MSU Mens Hoops vs Green Bay

Montana State junior guard Amin Adamu takes a jump shot Saturday night.

Eight games into Montana State’s season, the unknown element of the Bobcats’ style under first-year head coach Danny Sprinkle has begun wearing off.

After the season opener, Utah State head coach Craig Smith mentioned how difficult it was to prepare for MSU due to the Bobcats having only three contributors from last year returning and a new coach.

Now, opponents have begun studying MSU’s tendencies and coming up with ways to beat the Bobcats. Point guard Harald Frey pointed out that’s the natural progression of a college basketball season as the calendar flips from November to December, and it’s on MSU to make tweaks as well.

“It's obvious that teams have started to scout us,” Frey said. “And now we got to make the adjustments in order to deal with that kind of coverages or offensive schemes they're putting against us. Now we got to take that next step too.”

In their most recent game against Green Bay, the Bobcats faced a full-court press throughout the contest and struggled to handle the Phoenix’s fast-paced style. Green Bay stuck to what it normally does rather than tailoring a full game plan to MSU.

Against the Phoenix, though, Frey faced a double team. His averages of 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists to put him among just six players in Division I averaging at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Sprinkle anticipates opponents will attempt similar styles to try and mitigate the preseason all-conference selection.

“I think there's some of that,” Sprinkle said of opponents gaining more film on his team. “I don't think so much this game because Green Bay, they're going to do what they do. They're not changing their style for anybody.”

Four-guard lineup on display

Sprinkle mentioned the possibility of using a four-guard lineup earlier in the season, but with post players Devin Kirby and Jubrile Belo playing among the Bobcats’ best, MSU hadn’t used that variation much early on.

Against the Phoenix, a team that Sprinkle complimented for using five players at once who could all dribble, pass, shoot and play on the perimeter, the Bobcats used four guards at times. That made sense given how Green Bay relied on athleticism to press and space the floor. The Phoenix shot 62% and scored 24 points off 14 MSU turnovers.

With eight minutes left in the first half, the Bobcats trailed 34-17. They went to a lineup with Frey, Ladan Ricketts, Amin Adamu and Caleb Bellach. Kirby played center alongside those four guards. The group trimmed the deficit to 36-22 with 5:51 left until halftime, when fellow freshman guard Zach Hobbs subbed in for Bellach.

That lineup then played together for another three minutes and cut the margin to 13 before forward Zeke Quinlan replaced Hobbs.

During the five-minute stretch with four guards, MSU outscored the Phoenix 14-10 and foreshadowed what could happen in the future as the Bobcats’ younger guards develop and they face smaller opponents.

“Teams are going to play smaller against us so I'm not going to be able to play DK and Jubrile on the perimeter and things like that,” Sprinkle said in early November. “... Going forward, there's going to be times where we're playing four guards too.”

Fernandez injury not serious

Freshman forward Borja Fernandez didn’t play Saturday against Green Bay due tweaking his back, Sprinkle said.

Fernandez played in all seven previous games this season, averaging 8.9 minutes, 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 points. He’s made 3 of 7 3-pointers and has given MSU the ability to stretch the floor at the power forward spot.

The Bilbao, Spain, native is expected to “be fine” after dealing with soreness during the weekend.

“He wanted to play, but against a team like this, it's not worth getting him out there and running around,” Sprinkle said, “because it's such a fast-paced game, and I didn't want him to hurt it any worse.”

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.