Team preview: Montana

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2005-06 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: October 25, 2005, 10:20 PM ET
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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

Montana couldn't have made a much better hire when it chose Larry Krystkowiak as its coach last season.

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Sure, he wasn't a national name, but as far as perfect fits, Krystkowiak and Montana is a match made in heaven. One, Krystkowiak is a former legendary player at Montana, the school's all-time leading scorer and the only three-time Big Sky Conference MVP, so he's immediately beloved. He's a local guy, having attended Big Sky High School in Missoula. He has some professional experience, having played in the NBA for 10 seasons. He coached in the CBA for one year, guiding the Idaho Stampede to the CBA title game before losing.

So when his alma mater came calling after that one CBA season, it was natural for Krystkowiak to take the job. Proving that it wasn't just a "feel good" hire, Krystkowiak immediately took Montana to the top, as it won the Big Sky Conference Tournament, defeating Weber State, 63-61, to garner the league's only NCAA Tournament berth. "Things finished off well for us last season," Krystkowiak said. "I think that the preseason schedule was probably a little more than we could handle. The newness of our staff to the players meant everyone was trying to get acclimated, and now we've got that behind us.

"I think it was really an eye-opening experience [playing in the NCAA Tournament] for our guys, going up against one of the better teams in the country in the [Washington] Huskies," Krystkowiak said. "We really competed for 37 minutes, and I sense that this spring and summer that carried over for our guys. Our players remember that even though we seemed to be a long way away from being very good, we really weren't that far away."

PLAYERS

This season could be as good as last. Four starters return from that team, though the one loss is a biggie6-7, 255-pound power forward Kamaar Davis graduated. He led the team in scoring and rebounding (15.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg).

Senior guard Kevin Criswell is back and he's been very steady throughout his career in Missoula. The 6-2, 200-pounder was second on the team in scoring and rebounding last season (12.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

Criswell has some excellent help in the backcourt with 6-1 sophomore Matt Martin returning after starting last season. Martin had an excellent freshman season (9.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.4 apg), and made the All-Big Sky Tournament team after scoring 42 points and handing out 12 assists in three games.

The Montana staff went out and picked up some additional point guard help in junior college transfer Bryan Ellis, a 5-10 junior by way of Salt Lake Community College. He averaged 5.2 assists and 6.7 points per game last season at SLCC.

Two other starters return in 6-6 junior small forward Matt Dlouhy (9.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg), and 6-10, 270-pound senior center John Seyfert (5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg). Dlouhy is a high-wire act, displaying several dazzling dunks last season. Seyfert hit the weight room hard and gained 25 pounds in the off-season. Seyfert's numbers do need to improve, and Krystkowiak thinks they will.

"One thing I have noticed this spring is that John is playing more aggressively," Krystkowiak said. "He's a big guy, and if he can get his confidence to where it needs to be, he will become a go-to player for us. We also need to keep him out of foul trouble. I hope for big things from John this season."

Two other part-time starters return in 6-3 senior Virgil Matthews (3.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg); and 6-8, 250-pound sophomore forward Andrew Strait (8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg), which each logged four starts last season. They both provide excellent depth for the Grizzlies.

Krystkowiak has a nice collection of newcomers and red-shirts who will be ready to play. The recruits ratcheted up the off-season workouts and competition for playing spots.

"We do have returning starters, but our guys know that even though they might have started last year, it's going to be a lot more competitive this season, and nothing is going to be handed to anybody," Krystkowiak said. "Our staff is excited about how competitive it will be in practice. The cream will rise to the top, and we're going to play who is playing well at the time."

One newcomer who should see immediate time and contend for a starting spot is junior college transfer Stuart Mayes. The 6-5 junior from Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College had solid numbers (15.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.2 spg) last season and his versatility is a key as he can play either forward or guard.

Another newcomer who could contribute immediately is guard Ryan Staudacher from the state of Washington. The 6-3 freshman is regarded by Krystkowiak as one of the top prep shooters in the country and he might be right: Staudacher hit an eye-popping 58 percent of this three-pointers last year.

Another freshman guard who should battle for time is Austin Swig, a 6-5, 195-pounder from Santa Cruz, Calif.

Krystkowiak has some intriguing newcomers at forward. Red-shirt freshman Jordan Hasquet has good size at 6-8 and 225 pounds. He hails from in town, playing at Sentinel High School in Missoula.

Kyle Sharp, a 6-7, 220-pound freshman from Hollister, Calif., put up huge numbers in California (29.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and he could also vie for playing time. Eric Van Vliet is a big body in the post at 6-10 and 250 pounds, but he missed his senior year at Santa Cruz (Calif.) High School and might need some time to develop.

With all the talent and depth, the Grizzlies should be knocking on the door of another NCAA berth, which is just what UM fans expected when Krystkowiak was brought back to his hometown. Krystkowiak expects excellence from himself, his staff, and his players.

"We had all but two players from our team stay here through the summer, which is a good indication of where their priorities are," Krystkowiak said. "That, combined with all of the new players that we've got coming in, adds up to being cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. I feel good about the direction we're going in, but at the same time we have a lot of work to do."

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A
BENCH/DEPTH: A
FRONTCOURT: B+
INTANGIBLES: A-

Criswell and Martin make up an outstanding backcourt. Matthews is an excellent backup, and Staudacher is a dangerous shooter. There are no problems on the perimeter. Krystkowiak has an excellent blend of newcomers and recruits to fill perhaps the deepest bench in the Big Sky. Ellis and Strait are two key guys here, though Strait may move into the starting lineup.

The loss of Davis hurts in the frontcourt, but with Strait and Seyfert bulking up in the off-season, the addition of Mayes, and the multi-talented Dlouhy back, this area is another of great depth and talent.

With Krystkowiak on the bench, the rabid crowds will return to Missoula. The UM alum is wildly popular and he's also a great coach who knows how to recruit and develop players. He could be rebuilding the Big Sky dynasty in Missoula.

For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).

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