Griz men picked as preseason favorite

OGDEN, Utah – The University of Montana men’s basketball team has been tabbed as the Big Sky Conference’s pre-season favorite by the league’s coaches and media, the conference announced today (Thursday, Oct. 18).

The defending Big Sky champion Grizzlies received eight first place votes and 98 total points by the league’s 11 head coaches, while they tallied 24 first place votes and 344 points from the 32 members of the media.

“We do have a few key pieces back,’’ said seventh-year Griz head coach Wayne Tinkle. “It’s nice to see us recognized, but coaches don’t put a lot of credence in the polls. We have an awfully long ways to go to compete for the championship. We’re facing some adversity right now with some injuries.

“It’s going to be one of the more competitive seasons in a while,’’ Tinkle said. “I don’t think the eventual regular-season champion is going to have just a couple of losses. We’re going to beat up on each other. Sacramento State is probably a top-five team before all is said and done. Northern Colorado has all of its young studs back. It’s going to be a real shootout until the end.’

“I’m really excited,’’ Tinkle said of the new-look Big Sky. “Commissioner (Doug) Fullerton has done a nice job of solidifying the conference. Others around us in the West seem to be struggling to find an identity, while we’re holding strong. North Dakota could be a surprise. Some out there don’t understand how good they are. Southern Utah, a lot of us aren’t sure. They have a great young man in Coach Robinson leading the program.”

Montana returns three starters from that 25-7 squad that set a league record by winning 15 Big Sky games en route to a 15-1 conference slate. That 15-1 Big Sky finish meant Montana earned an automatic berth into one of the league’s post-season tournament semifinal games, but more importantly it also gave the Griz the host role for the tourney.

The Grizzlies defeated Eastern Washington 74-66 in the league tournament semis, and then beat the Weber State Wildcats 85-66 in the championship game.  UM lost 73-49 to 13th-ranked Wisconsin in a first-round NCAA game.

Montana’s three starters back are senior guard Will Cherry (6-1, 181), junior guard Kareem Jamar (6-5, 210), and senior forward Mathias Ward (6-7, 223).  Both returning guards were first team all-league selections last season, although Cherry, who led the Griz in scoring (15.8 ppg), suffered a foot injury and will hopefully return to action in late November.  Last year Jamar was UM’s second leading scorer (10.9 ppg) and rebounder (5.6 rpg), while Ward was third on the team in scoring at (10.9 ppg).

Also returning are junior center Eric Hutchison (6-9, 245), sophomore forwards Mike Weisner (6-7, 195) and Kevin Henderson (6-4, 208), and sophomore guards Keron DeShields (6-2, 182) and Jordan Gregory (6-2, 188).

The Griz added one player from the junior college ranks in forward Spencer Coleman (6-6 ½, 198).  Last season Coleman was selected a junior college All-American, first team All-Region and all-conference, when he averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, and shot 75% (66-of-88) from the line..  Redshirt freshman forward Nick Emerson (6-5, 206 from Columbia Falls HS), and prep signees Andy Martin (7-0, 223, from Natrona County HS in Wyoming) and Jake Wiley (6-7, 204, from Newport High School in Washington), could also see action this season.

The Wildcats, who were also 25-7 last season, were picked second in both polls, and earned three first place votes from the coaches and eight from the media.

– UM Sports Information

Coaches’ Poll
1. Montana (8)                 98
2. Weber State (3)            92
3. Northern Colorado      74
4. North Dakota                67
5. Portland State               61
6. Eastern Washington    53
7. Sacramento State        51
8. Montana State             48
9. Idaho State                    25
10. Southern Utah            23
11. Northern Arizona       14

 Media Poll
1. Montana (24)               344
2. Weber State (8)            318
3. Eastern Washington    231
4. Northern Colorado      221
5. Portland State               218
6. North Dakota                173
7. Montana State             171
8. Sacramento State        166
9. Idaho State                    106
10.Southern Utah             98
11. Northern Arizona       67