Junior center Eric Hutchison
Oct. 18, 2012
OGDEN, UTAH - The University of Montana men's basketball team has been tabbed as the Big Sky Conference's preseason favorite by the league's coaches and media, the conference announced today (Oct. 18).
The defending Big Sky champion Grizzlies received eight first place votes and 98 total points by the league's 11 head coaches, while they tallied 24 first place votes and 344 points from the 32 media representatives who voted.
"We do have a few key pieces back,''said seventh-year Griz head coach Wayne Tinkle. "It's nice to see us recognized, but coaches don't put a lot of credence in the polls. We have an awfully long ways to go to compete for the championship. We're facing some adversity right now with some injuries.
"It's going to be one of the more competitive seasons in a while,'' Tinkle said. "I don't think the eventual regular-season champion is going to have just a couple of losses. We're going to beat up on each other. Sacramento State is probably a top-five team before all is said and done. Northern Colorado has all of its young studs back. It's going to be a real shootout until the end.'
"I'm really excited,'' Tinkle said of the new-look Big Sky. "Commissioner (Doug) Fullerton has done a nice job of solidifying the conference. Others around us in the West seem to be struggling to find an identity, while we're holding strong. North Dakota could be a surprise. Some out there don't understand how good they are. Southern Utah, a lot of us aren't sure. They have a great young man in Coach Robinson leading the program."
Montana returns three starters from that 25-7 squad that set a league record by winning 15 Big Sky games en route to a 15-1 conference slate. That 15-1 Big Sky finish meant Montana earned an automatic berth into one of the league's post-season tournament semifinal games, but more importantly it also gave the Griz the host role for the tourney.
The Grizzlies defeated Eastern Washington 74-66 in the league tournament semis, and then beat the Weber State Wildcats 85-66 in the championship game. UM lost 73-49 to 13th-ranked Wisconsin in a first-round NCAA game.
Montana's three starters back are senior guard Will Cherry (6-1, 181), junior guard Kareem Jamar (6-5, 210), and senior forward Mathias Ward (6-7, 223). Both returning guards were first team all-league selections last season, although Cherry, who led the Griz in scoring (15.8 ppg), suffered a foot injury and will hopefully return to action in late November. Last year Jamar was UM's second leading scorer (10.9 ppg) and rebounder (5.6 rpg), while Ward was third on the team in scoring at (10.9 ppg).
Also returning are junior center Eric Hutchison (6-9, 245), sophomore forwards Mike Weisner (6-7, 195) and Kevin Henderson (6-4, 208), and sophomore guards Keron DeShields (6-2, 182) and Jordan Gregory (6-2, 188).
The Griz added one player from the junior college ranks in forward Spencer Coleman (6-6 ½, 198). Last season Coleman was selected a junior college All-American, first team All-Region and all-conference, when he averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, and shot 75% (66-of-88) from the line.. Redshirt freshman forward Nick Emerson (6-5, 206 from Columbia Falls HS), and prep signees Andy Martin (7-0, 223, from Natrona County HS in Wyoming) and Jake Wiley (6-7, 204, from Newport High School in Washington), could also see action this season. The Wildcats, who were also 25-7 last season, were picked second in both polls, and earned three first place votes from the coaches and eight from the media.
Coaches' Poll (First Place Votes)--Points
1. Montana (8)--98
2. Weber State (3)--92
3. Northern Colorado--74
4. North Dakota--67
5. Portland State--61
6. Eastern Washington--53
7. Sacramento State--51
8. Montana State-- 48
9. Idaho State--25
10. Southern Utah--23
11. Northern Arizona--14
Media Poll (First Place Votes)--Points
1. Montana (24)--344
2. Weber State (8)--318
3. Eastern Washington--231
4. Northern Colorado--221
5. Portland State--218
6. North Dakota--173
7. Montana State-- 171
8. Sacramento State--166
9. Idaho State--106
11. Northern Arizona--67
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