(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- Travis DeCuire and the Montana basketball team have never shied away from competition. It's become the norm for the Grizzlies to challenge themselves during non-conference play, often against Pac-12 and other high-major basketball programs. It has also paid off, with three Big Sky titles in the past five seasons, including back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.
The 2019-20 season will be no different, with Montana traveling to three Pac-12 institutions, one from the Southeastern Conference and another from the Mountain West.
"You learn a lot about your team in those early-season, high-major games," DeCuire said. "You are forced to play at a very high level, and as coaches you see who can compete at that level and how much work you need as a team. Those games are opportunities for us to really grow as a program."
DeCuire also noted that, in addition to playing high-level teams that will challenge and push the Griz, those games are also good for recruiting.
"The guys we recruit want to play at a high level and are tuning into those games," DeCuire said. "Our current players and future players often have chips on their shoulders in those games and want to show their talents and what they're capable of doing."
The Grizzlies will open the season on the road, playing at Stanford for the second time in three years. The opener will come during the middle of the week, on Wednesday, Nov. 6, before the team returns to Missoula for its home opener Sunday, Nov. 10, vs. Montana Northern. The home opener will come the day following Montana's home football game vs. Idaho.
Montana will then be back on the road, traveling to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to play the Razorbacks of the SEC (Nov. 18). It will mark just the sixth time in school history that the Grizzlies have traveled to SEC country, with three of them happening in the past five years under DeCuire.
The Grizzlies' high-major conference schedule continues with dates at Washington (Nov. 22) and Oregon (Dec. 18), in addition to a trip to New Mexico (Dec. 1). Montana's other road non-conference date is part of the Big Sky Conference-Summit League Challenge, with the Grizzlies traveling to Omaha (Dec. 21).
Montana's home slate is highlighted by Texas Southern (Nov. 25), a team that has played in the NCAA tournament in four of the past six seasons and has won the SWAC three times during that span. The Tigers are coming off of a 22-win season that resulted in a trip to the CIT semifinals.
"Texas Southern is going to be a very intriguing basketball game," DeCuire said. "They've won about as much as we have the past few years. It's an experienced team that won at Oregon last year and has played in the NCAA tournament. They've been a very successful program, so we're excited to bring them to Missoula and play them in front of our fans."
Montana will also host North Dakota (Dec. 6) – who is just two years removed from being part of the Big Sky Conference – in addition to Coppin State on Black Friday (Nov. 29) and Montana Tech (Nov. 18).
"We're excited for how our schedule came together," DeCuire said. "We're always looking to be at our best come March, and we believe that these non-conference games will set us up to do that."
- Of Montana's nine Division-I non-conference opponents, five posted winning records a season ago, with four winning at least 20 games. Oregon and Washington played in the NCAA tournament.
- Montana has never played Arkansas, Coppin State or Omaha.
- Washington won the Pac-12 regular-season title in 2019, advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament. In two years under Mike Hopkins, the Huskies have averaged 24 wins per season, after winning nine games the year prior to his arrival.
- The series with Washington dates back decades, with the two northwest teams playing 55 times since 1923 (9-46). Montana has only played two other non-conference opponents (Gonzaga and Washington State) more frequently. In 2014 and 2017, Montana had the opportunity to tie the Huskies at the free-throw line in the final 12 seconds, but was unable to do so either time, losing by a total of just seven points.
- Oregon has made the NCAA tournament in six of the past seven seasons, including the Sweet 16 in 2019 after winning the Pac-12 tournament title. The Ducks advanced to the Final Four as recently as 2017.
- Montana is 4-22 vs. Oregon. The two teams have met three times since the turn of the century, with the Grizzlies earning a victory in 2009.
- Stanford made the second round of the NIT in 2018 and won the tournament in 2015. Montana is 2-4 vs. Stanford, last meeting two years ago. The two teams have split the past four matchups, with Montana winning in 2003 and 2006.
- Arkansas has played in the NCAA tournament in three of the past five seasons and went to the second round of the NIT in 2019, finishing with 18 wins. The Razorbacks averaged more than 15,000 fans per game, which ranked 11th in the country. They will be led by former NBA coach Eric Musselman.
- Montana and New Mexico have played each other 24 times over the years, with the Griz holding a 16-8 advantage. The series began in 1950 and from 1957-97, Montana won 11 of 12 contests. The last time the two teams met was in the 2010 NCAA tournament. The Lobos have been to the NCAA tournament four times in the past decade, earning a No. 3 seed in 2013.
- The Pit, home to New Mexico basketball, is one of the top home-court advantages in the country, with the Lobos winning more than 80 percent of their games inside the venue. They have ranked in the top 30 for attendance each of the past 50 years. In 2013, the NCAA named The Pit as one of the top-five loudest basketball arenas, and Sports Illustrated named it one of the top-10 college basketball venues in the nation.
- Montana and Texas Southern have met once before, a 64-58 Griz victory in 1995.
- Texas Southern has played in the NCAA tournament in four of the past six seasons, winning three SWAC titles during that span. The Tigers are coming off of a season in which they won 22 games and played in the CIT semifinals.
- Griz fans are plenty familiar with North Dakota, a team that was in the Big Sky Conference until last season. The Fighting Hawks won the Big Sky title in 2017. Montana is 17-6 all-time vs. UND, scoring 109 points in the team's most-recent visit to Missoula.
- Making the jump from Division II to Division I just eight years ago, Omaha has had plenty of success in that little time. The Mavericks qualified for the CBI in their first season of postseason eligibility (2016) and have played in the Summit League title game in two of the past three years.
- Coppin State is looking for its first winning season since 2010-11.
Big Sky Conference Schedule
For the second year in a row, the Big Sky Conference slate features a 20-game home-and-home schedule with every team playing each other twice.
- For the first time in three years, Montana will begin its league schedule at home, hosting Northern Arizona (Dec. 28) and Sacramento State (Dec. 30) before the end of the calendar year.
- The Grizzlies will play three consecutive road games three times, with a tough slate scheduled early on. From Jan. 2-9, Montana plays at Southern Utah, Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington. All three teams are expected to be among the top teams in the conference.
- The Brawl of the Wild will begin in Missoula this year, with the Cats coming to town on Saturday, Feb. 1. The Grizzlies will travel to Bozeman on Saturday, Feb. 22. Montana has won 17 of the past 18 meetings in the series.
- Five days after hosting Montana State, the Grizzlies will welcome Eastern Washington to Dahlberg Arena. The Grizzlies and Eagles have met in the past two Big Sky Conference title games, and the last time the two teams played in Missoula it ended with a one-point Griz victory in the final 30 seconds.
- Weber State comes to Montana on Thursday, Feb. 13.
- The regular season closes at home, with Northern Colorado (March 5) and Southern Utah (March 7) making trips up north.
- Montana will play two Monday games, but none after Jan. 13.
- The 2020 Big Sky Championship will be held in Boise, Idaho, from March 11-14.
For the complete schedule, please click here.