Fresh off a week and a half break, the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (28-7, 13-5 B1G) will play the No. 14 Montana Grizzlies (26-7, 16-2 Big Sky) in Round One of the 2018 NCAA March Madness Tournament in Wichita, Kansas, tomorrow (Thursday) at 9:50 p.m.
Michigan is arguably the hottest team in the country and has won nine games in a row, capped off by a 75-66 victory over Purdue to claim a second Big Ten Tournament Championship in as many seasons.
It’s hard to bet against John Beilein’s bunch right now. ESPN’s Jay Bilas even has the Wolverines in his Final Four.
But Montana, despite its first appearance in the tournament since 2013, shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Grizzlies stumbled to a 5-4 record to open the regular season in November but really turned it on the rest of the way. They went on a 21-3 run to close the year and are on a six game winning streak.
In his fourth year as the Grizzlies’ head coach, Travis DeCuire guided the best Montana squad he’s had to its first Big Sky regular season title since sharing the honors with Eastern Washington in 2014-15. They also won their first Big Sky Tournament since ‘13 on March 10 to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
The Grizzlies are a high-scoring, guard-powered team led by a backcourt of Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine. Rorie is the seventh-best scorer in the conference with 17.2 points per game, with Oguine four places behind courtesy of a 15.8 mark.
They’ve taken a big leap this year, entering themselves back into the dance after a four-year hiatus. ESPN “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi said he had the Grizzlies in mind for a first-round upset until he saw their draw with Michigan.
Lunardi credited the Michigan defense, the eighth-best unit in the nation, but added, “This game will be closer than you think.”
While no win is guaranteed this time of year, I don’t imagine the Wolverines having too much trouble with the Grizzlies, even after their long break.
For a team that seems poised to make a run into late March, it’s also incredibly important to take it one game at a time. Survive and advance. Take care of the Grizzlies and then prepare for whatever is after that.
If the Wolverines are able to put in the effort tomorrow that they gave in the Big Ten Tournament Championship, they would firmly get back into the groove of things. And if that happens, it’ll be downright scary for the rest of the country.