The defending Big Sky Conference regular season champion Montana Grizzlies will play one of the toughest nonconference schedules in program history to start the 2015-16 season.
Montana will square off against two USA Today preseason top 10 teams in Kansas (No. 7) and Gonzaga (No. 8), Mountain West regular season champs Boise State at home, and frequent NCAA tourney dancers Pepperdine of the West Coast Conference, and the Pac-12’s Washington Huskies.
San Jose State, Carroll College, North Dakota State, San Francisco, Great Falls and Montana Western round off the nonconference schedule for the Griz.
“Definitely a lot of reasons to be excited,” said second year Griz head coach Travis DeCuire. “Our guys are fired up about playing good competition, or I should say great competition. For me, sometimes wins are hard to come by when you play such a strong schedule.
“I think it carries over though. It did for us last year. Our schedule and our record didn’t really show how good of a team we were, but it carried over into January and February where we learned how to finish games against strong teams. If we can get a similar experience with that this year, we’ll be excited.”
The Griz open the season at home with an early chance at redemption from last season’s double-overtime loss to Boise State, as the Mountain West’s regular season champion Broncos travel to Missoula on Nov. 13.
Montana is 2-0 in the Broncos’ last two trips to Missoula. In 2006, the Griz pulled off the 62-58 victory under first year head coach Wayne Tinkle. In 2009-10, UM overcame BSU 95-82 in the Karl Tyler Chevrolet Tournament.
The Griz are 28-29 lifetime against the former Big Sky Conference foe, Boise State.
UM then travels to the Bay Area with a chance to pick up a road win, facing San Jose State who finished 2-28 last season (0-18 in the Mountain West).
Montana will then face two West Coach Conference teams in a row when the team travels to Malibu, Calif., to face last year’s WCC No. 4 finishers Pepperdine (Nov. 29). UM then hosts the University of San Francisco in Missoula (Dec. 4).
The month of December doesn’t get any easier as UM travels to Spokane (Tues. Dec. 8) to face the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who finished the 2014-15 season ranked No. 6 in the nation, falling to Duke in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tourney.
The last time the Griz and the Zags faced each other was in the ‘07-’08 season, where UM fell 77-54 at Gonzaga. Montana is 86-63 lifetime against the Zags.
The Griz then travel to Seattle on Dec. 12 to face the Washington Huskies of the Pac-12, who finished last season 16-15 overall. Montana has beaten Washington nine times in the past, but the Huskies own a 44-9 lifetime advantage.
A once in a lifetime trip to Lawrence, Kan. to face the Kansas Jayhawks in the Pfog Allen Fieldhouse (Dec. 19) highlights the remaining Grizzlies’ nonconference schedule.
KU finished last season ranked No. 17 in the nation, losing to Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach DeCure says the strong nonconference schedule is sending the right message to his players.
“No fear. Accept all challenges. Raise the bar high for expectations for us as a group, and try to achieve as much as possible. We can’t do that if we run through completion.”
The divided Big Sky Conference schedule plays in the Grizzlies’ favor in 2015-16.
Montana will get a home court rematch of last season’s Big Sky Tournament championship game against Eastern Washington on Jan. 23.
The 291st & 292nd edition of the Griz/Cat basketball games will favor the Griz as well, with the second game of the series being played in Missoula on Feb. 20.
Reno, Nevada will host the 2016 Big Sky Conference men’s and women’s basketball championships March 7 through 12 at the Reno Events Center. All 12 Big Sky Conference teams will qualify for the tournament.