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Know Your Non-Conference Opponent: Montana

Like most low-majors, Montana had a serious roster reshuffle in the summer.

NCAA Basketball: Montana at Oregon
Return of the Mack! (I don’t apologize for this.)
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In a world of constant uncertainty like pandemics, insurrections, the Reds trading your favorite players, and inflation, there is something to be said for consistency. College basketball is not usually where to find that. Players switch teams like college students do, coaches leave, and for some reason UCLA is going to be in the Big Ten (which is really stupid).

Out in Montana, though, The Grizzlies have at least latched on to some semblance of normalcy by defying all the odds and keeping their coach for quite awhile. Travis DeCuire played at Montana from 1990-1994 and has been the head coach there since 2014. In that span the Grizzlies have gone 160-98 and been to the NCAA tournament twice, the NIT once, and hit their highest KenPom ranking (72nd) of all time. That’s all not a bad return for a school in Missoula, Montana.

Key departures

That stability stops at the roster. Eight players are gone, seven via transfer and one via graduation including their second, third, and fourth leading scorers, their second leading minutes guy, their top and fourth guy in assists, their top field goal guy, their second best free throw shooter, and their top three three point shooters. That, obviously, leaves a large gap at the top end of DeCuire’s roster. Starting shooting guard Robby Beasley III is the biggest loss, as he was a reliable shooter all over the floor and could care for the ball well. Still, he’s just one of eight on the way out the door.

Key returnees

DeCuire managed to keep Josh Bannan, who led the team in scoring and offensive efficiency. That’s big news. Bannan is a 6-9, 220 forward who can score from all three levels and also lead the team in rebounds. If anyone was going to stay, he was the guy to keep. Brandon Whitney is a 6-1 guard who can play both spots and posted a 108 offensive efficiency. He’s back, and he brings a very low turnover rate with him. What he can’t do is shoot a jumper.

Lonnell Martin, a 6-4 swing man, and Mack Anderson, the cause of the return of the mack joke in picture caption, are the only other rotation players returning for the Grizz. Martin played 23 minutes per game and shot the three very well in that time. Anderson is a big who struggled to have an impact.

Incoming players

Freshman Rhett Reynolds, Jaxon Nap, Dorell Thomas, Isaiah Kerr (no relation), and Caden Bateman make for a hefty incoming class. None of them are more than a two star recruit. DeCuire has emphasized a more versatile roster, and all of the freshman come in at between 6-3 and 6-9 with the ability to move.

Laolu Oke is a DII transfer who comes in from MSU Denver with a reputation for dominating the offensive glass. Oke is third in Roadrunner history in that category and went for 14.2 and 11.6 last season. He should be able to step right into DI play, because he’s a 6-8, 215 forward who can move.

Fellow transfer Dischon Thomas scored 15 points in one game in the NCAA tournament last year. A 6-9, 235 center, Thomas somewhat inexplicably left Colorado St to drop down to the Montana level. Thomas average 5.7/3.1/1.0 last season and shot 42% behind the arc to go with his 86.5% mark at the line. He is a very nice pickup for DeCuire and Montana.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round - Colorado State vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports


The Grizzlies were 248th in the KenPom last year. They got thumped by some really bad teams and never came close to putting together a good win. The losses from the roster were significant. All that said, the best player on the team came back and brought some rotation players with him. Both incoming transfers figure to have an immediate impact and the freshman are at least as good as should be expected for a Big Sky team. None of that adds up to a squad that should challenge Xavier, but the Grizzlies should be better this year than they were last.