HELENA — Sunday signaled the end of a largely successful Frontier Conference basketball regular season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, there have been postponements and cancellations, but the league was afforded the opportunity to crown a regular season champion and now moves toward a conference tournament that starts on Thursday.
Carroll captured the No. 1 seed ahead of the final weekend of games, and helped Providence nab the No. 2 seed with a sweep of Montana Western on Saturday and Sunday. The Bulldogs’ four-game losing streak drops them down in this edition of the 2020-2021 Frontier women’s basketball power rankings as the top two teams enjoy byes into the semifinals on Saturday.
1. Carroll -- 19-2, 13-1 Frontier
The Saints finished the season sweep of Western over the weekend and put the finishing touches on their best conference record since at least the 2003-04 season. Carroll’s only hiccup in league play was an overtime loss to Providence on the road in early-January. Since then, Rachelle Sayers’ team has reeled off eight consecutive wins and has a whole bunch of momentum going into the tournament.
Senior Danielle Wagner earned Frontier women’s Player-of-the-Week honors after averaging nearly 20 points and 8.5 rebounds against Western. She closes the regular season averaging 15.1 points per game as part of a trio of Saints that average at least 12.4 points.
2. Providence -- 9-4, 9-4 Frontier
The Argonauts swept Rocky Mountain College, helping to vault them to the No. 2 seed over Western. Despite playing the second-fewest amount of conference games this season, Providence now holds a bye into the semifinals of the conference tournament and will host the highest remaining seed on Saturday.
Senior Emilee Maldonado heads into the postseason pacing the conference in points per game (17.2) and assists per game (5.2). The Argonauts rank inside the top-35 nationally in field goal percentage at 43.2 percent while senior Parker Esary ranks third individually at 61.8 percent.
3. Montana State-Northern -- 6-13, 5-10 Frontier
The Skylights will host Montana Tech in the quarterfinals on Thursday after splitting games with the Orediggers over the weekend. Northern ends the regular season having won two of its final three games and is 2-2 against Tech this year.
One of the best rebounding teams in the country, Northern’s kryptonite this season has been its offensive shortcomings. The Skylights are fourth in the conference in scoring offense at 63.9 points per game. That offense, however, is led by senior Tiara Gilham who averages 14.5 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting. Two other Northern players average double figures per contest as the team has shot 40.8 percent through 19 games.
4. Montana Western -- 14-8, 12-8 Frontier
The Bulldogs ended their regular season on the wrong end of a four-game losing streak, the last two of which were against the No. 6th-ranked Saints. That slide dropped Western to the No. 3 seed in the league tournament, knocking the Bulldogs out of a first round bye and into a matchup with Rocky Mountain on Thursday.
Even with its struggles, Western will enter the postseason forcing 11.9 steals per game and owning a top-15 turnover margin in the NAIA at plus-7.1. Four Bulldogs have racked up at least 40 steals this season, led by redshirt senior Paige Holmes with 45. Holmes is also third on the roster in scoring behind junior Brynley Fitzgerald and sophomore Shainy Mack.
5. Montana Tech -- 5-13, 5-13 Frontier
The Orediggers split games with Northern over the weekend, giving them a 2-2 record against the Skylights this season. Tech will travel to Havre to play Northern on Thursday as the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament. The program will be looking for just its second multi-game winning streak of the season after Tech lost eight games in a row before beating Northern on Sunday.
Tech owns the worst scoring offense in the Frontier averaging just 59.1 points per game. The Orediggers’ negative-8.6 scoring margin ranks 155th nationally and the team shoots just 40.5 percent from the field.
6. Rocky Mountain College -- 1-10, 1-9 Frontier
The Battlin’ Bears are scheduled to make the trip to Dillon to face Western in the quarterfinals of the league tournament. Having lost seven games in a row after getting swept by Providence over the weekend, Rocky Mountain will still be without some of its top scorers as the program continues to battle internal personnel struggles.
Email Daniel Shepard at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @IR_DanielS.