(Editor's note: Montana Athletics press release.)
MISSOULA — The Montana men’s basketball schedule will have a slightly different look for the 2023-24 season, but it provides the Grizzlies with plenty of opportunities to see coach Travis DeCuire’s team against top-level competition.
The non-conference schedule features 13 games. They will play seven of those at home against some recognizable names. The schedule also includes road games to some strong programs nationally in Houston, Oregon and Nevada.
Before any of the excitement of the regular season can arrive, however, the Grizzlies have a single exhibition game on the schedule against Western Washington.
The Grizzlies will have a home tournament for the third consecutive season, but again are changing things up a bit in 2023-24. The games will be separated from each other, removing the older three games in three days format, and more importantly will pay homage to the history and tradition of Montana basketball.
The Griz will take on UC Davis (Nov. 12) and North Dakota State (Nov. 16) in the Basketball Travelers Mike Montgomery Classic.
Montgomery coached at Montana from 1978 to 1986, leading the Grizzlies to a 155-76 (.669) record and six top two finishes in Big Sky play. He coached Big Sky Hall of Famer Larry Krystkowiak and two-time All-American Derrick Pope before a successful as Stanford, California, and the Golden State Warriors.
“It’s an opportunity to honor, I would say, the glue to the coaching tree as an extension of Jud Heathcote through Jim Brandenburg and then everyone that came behind him,” DeCuire said. “I think it’s important to acknowledge the coaches that have been here prior to me that don’t get talked about as much as they should.”
Houston will without a doubt be a nationally ranked game as the Cougars are ranked No. 6 in ESPN’s “Too-early poll” and finished last year at 33-4 and as the No. 1 team in the country according to the NET Rankings.
It’s the furthest trip of the year for Montana, which will stay closer to home than it did a season ago. Oregon, a 21-15 team last year that reached the NIT Quarterfinals, will open their home season with the Griz while several other trips in the region fill out the difficult schedule.
Montana play 10 games against Division I opponents in the non-conference. There are seven games against opponents with winning records in 2022-23, and five games against top 100 teams according the the NCAA NET Rankings.
“I think this is something that has been big for recruiting for us,” DeCuire said of the marquee matchups. “A lot of the student-athletes that we bring in want an opportunity to play at the highest level. They have dreams and aspirations of being professional basketball players at whatever level that is.
“When you have an opportunity to play against future pros, future NBA draft picks, it’s an opportunity to show either where you are now but also to learn where we have to go if we want to be a team that’s an NCAA Tournament team,” DeCuire said.
There is another unique aspect to Montana’s schedule. There will be three opponents in the non-conference that the Griz will face off against in a home-and-home series. It’s partially a result of scheduling becoming increasingly difficult, but also provides a chance to play against competition similar to what Montana will see at the top of the Big Sky.
San Jose State went 20-14 last year and finished fifth in the Mountain West, right behind another Grizzly opponent in Nevada. UC Davis went 11-8 in Big West play, and 16-14 overall, for a sixth-place finish in the league.
“We’ve been playing home-and-homes with Mountain West teams since I’ve been here, which is where San Jose State comes in,” DeCuire said. “I think those are great benchmarks for us. San Jose State is a team on the rise. I would imagine that there is going to be the expectation that they become a team that’s in the top half of their conference.”
The league slate begins on Dec. 28 with a Weber State-Idaho State road trip. The Grizzlies’ first home conference games are Jan. 11 and 13 against Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona. The Brawl of the Wild will be played on Jan. 20 in Bozeman and Feb. 17 in Missoula.
For Montana’s sake, the talent on the roster seems to reflect a team ready for the high level of competition. Montana return three starters — Aanen Moody, Dischon Thomas, Brandon Whitney — and three key reserve players from last year’s team and several other players who have made a jump over the summer.
The Griz also added some transfers that could make an instant impact in Blake Jones, Te’Jon Sawyer and Giordan Williams. The freshman class could break into the rotation as well with Money Williams, Chase Henderson and Zack Davidson.
“I think the excitement is as high as it has been in a long time,” DeCuire said. “I think the real reason is just the depth and how competitive the practices are right now. The last couple years, we couldn’t afford to have a guy injured, or sick, or to have one of our top seven players have a bad game. When that happened, we lost, because we didn’t have enough guys coming off the bench.”
The Grizzlies went 17-14 (10-7 Big Sky) last year and reached the semifinals of the Big Sky Tournament. DeCuire is entering his 10th season at the helm and has a career record of 177-112 (.612). DeCuire has never had a losing season, and Montana have been .500 or better in 15 consecutive seasons.