DES MOINES, IA – We are closing in on tipoff in the NCAA Tournament for the Montana Grizzlies, and once again it’s the Michigan Wolverines they meet in the first round.
In last year’s game, Montana jumped out to a 10-0 lead, before eventually losing 61-47. Even though it’s the same two teams, and a lot of the same players are back, there are some key differences in this matchup.
“They are more wing-dominant than they were last year with their front line. We spread the floor and play a little faster,” explained Montana head coach Travis DeCuire.
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Montana’s change has come recently. After forward Jamar Akoh suffered an injury in February, the Griz turned to a smaller, quicker, guard-filled lineup, with five players on the floor who can all shoot from behind the three-point line.
“With the way they have played without their big guy, they really present problems for a lot of high-major teams, because they are going to spread you out with all guards,” commented Michigan head coach John Beilein. “And that can really work really well.”
“I think the way we’re built could be advantageous to how they defend,” agreed DeCuire. “But on the flip side, they have advantages with size.”
Michigan’s spark plug point guard Zavier Simpson, the key to their offense in DeCuire’s eyes, only stands 6′ tall. But nobody else in the starting lineup is listed under 6’5″.
“It’s going to be tough. We’ve dealt with size issues a lot this year,” said 6’7″ senior forward Bobby Moorehead, who was often asked to guard the opponent’s biggest player in the Big Sky Tournament. “It’s going to be nothing new. I think their center is over 7-foot (7’1″ Jon Teske), so it’s going to be a really tough matchup.”
Montana proved last year they can hang with Michigan. Of course, they also proved to the Wolverines they shouldn’t be overlooked. The Grizzlies do possess one key ingredient that often cooks up upsets in March — experienced senior guards.
“We honestly have the team with the potential to do that this year,” said senior guard Ahmaad Rorie. “We have a very old, veteran team. We’ve all been through a lot, prepared a lot.”
“You pretty much know there is going to be upsets every year, so why not us?” asked Moorehead. “I believe. I know the rest of the guys on our team believe. It would be a dream could true. It would be super awesome.”
DeCuire was asked Wednesday what he wants for his seniors in Thursday night’s game. After a long pause, he said he wants them to walk off the court smiling.
Of course with this competitive group of Grizzlies, that will probably only happen with a win.
Thursday night’s game begins at 7:20 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on TNT.