Big Sky Tournament: What are Weber State basketball’s chances in Boise?
Both Weber State basketball teams are in Boise, Idaho, to begin play at the Big Sky Conference championships at Idaho Central Arena.
What are the prospects for each team and how does the field play out? Let’s examine that and the tournament’s new format.
The Big Sky unveils a unique, new tournament format designed to accomplish a few things: better reward the top teams from the regular season, eliminate early-morning tip times, put the men’s and women’s championship games on the same day, and improve TV access or exposure.
First, the season ended five days earlier than normal, allowing the league to move up the tournaments. Instead of a Monday-through-Saturday schedule (with the women’s final on Friday and the men’s on Saturday) that goes right up to Selection Sunday, the tournaments now run concurrently from Saturday through Wednesday. The tournaments finish with three days between the title games and Selection Sunday, offering the champions a slight respite before getting on a plane to play in the NCAA Tournament.
This also allowed for improved TV exposure. Both tournaments will stream from start to finish on the subscription service ESPN+. The women’s final, however, will be on ESPNU for the first time. The men’s semifinals will air on cable as well, with one on ESPNU and the other on ESPN2, and the title game also upgrades from ESPNU to ESPN2.
Now, for the bracket format. In recent years, teams that finish Nos. 1-5 received basically the same reward in the bracket: a first-round bye. Starting this year, Nos. 1-6 receive byes but teams No. 1 and 2 receive a preferred, staggered-start bye that gives them a lower-seeded team when they first hit the floor than in previous formats, and a day off in between their first two games.
So, for example, men’s No. 1 Eastern Washington will begin play Sunday, facing the winner of the 9/10 game from Saturday, and then get Monday off with a victory and next play in the Tuesday semifinals.
The top two teams must win three games in four days to claim the title, seeds No. 3-6 must win three games in three days, and seeds No. 7-10 must win four games over five days.
Weber State women’s basketball finished the regular season 6-24 overall with a 2-16 mark in the Big Sky. That’s good for last place and the No. 10 seed, which means the Wildcats will tip off both tournaments at noon Saturday by facing No. 9 Northern Colorado (12-17, 5-13).
The winner advances to play No. 1 Northern Arizona (19-12, 13-5) at noon Sunday.
Weber State opened Big Sky play in December with a 67-39 loss at Northern Colorado. When the Bears returned the trip to Ogden in early February, they claimed a 73-60 victory.
WSU is an underdog in the opener, plus would meet NAU with a win (though WSU fared better against NAU than it did NoCo during the regular season). The chance of a four-game run after claiming a 2-16 record in the regular season seems minuscule.
NAU went 2-0 each against fellow shared champions Montana State and Sacramento State. That fact, and Montana State’s historical success come March, would point to those two teams as the favorites with upstart Sac State definitely capable of claiming the title as well.
Weber State men’s basketball fielded its youngest team in the last several seasons, weathered a rough start that had the Wildcats statistically rate as one of the nation’s worst defenses, adjusted the lineup and a few schemes, and ended up finishing with an outright third place in the Big Sky, improving upon last year’s fourth-place finish.
Especially due to an expected close matchup with Sacramento State in the first game, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings give WSU the lowest probability of the top four seeds of advancing to and winning the championship game. Still, with Dillon Jones scoring 20 or more points in his last four games, and in five of his last six, while winning the last two Big Sky player of the week honors, it seems WSU has one star-level player who can lift them each night.
WSU has won six straight against Sac State, dating to a Hornets win in the 2020 conference tournament. Weber claimed two close rock fights this season by scores of 50-48 and 52-49.
Weber State’s success, as it has all season, will come down to its defense and whether or not its legs can hold up, with wins, for three games in three days. WSU now rates 119th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, which includes the first eight games where it rated almost dead-last nationally (among 363 teams).
WSU has the league’s second-best defense by almost all measures but was near the bottom offensively.
The top two teams separated themselves pretty well in both efficiency rating and league record. Eastern Washington went 16-2 and Montana State 15-3, the latter of which was three games ahead of Weber State. EWU is far and away the league’s best offense, with a deep roster of scorers, and is fourth defensively. MSU is first defensively and third offensively.
Weber State did split the regular-season series with MSU, taking a 15-point road loss before answering with a 10-point home win. WSU lost twice to EWU, though both were competitive from start to finish.
Behind its defense, Montana State is the statistical favorite to take the tournament title, per Ken Pomeroy, at 30.3% probability. That’s followed by EWU at 27%, Montana at 16% and Weber State at 9.1%.