The Michigan Wolverines are one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and are one of the favorites to win it all this season. But, they cannot look beyond their first round match up against the Montana Grizzlies.
The back-to-back Big Ten Tournament Champion Michigan Wolverines are ranked as the 3-seed in the West Region of the NCAA tournament. The Las Vegas bookings have the Michigan Wolverines at an 8-1 odds to win the tournament, which is good for the ninth best in the country.
These odd are mostly because of how dominant the Wolverines have been over the last few weeks of the season. Michigan won 9 straight after a tough loss at Northwestern in the first week of February. In those wins, the Wolverines took down Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue who were all ranked in the top-10 at the time.
Meanwhile, the Montana Grizzlies have slowly been positioning themselves to be a formidable opponent in the tournament this season. The Sky Conference Tournament victors are known for crashing the boards, racking up about 37 rebounds per game. They also shoot the ball efficiently at 47%, which could be dangerous if they continue to play this way in the tournament.
Montana is also known to be a hustle team, which can lead to upsets against under-prepared teams. Four of their players average more than a steal per game and they play tough defensively, especially at the guard position. This could cause problems with Michigan’s guards who become selfish when faced with frustration.
Players to watch in Michigan vs. Montana
Zavier Simpson will be one player to watch in this game. Simpson has solidified his role as the starting point guard on the roster throughout the season, but he really stepped up in the Big Ten Tournament. Simpson averaged just over 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal per game over that time period. If he can keep it up, the Wolverines should expect a lot of success continuing in March.
Another player to watch is Duncan Robinson, who won the Sixth Man of the Year for the Big Ten due to his fantastic play off the bench. It was a tough decision by John Beilein to move Robinson out of the starting lineup, but it has seemingly paid off for Michigan. Since he has starting playing off the bench, Robinson is shooting nearly 44% from deep and 48% from the field.
Michigan will certainly need Robinson to keep shooting consistently from deep and to lead the bench in order to defeat the Grizzlies on Thursday.
One problem that the Grizzlies face is that their lack of height. In fact, their tallest starters are only 6’8″, which could be a problem against a much longer Michigan team. Because of this height discrepancy, Moe Wagner will be the most influential player in this game.
Rebounding and staying out of foul trouble will be the keys for Wagner if they hope to start the tourney on a high note. If he racks up fouls early, like he did in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines could be in trouble. Wagner will also need to get on the boards and get more rebounds than the three he had in the Big Ten Championship game against Purdue.
In order for Michigan to pull out the victory, they will need to shut down Montana’s leading scorer Ahmaad Rorie, the Grizzlies leading scorer. Rorie averages just over 17 points per contest and will be an x-factor in the game. The junior guard shoots the ball well and is a solid free throw shooter. He can also be a pest defensively, poking away at least one steal away per game.
Keys to the Game
The Michigan offense cannot be stagnant. They must continue to move the ball around and not allow the Grizzlies defense to force one-on-ones. To go along with that, post play offensively will be another key to a victory because of the size mismatches in the paint.
The Wolverines will also need to out hustle the Grizzlies for 50-50 balls and not let the Grizzlies pesty defense frustrate them. The Wolverines will need to keep their composure throughout.
Most importantly, Michigan must win the battle of the boards. If Montana beats the Wolverines on the boards and forces multiple turnovers, we could see an upset in Wichita.
Michigan will have a tough opponent in Montana in the first round of the tournament. Their defensive ability, rebounding, and hustle could cause problems for the Wolverines if they look beyond this game. But, with the red hot run that Michigan is on and the play as of late by Zavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, I believe that Michigan will have its way with Montana in round one.