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Big Sky tournament preview


Dates: March 5-9
Site: Campus sites (higher seed is home); semifinals, championship in Greeley, Colo.
Championship game: Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNP2)

Outlook: Six of the league’s nine teams enter the Big Sky tournament, giving the top two byes into the semifinals. In this case, that’s Northern Colorado (19-10, 13-3) and Montana (20-9, 12-4), leaving traditional powers Weber State (17-11, 11-5) and Northern Arizona (18-11, 9-7) to play an extra game.

That’s good and bad. Those extra games are at home, which let those two work out the kinks before traveling to UNC for the semis. (Yes, I’m assuming both win.) Once those four are there, it’s anyone’s game.

The Bears won the league, but as a team that relies on 3-pointers for a third of their points (40 percent of their shots come from beyond the arc), it’s as vulnerable if its shots aren’t falling. Also of note, the Bears split their season series with Weber State, Northern Arizona and Montana. And two of those losses were at home.

Player to watch: Devon Beitzel, Northern Colorado

The 6-1 senior is beloved in Greeley, where’s he’s gone from disenchanted freshman who could shoot to a senior who does everything for the Bears, including win. As UNC progressed from Big Sky also-ran to Big Sky bully last year, Beitzel’s leads a group of seniors who kept winning despite the loss of graduated point guard Will Figures and coach Tad Boyle, who took the Colorado job.

Champion: Northern Colorado

If the Bears win the expected shootout with Northern Arizona (both are among the D-I leaders in 3-point shooting), they’ll either have to dethrone reigning champ Montana or Weber State, which won regular-season titles in ’09 and ’10. They’re going against history. But they have an ace up their sleeve in playing at home. That should be enough.

Complete tournament bracket

Tournament standings, stats, more

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.