The Grizzlies (12–4 in conference, 21–10) accepted a bid on Sunday to the College Basketball Invitational and will host a first-round game tonight at 7 against Duquesne University.
The CBI tournament, created following the 2008 men's college basketball season, gathers 16 teams that were not selected for the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). After losing the Big Sky Conference championship game to Northern Colorado last week, Montana's shot at the NCAA tourney disappeared and the team set its sights on smaller invite-only competition.
"I'm still a little upset over that Northern Colorado deal," Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said of his team's 65–60 loss in Greeley, Colo. "It was a disappointing end to the year, but we have got to move forward because we do still have games. We need to be excited because it is postseason play."
The CBI opener gives Montana another shot to play in front of its home crowd. In Dahlberg Arena this season, the Grizzlies posted an impressive 13–1 record.
Of the Dukes' 12 losses this year, six came against NCAA tourney teams, including four out-of-conference games against Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia and George Mason. The Dukes and Grizzlies each own victories over high-ranked squads in the Big Dance. The Dukes beat Temple in January and the Griz knocked off UCLA at home in December, both teams that drew No. 7 seeds in the tournament. They shared no similar opponents.
One thing Montana definitely has on its side is game location. More than 2,000 miles separate the two universities but only Duquesne will travel it.
"That's going to be brutal," said third-year Dukes coach Ron Everhart. "But I'm a little familiar with Montana at least. When I was coaching at McNeese State [from 1994 to 2001], I think our football program played at Montana in the [FCS] playoffs one year. It's a great place and a tremendous challenge."
Everhart's team ranks in the top 5 percent in scoring among Division I. The Dukes score 77.7 points per game and have topped 90 a handful of times and even hit the 100-point mark once. That firepower will clash with Montana's strong defense which allows just 60 points per game.
Everhart said he's unsure of which team will hold the advantage there.
"We haven't seen size like (Montana's) front line before," the coach said. His team did encounter NCAA blocks leader William Mosley of Northwestern State earlier in the season, but Everhart said the Grizzlies' Qvale is a different animal.
"(Mosley) was not as big and physical," he said. "(Brian Qvale) will certainly pose some problems for us."
The postseason game will give Qvale one more shot to add the Big Sky season blocks record to his resume. The senior center is one block short of the record of 93 and has recorded at least one block in 30 of 31 games this season.
Junior Jordan Wood, who has started 16 games at point guard for Montana, said the team is excited for another game even if it's not in the big tournament. Duquesne is a school he's not too familiar with, outside of the fact they play in a tough conference, he said.
He does know how to pronounce the university's name, though, something that baffled a few of his teammates and many casual fans.
"Luckily, I'd heard it before," Wood said of Duquesne. "It's one of those that a lot of people have a hard time pronouncing."
If the men make it past Duquesne tonight, they'll meet the winner of a Weber State-Oregon matchup in Eugene, Ore. Weber State is the only other team representing the Big Sky in the tournament.