The six-team Big Sky Conference tournament tips off Thursday night in Missoula with Montana trying to defend its tournament title, but immediate attention is focused on an early grudge match.
The opening game features two short-handed, short-tempered teams. Sixth-seed Idaho State (6-10, 9-20) and third-seed Weber State (10-6, 15-12) tip off at 6:30 p.m. Following that, Boise State (7-9, 16-12), which finished fifth in league play, takes on fourth-place finisher Idaho (10-6, 17-13).The Idaho State-Weber State contest is a grudge match, complicated by the fact that three players on each team were suspended after a brawl last Saturday.
Idaho State coach Herb Williams also was suspended, but won a court order Wednesday allowing him to coach at the tournament.
In the semi-finals Friday, second-seed Nevada (13-3, 18-9) plays the highest remaining seed among first-round winners, while the lowest seed challenges league champion Montana (14-2, 25-3).
At stake Saturday night is the league's tournament championship and an automatic berth in the 64-team NCAA tournament.
One person who had been somewhat distracted is Williams. He and the three ISU players and three Weber State players received their one-game suspensions Monday.
Officials ejected two players from each team from the game Saturday night, then added a third from each team after reviewing a video tape of the contest. Idaho State won that game 88-82, avenging an earlier loss to Weber State 80-77.
Williams will coach in the tournament under a restraining order against the suspension. A hearing will be held March 23 in Pocatello on whether the court will permanently block the suspension.
"We've had enough disruptions," Williams said Wednesday. "Now my job is to get our players back and ready to play."
Weber State coach Ron Abegglen is also concentrating on his team's first-round game.
"Obviously, our player losses will have more impact on us than their's will have on them," Abegglen said. "We need to formulate a game plan without those players and practice hard in the little time we have. It was an unfortunate incident and I hope it never happens again."