacramento State Dec. 29 to open Big Sky conference play. Jan. 5 will be the Bears first conference home game.
Conference play is never easy, but with Montana ranked No. 14 among mid-majors and Weber State returning Jerrick Harding, there will be a few games in which the Bears should significantly struggle.
Despite winning the CIT Championship last year, the Bears are only picked to be third in the conference from both the coaches and media poll. For a tournament champion to be picked third in the conference shows just how tough the Big Sky is.
UNC went 11-7 in conference play losing to Eastern Washington, Montana State, Montana (2), Weber State (2) and Sacramento State. In the Big Sky tournament, UNC beat NAU for a second time and Weber State for its first time that season. Although, in a thrilling finish the Bears lost to the Griz for the third time in the semifinal match.
Montana finished 26-8 (16-2), Idaho 22-9 (14-4), Eastern Washington 20-15 (13-5) and Weber State 22-9 (13-5) ahead of the Bears.
Montana’s only two losses were once at EWU 74-65 and once at Idaho in overtime 79-77.
At home in Missoula, the Griz were undefeated going 14-0. The rest of the top five also had 3 or less losses at home. Idaho two, EWU one, Weber State and UNC three home losses. As for road records, Portland State had the best record at 10-5 finishing 20-13 (9-9) and sixth in the conference.
The two biggest losses of player talent this year came from EWU, Bogdan Bliznyuk and UNC, Andre Spight. Currently Bliznyuk is playing Euro Basketball in the Ukraine and Spight is also in Europe with Montenegro.
Montana is definitely the team to beat since they only graduated one starter who was not their best player, unlike EWU and UNC. There are some easy game scheduled for the Griz early on before competing with some very talented schools including Mid-Major No. 23 Georgia State (home), Creighton (away), UC Irvine (away), Arizona (away) and Mid-Major No. 4 South Dakota State (away).
Weber State, Coach Linder’s former team, is still recruiting hard and have Jerrick Harding to lead the team. With some tough out of conference games at San Diego, San Jose State (Bahamas tournament) and Fresno State, while also hosting BYU, Weber State looks to have some serious work ahead.
Idaho has had a lot of turnover in their roster as their top three scoring players graduated. Those three players accounted for 59% of Idaho’s scoring last year. There will need to be many underclassmen stepping up to fill those roles and/ or create points when subbed in. Tough games ahead for Idaho include UC Irvine (away), Nicholls State (home), UC Santa Barbra (Boise tournament) and Washington State (away).
Eastern Washington lost one of their best players in school history, but the starting lineup is otherwise intact. If there can be a step up in leadership this year, EWU could see similar success to last season after they learn how to play without Bogdan. The out of conference schedule will be very unkind to the Eagles unless they are battle ready. The tough games include almost every game until conference play: NCAA No. 16 Syracuse, NCAA No. 14 Oregon, NCAA No. 25 Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Stanford road games with a tough home game against Mid-Major No. 4 South Dakota State.
The Mirror’s Big Sky Rankings
- Weber State
- Northern Colorado
- Eastern Washington
- Montana State
- Portland State
- Sacramento State
- Idaho State
- Southern Utah
- Northern Arizona
Projected Champion: Montana – The roster strength is unmatched and bring a lot of talent into 2018-2019.
Most Improved: Sacramento State – Injuries limited the season success, but Senior Marcus Graves looks to lead the team into a new year.
Biggest Decline: Idaho – Losing the three top scorers for the team leaves more questions than answers for the Vandals team.
Other out of conference games
November 6 — Idaho State at NCAA No. 3 and Mid-Major No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs
November 10 — Idaho State at Boise State
November 14— Montana State at Colorado State
November 21 — Montana State at Arkansas
November 28 — Portland State at Stanford
December 9 — Montana State at Washington State
December 12 — Portland State at BYU
December 21 — Sacramento State at NCAA No. 25 Washington