The complete 2008-2009 Montana men's basketball schedule has yet to be released but we may already have our two marquee games. Last year, it was Gonzaga and Washington State. This season, the Montana Grizzlies will face off against the Duke Blue Devils and the Washington Huskies.
It's been rumored for a few weeks that the Griz would travel to Cameron Indoor but an abcmontana interview with Wayne Tinkle makes it official. The game is set for November 23rd.
"It's not like we were trying to send a statement," Tinkle said in the interview. "As a student-athlete, you want to play teams that you kind of grow up idolizing and we just kind of thought it'd be a neat experience."
There hadn't been any word on a matchup with the Huskies, official or otherwise, but UW released their schedule yesterday and the Grizzlies are on it. Montana will play at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on December 28th.
The two games present two different experiences. Duke will once again be one of the best teams in the ACC and the nation. Andy Katz of ESPN has them as the 6th best team in the country with the Blue Devils only losing two players from last year's squad. The Griz will be playing in one of the college basketball's most intimidating venues. No matter who you are, walking onto the floor at Cameron Indoor will be something to remember for the rest of your life. Last season, the Griz faced off against a similar crazed atmosphere against Gonzaga in Spokane and it did not go well. The Griz will need to have more than a "gee, isn't it neat being here?" if they don't want to get embarrassed again.
The game at Hec Ed will be very different. The Huskies should be in the middle to bottom half of the PAC 10 again as they continue their rebuilding since the Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy days. They have solid recruits coming in but won't have nearly the talent level of Duke.
This game will also be drastically different in terms of atmosphere. It's three days after Christmas and many students will be far away from campus. I went to a UW/Loyola Marymount game two years ago over winter break; the student section was half empty and the arena was far from sold out. Unlike last season's game in Spokanistan, any Griz fans wanting tickets to this matchup should be able to get them fairly easily. If a conscious effort was made amongst Seattle-area Griz fans and others willing to make the drive, we could have a very respectable cheering section. More than Duke, Gonzaga and WSU, this game is the most likely for an upset.
Lastly, major props to Tinkle for putting together what's looking like a very tough schedule. This is the most talented and athletic Griz squad since LK's tourney teams. Tinks could've easily laid out a few cupcakes and tried to put together a 20-25 win season in an effort to get some fans off his back but he didn't. Ballsy. He's challenging himself and his players while trying to force this program to take a step forward. For the Griz to get quality opponents coming to the Zoo on a regular basis, they'll have to beat a few on the road first.