It's game day for the Grizzlies although since they're the fourth and last game of the session, it's a waiting game.
The 13th seed Grizzlies go looking for respect on the national stage with a date against 19th ranked Syracuse.
And such respect won't come easily as the Orange of course will be seen to have the upper hand and expected to move into the tournament's third round against either Mike Mongomery's Cal Bears or UNLV.
It will take a superior performance for Montana to be hanging around at the night's culmination but even though they lost to three NCAA qualifiers, Colorado State, then South Dakota State and Davidson in overtime, Will Cherry's absence in part or all of three contests figured into the failing outcomes.
And since BracketBuster, Montana has played with even a higher level of confidence in disposing of every opponent and now have won 21 of the last 23 outings.
Rebounding of course has not exactly been a Griz forte and Syracuse crashes the boards hard especially on the offensive end where Montana has proven especially deficient.
While the Orange ignited in the Big East tournament to play their way into the title game before flaming out against Louisville, they have struggled late in the season after a 19-1 start, losing seven of their last 15 games and five of their last eight.
But four of the losses were to Georgetown and Louisville, with Marquette and Connecticut thrown in for good measure.
And except for victories over Seton Hall and Pitt they have struggled recently from three-point range making eight of 29 against the Hoyas in a pair of games and but two of 18 versus DePaul.
Now while Jim Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach who has been at the helm at Syracuse for 35 years, 30 of which have resulted in NCAA appearances, the Orange has a bit of a history of vulnerability in first-round games against double-digit seeds.
And while the Grizzlies are a decided underdog you know how that the crowd in San Jose will react if they smell Montana can compete.
And don't anybody tell the dynamic Cherry-Jamar duo they aren't capable of playing at this level.
It is media responsibility day at the NCAA Tournament here in San Jose where the Grizzlies close out the nightcap with a 13-4 matchup against the powerful Orange of Syracuse.
We're right in the middle of Montana's tenth appearance at the national tournament.
This is my seventh trip to the Big Dance since 1997 and I fondly remember the last game in San Jose when Montana gave Steve Alford's New Mexico team all they wanted, even leading at halftime, before falling by five.
Montana was a 14-seed in 2010 and Brian Qvale cherished the national stage powering in 26 points and pulling down a Baker's Dozen caroms.
That was four years after that magical performance as a 12-seed when an Andrew Strait led team defeated Nevada in the first round in Salt Lake City before running into a buzz saw in falling to Boston College.
This certainly is a season of parity in college basketball and prognosticators have been quick to predict upsets will occur in the ranks of seeds 12, 13 and 14.
And playing in the west with a short hop here to California and in the nightcap which will tip off around 11 p.m. for the Easterners from new York.
But remember Syracuse is playing at a high level after a less than spectacular regular season (10-7).
They were kicking Louisville around in the Big East Championship game last week at Madison Square garden before the Cardinals put together an amazing second-half run to claim the tournament title and eventual No 1 overall seed.
Six days after being blitzed by Georgetown 61-39, the Orange shot just 36 percent but upended the Hoyas 58-55 in overtime in the Big East semis.
That was after beating Pitt, a team they lost to by 10 in the regular season, by connecting on 12 of 19 treys.
The Orange are dominant on the boards (plus 4), force a bevy of turnovers and are ball-hawkers who are certainly accustomed to the big stage and are of course led by a Hall of Fame Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse starts a single senior and can feature as many as three underclassmen in the starting five.
Is there an Achilles?
Now after the speculation, joy and enthusiasm that surrounds the NCAA Selection Show, it's on the road once again for a Montana team that stopped just long enough in Missoula to run the league table with a pair of regular-season victories, then verified their season-long effort by claiming the circuit tournament for a second consecutive season.
It was 27 days between home games for this team, but Montana made the most of the Big Sky season's home close by focusing on that singular number of one.
While Syracuse of course represents the challenge of the season, I want to take the time as we wing via charter toward San Jose - do you know the way - to celebrate what has been in my mind during a monstrous repeat season.
Talk about making their way through a season of impediments and the challenge of a non-conference schedule that opened with an eventual NCAA team in Colorado State.
I vividly remember when during a football halftime show Wayne Tinkle told me that first team all conference guard Will Cherry had broken his foot and the player expected to contend for the starting center role had been ruled ineligible.
While I always remain confident of the team's fortunes, I have to admit when I went to the roster to see who might fill those roles; I anticipated a rough go especially against the level of non-conference competition.
And then of course the rigors of the expanded Big Sky Conference with unpredictable road trips and quality competition from new entrants North Dakota and Southern Utah let alone the usual league contending suspects.
