When and Where: Thursday - Saturday, Dahlberg Arena, Missoula, MT
Last year: Montana won their quarterfinal and semifinal games by a combined 14 points, then throttled second seeded Weber State by 19 in the championship game. They grabbed a 13 seed in the NCAA tournament, losing 73-49 to Wisconsin in the round of 64.
This year: Returning nearly everyone from last year's team, the Grizzlies continued their dominance of the league, only losing at Weber State to finish off their second straight one loss conference season. They have been beset by injuries this year, with all but three players missing at least one game, but still managed to win the league despite finishing second in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
The favorite: Odddly enough, second place Weber State is the highest rated team in KenPom by nearly 50 spots, and they led the league in offense (by a hair) and defense (by a lot).
Still, the favorite has to be Montana. They have lost two games in the league in the last two seasons, and by virtue of being the top seed they get to host the tournament in Missoula, where they haven't lost to a Big Sky team since 2010. Will Cherry, who broke his foot twice this year, has returned, giving the Grizzlies Senior leadership and a steady ballhandler. Cherry has an assist rate of 27% while turning it over on fewer than 20% of his possessions. Montana also benefits from tremendous three point shooting. They're 18th nationally at 38.6% and they have five players shooting 40% or better.
The contender: Weber State doesn't have Damian Lillard but they do have the best offense and defense in the league. They allowed just .93 points per trip in Big Sky play, while the next closest team allowed over a point per trip. They beat Montana by 14 at home and lost by just 2 in Missoula, so they should know that they have the ability to win.
Weber is led by Juniors Davion Berry and Kyle Tresnak. Berry averages 15 points per game, and does so very efficiently, shooting 54% from two and 43% from three. Tresnak is the third leading scorer, but is the highest usage player on the team and is their main weapon inside. Like Montana, Weber shoots the three well: as a team they lead the nation from behind the arc shooting 42.2% from three. They have three players who have shot more than 100 threes and make more than 43% of them. They also are the 10th best defensive rebounding team in the nation. Statistically they are better than Montana, but playing Montana in Missoula makes the Grizzlies the favorite in the likely title match.
The dark horse: In their first year in the league North Dakota finished third in conference, but were outscored on a per trip basis. They had the third best defense in league play but finished 7th offensively, and really struggled away from Grand Forks. They didn't get within 15 points of either of the league's top two teams, but they are the best of the rest and if both Weber State and Montana have rough shooting nights on jumpers, North Dakota defends well enough on the interior that they could stay in the game.
Troy Huff takes the fourth most shots in the country, and has really increased his efficiency, going from a 42% eFG to a 48% eFG. It still isn't great obviously, but a 6% jump while experiencing an increase in the level of competition from the Great West to the Big Sky is a pretty important deal, and a big reason why UND finished third in the league. They also feature one of the most underrated players in the league in Aaron Anderson, who shoots 42% from three, doesn't turn it over, and defends well without fouling. It will take a tall order to topple either of the best two teams in the league, but North Dakota has the best chance.