BOZEMAN — Entering a new season, one of the unknowns for the Montana State men’s basketball team is how it will handle the weight genuinely high expectations.
A subpar performance in a 78-73 exhibition victory last Wednesday over NAIA MSU-Northern did not give fourth-year coach Brian Fish a good feeling about his Bobcats living up to the prognostications that have them finishing in the upper echelon of the Big Sky Conference.
With superstar Tyler Hall being named Big Sky Conference preseason MVP, with point guard and last season’s freshman of the year Harald Frey looking bigger and stronger, and with the addition of Division I transfers Konner Frey (Utah Valley) and Keljin Blevins (Southern Miss) gaining eligibility, the Bobcats understandably have elevated internal goals, too.
But after the Northern game, Fish said MSU is “a million miles away from being a good basketball team,” and chided his players for a lack of execution on the offensive end, a lack of communication on the defensive end an all-around unwillingness to do what he had asked.
Fish also put the blame on himself and his staff, saying “terrible coaching” played a factor in MSU’s mediocrity.
“I didn’t exactly help them as far as coaching them on that day. We played somewhat vanilla,” Fish said Monday. “Didn’t run many plays — didn’t run much.
“The first four or five minutes when we scored 20 points we had a lot of good things going on, a lot of good defensive switches, and then it kind of deteriorated from there. And that’s what we’ve certainly looked at a lot.”
The Bobcats held an extended film session Thursday to dissect what went wrong. Fish seemed to stand by his postgame comments, adding that the video review gave credence to his denunciation.
“I think they saw the film more than they listened to what I said,” Fish said. “The film was brutally honest. We’ve certainly got to make some adjustments and get some improvement going on. A lot of these guys seem to be reading the paper, and hopefully they read the paper after Wednesday’s game and saw that.”
“The big thing about the tape was it verified what I thought I saw,” Fish said. “I thought I saw a team that didn’t play with much emotion, we didn’t stick to our rules — the three or four things we wanted to get done in the game that we really didn’t get done. So it verified it.
“This is an age group of kids where you have to show them more than tell them, and they were able to see that on the film. (It was) a very long film session of what we’ve got to change.”
If there's one positive takeaway from the MSU-Northern game it’s that it was an exhibition. Things don’t begin for real until Friday when the Bobcats face Omaha, a quality mid-major program from the Summit League, at Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
It will be the first of two meetings between the teams this season; they will also play Dec. 21 in Omaha, Nebraska. The Bobcats and Mavericks are familiar with one another, having squared off in each of the past two seasons.
(Notably, Billings Central High School product Daniel Meyer is a senior forward at Omaha.)
“You’re talking about a team that’s going to try to score, 90, 95, 100 points, and we’ve got to avoid falling into that trap,” Fish said. “My guys will look at me a little cross-eyed going, ‘Coach, this is fun. Why guard? Let’s shoot.’ So we’ll have to slow that down a little bit. But I expect a big, fast, wide-open game.”
Fish indicated that freshman guard Isaac Bonton is questionable to play against Omaha. Bonton suffered a hip bruise against MSU-Northern.
Three players were held out of the Northern game for various bumps and bruises — guard Devonte Klines and frontcourt players Joe Mvuezolo and Devin Kirby — but Fish said all are back to 100 person and are expected to play Friday.
Fish said Klines’ absence may have contributed to the Bobcats’ exhibition-game struggles, but that the junior from Los Angeles should still be a big contributor this season.
“I think he’s been very good in practice,” Fish said of Klines. “His energy has been top-notch every day.
“He’s got that bulldog attitude and he gives us some toughness. I thought last year when we inserted him in the lineup we kind of took that on, and we need that. He’s kind of adopted that role again and he’s been really good in practice.”
After Friday’s game versus Omaha, the Bobcats will travel to play Utah State on Monday before returning home for a game against NAIA Montana Western next Wednesday.