Overall Rank: #112
Conference Rank: #1 Big Sky
2007-08: 14-16, 8-8, 4th
2007-08 postseason: none
Heading into his third year as the leader of the Montana Grizzlies, Coach Wayne Tinkle is building something special in Missoula. The recruiting has been very good over the last few years and it is about time for that talent to turn into conference championships. However, the championships will not start rolling in until the defense improves.
Besides the defense, a lack of experience may be the only thing that could keep the Grizzlies away from the Big Sky championship. Andrew Strait was the big man under the basket and averaged 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds, ranking second on the team in both categories. Guard Matt Martin started a dozen games and was a solid shooter, usually off the bench and Cameron Rundles has transferred after averaging 6.6 points per game last year. Dave Vanderjagt, Greg Spurgetis and Zach Graves will also not be returning this season after seeing limited action last year.
Only five players return to the squad, so the newcomers will have to be ready to at least play an important role off the bench. Jack McGillis, a transfer from Oregon State, probably will not have to spend much time on the bench. The former Mr. Basketball in the state of Montana, McGillis spent two years with the Beavers before heading back home. Two years ago he started six games in Corvallis and averaged 5.9 points per game. The 6-6 forward is a decent rebounder as well and should play a big role on this year’s team. Another transfer joins the Grizzlies from Eastern Washington. Michael Taylor started 25 games for the Eagles two years ago and has the experience to contribute immediately. Guard Anthony Johnson and wing Vassy Banny have some experience too. Johnson, a 6-3 guard from Yakima Valley Community College, will add some much needed depth at the point guard position and shooting guard spots and Banny can do a little bit of everything. The large group of incoming freshmen are led by point guard Shawn Stockton and small forward Mathias Ward. Those two, along with wing Tyler Hurley, forward Mathias Ward and big man Derek Selvig, might need some time to adjust to playing in the Big Sky, but there will be some minutes to be had if they can quickly show they are ready.
Who to Watch:
The duo of Strait and Jordan Hasquet dominated the opposing frontcourts in the conference. Now that Strait is gone, the pressure falls on Hasquet. The 6-9 senior led the team with 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds, is a consistent outside shooter and a decent passer, but he needs to find his partner in crime in the paint. Enter Brian Qvale. The 6-11, 245 pound Williston, North Dakota product averaged 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds as a freshman last season. Given more playing time, those numbers should increase, but more important than scoring or rebounding is his defense. Qvale tallied 1.5 blocks per game and can spearhead the improved defensive initiative with his long arms and ability to alter shots. Add senior Kyle Sharp, who can play the three, four or five spot, and the Grizzlies have plenty of potential and talent in the frontcourt…even without Strait.
Ceylon Elgin-Taylor and Ryan Staudacher started a majority of the games in the backcourt during the 2007-2008 campaign. Elgin-Taylor is not a great shooter, but he is a steady floor leader, a good passer and a senior leader. Staudacher is a great shooter. The 6-3 junior knocked down over 45 percent of his attempts from long range as a sophomore and rarely misses a free-throw. Without Matt Martin and Cameron Rundles around, Staudacher carries the scoring burden of the backcourt. And with a frontcourt that can dominate again and a senior running the point, Staudacher and the entire Montana team should be looking at a very successful season.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ceylon Elgin-Taylor, Senior, Guard, 6.2 points per game
Ryan Staudacher, Junior, Guard, 9.0 points per game
Jack McGillis, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Jordan Hasquet, Senior, Forward, 13.7 points per game
Brian Qvale, Sophomore, Center, 4.0 points per game