Men’s Basketball: Montana Picked Third in Big Sky Preseason Polls

The Montana men’s basketball team, which returns four starters from last year’s squad and has bolstered the rotation with several key offseason addition, was selected third in both the coaches’ and media polls, the Big Sky Conference announced Wednesday.

The Griz received a first place vote from both the coaches and the media. They received 64 total points in the coaches’ poll and 204 points in the media poll. This is coming off a fifth place finish in 2021-22 where Montana went 11-9 against Big Sky opposition.

“It feels good to be voted in the top four coming off of two years you didn’t finish there. Some of that is respect, I believe, in terms of just Montana as a program even before me,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “Some of that I think is respect for some of the talent that we’ve brought in. Then the returners have earned respect.”

For a program with lofty expectations, the 2021-22 season could be seen as a slight down year. Despite that, the Grizzlies also made it 14 consecutive seasons without a losing record. The polls seem to suggest that those around the league took notice of Montana’s transfer portal activity, and that they respect the returning players.

Josh Bannon returns after leading the Grizzlies in both points (15.1) and rebounds (8.2), enough to earn All-Big Sky second team honors as a sophomore. He’s joined by Brandon WhitneyMack Anderson and Lonnell Martin Jr. as starters to return this season.

“Josh Bannon is a fringe first team all conference player as a sophomore. Brandon Whitney, the way he defended last year, I’m sure got votes for defensive player of the year,” DeCuire said. “Mack Anderson, the way we were playing before his injury. I felt we were a contender.

“I think as a team that flirted with potential top two or three finish before injuries last year, is a team that shows a sign if you grow just a little bit during the offseason and you add a couple of pieces that fit with what you return, you should have a successful season.”

Montana did just that, bringing in several key transfers in areas where they felt they needed to grow.

Dischon Thomas (Colorado State) has NCAA Tournament experience, scoring 15 points against Michigan. He brings size (6-9, 236) and versatility to the team. Aanen Moody, a Southern Utah transfer with a championship ring already, joins to provide playmaking on offense and a threat from beyond the arc.

The Grizzlies also added Laolu Oke for help in the defensive and rebound categories, as he was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference at MSU Denver. Jonathan Brown should also be in the Grizzly rotation after coming to Montana from Central Methodist.

The combination should have Montana in a place competing for a Big Sky championship again. The Griz won the regular season in 2018 and 2019, but haven’t returned to the top since despite some talented squads.

“A lot of it is luck in terms of health. A lot of it is mental, physical toughness and fortitude down the stretch when it matters most,” DeCuire said. “There have been years we’ve been right there on the fringe and just fell a little short in the last week. That’s the part I don’t know about this group. I think the talent is there, I think we will win a lot of games, the question is will we win the games we need to win, and that’s what we’re trying to get to now.”

Defending champion Montana State topped both polls, followed by Northern Colorado. The Bobcats finished 16-4 in Big Sky play a year ago to win the league, while UNC was third behind Southern Utah who left the conference this summer.

The Grizzlies jumped Weber State from the final standings of last year to the preseason poll. The Wildcats went 13-7 in 2021, but are dealing with the retirement of Randy Rahe, the Big Sky’s all-time leader with 316 career wins.

Eastern Washington and Sacramento State are fifth and sixth in both polls. Portland State and Northern Arizona tied in the coaches’ poll, although the Vikings have the advantage with the media, and Idaho and Idaho State round out the league.

2022-23 Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Poll Results
1. Montana State – 80 Points (8 First Place Votes)
2. Northern Colorado – 69 Points (1 First Place Vote)
3. Montana – 64 Points (1 First Place Vote)
4. Weber State – 55 Points
5. Eastern Washington – 53 Points
6. Sacramento State – 42 Points
T7. Northern Arizona – 27 Points
T7. Portland State – 27 Points
9. Idaho – 17 Points
10. Idaho State – 16 Points

2022-23 Men’s Basketball Media Poll Results
1. Montana State – 258 Points (19 First Place Votes)
2. Northern Colorado – 231 Points (6 First Place Votes)
3. Montana – 204 Points (1 First Place Vote)
4. Weber State – 189 Points (1 First Place Vote)
5. Eastern Washington – 173 Points
6. Sacramento State – 129 Points
7. Portland State – 118 Points
8. Northern Arizona – 78 Points
9. Idaho – 64 Points
10. Idaho State – 41 Points