Big Sky Tournament: Eastern Washington vs Montana Prediction
Eastern Washington vs Montana Preview
Montana finds itself in a familiar position, back in the Big Sky Conference championship game. The Grizzlies have played in the title game in eight of the past 10 seasons – including four of five seasons under head coach Travis DeCuire – an unprecedented run never experienced by any team in the 44-year history of the conference tournament.
The Grizzlies are in a familiar setting, but they also are facing a familiar opponent. They will go head to head with Eastern Washington for the second consecutive season in the title game and third time in the past five years. The Eagles upset Montana in Missoula in the 2015, 69-65, before Montana won in 2018. In that contest, Montana overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to out-score Eastern Washington 53-25 in the second half.
Montana, the prohibitive Big Sky preseason favorite, returns the bulk of its roster from a year ago, including standout guards Ahmaad Rorie, Sayeed Pridgett and Michael Oguine, who combine to average 43 points a game.
No. 3 seed EWU earned a championship game rematch with a 77-61 drubbing of Southern Utah.
EWU junior forward Mason Peatling, who scored a game-high 20 points in the semifinal matchup and 28 against Montana State in the quarterfinals, has been working toward exacting revenge on the Grizzlies for erasing their NCAA Tournament dreams a season ago.
He and the second-year head coach Shantay Legans still wince when thinking of the 11-point halftime lead EWU squandered to the Grizzlies in a 82-65 loss in Reno, Nevada, last year.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Peatling said of the rematch.
EWU beat Montana 78-71 in Cheney and was edged 75-74 in Missoula this season.
“I dreamed about this matchup,” Legans said. “We want to play Montana. When they beat us last year, it left a bad taste in our mouth for a long time.”
If EWU is going to pull the upset they are going to have to limit Montana’s duo of First Team All-Conference performers in Rorie and Pridgett. Rorie garnered his second-straight All-Big Sky First Team nod with 14.7 points per game, while ranking fifth in the conference in assists (4.0) and second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6). Pridgett led the Griz with 16.3 points per game during conference play while averaging 14.9 on the season to garner his first All-Big Sky honor.
For the Eagles, my eye is on their big men–we already talked about Peatling, but he was joined on the All-Big Sky Second Team by senior forward Jesse Hunt who has improved by leaps and bounds since he first stepped on campus four years ago. His first two years he averaged less than ten minutes per game and managed 1.9 ppg and 2.8 ppg, respectively. He was given more run as a junior putting up 7.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg in 18 minutes of action–but as a senior and a starter, he has jumped his scoring to 14.5 ppg, and leads the team in rebounding (8.8) and assists (3.4).
Across the country, No. 1 seeds in conference tournaments are not living up to their top positioning. Of the 14 conference tournaments which had completed by Friday evening, just three No. 1 seeds earned their league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Nine additional conference tournaments that will finish on Saturday or Sunday will add to that group, with the No. 1 seed already eliminated.
On the flip side, the top seed has had plenty of success in the Big Sky Conference. The No. 1 seed has won the Big Sky tournament in three consecutive seasons and seven of the past eight. Saturday marks the 13th time in the past 14 seasons that the No. 1 seed has advanced to the title game.
Dan’s Bet: TBD
Score Prediction: Montana 78 Eastern Washington 75