But somebody forgot to tell our young players parlaying their efforts with the Griz juniors, all-everything Kareem Jamar and post Eric Hutchisson, that there was anyone in the circuit that could hang with the defending champs.
And what a roll they are on - Interrupted only by a Valentine Day hiccup at Weber State and a squeaker in overtime at Davidson, these Grizzlies have been unbeatable to claim a third NCAA berth in the last four seasons.
Wayne Tinkle not only is the only coach to win 20 games in four straight years but also becomes the first mentor to take a team to three NCAA Championships.
Let's face it. It just can't get any better than this.
There certainly was not much of an opportunity for the Grizzlies to relish their superb Big Sky Conference Tournament Championship before they were welcomed to the land of big-time basketball with the NCAA Championship announcements some 19 hours after confetti rained from the ceiling to celebrate a second straight berth to the Dance.
Pleased were the Grizzlies when they learned they are a 13-seed to the Show and staying west to San Jose, California, but maybe not so ecstatic when they filled the line below the Orange of Syracuse in the East region.
The fabled Cuse program makes a 30th trip to the National event after falling 78-61 to overall No 1 seed Louisville in the Big East finale, no really the real finale, at Madison Square Garden.
Legendary veteran Jim Boeheim's group is extremely stingy on defense allowing less than 38 percent from the field and a percentage more than 60 points-per-game.
Syracuse is 26-9 and finished but 10-7 in the powerful Big East before playing their way through the tournament to the title game.
In the tournament the Orange defeated Seton Hall, then slipped past powerful Pittsburg by three and won an overtime thriller 58-55 over Georgetown to move into the title game.
But they've lost five of their last nine to slip to a No. 4 seed.
They have a quartet of players averaging in double figures led by C.J. Fair (6-8) who averages 14.4 and better than seven rebounds while also shooting close to 50 percent from three-point range.
Guards Brandon Triche (6-4) and Michael Carter-Williams (6-6) also are both scoring in doubles and have shot a horde of treys.
They play without a true post but with more than ample size on the wings.
But of course Montana players are excited at the prospect and broke into a prolonged robust cheer when the pairings appeared on television screens through the Press Box where the travel group watched Sunday's festivities.
The Grizzlies, who will play the late game from San Jose on Thursday, will leave Missoula Tuesday with team member and coach's interviews scheduled for Wednesday along with a one-hour public practice session which is required of all participating teams.
It's the third time to the NCAAs in the last four years for this Wayne Tinkle led group (25-6) which qualifies for a 10th NCAA Tournament.
Big Sky Conference runner-up Weber State played its way into the first league semi-final Thursday by running away from Northern Arizona with 48 second half points while shooting 57 percent.
In a battle of new league entrants three-seed North Dakota also utilized a sound second half hitting all but eight of 23 shots in disposing of Southern Utah.
That sets up the first semi-final Friday night with the "No Niks" taking their 16-15 record against 15th ranked Weber State, winners of 12 straight and having posted a 25-5 mark.
The Wildcats have advanced to at least the semi-finals in all seven of Randy Rahe's seasons and have not suffered defeat since Montana turned the trick by two points in Missoula in late January.
Meanwhile the Grizzlies have qualified for the post-season league event for 12 consecutive years and faces off with Northern Colorado.
The now 13-17 Bears decisioned Montana State 69-56 dominating the second stanza by shooting almost 59 percent after taking just a two-point advantage to the Intermission.
In capturing a fourth straight game the Bears beat MSU at the foul line hitting 14 more throws as the Cats were signaled for 10 more personals.
The guard tandem of Tate Unruh and Tevin Svihovec paced the Bears with 23, or a third of their points, while they pounded the glass by committee with a trio of players with more than seven boards and winning the defensive glass by a dozen.
While Montana holds a pair of victories over UNC it certainly hasn't occurred easily with an 8 point decision in Greeley and a 10-pointer in Missoula in a game that the lead changed hands seven times.
Derrick Barden was the huge difference in Greeley with 21 points and an amazing 15 caroms with Unruh and Svihovec combining for 38.
But that was countered by games of 26 and 21 for Kareem Jamar and Will Cherry as the Grizzlies enjoyed their second highest scoring conference game of the season in netting 85 points.
Not only did they shoot 56 percent for the game but they connected on a dozen treys with the Jamar-Cherry duo combining for seven.
In Missoula Jamar led three Griz in doubles with 18 to go along with eight rebounds, three steals, three blocks and seven assists.
