MISSOULA — A tight turnaround for the Montana men’s basketball team brings NAIA Montana Tech to Dahlberg Arena for a 7 p.m. tipoff on Monday evening.
The Grizzlies, coming off a 64-46 loss on the road to Arkansas on Saturday, will face off against a Frontier Conference foe for the second time this season. The Grizzlies beat MSU-Northern earlier. Montana, after playing a game that ended just after 5 p.m. MST, flew back Sunday morning and were at practice by 2 p.m. later in the day.
“Obviously it’s a grind. We’ve got to go halfway across the country … come back here on Sunday, have practice and then play Monday versus Tech,” Montana senior Kendal Manuel said last Thursday. “Just being able to balance all that, you’ve got to be able to get yourself some treatment and also eat well and sleeping on the road, that’s a big key in being successful in these type of turnarounds.”
Montana is 1-2 in the early goings of the season, with both losses coming to Power 5 opponents — Stanford and the Razorbacks. The Cardinal are currently ranked No. 77 by advanced college basketball website KenPom.com, while Arkansas sits at No. 29.
Following Monday’s game against Montana Tech, the Grizzlies travel to Seattle for a Friday evening game against AP No. 20 Washington. Two games Montana should be favored in (Texas Southern on Nov. 25 and Coppin State on Nov. 29, both in Dahlberg) come after, which could help the Grizzlies pick up both some confidence and wins.
Going back-and-forth between Power 5 schools and NAIA programs is certainly a swing, but more than anything Montana is using it to figure out what it has from a young group.
The Grizzles have used several different lineups and put players in a multitude of positions on the court as head coach Travis DeCuire tinkers with the rotations. The early season games are also an opportunity to see how players are able to adjust coming out of stoppages in the game and following halftime. It’s an area where DeCuire expects to see some improvement.
“With a team like this, with this youth, this inexperience, establishing habits is really our issue right now, moreso than sustaining them,” DeCuire said last Thursday. “In the game, how you handle certain experiences and adjustments out of timeouts. We’ve been doing something for 10 minutes and now we’re going to do it a completely different way for the next 10 minutes.
“We haven’t got to the point where we can handle that.”
Montana Tech could be an opportunity for the Grizzlies to start putting some of those things together and have several players who will make things tough on Montana. Junior big man Taylor England, a Helena High grad, stands 6-foot-7 and scored 12 points and tallied five rebounds in an exhibition game against Idaho State earlier this season.
Derrius Collins, a Missoula Hellgate grad, is also a talented player for the Orediggers and has scored 6.4 points and hauled in 3.4 rebounds per game so far this year for Montana Tech. Junior Sindou Diallo has been one of the best players in the Frontier Conference so far, averaging 19.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for the Orediggers.
Monday’s game will be televised by SWX Montana and be available on Pluto TV.
Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com