MISSOULA – The Montana Grizzlies have worked all year for this opportunity. Getting to this point is a praiseworthy accomplishment, but don’t think anything will change for the maroon and silver just because they’ve earned a spot in the Big Dance.
The Grizzlies will tip off in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday night. But Monday afternoon, they were right back where they have been every Monday for the last several months. The Grizzlies held their first practice since beating Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Conference championship, and keeping the usual routine in a radically different week is all part of the plan for Travis DeCuire.
“Nothing has changed with us. We’re just in another season,” explained the head coach. “But it’s still one day at a time. It’s still compete with desperation. So we’ll treat today’s practice like the last six or seven Monday practices that we’ve had.”
“It’s a bit humbling, I guess the word is,” said forward Fabijan Krslovic, the only senior on the team. “We’ve been celebrating the last 24 or 48 hours, so getting back here into the gym, this is how we got to where we are right now. And so we’re glad to be here putting in work. We’ve got really only (Monday and Tuesday) where we can go at it and work on some things and scrimmage a bit of situations and stuff like that, so I’m sure we’ll have a pretty intense practice (Monday).”
Big Sky Conference teams work all season to earn a spot in the Big Dance. But for the past 11 NCAA tournaments, the league’s champion didn’t last more than one game in the bracket. The Montana Grizzlies are hoping to change that this week.
Montana drew a No. 14 seed, maybe lower than many Griz fans and the Grizzlies themselves hoped, and a matchup with Michigan, one of the hottest teams in the country over the past month.
But some college basketball writers and analysts are predicting an upset. The Griz admit that even though they try to ignore the added attention of March Madness, they can’t avoid it.
“Everyone has got their opinions,” said Krslovic. “We’ve got to believe in what we do. It’s interesting to hear. We’re not reading into them too much. You’ve got someone saying it’s a guaranteed upset, and other people saying we’ve got no chance.”
“A lot of people think we can win this game, as well,” said junior forward Jamar Akoh about what he has heard. “So you try not to pay too much attention to it, but it’s out there. We’ve competed with these big schools in the past, so we definitely expect to compete. Honestly, we’re the underdog here. We haven’t been the underdog for maybe three months, so it will give us some confidence to go out there and just do what we do and see what happens.
The betting lines have favored the Grizzlies in every game since they lost at Washington back on Dec. 22. Right now, they’re listed as 12-point underdogs against the Wolverines.
Montana leaves for Wichita Tuesday morning. Fans are encouraged to give the Grizzlies a send-off at 8:30 a.m. in front of the Adams Center.
Montana will tip off against Michigan at approximately 7:50 p.m. Mountain Time Thursday night.