Saturday’s BracketBusters games had the potential to impact the Big Sky Conference race by helping or hurting Montana or Weber State’s RPI in the event a tiebreaker became necessary.
Instead, BracketBusters may have had a far more direct impact on the regular-season title chase — and therefore, the host site for the Big Sky Tournament, which is already guaranteed to be either Missoula, Mont., or Ogden.
Montana star point guard Will Cherry re-injured his right foot with 4:40 remaining in the Grizzlies’ ESPNU-televised overtime loss at Davidson on Saturday night — the same foot he broke in the preseason that prevented him from playing until December. Cherry, a two-time first team all-Big Sky point guard from Oakland, Calif., averages 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
Already playing without leading scorer Mathias Ward, the Griz still managed to fight the Davidson Wildcats into overtime behind a career-high 28 points from guard/forward Kareem Jamar before losing, 93-87, in North Carolina.
The Grizzlies had not made an official announcement about Cherry’s status as of Sunday evening, though Cherry acknowledged after the game that the injury felt the same as when he broke the foot earlier. Ward’s status is also uncertain after spraining the arch of his foot against Idaho State.
“We have some concerns moving forward, with both Will’s and Mathias’ injuries,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle told Bob Meseroll of The Missoulian newspaper. “The rest of the guys are going to have to step up. The guys who didn’t play too smart are going to have to play smarter. The guys who didn’t play tough are going to have to play tougher. If our guys can commit to that then we can continue to build and finish this thing off right.”
In the first year of the extended Big Sky season, expanded to 20 games instead of 16 because of the addition of league newcomers Southern Utah and North Dakota, the regular-season race is going down to the wire.
If Montana were to lose one more game and Weber State were to win out — each finishing with two league losses — the tournament site, the No. 1 seed and the only bye in the tourney will be determined by the Big Sky’s tiebreaker rules.
Because the Wildcats and Grizzlies split their head-to-head series, the tiebreaker goes next to their records against league-teams in descending order.
Montana’s final four games include road games at in-state rival Montana State (7-9) and at Southern Utah (8-8) this weekend and home games against Sacramento State (7-9) and Northern Arizona (7-9) to end the season.
Weber State’s final four games also start on the road, at Sac State and Northern Arizona, before ending up with Portland State (5-11) and Eastern Washington (6-10) at the Dee Events Center.
The Grizzlies’ contests against Montana State and Southern Utah are especially intriguing because the of their place in the tiebreaker scenario.
If Weber State and Montana’s only league losses are to each other and to Montana State, the tiebreaker comes down to RPI, a scenario that could favor the Wildcats now with their BracketBusters win over Oral Roberts and the Griz’s loss to Davidson.
If Montana, which needed a desperation 3 to get to overtime and beat Montana State in the first Cat-Griz game, sweeps its in-state rival, the Wildcats need them to lose against someone higher in the final standings than the Bobcats; Southern Utah is currently in fourth place, ahead of MSU and the highest of Montana’s upcoming opponents.
Weber State and Southern Utah are developing a nice in-state rivalry in their first season as conference foes, but when it comes to the Montana game, the Wildcats will be the Thunderbirds’ biggest fans.
Weber State’s athletic department and the Wildcat Club are planning a celebration March 8-9 to honor the 50th anniversary of Division I basketball at the school and the Wildcats’ fifty greatest players of the past 50 years will be named. The date was listed incorrectly in last week’s WSU Notes column.
Weber State’s Wildcat Club luncheon will be held today at noon at the Ogden Marriott Hotel on 24th Street. The luncheons are open to the public; cost is $10 per person. For more information on the luncheon or the 50th anniversary celebration, call the Wildcat Club at 801-626-6576 or visit weberstatesports.com.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. Follow @RoyBurton on Twitter, read more about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.