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2019 NCAA Tournament Preview: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Montana

Can the Wolverines get past Montana?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Iowa vs Michigan David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

For three of the last four weekends, the Michigan Wolverines have suffered disappointment at the hands of the team’s in-state rivals. Michigan lost at home to the Spartans on February 24th, on the road on March 9th, and last Sunday to conclude the 2019 Big Ten Tournament.

By any stretch, not what Wolverine fans were hoping to see.

However, even with the missteps, Michigan enters the NCAA Tournament in pretty good shape. The Wolverines are 28-6 overall and are 8-1 in the team’s last nine games against teams other than Michigan State. In fact, Michigan is 28-3 this season against opponents other than the Spartans. Unfortunately, the recent struggles against Michigan State have overshadowed this success.

But the NCAA Tournament Committee did seem to take note of Michigan’s profile last Sunday as the Wolverines were placed as a two seed in the West Region. The Wolverines will tip-off with a matchup against Montana on Thursday night.

So, how does Michigan matchup against the Grizzlies? Let’s take a look.

-No. 2 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 15 Montana Grizzlies

  • Time/TV: 9:20PM ET (TNT)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-17)

If this matchup felt eerily similar on Sunday night, that’s because it should. The two teams faced off in the opening round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, with Michigan grabbing a 61-47 win over the Grizzlies in route to a Final Four trip.

However, this year’s Montana squad is a much weaker team on paper. The Grizzlies are 137th nationally on KenPom, which is roughly 60 spots lower on KenPom. This is despite the fact that the team has an identical overall record as last year’s group. During the regular season, Montana went 1-3 against top 100 teams on KenPom. The Grizzlies never played a team above 51st nationally in that metric.

The strength of Montana’s team lies in its ability to shoot the ball efficiently on offense. Montana plays slow, but hits its shots. The Grizzlies are seventh nationally in effective field-goal percentage and top 30 in both two and three-point percentage. If Montana can make this a low-possession game, its shooting could be a huge factor.

For Montana to pull off the upset, it’s also going to need a big game from Sayeed Pridgett. He’s scored double-digits in 13 straight games for the Grizzlies. Sophomore guard Timmy Falls is also going to have to bring his A game. He’s been inconsistent and will have his hands full with Zavier Simpson.

What’s interesting about this matchup is that these teams play relatively similar styles on the court. Both would prefer to play slow with a maximum emphasis on each possession. Michigan’s better at avoiding turnovers, but Montana is more efficient shooting the ball. Expect it to come down to who commits turnovers and/or wastes possessions with questionable attempts.

With that said, Michigan is clearly the favorite in this game. The Wolverines have six losses this season and all came against top 40 opponents on KenPom. The Grizzlies haven’t even played a top 40 opponent yet this season and rank 137th in the metric. Michigan played seven opponents outside the top 100 this season and scored double-digit victories over six of them.

Still, Montana will be comfortable playing slowly and comes into this game with some confidence. The Grizzlies have only lost two games since January 10th and will be eager to get revenge for last year’s NCAA loss to Michigan. Expect Montana to come out firing in the opening minutes.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Montana