Last Updated: 2019-03-19
It doesn’t happen often, but for the second time in two years the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines are playing their first NCAA Tournament game against the No. 15 Montana Grizzlies. That turned out to be good luck for the Wolverines last year, as Michigan ended up getting all the way to the National Championship Game, so they are hoping that Montana is their lucky rabbit foot once more.
This West Region First Round game will be the last game of the night from the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. It is slated to tip around 9:20 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 21, and it will be broadcast on TNT. Michigan is a 15.5-point favorite per the NCAA betting line, and the total is 131.
Montana has never been better than a No. 12 seed since the current seeding system was unveiled in 1985, and the Grizzlies have just two NCAA Tournament victories in their history. They beat Utah State in the first round in 1975 and knocked off Nevada as a No. 12 seed in 2006. The Grizzlies have been unable to score a lot of points in their most recent trips to the Big Dance. They have scored an average 46.8 points in their last four NCAA Tournament appearance and could only muster 47 points against Michigan last year.
The Wolverines have only one won national championship in their history, but they have been the bridesmaid often. Michigan has made it to the National Championship Game seven times in the last 55 years, but they have been unable to get over the hump. They were helped by the madness of the tournament a lot last season, playing no seed lower than No. 6 Houston prior to squaring off with Villanova, and they only beat the Cougars by a single point.
How They Got Here
To get back to the NCAA Tournament, the Grizzlies had to win the Big Sky Conference. Montana finished the regular season 23-8 overall and 16-4 in conference play, but they would have been playing in the NIT if not for their performance in the tournament. They beat Sacramento State, Weber State, and Eastern Washington to get to the Big Dance and didn’t have to face a Portland State team that had beat them in both of their earlier meetings.
Throughout the season, Michigan was one of the best teams in the country. The Wolverines hammered Villanova, North Carolina, and Purdue within the first month of play, and they got off to a 17-0 start before they suffered their first loss. Michigan won three straight after that to move to 20-1, but the program could only go 8-5 the rest of the season with three losses to Michigan State keeping them away from a Big Ten regular season or tournament title.
Defense is key for John Beilein, and this Wolverines defense might be the best he’s ever coached. Michigan has the second-best defense in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, and they are in the top 15 in the country in five separate categories. Opponents are hitting 28.9 percent of their threes against this team and going inside isn’t working much better, as the Wolverines are allowing just 44.5 percent of two-pointers to end up in the basket.
Discipline describes Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines have the third-lowest turnover rate in the nation, and that helps mitigate the fact that this team can’t get to the line. They aren’t particularly great when it comes to offensive rebounding either, but that is more a factor of Beilein pushing this team to get back on defense. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis is the best offensive option on this team, and he is hitting almost 47 percent of his field goals and 42 percent of his triples. His continued development is key to how Michigan performs in the NCAA Tournament.
Montana has been very efficient on offense, and the Grizzlies will look for ways to test Michigan’s defense. Their effective field goal percentage of 56.6 percent is the sixth-best figure in the country, and three of their four players averaging double digits are hitting better than 50 percent from the floor. Sayeed Pridgett has been incredible, hitting 61 percent of his field goals and 47.4 percent of his threes as a guard, and he will be the one to watch. Unfortunately, leading scorer Jamar Akoh has missed the last 12 games due to a knee injury.
Pick: Under 131
I love the under here. These two teams combined to score just 108 points last year, and Michigan should be able to keep Montana’s offense under wraps. The Grizzlies have good efficiency numbers, but they were not great against decent opponents, scoring just 42 points on Arizona and 53 points on North Dakota State. Without Akoh, they will have an even more difficult time and Michigan will be content to advance.
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