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College Basketball Odds, Picks, Futures: 2022-23 Big Sky Betting Preview

College Basketball Odds, Picks, Futures: 2022-23 Big Sky Betting Preview article feature image
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Photo by Tommy Martino/University of Montana via Getty Images. Pictured: Travis DeCuire (Montana)

Things look a little different in the Big Sky this year after the departure of Southern Utah, which left to join the WAC.

But for those familiar with the conference, the most significant changes come from the departure of Brian Katz (Sacramento State) and Randy Rahe (Weber State), the two longest-tenured head coaches.

Travis DeCuire (Montana) is now the longest-tenured head coach in the conference, as he enters his ninth season.

And with so many other changes in the Big Sky, consistency has been a Pillar of Grizzlies basketball.

Montana has finished at .500 or better for 14 consecutive seasons and has won the conference in four of the last 10 seasons.

Now with 10 teams, the Big Sky schedule will move to 18 games, while the tournament will award byes into the quarterfinals for the first and second seeds.

Can Montana’s advantage when it comes to coaching experience get it back to the Big Dance?


2022-23 Big Sky Regular Season Futures Odds

Team
Odds (Via Caesars)
Montana State +220
Northern Colorado +280
Weber State +450
Montana +600
Eastern Washington +700
Sacramento State +1000
Portland State +1200
Northern Arizona +1500
Idaho State +3500
Idaho +4000


Contenders

Montana State Bobcats

ATS Record ’21-22 17-15-1 (53.1%)
O/U Record ’21-22 18-15-0 (54.6%)

The defending conference champs are the favorites to repeat, which comes as no surprise due to the return of last year’s Conference Player of the Year, Jubrile Belo.

However, the Bobcats must replace their starting point guard and top two rebounders. To do so, they bring in a large group of transfers, nearly all of which have talent, but the group may lack the leadership the three departures held.

Montana State has the players to be at the top of the conference once again, and I have no doubt it will find itself within the top three barring any unforeseen issues.

But without the leadership of three fifth-year seniors, the Bobcats are exposed to a more significant challenge against the likes of Montana and Northern Colorado.


Northern Colorado Bears

ATS Record ’21-22 16-17-2 (48.5%)
O/U Record ’21-22 22-12-1 (64.7%)

Northern Colorado has one of the best scorers in the country in Daylen Kountz, who led the Bears to one of the best offenses nationally last year.

But the team fell just short of getting to the Big Dance, losing to Montana State in the conference championship.

How far can Kountz lead the Bears this year?

Northern Colorado finished last season 23rd in the country in points per game (77.1), and with the return of two of the best guards in the country, there’s no reason it won’t be there again.

Defensively, the Bears don’t have to be top 25 in the nation to win the Big Sky, but they have to be better than 335th in the country — where they finished a season ago.

Riley Abercrombie joins the squad, a grad transfer from Rice who should provide some improvement on the defensive end.

Kountz can lead this team to a Big Sky Championship and an NCAA tournament berth — he’s that good. But to do so, he’ll need some help from the rest of the Bears on the defensive end.


Montana Grizzlies

ATS Record ’21-22 13-15-1 (46.4%
O/U Record ’21-22 18-11-0 (62.1%)

The past two years do not indicate the standard set in Missoula. In 2021, the Grizzlies finished with their first losing season since 2004.

Then last season, after jumping out to an 8-2 start, their season ended on a 3-7 run, capped off by losing their first game in the Big Sky Tournament.

Montana returns two of its top three scorers from a season ago, along with an exciting group of transfers.

Despite the results of the last two seasons, anything less than a top-three finish would be a failure for DeCurie and his Grizzlies this year.

Josh Bannan and Brandon Whitney, the Grizzlies’ two best returnees, are all-conference-level talents.

At the same time, the addition of Dischon Thomas — a standout at Colorado State and a solid threat from beyond the arc — can immediately be a difference-maker for the Grizzlies.

I fully expect the Grizzlies to bounce back into the top ranks of the conference.


Teams with Potential 

Weber State Wildcats

ATS Record ’21-22 14-17-0 (45.2%)
O/U Record ’21-22 18-12-1 (60%)

Eric Duft has some big shoes to fill at Weber State. Rahe won three Big Sky Tournaments, captured five regular season titles and was named Big Sky Coach of the Year four times.

Not only that, but Duft’s team returns only one starter, Dillon Jones. However, while Jones might not get the hype of other players at other top Big Sky schools, he could end up being one of the best in the conference.

Weber State’s play at the defensive end should be among the best in the conference thanks to the additions of Junior Ballard and Keith Dinwiddie Jr. They both played on one of the best defensive units in the country last year at San Diego State.

The Wildcats have talent at both ends of the court, and while Duft is in his first year as a head coach, he’s been at Weber State as an assistant for over 10 years.

It won’t take long for him to adjust, and I think this team can be a strong contender for the top spot in the conference.


Eastern Washington Eagles

ATS Record ’21-22 20-12-0 (62.5%)
O/U Record ’21-22 19-12-1 (61.3%)

The Eagles have been one of the most consistent programs in the Big Sky, finishing seven of the last eight seasons with a winning record.

However, last year they finished just two games above .500 (fifth in the conference) and lost in the second round of the conference tournament.

Head coach David Riley is the youngest in the conference, but he has been apart of the Eastern Washington program since 2011.

