The University of Montana’s 2012-13 men’s basketball schedule features 14 home games and 10 of those will be Big Sky Conference contests in the expanded, 11-team league.

Seventh-year head coach Wayne Tinkle’s defending Big Sky champion squad will make its season debut Oct. 25 in the annual Silver-Maroon scrimmage, which is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. in Dahlberg Arena. The Griz are in action a week later, hosting Lewis-Clark State in an exhibition game on Nov. 1.

UM’s four-game nonconference slate consists of Minot State (Nov. 14), San Diego (Nov. 24), Carroll (Dec. 8) and South Dakota State (Dec. 15).

“It’s going to be a challenging schedule,” said Tinkle, who has a career record of 116-71 and whose teams have won more than 20 games the last three seasons. "It was really hard to fill our schedule. We just couldn’t find teams that wanted to come to Missoula.

“San Diego is a return from a home-and-home, and they’ve got everyone back from a team that really progressed last year,” Tinkle said. “South Dakota State won 27 games and went to the NCAA tournament, and also have about everyone back (including 6-4 senior guard Nate Wolters, an honorable mention All-American who led SDSU with 21.2 points a game last season).”

The Grizzlies return three starters from a 25-7 and Big Sky (15-1) championship team that advanced to the NCAAs a year ago. Those starters are senior guard Will Cherry (6-foot-1), junior guard Kareem Jamar (6-5), and senior forward Mathias Ward (6-7).

Both returning guards were first team all-league selections last season, although Cherry, who led the Griz in scoring (15.8 ppg) as a junior, recently suffered an injury and is expected to be out six to eight weeks. Jamar was UM’s second-leading scorer (10.9 ppg) and rebounder (5.6 rpg). Ward was third on the team in scoring at 10.9 points a game.

Montana has a formidable nonconference road schedule, starting with its opener Nov. 9 at Colorado State. The Griz also play at Idaho, BYU and San Francisco.

“We open at Colorado State with its new coach Larry Eustachy, and they return everybody from a really good team (20-12),” Tinkle said. “Then we are at Idaho, which has some new players, and that will be a tough one. At BYU – we all know how good (26-9 last year) they are; and we are playing them in the Energy Solutions Arena, where the Jazz play in Salt Lake City. And then USF, who we don’t know too much about.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but that’s what we wanted for this team,” Tinkle continued. “We approach the preseason pretty much like all exhibition games – it’s preparation for conference. Yes, we want to win games, but more importantly we want to prepare ourselves for what we know is ahead in the Big Sky race.”

With the addition of North Dakota and Southern Utah, league games begin earlier than in the past. The Griz play at Northern Arizona on Dec. 19 and then at Sacramento State on Dec. 21 before taking a week-plus break before resuming Big Sky play on Jan. 3 at home against Eastern Washington.

“It’s a little different starting in the league before Christmas and then we have a really long break,” Tinkle said. “Northern Arizona has a new staff and they’re excited down there and they have some good young players. I think Sac could be one of the most improved teams in the league this year.

“Right away we’re tested on the road beginning at Colorado State, and then we’re going to be tested at the beginning of league play heading out on the road at NAU and Sac,” he said. “There are a lot of things up in the air about our squad, and it’s going to be interesting to see how we can develop in those early weeks.”

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