Montana Preview: Stop #1 — Two UM’s
Michigan plays Montana Thursday night. Anyone who wonders whether or not Montana is as nice a state as advertised, the simple answer is yes. To know why it is called the Big Sky Country, one must go there. The eastern portion is western Great Plains with rolling hills gaining ground as the Northern range of the Rocky Mountain chain approaches. In the right spot, the view is extended by miles, not feet, as we here are so used to viewing.
Michigan is a three seed and Montana is a 14 seed. The local papers in Montana (not many in number) seemed to show a little disappointment in not getting a 13 seed and also not getting the match-up many wished for; Gonzaga.
Michigan Head Coach John Beilein stated that he does not know much about the basketball program at the University of Montana. When he watches the Grizzlies, coach will see very familiar basketball sets. The Grizzlies have good guard play. The key to the team’s success runs through the guards. Typical of about every college team, the guards will observe, set the timing, drive, drop off inside, kick out outside or put the ball up from close range. Closing out on the outside shooters can be a little dangerous with the Grizzlies as the guards are plentiful, experienced, and can shoot. There is enough size to keep an opponent’s defense honest. While not Paul Bunyan tall, the inside guys of Montana have some bulk and can move bulk.
Montana is coached by young up and comer, and Montana graduate, Travis DeCuire. He is in his fourth season as head man. His coaching pedigree contains six years of working with highly respected Mike Montgomery at Cal.
Coach DeCuire has posted three 20 wins seasons; the Grizzlies do have a nice historical basketball legacy. This legacy is obviously not that of Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, or North Carolina, but neither is the legacy of any other university, including Michigan.
Coach DeCuire, judging from his comments in various media publications, appears to value the development of a sound culture, much like Coach Beilein. He infers it is of high importance to set up such a culture, even if at the expense of time and initial success. The team site states that the team academic performance is above a 3.0 average.
DeCuire’s mission seems to have been accomplished with some league championships and trips to secondary (but important) post season tournaments. Now Coach DeCuire has brought the Grizzlies to the NCAA Tournament.
The team roster is loaded with juniors and red-shirt juniors. Ahmaad Rorie is one of those juniors. The 6′ 1″ guard is the trigger, the straw, the catalyst of the Grizzly offense. Ahmaad averages over 17 points per game and leads the team in assists. Ahmaad against Z Simpson should entertain non-participant viewers.
Michael Oguine, another junior guard, is a similar player. He hits three point shots at a nice clip (about 36%) and adds a second high-level scoring threat at the guard position.
Jamar Akoh, yet another junior, is a big inside forward who hits the scale at over 250 pounds. He averages over 13 points and around 7 rebounds a game.
Sayeed Pridgett, a 6′ 5″ sophomore, is a big shooting guard Coach DeCuire can use if he wishes to go with a big lineup. He is hitting almost 10 points a game and is a strong rebounder.
If that lineup is not big enough at guard, Coach DeCuire can insert 6′ 7″ junior guard Bobby Moorehead, who is another good rebounder averaging almost eight points per game.
Fabijan Krslovic is from Sydney Australia. He is a senior all-academic selection. The 6′ 8″ forward is a root-hog type of player, who bumps and moves and plays sound basketball. He averages almost eight points and 6 rebounds a game.
So, the core of the Montana roster is veteran and well coached. There is balance, outside shooting, and good rebounding.
Mike Montgomery would be a great choice for a young coach to serve under, and Coach DeCuire served as Associate Head Coach during his six years at Cal with Montgomery. Cal was very successful during that period.
The Grizzlies will be ready and well prepared. This team has enough athletic talents and line up possibilities (depth) that a high seed better be concerned and carefully study what the Grizzlies do on offense. The system is not esoteric in any manner, but sound.
So, how will Michigan plan for Montana? First, I doubt that Coach Beielin will change anything, he will stick to the base options. Second, the belief here is that Simpson will be the key; he needs to at least break even with the Grizzly guards and most importantly create the situations Michigan loves, guard penetration, dish and get out and run on the missed shot. Matthews could be a real asset mixing it up in the middle as Wagner sets up outside. More than likely, Montana will chase on defense and the outside option will be located. The Grizzlies close out a little late on occasion and with good, sharp, quick passing, ball fakes or open looks at the arc should be available. Like every team, the problem for Montana will be to defend a multitude of options as Michigan spreads the floor. The key is to hit open shots early or get to the rim and make Montana go to Plan B. Plan B may include different options in shutting off the middle high screen or packing it in some and taking a chance. If UM hits early, the options shrink.
Montana was left for dead in the championship game against Eastern Washington, but made a fierce second half comeback that saw an eleven point deficit erased and a run away victory, scoring fifty-three points in the second half.
Montana has petty good athletes, nice outside shooting, good coaching, and Michigan needs to really ratchet up the defense and not go into long, pronounced dead periods on offense. Making some foul shots is also a good idea.