(Photo Credit: MSU Athletics)
After an impressive victory on Tuesday against Chicago State, Indiana will look to continue to gain momentum on Friday against Montana State. Everything seemed to be clicking on Tuesday for the Hoosiers. Romeo Langford shined dropping 19 points. Evan Fitzner showed why the coaching staff felt he was an ideal addition to the squad, contributing 14 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes. Devonte Green looked great, scoring 15 points (although having 4 turnovers). Overall, it was a dominating performance. But, then again, isn’t that what we expected?
Yet, as everything was looking up for IU, their next opponent Montana State was considerably less happy. Montana State lost their opener to Utah State: 101-71. It was not the result that disappointed but rather the way the Bobcats lost. According to the team’s own admission, Montana State got annihilated on the boards and did not have the requisite physicality to compete with the Aggies. Utah State out-rebounded Montana State 51 to 25. And, that statistic alone seemed to seal their fate.
In the postgame press conference, Montana State guard Harald Frey stated, “we flat out didn’t play hard enough, didn’t play well enough, and we got beat by 26 on the boards. That’s unacceptable regardless of what team you are. That has nothing to do with skill. That has to do with mentality.”
It’s a tale of two teams. One riding positive momentum. Another hoping for a reversal of fortune.
Before they collide this Friday, let’s take a closer look at Montana State and preview the matchup.
Meet the Bobcats
- Isaac Bonton – 6’2″ / 175 lbs / Guard – After averaging 7.8 points a game to start last season, Bonton decided to leave the program in December 2017. He was battling concussion and hip injuries, although the official reason for his departure remains unknown.
- Joe Mvuezolo Jr. – 6’6″ / 180 lbs / Forward – The England native was a nice wing option for the Bobcats, adding 7.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while averaging 20.9 minutes per game and shooting 33.7% from three.
- Devonte Klines – 6’0″ / 185 lbs / Guard – Left the program after his Sophomore season where he averaged 7.3 points. He reportedly wanted to leave to pursue a professional basketball career.
- Konner Frey – 6’6″ / 200 lbs / Forward – Averaged 7.2 points and 5 rebounds.
- Luke Schultz – 6’11″ / 230 lbs / Center – The freshman left the program in January. Averaged 4.9 minutes per game.
- Zach Green – 6’4″ / 195 lbs / Guard
- Benson Osayande – 6’9″ / 200 lbs / Forward
- Tyler Hall – 6’5″/ 210 lbs / Guard / Senior – The lengthy wing is widely considered one of the best players in the Big Sky. Hall averaged 17.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game last season. He shot 37.2% from beyond the arc and averaged 3.2 made 3-pointers a game. Hall was named to the Preseason All-Big Sky team for the third straight year.
- Harald Frey – 6’1″ / 180 lbs / Guard / Junior – The Norwegian guard posted 13.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. Frey is effective from long-range, shooting 37.4% from deep last season as a Sophomore. His Freshman year yielded even higher efficiency, shooting 40.9% from three.
- Keljin Blevins – 6’6″ / 200 lbs / Forward / Senior – Blevins was also a solid contributor throughout the year, adding 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a Junior in his first season with the Bobcats after transferring from Southern Miss. Blevins is the cousin of Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard.
- Sam Neumann – 6’7″ / 220 lbs / Center / Senior – While minutes and production dropped slightly last season, he was a quality rotational player, averaging 4.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game. (As a Sophomore, he averaged 6.3 points and 6.2 rebounds).
- Devin Kirby – 6’11″ / 215 lbs / Forward / Redshirt Sophomore – Kirby took a redshirt year last season. Two years ago, he averaged 7.8 minutes per game. He is expected to be a large contributor this season and is noted for his rebounding prowess.
- Lassi Nikkarinen – 6’2″ / 180 lbs / Guard / Sophomore – Averaged 7.3 minutes in 23 games last season. However, he is expected to have a much larger role this season after having an impressive summer and training camp. The Finland native was Helsinki Basketball Academy Makelarinne High School teammates with Chicago Bulls standout Lauri Markkanen.
- Ladan Ricketts – 6’5″ / 185 lbs / Forward / Junior – Ricketts joined Montana State this summer after an impressive two-year stint at Sheridan College where he averaged 14 points, shot 45% from three, and made 97% of his free throws (best in NJCAA). He is expected to be a crucial player for the Bobcats this season. Ricketts is a Montana native and epitomizes Western grit, even previously working as a ranch hand in the summers.
- Usman Haruna – 6’11″ / 235 lbs / Center / Senior – This is the first season at Montana State for the Nigerian big. He started off his career at Bismarck State where he averaged 10 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game as a Sophomore. Last season, he played for East Carolina but only saw 8.7 minutes per game. He is in a competition for playing time at the center position.
- Russell Daniels – 5’11″ / 165 lbs / Guard / Junior – Transfer from Southwest Florida
- Quentin Guilford – 6’6″ / 180 lbs / Forward / Freshman – Native of Peoria, Arizona (Liberty)
- Maximilian Schuecker – 6’9″ / 230 lbs / Center / Freshman – Native of Modling, Austria (Redwell Gunners Oberwart)
- Zeke Quinlan – 6’7″ / 220 lbs / Forward / Freshman – Native of Portland, Oregon (Hillcrest Prep)
Expectations for Montana State
At first glance, it may seem like Montana State is in for another mediocre-at-best season. Montana State is projected to finish #5 according to the Big Sky Media Poll and tied for #6 in the Big Sky Coaches Poll. After all, the Bobcats only finished 13-18 last season and this year’s debut was less than impressive. However, there are many reasons for Montana State fans to have a positive outlook.
