Weber State men’s basketball aims to play for its fifth straight weekend with a road trip this weekend to Montana.
WSU (11-4, 6-2 Big Sky) is now near the top of the conference table while Montana (8-9, 4-6) has struggled to string wins together in a slew of close, down-to-the-wire games.
I solicited the help of Griz beat writer Jordan Hansen of The Missoulian/406 MT Sports to learn more about Montana ahead of the series.
Game 1 is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, with Game 2 at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Both can be viewed on Pluto TV channel 1056 and heard on 103.1 FM and 1031thewave.com.
1. Montana hasn’t earned better than a split in any conference series so far. The Griz brought in several transfers this year and last; some of them are no longer with the team. What’s been the most surprising part of this season so far?
JH: The singular most surprising thing was Cameron Satterwhite leaving after just two games. I’m still not really aware of what happened there and it was simply just strange. The second thing I’d point to would be the relative inefficiency around the rim. UM has missed a lot of bunnies this year and just seem a little hesitant to truly go into full-on post up mode.
I guess what I’m not surprised about — though some certainly are — is how long its taking this team to mesh. We know that Montana had COVID-19 issues over the summer and into the early part of fall, hampering their ability to develop some of the offense and put in more plays and have those plays be run well. Injuries played a part as well, as DJ Carter-Hollinger basically missed the eight weeks leading up to the season with an arm injury. In all, you have a bunch of guys who still, 17 games in, have really not spent all that much time on the court together.
2. Montana’s defense rates well but the offense is pedestrian, at best. The numbers say the Griz shoot the 3 fairly well but shoot it with one of the lowest frequencies in the country for the second straight season; otherwise, things look slow and inefficient. Has the DeCuire offense changed, is it about personnel, what’s going on there?
JH: For starters, Montana put a completely new offense in prior the Sacramento State game, if that tells you anything. The Grizzlies are missing a hard rim-runner and someone willing to be super physical in the paint. Before the season, the team really said one of its goals was to play inside out this season, but that simply has not happened on a consistent basis.
The thing about the 3-point shot is the Grizzlies simply don’t have very many guys that can consistently hit. Robby Beasley has been a revelation in that aspect in the 11 games that he’s played (again, due to an offseason injury) and Josh Vazquez is really the only other volume perimeter shooter, though Cameron Parker has been efficient in knocking down stand-still open triples this season. I’d add a note about Michael Steadman, but we’ll get to that here in a moment.
3. Michael Steadman was named to the Big Sky preseason all-conference team after transferring from San Jose State. Per-game averages are 10.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and less than one block per contest — but as mentioned, UM plays some of the slower-paced games in the country. Is he having an all-conference type impact?
JH: Foul trouble and missing some of those aforementioned buckets around the rim has hampered his counting stats and his impact on defense has been negated by the amount of calls he gets tagged for. He dropped a big amount of weight from his San Jose State days and I think adjusting to that has been a huge issue for him as well.
If you ask me, Kyle Owens would be a better choice for an all-conference look. He’s having a breakout season and with a bit more consistently, could be one of the best everyday players in the Big Sky.
4. Where does this Montana team have untapped potential? Or in other words, what are the flashes that indicate how the Griz could be contenders come tournament time, if the right growth or polish occurs?
JH: They defend better than any team I have seen in quite some time and nearly all of their losses have come down to the final two minutes of regulation or, in the case with Sacramento State, double overtime. This very easily could be a 13-4 team with its only losses being to USC, Georgia, NAU and Portland State and those last two could be flipped as well. Montana certainly should have won those two Southern Utah games and its contest against Arizona. I’m not even being a beat-reporter homer here, they truly should have.
It just comes down to consistency and executing in close games. Some of the sets and plays down the stretch in those SUU games were painful to watch and I know the coaching staff feels the exact same way. Guys weren’t getting the ball where it needed to go when it needed to be there and it cost them games. Dumb turnovers have not helped either.
5. Football-wise, what is your sense from the faithful fanbase about the decision to opt out of the spring season, but spend guarantee money to play non-Division I Central Washington? Is the weather as bad of an impediment as the Montana coaches say, or is this more of a situation of making a strategic decision to put all the eggs in the fall 2021 basket?
JH: As I write this, it’s snowed six of the last seven days, so Bobby Hauck might have been on to something. Injuries are a big thing too, as Montana and Montana State (well, at least before Jeff Choate left) both expected to contend for a national championship in the fall of 2021. In Missoula, getting any sort of fans in stands is going to be tough and I just don’t think the revenue was ever going to be there enough for a shortened spring season to be worth it.
The guaranteed game — and there might be another coming — is just a chance for the players to have a little bit of padded spring practice and give some looks heading into the summer. It also gives Montana fans a little something to be excited about and I’m sure the ad revenue for SWX or ROOT or whomever ends up televising the game will be a nice grab for them as well.