Michigan forward Moe Wagner can be excused if he doesn’t know exactly where Montana is located. The German native is in his third season with the Wolverines and he’s been to a lot of places in the United States. Montana isn’t one of those spots.
Wagner and the rest of the Wolverines will be learning a lot about the Montana Grizzlies, if not a social studies lesson on the state, in the next few days as they prepare to face the Big Sky conference regular-season and tournament champions in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The game will be played in Wichita, Kan., with tip-off around 9:45 p.m. ET on Thursday.
“I’m not going to guess, to avoid embarrassment,” said Wagner, Michigan’s leading scorer (14.5 points) and rebounder (7.1) this season.
When someone pointed out the location, he said: “I knew that.”
For the record, the university is located in Missoula.
Michigan (28-7) is the No. 3 seed in the West Regional, while Montana (26-7) is No. 14. The winner will face either No. 6 Houston or No. 11 San Diego State in the second round on Saturday. This is the sixth time in its now-28 NCAA Tournament berths that Michigan has been a No. 3 seed. It was the case in 1989 when the Wolverines won the program’s lone national championship.
Coach John Beilein said Sunday night his assistants would draw the responsibility of coming up with an initial scouting report on Montana.
“The staff members who are doing nothing but cutting up video, they’ll be up very late tonight,” Beilein said. “Starting early in the morning, I’ll have a great cup of coffee and I’ll begin studying Montana. Is Montana the Grizzlies? I think they are. We’ll start studying them. I’m sure they’ve got a great team. They wouldn’t have 26 wins without a great team.”
Land of 10 gives you a few notes on Montana and just how much trouble it can cause the Wolverines.
This is the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance for the Grizzlies but the first since 2013. Coach Travis DeCuire is in his fourth season. He told Missoulian.com that he’s proud of the way the program has reshaped itself in his tenure.
“I wanted to build the type of culture that I was comfortable with on and off the court,” DeCuire told Missoulian.com. “Sometimes when you fight for culture and how you want young men to be or become, sometimes you might end up with less talent down the road. We never gave in.”
The Grizzlies are led in scoring by redshirt junior guard Ahmaad Rorie (17.2 points), a Big Sky conference first-team member. Junior guard Michael Oguine (15.8) and redshirt junior forward Jamar Akoh (13.1) also score in double figures. Oguine was named the Big Sky defensive player of the year. The other starters are senior forward Fabijan Krslovic and junior guard Bobby Moorehead.
It does play three underclassmen off the bench — sophomore guard Sayeed Pridgett, freshman guard Timmy Falls and freshman forward Karl Nicholas — but the majority of its rotation is made up of upperclassmen.
Tested, tough, on a roll
The Grizzlies won’t be in awe of playing a school from one of the nation’s top conferences. They won at Pitt in November, and played at Penn State, Stanford and Washington. They lost those three games, but the defeat at Washington was 66-63. The Wolverines and Grizzlies share another common opponent besides Penn State. Both teams defeated UC Riverside in nonconference play; Michigan won 87-42, while Montana took a 77-61 victory.
Montana has won its last six games and went 19-2 in the Big Sky this season, including winning all three of its games in the conference tournament.
In terms of metrics, Montana ranks No. 71 in the country according to the adjusted offense and defense calculated by analyst Ken Pom. It’s an efficiency rating that tells how many points a team scores or allows per 100 possessions. Montana ranked ahead of seven Big Ten teams: Wisconsin, Indiana, Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Rutgers.
KenPom.com rankings comparison
|Team||Overall||Adjusted O||Adjusted D|
|Michigan||10||115.9 (29)||92.7 (5)|
|Montana||71||110.1 (82)||99.3 (65)|
Beware the 14
A No. 14 seed has beaten a No. 3 seed 21 times in tournament history. Although the higher seed has won 84.1 percent of the matchups, at least one 14 over a 3 upset has happened in 18 of the 33 seasons since the NCAA expanded the tournament field beyond 48 teams in 1985. It didn’t happen last year for the first time in five years.
Michigan needs to be on its toes.
Montana is 2-11 in its NCAA Tournament history. It beat Utah State in the first round in 1975 before losing to eventual national champion UCLA. It was a No. 12 seed in 2006 when it beat No. 5 Nevada in the first round.