This much is certain: The Montana Grizzlies know the way to San Jose.
The newly-crowned Big Sky Conference men’s basketball champions found out Sunday that they’ll face No. 19 Syracuse and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
Syracuse (26-9), which lost to No. 4 Louisville 78-61 in the Big East championship Saturday night, is a No. 4 seed. The Griz (25-6), who downed Weber State 67-64 in the Big Sky championship game Saturday in Missoula, is a No. 13 seed.
The Griz were also sent to San Jose in 2010, when they pushed New Mexico to the wire before falling 62-57.
“That’s home for me and Will (Cherry), we should get some good fans there,” said Griz junior Kareem Jamar, who hails from Venice, Calif.
Cherry is the only active Grizzly who played in that game against New Mexico in 2010.
“It’s like a (flashback) to my freshman year,” said Cherry, a native of Oakland, Calif. “We had that game kind of in the bag, but we had a few mishaps down the stretch. Going home is almost a game-changer for me. I have family and friends coming down.”
It’s also deja vu all over again for seventh-year Griz coach Wayne Tinkle, who was thrilled when CBS announced the Griz were going to San Jose. After Montana’s loss to New Mexico, Tinkle was able to take the short drive up the freeway to watch his oldest daughter Joslyn play in the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA tournament at Stanford. The Cardinal again host first- and second-round games in Joslyn’s senior season.
“It’ll be neat to be able to share that again with (Jos),” Tinkle said.
Adding to the Grizzlies’ excitement Sunday afternoon at a gathering at the Press Box was a prediction by analyst Seth Davis that the Griz would beat the Orange.
“Last year we were given the prediction that we were going to upset Wisconsin and we took a little bit of a bath,” Tinkle said. “I reminded a couple of our guys about that.
“It’s just a thrill to see that name pop up, but then reality sets in and you see who you’re playing and it brings you back. What a thrill for our program. I thought they showed great respect by giving us a 13 seed and I love the fact that we’re out West in San Jose and we have good memories from there a few years ago.”
The Griz are making their third NCAA appearance in the last four years and their 10th in program history. Montana owns two wins NCAA play – 69-63 over Utah State in 1975 and 87-79 over Nevada in 2006.
Syracuse is making its 36th trip to the Big Dance and 30th under Boeheim. Syracuse owns a 56-36 record in NCAA tournament games and won the national title in 2003.
“Syracuse is a great, great team; well coached like no other,” Jamar said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge. We kind of let some people down last year in the tournament so we want to come back and avenge that.”