Montana versus Northern Colorado at 8 p.m. Friday night. See you there.
The pairings for two Big Sky Conference semi-final games will be set in Missoula today and for the life of me I can't pick out who might advance to face regular season league champion Montana.
With the new league format six teams are in action in Missoula to open the three-day tournament event to determine which team advances to the "Big Dance.'
You might think No. 7 seed Northern Arizona is in tough against league runner-up Weber State in the opener but consider that the Wildcats just snuck out of Flagstaff with a two-point decision earlier this month and we all know about Gabe Rogers, who has scored in double figures in 16 straight games and leads the circuit in scoring.
But the Wildcats sport the nation's 11th-longest win streak at 11 and rank first nationally in three categories.
It seems as if the No. 3 seed North Dakota and No 6 seed Southern Utah, both new league members who made the field, are teams headed in opposite directions.
The "No Niks" won their last four league games by a total of 21 points to finish with a respectable 12-8 record while the Thunderbirds are on a four-game slide including a loss by seven at North Dakota.
The nightcap features a pair of 10-10 teams in Northern Colorado and Montana State.
The Bobcats have won their last two but come into the tournament without double-figure scorer Xavier Blount, while the Bears ran the table in their final three games but with wins over non-qualifiers Eastern Washington and Portland State and at home over Southern Utah.
Before that Northern Colorado lost a one-pointer in BracketBuster at UC Davis and a two pointer at home to North Dakota.
Looking at comparable scores UND and Southern Utah split home-and-home, as did Montana State and Northern Colorado.
All this seems to indicate that the Grizzlies, scheduled to face the lowest remaining seed, should play the winner of the Bobcat-Bear matchup.
With the pair of home victories to cap the regular season and as of Monday, Montana moved past Weber State in the RPI by five points.
That could be bolstered somewhat though with both Davidson and South Dakota State winning conference tournaments and advancing to the NCAA.
Enjoy it. It's tournament time
The Grizzly basketball team just could not have received much more recognition than the All-Conference selections announced this week.
The basketball marathon in title town starts Wednesday with a trio of women's Big Sky Conference tournament games.
Of course the men and the women, as number one seeds and regular season champions, have to wait until Thursday to see who they match up with Friday in the second of two semi-final games.
But back to the men's accolades.
Montana guard Will Cherry caps his regular season with an amazing third straight selection to the first team and additional selection, even with the games missed, as the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
And for the second straight year junior Kareem Jamar is accorded first-team laurels and is one of two unanimous selections and also was recognized as the league's top player - can you say MVP?
Jamar is one of four juniors on the first team and joins North Dakota's Troy Huff as unanimous selections.
League runner-up Weber State also placed a pair of players on the first team as senior Scott Bamforth made it for the second straight year and was joined by JC transfer Davion Berry, who also was recognized as the Newcomer of the Year.
Steady Eddy Montana senior Mathias Ward, who led the Grizzlies in scoring and stands some fifth in the circuit in that regard, also could well have made the first team but received second unit recognition, joining two Southern Utah players and athletes from North Dakota, Northern Colorado and Weber post Kyle Tresnak.
Ten players were accorded honorable mention status including Montana super soph Jordan Gregory, who was joined by Venky Jois of Eastern Washington, the league's top rebounder, who also was named the league's Freshman of the Year.
With senior forward Frank Otis also being accorded honorable mention honors, Montana and Weber State had eight of the 23 players so honored.
All 11 league teams were represented on the three elite lists which included just 10 seniors.
Nine of the league's schools were represented by players with remaining eligibility with Montana, Weber state, Northern Dakota and Northern Colorado leading the way with two each.
It is certainly hard in the midst of it all to put in perspective what Wayne Tinkle, his staff, and players have accomplished during this record-setting hoop season.
But suffice it to say, it's tournament time in title town and this is for sure a week to behold.
The Montana basketball radio shows are tonight on your local affiliate starting at 6 p.m.
And what a pleasant night it would be if the entire hour was spent with you calling in and asking all the questions and passing along your congratulations on this amazing season for both programs.
Toll free at 877-401-9151.
Yesterday afternoon came the great news that Kareem Jamar was named Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, just a few hours after receiving Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors.
And what a week "Reem" had in helping Montana to three straight wins to cap off a remarkable 19-1 conference season.
In victories over Montana State, Sacramento State and Northern Arizona, Kareem seldom saw the pine and scored 50 points, corralled 11 rebounds, dropped 13 dimes, and just for good measure blocked a shot and picked up a couple of thefts.
