October 21, 2009

Men's basketball earns sixth spot in Big Sky preseason picks

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OGDEN, Utah -- The Big Sky Conference released its 2009-10 preseason men's basketball polls this afternoon, and the league's coaches and media members think a step back is in store for Tad Boyle's fourth installment in Greeley.

The Bears, who finished fifth last season in earning their first Big Sky Conference Tournament berth, are tabbed sixth in both of today's polls. This is the second-straight year Northern Colorado has been picked as a barely-there tournament team in the preseason prognostications. The Bears earned a ninth-place nod in 2006 and an eighth in 2007.

Maybe that's a good sign, though.

After all, the Bears do enter this year without the services of Jabril Banks, a first-team all-conference player last season, and Robert Palacios, one of the league's best defenders and all-around energy players.

So, maybe the league's leaders and working media picking Northern Colorado to not completely fall off the map after the graduation of two stellar seniors is a sign of the program Boyle is building.

Regardless, sixth place is not where Northern Colorado's head coach wants to finish this season or any season. He and his team began preseason practices last Friday night, and the thought among them is that a special team could be brewing.

And he's never going to let a preseason poll get in the way of his bigger plan.

"To me, preseason polls are like halftime scores," Boyle said. "They just don't mean that much. They serve as a way to motivate your guys -- if you're picked first or second or something like that, then you want to finish first or second and not disappoint.

"But our goal, since we got here, is that we want to win a championship. And to do that we've got to break into the upper half, regardless of where others think we can finish in October. When we first got here, we would use some of these preseason things as motivation, but now we're to the point where we expect to win a championship."

Weber State, last season's regular season champion, is the top pick in both of today's poll. The Wildcats received 60 total points and four first-place votes from the coaches and 251 votes and 23 first-place picks from the conference's working media.

Montana got 57 total points and three first-place votes to be the second pick from the coaches, and Portland State, which won the conference tournament last season and advanced to its second straight NCAA Tournament, earned 202 total points and three first-place nods from the media.

Interestingly, Montana State, which Northern Colorado defeated last season in Bozeman and in Greeley, earned the fifth selection in both polls. The Bobcats lost 65-55 to Northern Colorado at home last year before getting trounced by the Bears 77-50 at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion. But they still earned the sixth and final conference tourney berth a year ago and made a surprise run to the tourney final.

That run definitely played in the minds of the preseason prognosticators. And Northern Colorado is still missing that type of performance that can help them earn a certain level of respect across the league.

"What we have to do to improve our stature in this league is be more consistent," Boyle said. "We have to win consistently on the road, and we have to protect our home court. We just haven't done enough of that in the time we've been here. So that's the next step for our program.

"The only way you can get respect is to earn respect. It's never going to be given to you. What I think Montana State did last year, though, was open a lot of people's eyes and gave a lot of programs hope. They clearly showed that if you get hot at the right time, anything can happen. It's not how well you're playing in December or January. It's how you're playing in February and March. And our guys have to keep that in mind as we go forward here."

2009-10 BIG SKY CONFERENCE PRESEASON POLLS
COACHES
1. Weber State (4 first place), 60 total
2. Montana (3), 57
3. Idaho State (1), 47
4. Portland State (1), 44
5. Montana State, 38
6. Northern Colorado, 31
7. Northern Arizona, 22
8. Eastern Washington, 17
9. Sacramento State, 8

MEDIA
1. Weber State (23 first place), 251 total
2. Portland State (3), 202
3. Montana (2), 194
4. Idaho State, 157
5. Montana State, 134
6. Northern Colorado, 119
7. Northern Arizona, 87
8. Eastern Washington, 73
9. Sacramento State, 36