(SportsNetwork.com) - After a wild finish to the regular season, the 2015 Big Sky Conference Tournament is set to begin on Thursday, March 12 with all eight seeds playing in the first round.
All games will be played at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Montana, as the Montana Grizzlies (18-11, 14-4 Big Sky) shared the regular-season title with the Eastern Washington Eagles (23-8, 14-4), but clinched the No. 1 seed via a tie-breaker.
Montana finished the regular season by winning seven of its last eight games, including a narrow 77-76 victory over Eastern Washington on Feb. 28. Two of the Grizzlies key players this season, Martin Breunig and Jordan Gregory, were named to the All-Big Sky First Team. Breunig was a unanimous selection for the First Team and was also named the league's Newcomer of the Year. Montana has now won or grabbed a share of the regular-season title in three of the last four seasons. Montana will play No. 8 seed Weber State (8-10, 13-16) in the opening round.
The Weber State Wildcats closed out the regular season with a split of its last four games, the most recent outing resulting in a 79-71 overtime loss to Eastern Washington on Saturday. The Wildcats did however, split the season series with Montana.
Eastern Washington enters the tourney having won three of its last four contests, including a pair of road wins at Idaho State and Weber State. Two Eagles, Tyler Harvey and Venky Jois, were named to the All-Big Sky First Team. Harvey was a unanimous selection and has been named to the First Team for the second time in his career. EWU's Bogdan Bliznyuk was named the Freshman of the Year while Jim Hayford was awarded co-Coach of the Year honors. Eastern Washington plays No. 7 seed Idaho (13-16, 8-10) in the opening round on Thursday.
The Idaho Vandals posted back-to-back losses to put the wraps on the regular season. A 67-65 loss at Idaho State last Saturday was particularly troubling considering the Bengals failed to qualify for this event.
The Sacramento State Hornets (19-10, 13-5) clinched the No. 3 seed in the tournament despite losing their final two games of the regular season, one of which occurring against Southern Utah, which also failed to qualify for the event. Sacramento State's Mikh McKinney was named as the Big Sky MVP, and was picked to be on the all-conference First Team for the second time in his career. Also, Brian Katz was named the Big Sky's co-Coach of the Year, marking the first a Hornets' head coach was so honored. Sacramento State will face No. 6 seed Portland State (15-13, 9-9) in Thursday's opening round.
The Portland State Vikings enter the Big Sky tourney having won four of their last six contests, including a double-digit victory over the No. 5 seed, Northern Colorado (15-14, 10-8). The Vikings did however, fall to Sacramento State at home by double digits on Feb. 28.
The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks grabbed the No. 4 seed (18-13, 13-5) by winning six of their final seven contests of the regular season. Five of the Lumberjacks' final six wins came against Weber State, Idaho, Eastern Washington, Portland State and Sacramento State, all of which are playing in the Big Sky tourney. The Lumberjacks' Kris Yanku was named to the league's First Team, while Jordyn Martin was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year. The Lumberjacks will take on No. 5 seed Northern Colorado in the first round.
The UNC Bears lost four straight before ending the regular season with a three-game win streak that included a victory over the same Northern Arizona squad they'll face on Thursday. The Bears did however, lose on the Lumberjacks' home court on Feb. 5.
This is one of the more balanced conference tournaments that will occur this week, and it's difficult to find a clear-cut favorite. Montana is the top seed for a reason given its level of talent compared to the rest of the field, and the Grizzlies are also the hottest team entering the tournament.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Montana