Before we tip-off tomorrow night's game, we decided to get a little Pre-Game chat going with grizzlyjournal, a Montana Grizzlies blog. We asked Glenn Junkert some questions about tonmorrow's game, and his responses are below. You can read Building the Dam's answers here. Enjoy!
Q: The Grizzlies have been up and down so far this season (Kind of like the Beavers). Montana lost to a 1-7 Nevada team, but beat UCLA in Los Angeles. Is there any reason for the inconsistent play, or is that just the nature of College Basketball these days?
A: The Grizzlies are a young team still trying to forge an identity with several newcomers still searching for a role on the squad. Gone are all-conference seniors Anthony Johnson -- arguably the best player in the Big Sky over the past two years -- and shooting guard Ryan Staudacher, who led the conference in three point percentage (45%). The two combined for nearly half of the team's 69 points per-game average. Two other potential returning starters transferred, forcing Montana Coach Wayne Tinkle to push newcomers into starting roles. Chalk up Montana's first-game Nevada loss to adjustment jitters.
But Griz players feel that -- if not for a 1-for-10 shooting percentage from the free throw line in the final 10 minutes of their loss to Portland -- they otherwise played well enough to win. Montana's 66-57 win at UCLA gives a clearer picture of this team's potential, particularly on defense.
Q: Who has been the best player so far the Griz? Who should Beaver fans be looking out for?
A: Sophomore point guard Will Cherry -- who cut his teeth last year as Johnson's understudy -- is just now showing the maturity and poise needed as Montana's floor leader. Cherry is averaging 15.6 points per game and has a nicely balanced 30 assists and 32 steals to 16 turnovers... a pretty nifty ratio so far.
Q: Montana 4-1 at home this season. How big of a home-court advantage is Dahlberg Arena?
A: The reputation of Missoula's Dahlberg Arena (cozy but airy) as a veritable bear's den has definitely faded over the past 15 years. Though the Griz have advanced to the NCAA four times since 2000, not a single one of those tourney titles was played in their home arena in a league where the regular season champ always hosts. Montana attendance has faded over the past decade, with last year's per-game average of 3382 well below the averages of the previous three decades. Not many teams play scared here anymore.
Q: What must happen for Montana in order to return to the Big Dance this year?
A: The potential's there. But Montana will need rapid maturation from heralded 6-5 frosh Kareem Jamar, and better production from beyond the three point arc by several wing players if they hope to surpass Big Sky favorites Weber State and Northern Arizona.
Rest of the Q&A after the break
A: Jamar. Only nine games displaced from playing in a California prep state championship, the young off-forward can play several positions, has a good pull-up shot, and is already Montana's second leading rebounder.
Q: Did you guys lose anyone from last year's NCAA Tournament team, and if so, were they key player(s)?
A: Yup (see #1 above), six. The key losses were Anthony Johnson: All Region, All Big Sky, 19.6 ppg, and the player who led Montana to the Big Sky title win at regular season champ Weber State. And Ryan Staudacher: Money from beyond the arc, Staudacher led the Big Sky in three point shooting percentage at .455, and converted an average of 2.2 per game.
Q: Predictions for the game?
A: I don't talk trash or predict. On paper, the two teams match up well, so I'm looking for a hard fought game between similar teams. Nonetheless, we can probably base predictions on how each team fares Sunday.
A solid win by OSU over UTPA... AND a Montana road loss at San Francisco on Sunday should indicate that the Beavers can take the Griz in Missoula. A win by the Griz at San Francisco, OR if the Beavers struggle against UTPA, indicate a home-court advantage for Montana. Anything else translates into an evenly waged game.
Once again, thanks to Glenn for participating in this. Remember, the game tips-off tomorrow night at 6:00 PM on bigskytv.org.