Last season, few teams in the country were better than the Eagles when it came to sharing the ball, as they ranked 28th in assists per contest. Expect that facet of their game to remain due to six rotation players returning.

The Eagles return their top three shooters from beyond the arc.

Also, the addition of transfer Deon Stroud (Fresno State) and Cedric Coward (Division III Willamette) should lead to significant improvements to their defense.

Eastern Washington will again be competitive in the Big Sky, but its defense has to improve if it wants to break into the top ranks of the conference. Overs should remain profitable even if the defense does improve.

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Bottom of the Pack 

Portland State Vikings

ATS Record ’21-22 16-13-0 (55.2%)
O/U Record ’21-22 15-14-0 (51.7%)

The Vikings aren’t the best team in the Big Sky — they aren’t going to upset Gonzaga in their fifth game of the year. But I urge you to watch Portland State whenever you get a chance this season.

Second-year head coach Jase Coburn is one of the most animated coaches on the sideline I’ve ever seen — his passion is nearly unmatched.

Last year’s Vikings team featured a stout defense, and I expect that to continue with this year’s squad — despite returning just one starter.

They get back two talented bigs in Hayden Curtiss and Jacob Eyman, who missed significant stretches of last season due to injury.

With Coburn at the helm, Portland State is headed in the right direction. But with the turnover, it will take some time before the Vikings reach the heights they want. I can see the Vikings finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky.


Idaho State Bengals

ATS Record ’21-22 11-17-0 (39.3%)
O/U Record ’21-22 17-11-0 (60.7%)

Two years ago, the Bengals finished fourth in the conference, leading to high hopes for last season.

However, last year’s struggles on the defensive end put them back at the bottom of the conference.

From a wagering viewpoint, fading the Bengals and betting the over would’ve made any bettor an Idaho State fan quickly.

Idaho State was worst in the Big Sky and among the bottom in all of the college ball when it came to covering the number.

Idaho State lucked out when center Kolby Lee changed his mind after announcing his retirement from basketball. The former BYU standout can easily be one of the best bigs in the Big Sky.

The Bengals will improve from a season ago, but I think there will need to be more on the offensive end to put them among even the middle of the pack in the league.


Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

ATS Record ’21-22 14-16-0 (46.7%)
O/U Record ’21-22 13-15-2 (46.4%)

There’s nowhere to go but up for Northern Arizona.

The Lumberjacks have only finished above .500 twice in their last 10 seasons and only twice in the previous seven have they recorded double-digit wins in a season.

Jalen Cone is a standout in the Big Sky and the best returning player for NAU. Incoming freshman Oakland Fort is promising and should be able to take some of the pressure off of one of the best players in the conference in Cone.

Despite having one of the best players in the Big West, I think there will still be severe struggles for the Lumberjacks. NAU was one of the worst teams at the free-throw stripe in the country last season, finishing at 307th in free-throw percentage.

And while Cone and Fort are great, they are both under six-foot. Size could be a factor with both on the floor.

The Lumberjacks will be a fun team to watch, but jockeying for positioning in the middle of the conference feels like their ceiling this year.

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Sacramento State Hornets

ATS Record ’21-22 11-15-1 (42.3%)
O/U Record ’21-22 12-14-1 (53.9%)

Sacramento State has a new head coach and one of the most impressive transfer classes in college basketball. The only question is: Can the Hornets make it work?

First-year head coach David Patrick has made stops as an assistant at top programs such as Arkansas, LSU and Oklahoma. As a head coach, he led UC Riverside to its first winning season in over a decade.

And despite the Hornets only finishing above .500 three times in their entire history as a Division-I program, Patrick thinks he can make them competitive quickly.

Every one of the six incoming Sacramento State transfers has been a proven winner and focal piece at another program. Two of them are players he formally coached in Callum McRae (Riverside) and Akol Mawein (Oklahoma).

There is no doubt the Hornets have the talent to complete. The only questions are whether or not the players can work together and if Patrick can make the team flow.

Sacramento State’s ceiling is as high as any team in the Big Sky, but if it wants to get to the top, it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.


Idaho Vandals

ATS Record ’21-22 18-10-1 (64.3%)
O/U Record ’21-22 16-11-2 (59.3%)

The Vandals haven’t done much winning since Zac Claus took over four years ago, winning just 11 conference games in the last three years.

This can be expected following an NCAA investigation into rule violations that put them on probation for two years.

However, this year’s team may finally compete at a level complementary to the impressive arena they play in. (Yes, ICCU arena is on my bucket list).

Idaho lost its top two scorers from a season ago, but Claus has proven his ability to find success via the portal. The Vandals’ top three scorers last season arrived via transfer.

Two of this year’s arrivals — Terren Frank (who has already made stops at TCU and Vanderbilt) and Trey Smith (San Jose State) — should immediately make an impact.

Finishing in the top half of the Big Sky would be an impressive achievement for the Vandals. They have a ton of experience between returning players and incoming transfers, and it is without a doubt Claus’ best team he’s ever had.

However, the team as a whole has minimal experience when it comes to winning.


Big Sky Futures & Picks

I love Montana to get back to the top of the conference with the production it returns and its experience.

At the other end of the spectrum, I think Patrick can get the ball rolling quickly at Sacramento State.

I’m backing Montana to win the conference at +500 or better (1 unit), and I’m making a small wager on Patrick to make a splash in his first year at +1000 or better (.25 units).

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