With the dawn of women's college basketball upon us, we're here to give you our look on how the teams break down. In this breakdown, we are looking at the second half of the Big Sky Conference. Once again, we are listing the teams in order of how the media ranked them in their preseason poll.
7) NORTHERN COLORADO BEARS (4th - Coaches; 7th - Media)
Although Northern Colorado finished fourth in the conference last season (12-6 conference, 22-13 overall), the media is showing no love to the Bears, who will be entering the 2015-16 season with more questions than answers.
The first question: how will the coaching staff jell? After head coach Kamie Ethridge finished with a winning record in her first year, two of her assistants moved on to other opportunities. In their place comes Austin Thoms and Laurie Koehn. Thoms was an administrative assistant for the University of Nebraska, while Coehn was a former professional player, spending time in Europe and the WNBA.
Second, who is going to do the scoring? It is true that the team brings back its top two three-point shooters in Kayleigh Hiser (school-record 74 3-pt FG last season) and Kourteney Zadina (55, eighth in school history). However, the Bears also lost their top two scorers from last season (D'shara Strange and Stephanie Lee, who averaged 16.6 and 17.1 points per game, respectively). None of the nine returning players averaged more than 8.8 ppg last season.
Northern Colorado does have an influx of talent coming in, with five freshman joining this year. The highlight of the class is incoming forward Danielle Noble, who was named Ms. Basketball in 2015 for the state of Wyoming. The team's schedule is also fairly forgiving: besides Montana, they don't face a single team who played in the NCAA Tournament last season.
8) IDAHO VANDALS (6th - Coaches; 8th - Media)
Last season, the University of Idaho finished 8-10 in their conference, tying with Idaho State. Idaho even had a better overall record (14-15 to ISU's 13-17). Even with that, Idaho did not qualify for the Big Sky tournament.
This year, Vandals head coach Jon Newlee, looks to make his fourth NCAA Tournament with the team, and their first since joining the Big Sky as the newest member last season. With four freshman coming in along with 11 returning players, Newlee plans to make a mark on the Big Sky. In his seven seasons with Idaho, he has won two WAC championships (2013, 2014) and made it to the Women's Basketball Invitational in 2011.
Idaho will be looking at a tough non-conference schedule this season, with four teams who made the NCAA's last season (CSUN, Duke, Iowa State and Oregon State). If they can make it out of that with a winning record, then they might have a chance to make some serious noise in the Big Sky.
9) NORTHERN ARIZONA LUMBERJACKS (8th - Coaches; 9th - Media)
After a season where the Lumberjacks got to the Big Sky Tournament and were eliminated in the first round, head coach Sue Darling looks to show the Big Sky that they are better than what their peers think.
Northern Arizona will be bringing back eight players from its 2014-15 squad, including team assist leader Brittani Lusain (123 assists). Though the team lost its top two scorers, the Lumberjacks will be bringing in five freshman, including forward/center Alyssa Raser, who averaged 17.6 ppg as a senior in high school.
The Lumberjacks face an easy non-conference schedule, as they only face one team who made the NCAA's last season (Iowa State, Dec. 22), before they start their conference schedule on New Year's Eve against Montana.
10) WEBER STATE WILDCATS (10th - Coaches; 10th - Media)
The Weber State women's basketball team (6-12 in conference last season, 11-18 overall) is looking for a fresh start this season. After losing three seniors, coach Bethann Ord brings back nine players from last year's squad. They also bring in four new freshman and two assistant coaches.
The leader of this year's team is senior guard Regina Okoye. Okoye led the nation in steals last season with 107 steals (3.7 per game), and was the team's second-leading scorer. Of their freshmen, forward Tyschal Blake looks like a possible starter. The 6'1" forward from Portland, OR, was First-Team All- Conference and Second-Team All-State for St. Mary's Academy in the 2014-15 season.
The 2015-16 schedule will feature a trip to Texas for the North Texas Tournament, and a road game against the University of Washington.
11) SOUTHERN UTAH THUNDERBIRDS (11th - Coaches; 11th - Media)
A year after finishing 15-5 in the conference and coming within a game of winning the Big Sky Championship for the first time, Southern Utah University came crashing back to earth in the 2014-15 season. The Thunderbirds finished 6-12 in the conference (12-18 overall) and lost most of their conference games by 10 points or more.
This season doesn't look like it's going to be any easier for head coach Chris Boettcher, as the Thunderbirds lost their top four scorers from last season. His leading scorer coming into this season is junior forward Jessica Richardson, and she only averaged 6.1 points per game last season. Boettcher will also have the added challenge of bringing six new players into the fold.
Their first games will serve as a test for what will come later in the season. After their season opener against Hope International on Monday, Nov. 9, Southern Utah will face UNLV, New Mexico State, Cal State Northridge and TCU. All four of those teams made it to either the NCAA tournament or the WNIT.
12) PORTLAND STATE VIKINGS (12th - Coaches; 12th - Media)
Since winning their first (and only) Big Sky conference championship in 2010, the Portland State women's basketball team has seen some hard times. Last season, the Vikings finished 2-16 in the conference en route to a miserable 4-25 overall season record. To make thing worse, their head coach was fired a week after the regular season ended.
Bring in the new season. Portland State brought in Lynn Kennedy from the University of Southern Oregon to be their new head coach, who wasted no time in recruiting for his team. Kennedy brought in five new freshman and three junior college transfers, with the crown jewel of them being Torres Negron. The Puerto Rican native comes from Highlands Community College in Kansas where she averaged 12 points and four rebounds a game last season, leading her team to a 33-3 record and a second place finish in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Nationals.
Kennedy will be leaning a lot on senior forward Alicia Carline to provide leadership. Although she missed 20 games last season, she is the team's returning lead scorer (6.9 ppg) and has been served as a rebounding specialist in her two years at Portland State. Their non-conference schedule is fairly easy, with only one 2015 postseason qualifier (Long Beach State) on their slate before facing their Big Sky opponents.
With so much basketball on the horizon, it will be exciting to see what the new changes will do to the Big Sky Conference. Could we see a major upset in the bottom three teams? Will Montana live up to the hype and repeat as conference champs? Or will Sac State and North Dakota make the leap to the top?
One will never know. The only way we can tell...is to just watch the games and enjoy the fireworks.