In 20 league games Jamar has played just short of an average of 35 of the games' 40 minutes while shooting 50 percent and averaging 13.2 points and 5.4 rebounds.
And with 411 points this year, he now sports 1,064 placing him just six points from the program's top 20.
And now with 227 dimes, it won't be long until he breaks onto the top 10 career list for assists and he's also pulled down close to 500 rebounds.
And with 20 blocks and 27 steals, well you get the picture right?
With the 10-game absence of Defensive Player of the Year Will Cherry and the loss of Mathias Ward after 24 games this season, Jamar's contribution has simply been invaluable in winning 19 of their last 21 games and posting thus far a 23-6 record.
But as the Grizzlies await their Friday opponent in the second of the tournament's two semi-final games, there's no looking in the rearview mirror but just ahead to grabbing the gold at the end of the rainbow.
Crown the once-beaten Montana Grizzlies undisputed Big Sky Conference regular season champions for the second consecutive season.
The season's best crowd of better than 6,000 rocked the Dahlberg Arena rafters when the Grizzlies, after an uninspired first half, pounded Northern Arizona to claim a 19th victory in the last 21 games and again bring the circuit tournament back to Missoula.
Wayne Tinkle becomes the first head coach in a fabled Montana basketball history to win back-to-back titles and host the tournament.
The Grizzlies last hosted back-to-back championships in 1990-91 and 1991-92 but under two different coaches, Stew Morrill and Blaine Taylor.
Boding well for Montana is in both of those seasons they ran the tournament table and moved on to the Big Dance.
Now the tournament's seventh seed at 8-12, the Lumberjacks will play Weber State (18-2) in the event opener Thursday afternoon.
After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half and down by eight at the intermission, the Grizzlies exploded out of the locker room much to the delight of a raucous crowd who with the Bobcat win already realized both tournaments were headed to the Garden City.
The defense mostly shut out post Max Jacobson, who had his way in the first half, and held the Lumberjacks to but six field goals and 18 points.
While Spencer Coleman didn't lead the team in scoring - those honors went to Will Cherry - he performed admirably at both ends with nine points, a near-career high eight rebounds, three blocks and a pair of assists against a single turnover.
That has been the Modus Operandi for this group which seems able to pick each other up and continuously finds a spark to lead to success.
Kareem Jamar and Mike Weisner joined Cherry in double figures as Montana scored 39 second-half points while connecting on more than half their field goal attempts.
While this four-year group now has won 91 games, the second season kicks off for Montana Friday night as they host the tournament's lowest remaining seed in the 8 p.m. nightcap.
While anything but a season of league parity, it's still difficult to predict who that might be but a rematch with the Bobcats could well be on the horizon.
But for now some time of much needed rest for a well-deserved league champion.
The long road to hosting the Big Sky Conference men's basketball tournament continues Thursday with the first of two home games to cap off the regular season.
It's the Hornets of Sacramento State first on the agenda on the closing week of league play to determine not just a league titlist but the host for the seven-team post season.
Now 13th ranked in the Mid Major poll and the winningest four-year team in history, the Grizzlies also sport a 24-game regular season winning streak against conference opponents and have defeated 27 straight league teams in Missoula..
And with 21 wins and four straight 20-win seasons intact and becoming the first league team ever to win 17 games, the records just keep piling up.
But that means little on Thursday as Montana tries to take one more step to hosting the league tournament for the second straight season, something that hasn't been accomplished since the early nineties.
But they face that task without leading scorer Mathias Ward who had surgery this week to put a pin in his foot and will be lost for the season.
The condition of Defensive Player of the Year Will Cherry has improved to such an extent that there is a chance he could return to limited action this week and approach full strength by the circuit tournament starting next week.
The win at Cedar City completes a road season that matches last year's phenomenal run with a single road loss as the Grizzlies also became the first league team to win nine road games.
Of course some of those records are influenced by the league expanding to 11 teams this season.
The Grizzlies initially faced Sacramento State way back in December on the opening weekend of league play slipping past the Hornets 61-60.
The Hornets crashed the boards hard in that one, outrebounding Montana by double digits, and hauled down 10 more off the offensive glass.
But hot shooting (58 percent) by the Griz in the second half preserved a half-time lead and eventually clinched the narrow victory.
All but eight of the Hornets games this year have been decided by single digits and a half dozen were one pointers.
After opening with wins at Utah and Central Arkansas, Sacramento State has lost nine straight road games and are in a four-way tie for the league's fifth spot.
Five league teams have 10 losses and one of them will fail to make the league tournament.