MISSOULA — The defending Big Sky Conference University of Montana basketball team will play 16 home games (including two exhibition contests) this season, and have a formidable five game non-league road schedule as well.
The Grizzlies, coming off a 25-7 season in which they won a league-record 19 contests en route to the Big Sky’s regular-season title, will host two exhibition games, four non-league contests, and 10 Big Sky games.
Eighth-year head coach Wayne Tinkle’s 2013-14 team, which returns two-plus starters from a2 2 (32 starts), 6-9 senior center Eric Hutchison (27 starts), and 6-2 junior guard Jordan Gregory (21 starts).
Also back are 6-2 junior guard Keron DeShields, 6-5 sophomore forward Nick Emerson, 7-0 sophomore center Andy Martin, 6-7 junior forward Mike Weisner, 6-7 sophomore forward Jake Wiley, and 6-0 sophomore guard Morgan Young.
Tinkle and his staff of Kurt Paulson, Jono Metzger-Jones, and Kerry Rupp also added four preps, a junior college transfer, and have one redshirt returning.
The high school additions are 6-0 guard Mario Dunn Jr. (Salesian HS, Oakland, Calif.), 6-4 guard Brandon Gfeller (Colfax HS, Wash.), 6-5 guard-forward Jack Lopez (Jannali HS, Bankstown Australia), and 6-4 guard-forward Daine Muller (Billings Skyview HS, Mont.).
Chris Kemp, a 6-7, 238-pound JC transfer from Baltimore, who played at West Texas College, should compete for a starting berth. Also back is 6-2 guard Riley Bradshaw (Corvallis HS, Mont.), who redshirted last year after transferring from Utah State.
UM also added 6-8 junior center Martin Breunig from the University of Washington, who will not be able to play until next season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“We do have a lot of new additions to the team,” Tinkle said. “We love the returners and the experience that we’ve got, but we’re going to need some of these new guys to contribute.”
That group of veterans and newcomers start their schedule with a pair of home exhibition games, playing Simon Fraser on Oct. 26 and Lewis and Clark on Nov. 6. They make their season debut in the annual Silver-Maroon scrimmage on Thursday, Oct. 24.
The Griz open the regular-season on the road at Minnesota (Nov. 12) and at South Dakota State (Nov. 14). The Gophers were 21-13 last season. SDSU was 25-10 last year, including a 68-67 double overtime win over the Grizzlies in Missoula.
“It’s a very challenging schedule, especially early,” said Tinkle, who sports a 141-78 career record at his alma mater. “But we like it that way. We’re going to be tested. We’re going to be able to develop some toughness. Our guys are going to have to be ready to answer the challenge.
“It’s gotten more and more difficult to get teams to come to Missoula,” said Tinkle who has been named the league’s “Coach of the Year” the past two seasons. “Our non-league schedule will be a great experience for us in terms of preparing for the Big Sky race.”
Montana’s home opener is Friday, Nov. 22, against the University of San Francisco Dons, a team that beat the Griz 78-68 a year ago. The Grizzlies have three other non-conference home games against Idaho, St. Martin’s and UM-Western.
The Griz are on the road again after the USF contest, playing at Washington (Nov. 26) and at Hawaii (Nov. 29). UM’s other non-league road game is at Idaho on Dec. 28.
Montana starts its Big Sky slate hosting Northern Arizona and Sacramento State, Thursday and Saturday, Jan. 2 & 4. UM’s home games will start at 7:05 p.m.
“The league will be really tough this year,” said Tinkle, who has a Big Sky record of 85-31. “I don’t think it will be like the past two seasons with one team just losing one league game (Montana has been 15-1 and 19-1 the past two years in conference play). I don’t think that will happen this season. We’ve done a nice job of playing our best basketball in March. That’s what we hope to do again this year – use the pre-season and the early conference season to build, and peak at the right time.”
— Montana Sports Information