By Mick Holien
A fan’s glance at a college basketball schedule could mistakenly lead one to believe the break in game action and classes over the holidays is for rest and recuperation and an opportunity to kick back and watch your gridiron brothers, if they are so fortunate anyway, to toil their wares for the final time of the 2017 season in some kind of Bowl activity.
But for some there is posting of the grades that could well throw a wrench in the team’s makeup. I vividly remember landing in Colorado for Montana’s final non-conference game against the University of Denver only to be told by the coaching staff that one of our starting guards hadn’t made the muster and would be required to sit until he was able to get himself eligible and that wasn’t the only such time.
The non-conference is an interesting time when you compete in a one-berth league like the Big Sky Conference which as a mid-major historically qualifies just a single team to the NCAA Tournament.
The number of non-conference wins – please don’t think pre-season because it isn’t – matters really only in all-important seeding which really means everything in the post season.
And in the Sky where parity often is the order of the day league teams have a tendency to beat up on each other meaning the circuit tournament winner often has a challenge receiving even a No. 14 seed which of course means they open against a No 3 seed, a tall task indeed.
You remember I am sure in 2006 when the Griz claimed a two-pointer overtime win over Eastern Washington then upset host regular season champ Northern Arizona in Flagstaff to win their 23rd game they received a favorable and highest ever No 12 seed in Salt Lake City.
In Larry Krystkowiak’s second and final season Montana upset No 5 seed and league champ Nevada 87-79 before losing to Boston College 69-56 to finish 24-7.
That non-conference season featured a road and home win over Loyola Marymount coupled with a home victory over Stanford, an OT win at Drake and road victory over Santa Clara to finish 10-2 no doubt aiding that all-important seeding.
This year’s edition faced maybe the most challenging non-conf schedule ever and may have tasted a little fool’s gold with that opening road win over a Power Five opponent but while on several occasions they were in a position additional pivotal victories eluded them.
Whether the challenge of facing those kind of obstacles, albeit unsuccessfully, benefits them in league play starts on one of the toughest of Big Sky road trips at Flagstaff Thursday followed by Cedar City Saturday.
Here we go. Just sayin’