MISSOULA — It is second season time for Montana.
Grizzly men's coach Travis DeCuire has a clear distinction of how he views a single season of basketball and splits it into parts — non-conference, conference and the postseason. While the coronavirus pandemic has shifted timelines and put a two-game series against Southern Utah early in the calendar, the general way the season goes has not.
UM's abbreviated non-conference schedule featured a big win over Pac-12 Washington, another near victory over Arizona and relatively good showings against Georgia and Southern California. The two losses sandwiched to the Thunderbirds do sting for UM, especially considering they were by a combined two points.
It also put the Grizzlies in an 0-2 hole to start off Big Sky Conference play. Win percentages are vital this year, as they will be one of the biggest determining factors in how the Big Sky Conference tournament seeding will go. Montana has also had the opportunity to play every single one of its scheduled games so far this year.
The Grizzlies have four straight home games — starting with two against Northern Colorado, the first of which will tip off at 5 p.m. on Saturday evening — and an opportunity to get back toward the top of the conference standings.
"It's a new season, right?" DeCuire said on Thursday. "Preseason is over, non-conference is pretty much over and it's go time for us now. The guys are pretty excited."
Montana is 3-5 on the year, while Northern Colorado will enter Dahlberg Arena with a 4-3 record. The Bears' season was delayed until Dec. 9 due to a positive COVID-19 test in late November.
Two of the Bears wins, like Montana's, are over non-Division I teams. UNC split with Idaho State in its Big Sky opener, lost to Colorado and Utah State and beat Denver to start the year.
Much like they have over the past years, the Bears want to shoot a lot from the perimeter and base their offense around that. Nearly half of UNC's shot attempts have been from 3-point range this year and it has hit 48 of 139 shots from beyond the arc.
Bodie Hume has been in form early for Northern Colorado and has shot 52.4% from the field and a sizzling 43.2% from behind the 3-point line on 37 attempts. Familiar names in Matt Johnson and Kur Jockuch have also been major pieces.
UNC also signed a highly-regarded transfer during the offseason — Daylen Kountz — who came to the Bears from the University of Colorado and is second on the team in scoring.
"They'll trade threes for twos for the most part. Good defensive team," DeCuire said. "I think the thing that's kind of separating them from a lot of the teams in our conference is their players know who they are and their roles are very intuitive.
"They excel in those roles."
As they will against nearly all Big Sky teams this year, the Grizzlies will play back-to-back games against the same opponent with a day in between. Montana will play the Bears bright and early on Monday morning, with the tip of that game scheduled for 9 a.m.
Playing the same team twice in three days brings a number of challenges and the Grizzlies learned a lot in their first two-game series against Southern Utah early in the season.
"I think the biggest thing is, you know, obviously we're trying to win the first game and depending on how that game is played will determine how many adjustments that you've got to make that day in between.
"I thought we made a couple of adjustments that led to a better performance out of us the second time around. So we'll try and do the same thing."