On Friday, Griz fans will once again have the chance to get “noisy for Boise” at Dahlberg Arena, when Boise State will pay its first visit to Missoula since 2006, when the Griz defeated the Broncos 62-58.
Boise State comes to Missoula this year as the defending Mountain West Conference Champions, and is receiving votes just outside of the national preseason top 25 polls. The Broncos picked up four votes in the AP top 25, and five votes in the USA Today Coaches’ poll.
The Grizzlies themselves have earned a share of the preseason recognition from the media, earning a No. 17 ranking in the collegeinsider.com preseason mid-major top 25 and a nearly unanimous pick to win the Big Sky in the conference preseason media poll.
The Grizzlies are also ranked No. 144 in the preseason NCAA RPI poll, a ranking based upon a team's wins, losses and its strength of schedule.
Montana will be tasked with putting a stop to a potent Bronco attack that is led by senior guard Anthony Drmic and sophomore forward James Webb III, both of whom were listed in ESPN’s top 100 players in America (Drmic at No 85, and Webb No. 96). Both were selected to the preseason All-Mountain West first team.
In Bozeman, MSU head coach Brian Fish likes the daily competition he sees in practice. He was pleased with Montana State public exhibition game, and its private scrimmage. He acknowledges that the team's talent level has improved from last year to this season.
As for whether his team is ready to battle a proven, experienced Hawaii team at the Honolulu’s Stan Sherriff Center on Friday, he’s not quite as sure.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Fish said before his team departed on a six-day, three-game expedition that introduces eight newcomers to the Bobcat program. “We’re going to throw (several) guys out there that have never played a Division I second, so that’s the worry, and that’s where we have to see where it goes. They responded to the first exhibition well and the secret one they responded well the next day, too. We’ll see how it goes when they’re on the road and there are seven or eight thousand people rooting against us.”
The Rainbow Warriors team those seven or eight thousand folks will be rooting for on Friday finished 22-13 a season ago, advancing to the Big West Tournament Championship Game. Hawaii has won at least 20 games in two straight seasons, and is led by the dynamic backcourt of 2014-15 leading scorer Aaron Valdes (13.7 points a game last year) and Roderick Bobbitt (the reigning Big West Defensive Player of the Year).
While Hawaii poses formidable competition – along with Mountain West foe Nevada on Sunday, which bookends a game against Hawaii-Hilo – Fish has maintained throughout the preseason that November and December are dedicated to the players on his own bench rather than the one on the other end of the scorer’s table. He likes the environment his squad has worked in this fall.
“I like the competition we’ve created every day in practice,” Fish said. “The guys that aren’t starting have created a competition level that makes the guy they’re going against better. I’ve liked that a lot. I like that if you’re starting, you’ve had to beat someone out.”
Fish expects to start Marcus Colbert and Tyler Hall in the backcourt, Zach Green and Danny Robison at forward, and Shy Blake at center. But, he likes his team’s depth, especially when guard Quinton Everett returns from a broken hand this weekend and next. “By the end of next week I think Quinton (Everett) will be close to 100 percent, and you’re talking about a guy who will be on the floor 25, 28 minutes (a game). So it may (change) a little bit, but Steph Holm has had two or three good practices and I feel like he can give us some good minutes. I really like our depth at the guard position. When you can throw Tyler and Zach and Quinton and Steph out there at the two and three, that’s a pretty good group.”
While Fish has no specific win-loss goals in mind for this weekend or the early portion of the season, he hopes his team uses it as a springboard to later success. “I want them to compete because this is exactly what you have to do in March. You have to win three days in a row. This gives them a chance to show it. You can’t watch a ton of film, we’ll be done at 10 at night Friday then we have to flip around and play at 2 Saturday and flip around and play again at 2 on Sunday.”