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Boise State vs. Montana basketball preview: Broncos open up season against Grizzlies

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Nick Duncan and the Broncos head to Missoula, Montana, to take on Martin Breunig and the Grizzlies.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Rejoice. College basketball is finally here.

We have endured seven months without college hoops, but on Friday night, gyms across the nation will fill with students, fans, and alumni rooting on their favorite teams and players. Last season's successes and failures have been pushed aside, as the focus now shifts to 2015.

The opening night battle between the Boise State Broncos and Montana Grizzlies features two teams that have NCAA tournament aspirations in 2015. Boise State battled through the loss of star guard Anthony Drmic to a season-ending ankle injury and used a energizing run through conference play to earn its seventh NCAA appearance in school history. The Montana Grizzlies, led by first year coach Travis DeCuire, ignored pre-season doubts en route to a 20-win season and came within two baskets of the NCAA tournament.

Game Info

Matchup - Boise State Broncos @  Montana Grizzlies in Missoula, Montana, 9:00 PM Eastern, Dahlberg Arena
Radio/TV - Streaming free audio on BroncoSports.com, KBOI 670 AM radio, no TV coverage but livestreaming on gogriz.com with paid subscription
Vegas - Boise State consensus 5-pt favorites according to VegasInsider and OddsShark
2014 records - Boise State (25-9), Montana (20-13)
Head Coaches - Boise State: Leon Rice (sixth season with school, 102-63 record, two NCAA appearances)
Montana: Travis DeCuire (second season with school, 20-13 record, zero NCAA appearances)

History

Friday will mark the 57th head-to-head game between Montana and Boise State. Montana currently leads the all-time series 31-25. These two schools duked it out in the Big Sky Conference from 1970 to 1996. Boise State left for the Big West after the 1996 season, and also played in the WAC before joining the Mountain West in 2011. Montana has been a member of  the Big Sky Conference since 1963. Since Boise's departure in 1996, the Broncos and Grizzlies have met in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2014.

In last season's matchup, Boise State escaped with a dramatic 72-67 win in double overtime. Montana held a 10-point lead at halftime but were unable to hang on in the second half. Boise State poured in 13 points in the second overtime to send Montana to 0-2 on the season. Anthony Drmic paced the Broncos with 29 points including 4-9 shooting from three-point range. Montana had three players in double figures. Senior forward Martin Breunig, who was the leading scorer in last year's game for the Griz, will start Friday night.

Projected Starting Lineups

Boise State Broncos

G) Paris Austin, Fr., 0.0 PPG
G) Anthony Drmic, Sr., 15.0 PPG, G) Chandler Hutchison, So., 3.1 PPG
F) James Webb, Jr., 11.2 PPG, F) Nick Duncan, Jr., 9.4 PPG

Montana Grizzlies

G) Walter Wright, Jr., 0.0 PPG
G) Riley Bradshaw, Jr., 3.2 PPG, G) Robert Gfeller, Jr., 8.9 PPG
F) Martin Breunig, Sr., 16.7 PPG, F) Fabijan Krslovic, So., 4.8 PPG

Injury Status

Two Broncos have been held out of practice and the exhibition due to injury. Guards Montigo Alford (knee) and Mikey Thompson (hernia) have been battling with ailments this month and will be questionable for the opener. Wing Anthony Drmic (ankle) appears to be fully healthy and played 27 minutes in Boise's exhibition against Northwest last Friday.

Montana junior guard Mario Dunn (8.8 PPG in 2014) will miss the first couple weeks of the season due to an injury. Dunn scored 12 points against Boise State last year. JUCO transfer Walter Wright will take his spot in the starting lineup.

Key Matchup

Boise State guard Paris Austin vs. Montana guard Walter Wright

Two talented floor generals will make their respective NCAA D-1 debuts Friday night. Injuries have forced these two point guards into starting roles for the season opener. Expect big minutes and production from Austin and Wright.

For the Broncos, 5'11" freshman Paris Austin will experience the first road game of his career. Boise State is lucky to have a player of Austin's caliber, because injuries have already affected point guard depth for BSU. Austin is a four-star recruit from Oakland, California and played his high school basketball at Bishop O'Dowd High School. Arguably the best recruit in Boise history, Austin is a savvy ball-handler and flashy passer in transition. With the ball in his hands, Austin is either looking for an open cutter or driving to the basket himself. Injuries to Alford and Thompson have pushed Austin into the starting lineup, and he will lead the Broncos into Missoula with hopes of a strong start to his college career.

Although two years older than Austin, Montana point guard Walter Wright is also making his division one debut. The 5-10 point guard is a Connecticut native and attended Snow College in Utah for two seasons before heading to Montana. Wright is a natural scorer, he averaged 21.8 points per game last season at Snow including a 49-point explosion against Sheridan College. Wright has had no issues since stepping foot on campus in Missoula; he posted 31 points off an incredible 14-19 shooting from the field in Montana's sole exhibition. Like his opposition, Wright is also seeing an increase in playing time due to an injury. Junior Mario Dunn continues to heal after undergoing surgery, giving Wright the keys to offense.

What to Expect

Friday night's game is one of five NCAA matchups featuring a pair of regular season conference champions from last year. Both of these teams are set up in 2015 to make a run at the NCAA tournament. With that being said, Montana and Boise State have question marks that need to be answered through the course of the season.

As noted, point guard play will be huge for both of these teams Friday. Early game jitters will be expected, but Austin and Wright will need to show maturity and leadership to put their teams in position to win. The frontcourt will be pivotal for the Grizzlies, as they must find a way to slow down James Webb III. 6-8 senior Martin Breunig might be the most talented player on the floor for Montana, but he doesn't have the athleticism and NBA intangibles like Webb. If the Grizzlies can manage to hold Webb under 15 points and eight rebounds without letting Duncan loose from long range, they will keep the margin close.

Don't let the school names trick you, Montana won't let Boise State sleepwalk through its opener. The Broncos need to be focused on picking up a road win against a potential tournament team, instead of looking ahead to Arizona or the Wooden tournament. However, if Boise State performs at the level they are expected to play, the Broncos should leave Dahlberg Arena with a victory.