MISSOULA, Mont. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team opens Big Sky Conference play Wednesday in matinee tilt against Montana in a matchup of the top two teams in the league after non-conference play. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. from Dahlburg Arena.
Montana is ranked No. 18 in the latest CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll but the Lumberjacks are the top ranked team in the RPI rankings at No. 81 overall in Division I, one of the highest rankings in school history.
NAU lost three times to the Griz last season including a season-ending loss in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament in Missoula. The Lumberjacks also opened Big Sky play last December in Montana.
"It is a twist in the scheduling," said Head Coach Mike Adras. "I am not crazy about opening conference play at Montana two years in a row. But it is what is and pits the two teams with the best non-conference records going at it in the first game of league. Clearly it is going to create some momentum for one of the two teams."
NAU and Montana have identical 8-4 records and have each won three road games during non-conference play. NAU and Montana combined to lead 11 of the 14 statistical categories entering league play.
"We want to continue to do things we have proven we can do in the preseason," said Adras. "Rebounding is very critical for us to have success and we are among the top 20 teams in the country distributing the ball. We also lead the league in field goal percentage defense and I would like to see all those numbers continue in league play."
The two schools rank 1-2 in the conference in scoring defense, scoring margin and field goal percentage defense, creating a matchup that could produce a low scoring contest. Montana leads the league in scoring defense at 59.4 points per game with the Lumberjacks second at 62.8.
NAU is the better shooting team at 48.7 percent and leads the league beyond the arc at 42.4 percent. The Griz have shot just 27.8 percent from three-point land this season, depending on the inside play of Brian Qvale (13.3 ppg.) and Derek Selvig (9.9 ppg.) Will Cherry is the leading scorer for Montana at 16.0 ppg, while leading the nation in steals at 3.9 per game.
Montana has won five of its last six games overall including a 71-67 victory over Cal-State Fullerton before the holiday break.