Big Sky competition the steepest in years

Senglin, Jermey_2014 at ISU
(Source: Paul Grua)
Weber State University freshman Jeremy Senglin shoots in a game against Idaho State University. The Wildcats will play three of their last five games on the road.

Heading into the home stretch of the Big Sky Conference season, the Weber State University men’s basketball team still doesn’t feel safe. With only a two-game lead over the second-place University of Northern Colorado with six games to play, and with five teams tied for fifth place just four games back, this is the tightest race in years for the Big Sky Championship.

“I think this is the best our conference has been, top to bottom, in the last five years,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “Every game is difficult and every team in our league seems to have more veterans. A lot of guys have played a lot of basketball. That’s what makes it really difficult: Teams have guys that have been through it.”

For the past two seasons, it has been a race between two schools, WSU and the University of Montana. Both years, it took a record of 19-1 to clinch home-court advantage in the Big Sky Tournament. This year, a five-loss team could take the title.

“The conference has improved over the last couple years,” said WSU senior Kyle Tresnak. “Looking at the standings and how the teams are playing right now, it is going to be a grind to finish out on top.”

Rahe went as far to say this is the best the conference has been in his eight seasons. In conference play, seven of WSU’s 14 games have been decided by single digits.

“I think there are four or five, maybe six teams that have a chance to win it when it is all said and done,” Rahe said. “There is a lot of parity, and that makes for a lot of excitement in the conference season. I think there is a lot of different ways it could go.”

Tresnak said this season has played out a lot like it did in his freshman season. That season, the Wildcats finished at third place in the Big Sky with a record of 11-5.

“This is more like the conference season my first year here,” Tresnak said. “Northern Colorado won it with three losses. It is just more even. Every team has improved. Every team has the ability to beat any other team out on the court. You can’t fall asleep on anyone or look past anyone.”

The Wildcats are currently in first place in the Big Sky with a record of 11-3. All three losses have come on the road, including two lost in overtime. Both overtime losses came to two of the five teams tied for fifth place in the league.

“There are a lot of good teams,” Rahe said. “I think it makes for a very exciting league. We’ll see when the smoke clears who is standing. There is a long way to go. There will be a few ups and a few downs, and the team that can just keep fighting and stay the toughest mentally will probably have a chance at the end.”

The final five games for WSU will all come against teams on the brink of making the Big Sky Tournament. Every team but Southern Utah University still has a chance to make it into the playoff.

While the Wildcats are fighting for their first regular-season title in four years and a chance to host the tournament, everyone else is fighting for the four playoff spots.

“You have to bring your A-game every night,” Tresnak said, “because every team can beat every other team in the conference, regardless of what the records are.”