WICHITA, Kan. – All eight teams playing their first-round games in Wichita got their first chances to take the floor inside INTRUST Bank Arena Wednesday with a press conference and a practice.
That includes the Montana Grizzlies and their first-round opponent, the Michigan Wolverines. The Griz are a No. 14 seed, very different than No. 3-seed Michigan out of the Big Ten. But both teams showed an equal amount of respect for their adversary.
“First and foremost, we knew they were a really good team,” said Michigan senior guard/forward Duncan Robinson about his first impression of Montana once he saw the matchup on the Sunday Selection Show. “You don’t win your regular-season conference (championship) and also your conference tournament, as well, without being a good team — 26, 27 wins, whatever they have.”
“This is as solid of team as there is anywhere,” praised Michigan head coach John Beilein about Montana. “They’re only playing seven people, but I’m telling you those seven are fitting the pieces perfectly. Really impressed.”
“To the common eye, offense always stands out the most because you see the ball go through the net. You see the deep 3s and things like that,” said Griz head coach Travis DeCuire when asked what impressed him most about the Wolverines. “But I think their defense frustrates you into bad shots.”
“We’re not going to be able to have a slow start and expect to be in a great position,” said Griz junior guard Michael Oguine, referencing the three games Montana fell behind in the first half in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. “So we’re really going to have to execute well from the start, and I feel like we’re in a good position to do that.”
Wednesday also gave the Grizzlies their first in-person look at the Michigan. They noticed a couple things right away. They’re big. And those bigs can shoot.
Star forward Moritz Wagner, 6-foot-11, has made 53 3-pointers at nearly a 40 percent clip. The 6-8 Robinson leads the team with 69 3-pointers made and is shooting at 39 percent.
“They’re a Big Ten team, so they’re going to be physical. They are big and strong,” said Griz 6-8 forward Jamar Akoh, who spends most of his time inside the arc. “They have some guys that can shoot the ball really well, some big guys that shoot the ball really well. That’s kind of the way the game is these days. I don’t think it will be too crazy for us. But it will be interesting, because we haven’t really played against that all year.”
“It’s a little bit more difficult compared to our league, because there’s not a lot of bigs in our league that shoot,” said freshman Timmy Falls. “But I think our defense is built for that, the way we rotate.”
“The teams in the Big Ten are very physical,” added Griz guard/forward Sayeed Pridgett. “So we know they are going to come out there and bump and touch and push and whatever, foul, everything they have got to do to win. That’s pretty much how the Big Ten plays, so we just have to meet their physicality.”
Montana is probably the most physical team in the Big Sky Conference, so it will be interesting to see how the Griz handle that physicality from the Wolverines.
A couple of Griz players admitted they’re starting to get a little anxious. Montana has been in Wichita for a couple days and won’t tip off until nearly 8 p.m. Mountain Time, 9 p.m. local time, Thursday night.
The Grizzlies are clearly big underdogs against the Wolverines. But a No. 14 seed has beaten a No. 3 seed in four of the past five tournaments, and the Grizzlies have really not been blown out all year. They expect to keep it close until the very end.
And then if it is tight, anything can happen. That’s why they call it March Madness.