MISSOULA — Montana men’s basketball is working on answers to a variety of questions as it’s nearly one-third of the way through official preseason practices.
The Griz have a core of experienced veterans mixed with a slew of newcomers who are hoping to contribute immediately. They return six players — including three starters — and have nine newcomers, although two of those players redshirted last year after transferring into the program.
The Griz already had 10 practices during preparation for their trip to Costa Rica, where they split two games. As of Tuesday, they’ve completed nine of their 30 allotted preseason practices.
They play the Maroon and Silver Scrimmage on Oct. 24, have an exhibition game on Nov. 6 against Saskatchewan and open their season on Nov. 10 when they host Whitworth.
Here are five things to keep an eye on moving forward.
1) What kind of impact can Jamar Akoh make down low?
Akoh found his voice last season when he redshirted because he transferred from Cal State Fullerton. Now he aims to make an impact that will show up in the stat book, especially if he starts.
As a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton, the 6-foot-8 player averaged 6.1 points and 6.3 rebounds, a team high, in 29 games and 26 starts. He had three double-doubles, seven games in which he scored in double digits and five games with double-figure rebounds.
With Akoh down low, Fabijan Krslovic won’t be contained to the center position when they’re on the floor together. The two of them could potentially switch playing on the block or on the perimeter as a stretch-4 with positions determined on a matchup basis, DeCuire said.
2) Who starts on the wing?
The Griz have proven starters in Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine at both guard spots, leaving open a starting position on the wing for a guard-forward combo. Returners Sayeed Pridgett and Bobby Moorehead are trying to earn that spot, although others are fighting for that same spot during practices.
Last season, Pridgett was fourth on the team in points (8.1), third in rebounds (3.9) and tied for fourth in assists (1.4). His 52.4 field-goal percentage in 31 games and 11 starts was third best.
Moorehead averaged 3.9 points and two rebounds while shooting 29 percent on 3-pointers in 32 games and 10 starts.
Because of the team’s versatility, DeCuire said the team could potentially go smaller on occasion with three guards, although that may be off the bench and is still being evaluated.
3) Which freshmen will redshirt this season?
The Griz have six true freshmen among their nine newcomers. Those six are divided between two guards — Timmy Falls and Lars Espe — two forwards — Karl Nicholas and Peter Jones — and two centers — Kelby Kramer and Admir Besovic.
DeCuire said he expects two of the freshmen will redshirt, but he hasn’t made any official decisions yet. He said he’ll wait to cement his decision until after the Nov. 6 exhibition game against Saskatchewan since freshmen can play in the exhibition without losing their ability to redshirt.
4) Can Montana remedy last year’s struggles with 3-pointers?
The Griz finished eighth among Big Sky teams with a 35.7 percent clip on 3-pointers. They shot 34.6 percent in conference play for seventh best in those 18 games.
DeCuire said he’ll be emphasizing percentage over quantity early in the season. He’d like to see the team shoot at least 35 percent and closer to 37 or 38.
Montana has to replace three of its top five players in terms of 3-pointers made because of the graduation of Jack Lopez (54), Brandon Gfeller (31) and Walter Wright (25). Lopez and Mario Dunn, who also graduated, were the most consistent 3-point shooters at 43.9 and 40.5 percent.
The Griz return Rorie and Oguine, who were ranked third (38.4) and fourth (37.3) on the team percentage-wise for those attempting at least one per game. Rorie led the team with 63 made 3-pointers.
The Griz could be helped by the addition of sophomore Niko Bevens if the JUCO transfer resembles the player who shot 49.6 percent on 3-pointers last year at North Idaho College. He made 111 3-pointers, while the Griz made 238 as a team.
Donaven Dorsey, who redshirted last year after transferring, shot 33.3 percent on 3-pointers at Washington with 44 of his 55 baskets coming from beyond the arc.
5) What is the team’s identity and how will the team mesh?
This year’s version of the Griz has height and depth that’s been unprecedented in DeCuire’s first three seasons at Montana.
Last year, the Griz had just four players who stood 6-foot-6 or taller. This year, they have nine. While the height bolsters their post play and gives them the ability to attack both inside and outside, it could potentially slow down the transition game.
Some bigger guys have shown athleticism running the floor, and DeCuire said he expects the team to play with a similar tempo as in the past. The team has been working on that through ball movement and developing chemistry by mixing and matching lineups during practice.
All 15 players on the roster are eligible to play this year, and even with the redshirts to be announced, the Griz are still at least two deep at every position. With the depth, the next issue is how to divvy up playing time.