A schedule change for this weekend's Montana Tournament has left Southeast Missouri State University men's basketball coach Gary Garner somewhat miffed.
The Indians were supposed to open the tournament against St. Mary's of California, with Montana and California-Santa Barbara playing in Saturday night's other first-round game.
Instead, the Indians have been paired against the host squad -- with very little notice from Montana officials.
"When I did the contract arrangement with Montana several months ago, we agreed we would not play Montana in the first round. We agreed on it not once, but several times," Garner said. "Last week, in the tournament prospectus, I don't get a call or anything, it shows us playing Montana.
"It's very upsetting because it's unethical. We're a little bit miffed."
Primarily because the Indians secured several tapes of St. Mary's from last year over the summer and had already started doing some preparations for that game. Now, on such short notice, Garner said it will be difficult if not impossible to get any tape of Montana.
Garner has no doubt why Montana changed course and elected to play Southeast in the first round. In a tournament that Garner regards as loaded for a mid-major type event, the Indians are perceived as the weak link.
"Why do you think Montana is playing us," Garner said, laughing. "Going in, we're probably the least powerful, and they want to make sure they get to the finals."
Looking forward to a road trip
The schedule change aside, Garner is looking forward to taking the 2-0 Indians on the road for the first time this season. And he knows Southeast -- which will fly to Montana on Thanksgiving Day -- will have to play extremely well to avoid coming back home with a .500 record.
Montana (0-1 prior to a game tonight against Montana Tech) has been picked by one magazine to win the Big Sky Conference title; UC-Santa Barbara (1-0) is the Big West Conference favorite; and St. Mary's (2-1) is expected to be solid in the West Coast Conference that features the likes of nationally-ranked Gonzaga and Pepperdine.
"It might be overall as good a mid-major tournament as there is in the nation. There's not a weak team in the tournament," Garner said. "But it's going to be good to see how we react to our first road trip, and in a hostile environment against Montana."
Southeast also competed in the Montana Tournament during the 1999-2000 season, losing to the host squad in the first round and beating Robert Morris in the third-place game. The Indians went on to win their only Ohio Valley Conference championship and make their only NCAA Division I Tournament appearance.
"It's a very well run tournament. We're looking forward to going out there," Garner said. "And they're really taking care of us. All our expenses are paid, and Montana is playing at our place next year, so it worked out well."
And it will work out even better if the Indians can manage a win or two this weekend.
"We're expected to finish last, but we think we can win it," Garner said.