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Big Sky race should be competitive

Weber State guard Jeremy Senglin hopes to lead the Wildcats to another Big Sky Conference title. (Scott G Winterton / Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via Associated Press)
Weber State guard Jeremy Senglin hopes to lead the Wildcats to another Big Sky Conference title. (Scott G Winterton / Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via Associated Press)

Trying to pick a favorite to win the Big Sky Conference basketball title? Don’t look at the records.

The contenders – Weber State, Montana, North Dakota, Idaho and Eastern Washington – are still playing like it, but only the Eagles have a winning record.

Tough nonconference schedules – with most of the games on the road – have left most of the top teams below the .500 mark on the eve of conference play. The Big Sky is 10-60 this year in true road games and ranks 30th out of 32 conferences in RPI.

That’s the bad news. A closer look reveals the truth: The conference should be solid and competitive.

Montana owns a win over Pepperdine, while defending league and tournament champion Weber State knocked off Utah State. Idaho took Stanford to the limit last week and EWU did the same at Colorado.

“What an interesting nonconference season in that you look across the league and I think the league’s better,” said Jim Hayford, who has the Eagles at 8-5. “Our record is probably inflated because we finally had the benefit of playing so many home games.

“Even then, we won a lot of close games. I truly do think the league is better.

“It’s a beast, but it makes you better if you respond in the right way, and I think our team has,” added Hayford, who may have the best frontcourt in the league with Bogdan Bliznyuk and Jacob Wiley.

However, the league will be driven by its guards – Ethan Telfair at Idaho State, Walter Wright of Montana, Quinton Hooker at North Dakota, Victor Sanders of Idaho and Jeremy Senglin of Weber.

Senglin, who averages 19 points, will attempt to carry the preseason favorite Wildcats back to the top without forward Joel Bolomboy, the leading rebounder in league history.

“We’re getting better. We’re not as talented as we have been,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said of his 5-6 team.

The challenge is the same at Montana, which took Weber down to the wire in a three-point loss in the Big Sky title game in Reno, Nevada. Gone is forward Martin Breunig, but the Griz will have one of the league’s best backcourts in Wright and Amaad Rorie.

At Idaho, coach Don Verlin is counting on the backcourt talents of Victor Sanders (17.3 ppg this year) and senior Perrion Callandret, but the latter hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury in mid-November.

UI coaches also expect Callandret and Sanders to become more vocal leaders to fill a void left by Chris Sarbaugh, a Spokane native who made a strong impact last year as a graduate transfer point guard.

Eastern is getting it done by committee, as “point-forward” Bliznyuk has 4.4 assists to go along with his 20.9 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Looking for a surprise team? So far it’s Portland State, which at 7-4 has the best nonconference record in the Big Sky.

The Vikings were picked eighth by the coaches and ninth by the media, but have road wins over Pepperdine, San Francisco and Portland of the West Coast Conference.

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