Montana coach Travis DeCuire (left) and the Grizzlies will play only Division I opponents this basketball season. (Photo courtesy University of Montana)
Montana coach Travis DeCuire (left) and the Grizzlies will play only Division I opponents this basketball season. (Photo courtesy University of Montana)
Montana coach Travis DeCuire (left) and the Grizzlies will play only Division I opponents this basketball season. (Photo courtesy University of Montana)

(Editor’s note: Media release from University of Montana sports information.)

MISSOULA – For the first time in more than a half century, the Montana men’s basketball team will play an all-Division I schedule, as coach Travis DeCuire’s Grizzlies set out to return to the Big Sky Conference championship in the 2016-17 season.

The last time Montana played an all-D-I schedule was during the 1958-59 season, when Elvis Presley was in the Army, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the Oval Office.

In an exciting slate of nonconference action, Wyoming, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, San Jose State and Pepperdine will all make the trip to Missoula, giving the Griz a home-court advantage in the lead-up to the holiday break.

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“Hopefully we’re giving the fans what they want,” said DeCuire.

“I wanted this coming season to be a year when we had a good number of home games before the students left. It’s an opportunity for us to have a decent crowd with good competition that should be attractive.”

The Griz will get a shot at an upset when they face the Oregon Ducks, a 2016 Elite Eight team that is picked by some pundits to return to the top-10 in 2016-17.

The Griz round out the nonconference schedule with road games against 2016 NCAA tournament team Southern Cal, Ole Miss, South Dakota, a return game against Wyoming in Laramie, and another trip to SoCal to face UC Riverside.

The Grizzlies’ road schedule also includes a trip to the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands Nov. 18-21, where the Griz will face North Carolina State in the opening round.

All told, the Griz will face a minimum of four teams from a Power-Seven conference, with the possibility of more at the Paradise Jam. Other potential UM opponents in St. Thomas include northwest foe Washington State, NIT quarterfinalist Creighton, Oral Roberts, Saint Joseph’s and Loyola (Chicago).

Montana opens the season in Los Angeles against the Pac-12’s USC Trojans on Nov. 11, before returning to Missoula for the home opener against the Wyoming Cowboys on Nov. 14 for the first leg of the home-and-home series.

The Griz then head for the sun and sand of St. Thomas for the annual Paradise Jam, facing the ACC’s N.C. State Wolfpack to open the tourney. Montana will play either the winner or loser of the Washington State/Creighton game.

En route from the Virgin Islands back to Montana, the Griz will stop off in Oxford, Miss., for a Thanksgiving Day showdown against the Rebels in what will be the first meeting between the two schools. However, with Ole Miss on the opposite side of the bracket at the Paradise Jam, the two could potentially face each other twice in less than a week.

The Griz cap off the Thanksgiving holiday break in Vermillion, S.D., completing the home-and-home series with the Coyotes that began with their 2014 trip to Missoula, a 67-62 win for the visitors.

Montana guard Ahmaad Rorie will get the chance to take the court against the team he started 15 games for as a freshman at Oregon. UM travels to Eugene on December 13 to face last year’s Pac-12 champion Ducks, who defeated Duke in the Sweet Sixteen before falling in the round of eight to Oklahoma.

The Griz will then get the chance to enact revenge on two more teams that will travel to Missoula as part of home-and-home series. Montana will host Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Dec. 3, a team that beat the Griz 73-58 in 2014, followed by a rematch with San Jose State Dec. 7, who the Griz fell to last November.

“Those are two games we didn’t even show up for, so we’re definitely going to be looking for an opportunity to even the score,” added DeCuire.

The Griz will also get another shot at redemption against Pepperdine, who defeated UM 69-63 in Malibu last season. The Waves come to Missoula to complete the home-and-home series, and are a team long-time Griz fans will be familiar with.

“We’ve had some good games in the past with Pepperdine. When I was here we played a home-and-home with them. I think we split that series. Hopefully it’s attractive to our fans and they’re excited and show up,” said DeCuire.

The Griz did in fact split that series, picking up the program’s only win over the Waves in 1991 in Malibu. The Waves returned to Missoula in ’92 and defeated the Griz 68-58. The last time Montana hosted Pepperdine was in 2002.

Montana’s road to Reno starts in the friendly confines of Dahlberg Arena when Idaho State comes to town on Dec. 29, followed by a rematch of last year’s Big Sky championship game against Weber State.

The Griz and Wildcats will square off on New Year’s Eve, giving fans an excuse to kick off a night of celebration as UM takes on one of its biggest rivals holding a home-court advantage.

The league season continues with marquee matchups to open 2017, as UM travels to Idaho on Jan. 5 and Eastern Washington on Jan. 7.

Montana will then host Northern Colorado and North Dakota in the second week in January for the season’s only meeting with the Bears and the Fighting Hawks thanks to an unbalanced Big Sky schedule. The Griz will also play at Southern Utah (Feb. 9) and at Northern Arizona (Feb. 11) in the season’s only matchups with the T-birds and Lumberjacks.

When classes at UM begin for the spring semester on Jan. 23, the returning students will be treated to a two-week series of rivalry games, as EWU, Idaho and Montana State will have to deal with “The Zoo” in Missoula. The Griz face the Eagles on Jan. 26 and the Vandals on Jan. 28, followed by the first leg of the Brawl of the Wild series against the Bobcats on Feb. 4.

The Griz then wrap up the 2016-17 home schedule against Sacramento State and Portland State on Feb. 16 and 18.

Montana ends the season with three tough games on the road against Montana State, Weber State and Idaho State (Feb. 25, March 2 and March 4, respectively), before turning around and traveling to Reno for the league tournament, set to begin on March 6.

Game times are yet to be determined and will be announced at a later date.

2016-17 Men’s Basketball Schedule
* Denotes a Big Sky Conference contest
10/25/2016 – Maroon/Silver Scrimmage
11/2/2016 – Whitworth University (exhibition)
11/11/2016 – at University of Southern California
11/14/2016 – University of Wyoming
11/18/2016 – North Carolina State University at St. Thomas, USVI
11/19-21/2016 – Paradise Jam at St. Thomas, USVI
11/24/2016 – at University of Mississippi
11/27/2016 – at University of South Dakota
12/3/2016 – University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
12/7/2016 – San Jose State University
12/10/2016 – at University of Wyoming
12/13/2016 – at University of Oregon
12/17/2016 – at University of California Riverside
12/22/2016 – Pepperdine University
12/29/2016 – Idaho State University*
12/31/2016 – Weber State University*
1/5/2017 – at University of Idaho*
1/7/2017 – at Eastern Washington University*
1/12/2017 – University of Northern Colorado*
1/14/2017 – University of North Dakota*
1/19/2017 – at Portland State University*
1/21/2017 – at Sacramento State*
1/26/2017 – Eastern Washington University*
1/28/2017 – University of Idaho*
2/4/2017 – Montana State University*
2/9/2017 – at Southern Utah University*
2/11/2017 – at Northern Arizona University*
2/16/2017 – Sacramento State*
2/18/2017 – Portland State University*
2/25/2017 – at Montana State University*
3/2/2017 – at Weber State University*
3/4/2017 – at Idaho State University*
3/6-11/2017 – Big Sky Championship at Reno, Nev.