Excluding the legendary Golden Bobcats of 1929, Montana State doesn’t have a history of national prominence in men’s basketball. They’ve been competitive, no doubt, but they haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1996, and have gone that far only three times in history.
Still, things haven’t been the same in recent years. In the eight seasons under coach Brad Huse, MSU is 107-134 overall and 64-72 in conference games. Hardly a picture of consistent winning. The Bobcats hit the low point of Huse’s tenure last week when they failed to qualify for the Big Sky’s postseason tournament.
Anybody can have a down year. It happens. But this was more than that. The Bobcats should be -- and typically have been -- a fixture at the Big Sky Conference tournament. It started out pretty well, but missing out on the tourney this year, of all years, is an unacceptable outcome. And it shouldn’t be excused as just a “bad season,” especially in a league with an RPI ranking well toward the bottom of Division I conferences. To have a bad year in the Big Sky in 2013-14, you had to be really bad. And this was supposed to be a breakout year, with the maturation of JC transfers like Flavien Davis and Antonio Biglow leading the way.
The finality of the Bobcats’ 14-17 (9-11) season puts a microscope on Huse. Last year, MSU went 13-17 and finished 10-10 in the league -- almost identical numbers -- and he was given a big vote of confidence by the university in the form of a two-year contract extension.
Huse is locked in contractually for next season at roughly $115,000 in base salary. If athletic director Peter Fields and, more importantly, university president Waded Cruzado want to make a coaching change now, they’d have to buy Huse out. And that's not happening.
MSU qualified for the conference tournament in each of Huse’s first seven seasons, and made a great run to the league championship game in 2009. But since then the Bobcats are 67-83 overall, 43-46 in Big Sky games and haven’t won a conference tourney game.
The Cats haven’t missed the Big Sky tournament since doing so in 2004 under previous coach Mick Durham. Two years later, Durham was out and Huse was in. But the difference is that Durham at least seriously contended for league titles.
MSU has too much support and a too much tradition to settle for anything less than a conference tournament berth every year.