MISSOULA — With the 2019-20 men’s basketball season coming to an abrupt end due to the coronavirus, Montana never had a chance to see if it could secure a third-straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
The core group of seniors — Sayeed Pridgett, Jared Samuelson and Kendal Manuel — helped the Grizzlies exceed expectations after a rough start to the season. Montana ended its season at 18-13, with a 14-6 mark in Big Sky Conference play, good enough for third in the league standings.
By all measures, it was another successful year for Travis DeCuire. Perhaps the most impressive part was how he was able to develop the Grizzlies’ young players.
Three freshmen — DJ Carter-Hollinger, Josh Vazquez and Kyle Owens — played a huge number of minutes and should play a vital role in the 2020-21 season.
Outside of those three players as well as mainstay guard Timmy Falls and center Mack Anderson what will the Montana men’s basketball team next year look like?
Let’s take a look:
Wait, so who’s on scholarship?
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what the Grizzlies will put on the court, a look at the roster might prove helpful.
Montana, like all NCAA Division-I schools, has 13 full scholarships to hand out. Since basketball is a head-count sport, those cannot be split.
As of right now, the Grizzlies will have four upperclassmen on scholarship next year in Timmy Falls, Michael Steadman, Northern Arizona graduate transfer Cam Satterwhite and Anderson. Darius Henderson, a midseason UMass Lowell transfer who is not eligible until the middle of next season, is currently not on scholarship, though that could change before the season starts.
Freddy Brown, who was a sophomore this year but did not record any playing time, is eligible to have this year count as a redshirt season and is on an academic scholarship. Peter Jones, a redshirt sophomore this season, is also a non-scholarship player.
Five players that will also be in sophomore standing next year are also on scholarship: Eddy Egun, Naseem Gaskin, Carter-Hollinger, Owens, and Vazquez. Jett Briceno, a freshman non-scholarship player, is also eligible to have the the 2019-20 season count as a redshirt year.
Montana will add four freshmen to the roster, all of whom are on scholarship. California products Brandon Whitney and Robby Beasley will join the Grizzlies next season along with two Australians: Josh Bannan and Hunter Clarke.
Yagi Selcuk, meanwhile, left the program before the season ended.
How do you replace those starters?
One of the biggest question marks entering next season is how to replace three starters. Pridgett and Manuel started all 31 games this season, while Samuelson started 20 of the last 21 following offseason recovery from a knee injury.
Some moves will be obvious, as Timmy Falls will certainly start at the point guard position. Gaskin at the shooting guard spot and Satterwhite as a stretchy swingman at the three seem likely.
Gaskin will handle the ball as well, possibly in the way Pridgett directed traffic this season. In practices this season, the Utah transfer showcased a solid shooting stroke and high-level passing ability.
Carter-Hollinger seems like the answer at the four spot, but will certainly move around, position wise, throughout the game. He started the final 10 games of the season for Montana and won the Big Sky Freshman of the Year award.
Carter-Hollinger will be hard to keep off the floor, especially considering how much he soaked in from the seniors and coaching staff. He will have the chance to be a darkhorse player of the year candidate and perhaps could be a favorite as soon as his junior season. He has the potential and talent to be a transcendent player.
Montana will have some options at the center spot, but San Jose State transfer Michael Steadman was brought in for a reason. He’s in his final season after having to sit out the 2019-20 season due to eligibility rules.
In his lone season with San Jose State, he averaged 13.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Kyle Owens and Mack Anderson will also push for this spot.
What’s on the bench?
A lot can happen in eight months and it is difficult to predict exactly what Montana will roll out as a starting lineup next season.
There’s reason to believe the aforementioned players will eventually fit into those spots come Big Sky play, but one thing the Grizzlies will absolutely have next season is depth. DeCuire used seven different starting lineups this year and that may continue.
Josh Vazquez, who will be another ball handler for the Grizzlies and if he can consistently hit a few more shots, may be an increasingly valuable piece. He is starting to emulate Falls with his occasionally flashy passing and 3-point shooting, so it will be interesting to see if that continues.
Anderson and Owens should find playing time again next year and bring two important skill sets to the team. Owens is a forward that can both play center and hit from the perimeter, giving Montana a player that has potential to turn into almost exactly what Jared Samuelson was.
His development will be critical to the long-term success of the sophomore class.
Meanwhile, Anderson is one of the best defensive players on the Grizzlies roster and is reportedly one of the best when it comes to reading and digesting scouting reports.
Anderson found a role as a lanky shot blocker, though he was called for a number of fouls last season. Montana plays a highly physical brand of man-to-man defense, which inevitably leads to fouls.
That was a point of frustration from the Grizzlies last winter as they were called for more fouls than their opponent in 25 of 31 games. Montana did a pretty good job playing through the foul trouble and that trend will be something to pay attention to next year.
Can the new guys play?
DeCuire played more freshmen more minutes last year than any of the six seasons he’s been head coach for the Grizzlies.
In some aspects, this was simply due to necessity. Montana lost a lot of its production ahead of this past season and had a lot of areas to address. DeCuire was able to get his freshman to fit into those roles almost off the bat — Vazquez played 37 minutes in the season opener against Stanford — and they thrived.
This means Montana will not have to rely on its new freshmen quite as much, but they could still have a chance to contribute.
Brandon Whitney might have the best chance to contribute early and had a 42-point game for his Alemany High School team this past season. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound guard was All-CIF in his division and could be the explosive shooter the Grizzlies could use.
Robby Beasley, meanwhile, averaged 23.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 steals over 24 games before suffering an injury that forced him out ahead of the playoffs.
Josh Bannan, a 6-8 forward, and Hunter Clarke, a 6-5 guard, potentially could both be redshirt candidates and the Grizzlies have had plenty of success with Australian prospects in the past.
With a solid combination of incoming prospects and returning talent, Montana is set to reload rather than rebuild next season. Grizzly fans should be feeling pretty good about that.
Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com
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