Big Sky favorite Montana will begin the season without its best player.
Will Cherry, the Big Sky's leading returning scorer and top perimeter defender, will be sidelined 10 to 12 weeks with a broken foot suffered in during pickup game, a source told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday morning. CBSSports.com first reported the story earlier Wednesday.
Montana is hopeful Cherry will return by mid-December and be at full strength in time for the start of Big Sky play against Northern Arizona on Dec. 19. The Grizzlies expect the 6-foot-2 senior's injury will heal naturally via rest, but surgery remains a possibility.
The loss of Cherry comes at a time when Montana is also preparing to be without one of its top big men, 6-foot-11 junior college transfer Marko Kovacevic.
Kovacevic, a potential replacement for graduated center Derek Selvig, has been ruled academically ineligible next season because he did not achieve a high enough grade in a math class he took at Western Nebraska Community College, a source said. Montana is appealing the ruling and hopes to receive definitive word from the NCAA sometime next month.
In some ways, Montana is better equipped to deal with the absence of Cherry for a month than potentially not having Kovacevic for the season.
The Griz are still loaded on the perimeter thanks to the return of junior guard Kareem Jamar and forward Mathias Ward, the former an all-league candidate who averaged 13.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season and the latter a developing scorer. It's in the paint where Montana has holes to fill as a result of the graduation of Selvig and forward Art Steward.
Even if Cherry misses all of non-conference play, Montana will still enter the Big Sky season as the clear favorite as long as he's healthy.
Where his absence will hurt the Griz is in their quest to position themselves for a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament should they make it there. It will be a tall order to beat the likes of Colorado State, BYU and South Dakota State during non-league play with Cherry on the bench in street clothes.
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