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Michigan vs. Montana: Matchup to Watch

Spoiler alert: It’s Mo Wagner vs. some schlub

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional Practice Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

How many teams in the country have a 6’11” guy that can shoot threes at a nearly 40% clip? I can only think of two, and Jaren Jackson doesn’t count because he isn’t a big scary German.

The other, of course, is Mo Wagner.

Big Mo is a matchup nightmare against just about any team in the country. Continuing in a John Beilein tradition that dates back to his West Virginia days with Kevin Pittsnogle, Wagner is a charismatic big man who can create incredible floor spacing with his ability to hit the long ball.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is the steady-handed senior, Charles Matthews is the dynamic underclassman, and Duncan Robinson is the white-guy shooter that you love to hate, but the scouting report on Michigan has to start with their Teutonic Titan.

We know about the shooting. We know about the size. We know about John Beilein trying to find a way to tell Wagner in German that fouls are bad. But maybe the most underrated aspect of Wagner’s game is his rebounding. In fact, the numbers say he was the third best defensive rebounder in the Big Ten this season, trailing only Mike Watkins and Keita Bates-Diop.

So who will have the challenge of matching up against Big Mo? Enter Montana’s Jamr Akoh.

Now, Akoh can’t guard Mo Wagner. But there are very few players in the country who can. That said, Akoh isn’t a bad player by any stretch of the imagination. He has a respectable 112.4 offensive rating on KenPom, and he is in the top 20 in the nation in free throw rate. What he isn’t is especially tall, measuring only 6’8”. Nor is he a great distance shooter, hitting a grand total of one three point shot this season.

That lone three came against a familiar opponent, the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Lions were far and away the best team on the Grizzlies’ schedule this year, and the home team—Penn State—won by 13. In that game, Akoh played 34 minutes and put up 11 points.

His best performance of the year was against Northern Colorado, when he dropped 34 points on 16 shots on January 6. Akoh faced the Bears twice more this season, and he must like playing against them because in those games he put up 27 and 20, respectively.

Akoh’s real talent lies in drawing fouls on his opponents and getting to the free throw line. He led the Big Sky Conference in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He’s only a mediocre free throw shooter, but if he’s the difference-maker against Michigan, it won’t be because he hits his free throws, it will be because he draws fouls that sent Wagner to the bench.

They say guard play wins in March, and that’s true, but there are great guards all over college basketball. What separates high majors from mid-majors most often is the quality of the big men on their roster. And when you have a quality big man that can shoot threes, it can make all the difference in the world.

Montana is a good team, but they will have no answer for Mo Wagner.