(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- The 2021-22 men's basketball schedule is official for the Montana Grizzlies.
UM released its full schedule on Tuesday afternoon, highlighted by two Power 5 basketball games, a home game against a Mountain West Conference school and a multi-team event tournament that will be hosted in Missoula over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Montana will play 17 home games, its largest number since 2014-15, and a figure that has been reached just twice in the past three decades.
"As we all know, getting teams to come to Missoula has been a challenge, so this schedule has really been in the works for a couple of years now," UM coach Travis DeCuire said in a media release. "I'm really excited with how it came together, and that after a year apart, we get so many games in front of our home fans."
The season will kick off Nov. 9 vs. Dickinson State, coached by former Griz great and Glendive native Derek Selvig. Other highlights of Montana's home non-conference slate include a date with Omaha on Nov. 20 and a contest against Air Force of the Mountain West (Dec. 8) at Dahlberg Arena.
The Zootown Classic will be a round-robin-style tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday and will feature two games each of the three days. The Grizzlies will open the week against UC San Diego, a team that just two years ago was a Division-II power, going 30-1 and opening the national tournament as a No. 1 seed before COVID-19 put a halt to the season. On Thanksgiving Day, the Grizzlies will host a UNC Wilmington team that made back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2016 and 2017 after winning three consecutive Colonial Athletic Association titles. The tournament will conclude with a game against Southern Mississippi of Conference USA. The Golden Eagles made the NCAA tournament in 2012 and back-to-back NIT quarterfinals appearances in 2013 and 2014. They had a 20-win season as recently as 2019.
"We're hopeful we'll be able to do this every year, or at least regularly," DeCuire said regarding the home tournament. "No. 1, it gives us more home games, and gives our fans more basketball to enjoy, and No. 2, it's done in a format where we're playing on back-to-back days and preparing us for the conference tournament."
Montana was originally scheduled to host Air Force in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the game back a year. It will mark the fourth time under DeCuire that a Mountain West school has visited Dahlberg Arena. The Grizzlies are 2-1 in those contests.
The Griz and Falcons have faced 11 times previously, but December will mark the first time the Academy will visit Missoula since 1984-85. Two days after the Griz host Air Force, they will host Yellowstone Christian College (Dec. 10).
Montana's home tilt vs. Omaha is part of the Big Sky-Summit League Challenge, which is now in the third year of four. In addition to Omaha visiting Missoula, the Grizzlies will travel to former Big Sky foe North Dakota on Nov. 15.
Prior to making the trip to Grand Forks, Montana will once again dip into SEC Country, facing Mississippi State (Nov. 13) for the first time since 1994-95. The Bulldogs are averaging 21.5 wins per season over the past four years – despite two shortened seasons – and reached the NCAA tournament in 2019 and the NIT finals in 2021.
Meetings with SEC schools had been few and far between prior to DeCuire's arrival, but this will mark the third year in a row that Montana has played a school from the SEC. Montana played at Georgia in 2020 and Arkansas in 2019, in addition to trips to Ole Miss in 2016 and Texas A&M in 2015 (NIT).
The Grizzlies' other Power 5 game will be a more familiar foe in Oregon of the Pac-12 (Nov. 29). The Griz and Ducks will battle for the third time in the past six seasons.
Montana will conclude non-conference play Dec. 19 at Santa Clara, a team that has posted three consecutive winning seasons, including 20 victories in 2019-20.
The Big Sky tournament will once again be held in Boise, Idaho, March 9-12.
The Grizzlies are coming off a season in which they hit their stride late, taking a four-game winning streak into the Big Sky tournament where they then beat Idaho in the first round and upset No. 3 seed Weber State in the quarterfinals. Montana had no seniors and returned nearly every contributor from its 2020-21 squad, including: 86.5 percent of the team's minutes, 85.8 percent of its scoring, 82.7 percent of its rebounding, 94.1 percent of its assists, 89.8 percent of its steals, 77.8 percent of its blocked shots and 84.3 percent of its starts. Additionally, Montana brought in three freshmen and a pair of transfers – all who will have immediate eligibility.
2021-22 Montana Basketball Schedule (bolded games are home)
Tuesday, Nov. 9 vs. Dickinson State
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Mississippi State
Monday, Nov. 15 at North Dakota
Saturday, Nov. 20 vs. Omaha
Wednesday, Nov. 24 vs. UC San Diego
Thursday, Nov. 25 vs. UNC Wilmington
Friday, Nov. 26 vs. Southern Mississippi
Monday, Nov. 29 at Oregon
Thursday, Dec. 2 at Sacramento State
Saturday, Dec. 4 at Northern Colorado
Wednesday, Dec. 8 vs. Air Force
Friday, Dec. 10 vs. Yellowstone Christian College
Sunday, Dec. 19 at Santa Clara
Thursday, Dec. 30 vs. Idaho State
Saturday, Jan. 1 vs. Weber State
Thursday, Jan. 6 at Eastern Washington
Saturday, Jan. 8 at Montana State
Thursday, Jan. 13 vs. Southern Utah
Thursday, Jan. 20 at Portland State
Saturday, Jan. 22 at Northern Arizona
Thursday, Jan. 27 vs. Idaho
Saturday, Jan. 29 vs. Eastern Washington
Thursday, Feb. 3 at Weber State
Saturday, Feb. 5 at Idaho State
Thursday, Feb. 10 vs. Northern Arizona
Saturday, Feb. 12 vs. Portland State
Thursday, Feb. 17 at Idaho
Thursday, Feb. 24 at Southern Utah
Saturday, Feb. 26 vs. Montana State
Thursday, March 3 vs. Northern Colorado
Saturday, March 5 vs. Sacramento State
March 9-12 at Big Sky Conference tournament (Boise, Idaho)