MISSOULA — After a successful Big Sky Conference Tournament run, capped by a 17-point win over Eastern Washington in the championship game, the Montana Grizzlies were given a No. 14 seed by the selection committee and will begin the NCAA Tournament with a matchup against the third-seeded Michigan Wolverines in Wichita, Kansas on Thursday.
The bid is Montana’s first since 2013, while Michigan has made a run to the Sweet 16 in three of its past five seasons. This will be the first time that the two teams have played each other. For a team with no tournament experience, playing on college basketball’s biggest stage is a dream come true.
“It’s really hard to explain the feeling — it’s unbelievable,” said guard Michael Oguine. “Everyone dreams of doing this ever since they picked up a basketball.”
But Oguine and the Grizzlies aren’t happy with just making it to the tournament.
“It’s a great feeling, but we still know we have work to be done,” he continued. “We don’t want to be a team that showed up and wasn’t ready to play, we want to make sure we’re prepared to give our best against Michigan.”
The Grizzlies will need to bring their best. The Wolverines enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning nine consecutive games en route to a Big Ten Tournament championship. Michigan brings a 28-7 record to Wichita. Montana is riding a six-game winning streak of its own after winning both the regular-season and postseason Big Sky titles. Montana finished 16-2 against conference foes in the regular season.
Head coach Travis Decuire knows his squad will have its hands full but is ready to go head-to-head with a perennial power.
“You might see some things that you might want to manipulate, but you got to do what you do well,” he said of the matchup. “The teams that go in clicking and playing their game the best are the ones that win games.”
The Grizzlies have had some experience on neutral floors this winter, amassing a 4-1 record in its handful of neutral games. Montana has won two tournament games in 10 appearances (2-11 overall), and will surely need an ever stronger performance than their convincing win over Eastern Washington in order to play into the weekend.