MISSOULA — One day after defeating Eastern Washington 68-62 in the Big Sky Conference tournament championship game, the Montana Grizzlies learned their NCAA Tournament fate.
UM was given a No. 15 seed by the selection committee on Sunday and will open the NCAA Tournament against No. 2-seed Michigan in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday, March 21. It’s a rematch of a first-round contest last year.
“I kind of started to guess we were going to play Michigan. I was telling everybody on the team, ‘Guys we’re playing Michigan. I just know it.’ We’ve played them before so we have experience, and we have experience just playing in the tournament. So it’s exciting. It’s an amazing feeling just to be able to go back two years in a row,” said senior Bobby Moorehead.
The Wolverines (28-6) fell in the Big 10 championship game on Sunday, 65-60, to rival Michigan State, but managed an impressive 15-5 record in the challenging Big 10 Conference. The Wolverines were ranked 18th in the preseason coaches poll and climbed as high as No. 2 in the AP poll after a 17-0 start to the season.
It’s the second straight NCAA Tournament appearance for Montana, which fell 61-47 to the Wolverines in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“Here we go again, you know. Honestly, it’s an advantage. There are not many advantages you can take being a 15-seed. But I guess one of them is being the team that we played the year before. They’re like us. They bring back a lot of guys,” said Griz senior Michael Oguine.
“I’m shocked a little bit that they would match the same two teams up. Typically you think they’d just change it. But it is what it is. I think there’s a lot for us to look forward to. We’ve only played them once, so it’s not like they’re a familiar team to us, but we have played them,” said head coach Travis DeCuire.
“I think the biggest thing for our returners is they felt like they let an opportunity slip away,” added DeCuire. “We jumped out early, had a lead. We ran out of gas a little bit. I think we’re stronger now. I think we’re faster now. And we’re more versatile than we were back then.”
“We’ve just got to go out and do what we do,” added Moorehead. “And I think if we play hard like we always talk about, I think we can play with a lot of teams in this country.”
Montana (26-8) is 5-1 on a neutral court this season and will play in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in program history. UM head coach Travis DeCuire is the third coach in program history to lead the Grizzlies to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Griz enter the tournament led by senior guard Ahmaad Rorie, the Big Sky Conference tournament MVP, who has averages of 15.1 points and 4.0 assists per game. Sayeed Pridgett adds 15 points and Michael Oguine 13.2 per game.