Big Sky men’s hoops notebook

Following is a look around Big Sky Conference men’s basketball by Jon Kasper, the conference’s assistant commissioner. Kasper used to write for the Missoulian, where he covered University of Montana sports for several years.

This Week’s Sky Highlights
The 50th season of men’s basketball tips in the new-look Big Sky Conference on Friday night with six of the 11 teams in action….Defending Big Sky champion Montana opens its season at Colorado State of the Mountain West Conference…Weber State, Sacramento State and Portland State all open at home on Friday. Weber State takes on Arizona Christian, Portland State opens against Pacific of Oregon, and Sacramento State welcomes UC Merced into the Nest…Newcomers Southern Utah and North Dakota face stiff challenges on opening night. North Dakota is at Kansas State, while Southern Utah is at Gonzaga. Four Sky teams open play on Saturday…Northern Colorado is at home against College of the Southwest. The Bill Evans era at Idaho State begins against Utah State. Eastern Washington travels to Washington State, while Northern Arizona battles Oregon in Jack Murphy’s first game with the Lumberjacks…Montana State begins  its season on Sunday at Seattle in a game that will be televised on ROOT SPORTS…On Monday, Portland State travels to Oregon, while Eastern Washington is at Cal State Northridge. Northern Arizona continues play in the Global Sports Classic against UNLV.

This Week’s Sky Schedule
Friday, Nov. 9

Southern Utah at #21 Gonzaga (ROOT SPORTS), 6:05 p.m.
Arizona Christian at Weber State (Big Sky TV), 7:05 p.m.
UC Merced at Sacramento State (Big Sky TV), 7:05 p.m.
Montana at Colorado State,7:05 p.m.
Pacific, Ore. at Portland State (Big Sky TV), 8:05 p.m.
North Dakota at Kansas State (Fox Sports Midwest), 8:05 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 10
1Northern Arizona at Oregon (Pac-12 Network, 4:35 p.m.

Eastern Washington at Wash. State (Pac-12 Network), 4:35 p.m.

Idaho State at Utah State , 7:05 p.m.

College of Southwest at N. Colorado (Big Sky TV),7:05 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 11

Montana State at Seattle (ROOT SPORTS), 6:05 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 12
Portland State at Oregon (Pac-12 Network), 6:35 p.m.
1Northern Arizona at #18 UNLV, 7:05 p.m.
Eastern Washington at CS Northridge, 7:05 p.m.
1 – Global Sports Classic. Game times Local to Site/Subject to Change.

Around the Big Sky
NEW SEASON BRINGS CHANGE: The Big Sky Conference opens the 2012-13 basketball season on Friday with a different look. North Dakota and Southern Utah have joined the league as full members. North Dakota previously played in the Great West Conference. North Dakota finished 17-15 last season, losing to Drake in the postseason tournament. North Dakota won the Great West Conference tournament. Southern Utah comes to the Big Sky Conference from the Summit League. The Thunderbirds, who’ve long been a regular non-conference foe for many Big Sky teams, went 14-17 last season.  The Big Sky Conference will continue to play a double-round robin format, meaning each team will play 20 conference games. The Big Sky Championship will be a seven-team tournament. It will be played March 14-16 at the site of the regular-season champion. The No. 1 seed will earn a bye to the semifinals. There will be three first-round games on Thursday, March 14. The championship game will be televised on ESPNU at 7 p.m. Mountain.

NEW ON THE BENCH: Three Big Sky Conference schools are under the direction of new coaches. Idaho State hired veteran coach Bill Evans. Evans, who spent 15 seasons as the head coach at Southern Utah, was most previously an assistant under Wayne Tinkle at Montana. Northern Arizona hired first-year head coach Jack Murphy to begin a new era in Flagstaff. Murphy was an assistant at Memphis for the past three seasons. Southern Utah tabbed Nick Robinson to take over as the Thunderbirds transitioned into the Big Sky. Robinson, a graduate of Stanford, was on LSU’s staff last season. North Dakota’s Brian Jones isn’t new to his program, but is new to the Big Sky. Jones is entering his seventh season in Grand Forks.

RECORD IN SIGHT: Montana senior Will Cherry, the Big Sky defensive player of the year in 2011-12 and a two-time All-Conference pick, will begin the season on the bench recovering from a foot injury. Cherry begins the season needing 61 steals to become the Big Sky’s all-time leader. Cherry has 223 career steals, good enough for fifth in conference history. Sacramento State’s DeShawn Freeman (2002-06) currently holds the record with 283 steals. Nevada’s Kevin Soares (1998-92) is second with 255, followed by Northern Arizona’s Tom DeBerry (1974-76) with 247, and Eastern Washington’s Ronn McMahon (1987-90) with 225. Cherry had 61 steals as a freshman, 79 as a sophomore and 83 as a junior.

IN THE MID-MAJOR POLL: No Big Sky Conference team will begin the 2012-13 season ranked in the top 25 of the Mid-Major Poll. Defending Big Sky Conference champion Montana earned 76 points in the preseason poll, putting them in 29th place. Weber State earned 20 points, and North Dakota received one. Creighton of the Missouri Valley Conference is the preseason Mid-Major No. 1, followed by Gonzaga, Murray State, Drexel and Ohio. Montana finished last season ranked 16th. Weber State was 21st.

BIG SKY TV ON MOBILE DEVICES: Big Sky TV, the conference’s internet streaming service, is now available on Apple and Droid mobile devices. Fans can view most games held in Big Sky venues for free at The Big Sky Conference has once again teamed with America One Sports to provide this service. Big Sky TV men’s basketball action starts on Friday night.

STATS & STREAKS: Weber State opens the season riding a 17-game home court winning streak. The Wildcats will try to make it 18 straight on Friday night against Arizona Christian. Weber State went 16-0 at the Dee Events Center last season….Northern Arizona enters the season looking to end a 16-game losing streak. NAU’s last victory game on Dec. 29, 2011 when the Lumberjacks beat Sacramento State 73-64…UM’s Will Cherry is the only active player with 1,000 career points. Cherry has 1,191. Sacramento State’s John Dickson enters his senior season with 942…NAU senior Stallon Saldivar needs 27 more assists to reach 400 for his career. Only 16 players have amassed 400 career assists in the Big Sky.