MSU men face challenging hoops slate

BOZEMAN — Brian Fish remembers his first visit to the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena vividly. “One-for-10,” he says with a  laugh. “One-for-10.”

That was the shooting performance in the Derby Classic high school all-star game many years ago for Fish, who leads his first Montana State men’s basketball team to Lexington, Ky., for the Bobcats’ first-ever showdown with the legendary program that he says “may have as good a team talent-wise as anyone’s had in the last 10 or 15 years.” The Bobcats play at Kentucky on Nov. 23 to close a five-game, 10-day, regular season-opening road trip that spans the continent.

“I think it’s a very challenging schedule, obviously,” Fish said of the slate his first Bobcat team faces. “Any time you play two of the storied programs in the history of college basketball, between Kentucky and UCLA, it will challenge the guys.”

In fact, Montana State’s first dozen games come against opponents who collectively hold 22 NCAA men’s basketball championships – 11 by UCLA, eight by Kentucky, one by Wyoming (who the Cats play twice in that span) in Division I, and a Division II title by South Dakota. MSU’s 2014-15 schedule also includes five games against teams that competed in last season’s NCAA Tournament (UCLA, Kentucky, North Dakota State and two against Weber State) and six against schools that won their league or division regular season title (UCLA, North Dakota State, Buffalo, Utah Valley, and Weber State).

The Bobcats host UM Western on Nov. 5 in its exhibition game before embarking on the regular season schedule. MSU opens at UCLA (Nov. 14), visits Grand Canyon three days later, and returns to southern California for a Nov. 19 date with Cal State Northridge. On Nov. 21 the Bobcats play at Buffalo, which won the Mid-American’s East Division last season. On Nov. 23 the Bobcats play at Kentucky before the long road trip ends.

“There’s one more game in the first two weeks than I’d really like to have,” Fish said, “but it was the simplest way to handle travel. It provides us with a chance to bond the first 10 or 12 days on the road and face some great competition.”

Once MSU’s home schedule begins on Nov. 28 with a contest against Texas-Arlington, the games come fast and furious. Defending Summit League Champion North Dakota State, which narrowly missed a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 last spring, visits renovated Worthington Arena on Nov. 30, South Dakota School of Mines comes to town on Dec. 3, and defending WAC regular season champion Utah Valley arrives on Dec. 6.

One of the season’s most anticipated set of games occurs over a nine-day span before Christmas, with a home-and-home matchup with Wyoming. “One thing that’s constantly come up since I’ve been here is our fans want to play the Border War again,” Fish said. “Playing Wyoming is good, and will excite our fans.”

Wyoming’s visit to Bozeman on Dec. 23 caps a non-league home slate that Fish calls “outstanding. With North Dakota State, Utah Valley and Wyoming, and a really good hidden gem in UT Arlington, I think it’s a very attractive schedule for our season ticket holders.”

MSU’s Big Sky Conference slate is pared back to 18 games this season, but beefed up with the addition of Idaho. The Bobcats begin league play against North Dakota on New Year’s Day, with Northern Colorado visiting on Jan. 3. The Cat-Griz Brawl of the Wild games return to the weekend this year, with the Bobcats visiting UM on January 17 and hosting their rivals to close the regular season on March 7.

In between the Cats play Southern Utah, NAU, Sacramento State and Portland State once each, and every other league team twice. That includes MSU’s first conference games against Idaho in 19 years, Feb. 6 in Worthington Arena and Feb. 28 in Moscow.

“I think the league will be very good this year,” Fish said, “more wide open than it’s been in the past. I think anyone can win. We just have to survive our early schedule with five games in a row on the road before we get home. If we can survive that it will certainly prepare us for league play.”

— MSU Sports Information 

2014-15 Schedule
N5       UM Western (exh), TBA
N14    at UCLA, TBA
N17    at Grand Canyon, TBA
N19    at CS Northridge, TBA
N21    at Buffalo, TBA
N23    at Kentucky, TBA
N28    Texas-Arlington, TBA
N30    North Dakota State, TBA
D3       South Dakota Mines, TBA
D6       Utah Valley, TBA
D14    at Wyoming, TBA
D18    at South Dakota, TBA
D20    at Portland, TBA
D23    Wyoming, TBA
J1        *North Dakota, TBA
J3        *Northern Colo., TBA
J8        *at Idaho State, TBA
J10     *at Weber State, TBA
J17     *at Montana, TBA
J22     *Southern Utah, TBA
J24     *NAU, TBA
J29     *at Sacramento St, TBA
J31     *at Portland State, TBA
F5       *Idaho, TBA
F7       *Eastern Wash., TBA
F12     *at Northern Colo.,
F14     *at North Dakota, TBA
F19     *Weber State, TBA
F21     *Idaho State, TBA
F26     *at Eastern Wash., TBA
F28     *at Idaho, TBA
M7      *Montana, TBA
M12-14     Big Sky Tournament

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