First and foremost, the Bobcats bring back one of the best players in the Big Sky: Tyler Hall. If I told you that a player scored 17.5 points per game and shot 37.2% from three, you would probably think that was a pretty good year. But, for Hall, that was actually his worst year on record. As a Sophomore, Hall posted 23.1 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 42.9% from beyond the arc. Even as a Freshman, Hall averaged 18.6 points and 43% shooting from three. Despite having a somewhat down year according to his standards, Hall still impressed. He briefly entered his name into the NBA Draft to take advantage of evaluation process but ultimately decided to return to school. Expect Hall to have a major year. He has all the tools and, being his final collegiate season, will have extra motivation to finish his career on a high note.
Hall got off to a great start to the season by scoring 16 points in 12 minutes in Montana State’s 90-75 preseason victory over Montana Western. Unfortunately, Hall also suffered an ankle sprain that kept him out of the second half. It is unknown whether the injury will affect his status for Friday, but all indications seem to suggest he will play normal minutes. Hall played limited minutes in Montana State’s opener but still managed to post 15 points in 26 minutes of action. With a few more days of rest and the extra adrenaline of facing the toughest opponent on their schedule, expect Hall to be at full speed.
Without question, Hall will be the focal point of the MSU team but they also have a nice core of complementary players. The Bobcats return four starters. While they have a few departures, the players that were lost were solid contributors but mostly role players. MSU hopes that some newcomers and the evolution of returning players will replace their production. Last season, Montana State was quite young and had several players stepping up into larger roles. With more experience, many of these players will be much more comfortable on the court and much more productive. Nearly all of their returning players have reportedly made large leaps in the off-season. In particular, Frey and Blevins should be key for the squad this season. Frey has a great shooting touch and should continue his offensive growth. Blevins can do a bit of everything and is a perfect complement to Hall. Neumann and Kirby will be important players to watch, as the team will need them to rebound effectively and control the paint.
Moreover, Montana State brings in several Freshmen and transfers that could be surprisingly impactful. Ricketts has a high ceiling. He is a sharpshooter and potential instant offense player. Montana State seems to be leaning heavily towards an offensive attack with multiple high-efficiency shooters on the court at once. Ricketts perfectly fits this philosophy. Haruna is also an important new piece, adding much needed rebounding and post presence.
What to watch for:
- How will Indiana handle Tyler Hall? – As mentioned, Hall is one of the best players in the Big Sky. Presuming his ankle is healthy, look for him to come out of the gates hot. This is likely his only opportunity to face a Power Five opponent all season. Hall has ambitions of playing at the next level and he will want to show out to prove his talents. This is his biggest opportunity of the year to make some noise in the scouting circles. Thus, this game will mean a lot for him personally and he will want to put up numbers. As a result, this will be a good early matchup to test IU’s defense and man marking. Everyone will know who will be trying to score. The only question is: Can IU stop him?
- Rebounding margin for the Hoosiers – Montana State struggled with rebounding last season. In fact, they finished the season with almost an identical amount of rebounds as their opponents (1168 v. 1164). Moreover, the Bobcats got destroyed on the boards on Tuesday with a -26 margin. If they are going to be competitive against the Hoosiers, they will need to rebound at a much higher clip. This should be an area where IU has a competitive advantage. Look for IU to try to control the paint and create several second chance opportunities off of rebounds.
- Can Indiana improve taking care of the rock? Can they disrupt Montana State and force turnovers? – The Bobcats have a tendency to turn the ball over. Their 3 top players Hall, Frey, and Blevins each had over 55 turnovers last season (56, 55, and 68 respectively). With the pack-line defense in full effect, IU intends on playing suffocating defense this season. Thus, the number of forced turnovers should be a good barometer for how the defense is progressing. Indiana finished with +7 turnover margin in the season opener against Chicago State.
- Shootout in Assembly Hall – Montana State is largely an offensive team and is not known for their defense. Last season, their opponents shot 47.6% from the field and 35.2% from three. In Montana State’s season opener, the defense continued to struggle as Utah State shot 49.3% from the field and 41.7% from three. IU should be able to get off a lot of quality shots. Expect IU to shoot early and often (and shoot efficiently). On the other side, Montana State’s offense is largely predicated on their ability to shoot 3s. If they can knock down some shots, they can hang around… But, if they are not going in, it could be a long, long night for the Bobcats.
- The pine gang – These early games are great opportunities for the bench players to get more playing time and ready themselves for conference play. In order for IU to meet everyone’s lofty expectations, the team will need consistent contributions off the bench. Against Chicago State, Green and Fitzner both impressed coming off the bench. Miller will be looking to see if the quality of play drops with the backups in the game or if everything continues to run smoothly. This will be a major story line throughout the season.
How to Watch
|Date||Friday, November 9th|
|Time||8:00 PM EST|
|Radio||HoosiersTV Audio or IU Radio Network / XM 391|