Preview: Montana, NCAA Tournament Comment Count

Brian March 15th, 2018 at 5:25 PM

Post bumped back to the top for obvious reasons.

SPONSOR NOTE FEATURING FREE BEER. HomeSure Lending is once again sponsoring our NCAA Tournament coverage this year. Matt will be hosting an informal watch party tonight at HOMES Brewery, and buying the first round for any MGoBlog readers who come. If you're looking at buying a house this spring/summer you should talk to him soon.

ICYMI. Part one of the pre-tourney mailbag addressing what constitutes success, the sixth man factor, the possibility of a two-big lineup, and late game free-throw lineups can be found right here. Part two, on M's most important player, Z's lockdown sustainability, splitting defensive credit, and managing the tourney rotation is here. Today's Basketbullets on Teske's offensive breakthrough, Matthews taking a new role, Poole's passing, and the women's team's tourney run is here.

ngznditpjoetglvcbkloTHE ESSENTIALS

WHAT #10 Michigan (28-7) vs
#71 Montana (26-7)
WHERE HoegLaw Arena
Wichita, KS
WHEN 9:50 PM Thursday
LINE Michigan –8 (KenPom)

rad motorcycle, not at all grizzly-shaped bear


Here it is: the tourney. Now is a good time to remember that in addition to improving a lot at the end of the season, Beilein teams also have a tendency to baffle opponents that aren't familiar with his system. This goes double when they're forced to do so on a short turnaround. Now is the time of exceeding expectations, except for that one time they didn't.

Now Michigan tries to not repeat that. They should manage to.


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country..

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 14 Ahmaad Rorie Jr. 6'1, 175 88 24 112 Eh
Average all around, high-ish usage. 48/34 split, unassisted 3 shooter, superior FT%
G 0 Michael Oguine Jr. 6'2, 171 79 23 122 Eh
Rim-or-3 guy w MAAR-level TO rate despite a ton of unassisted attempts at rim.
F 24 Bobby Moorehead Jr. 6'7, 182 78 12 103 Eh
Just a shooter hitting 35%. TO rate way too high for a JAS.
F 20 Fabijan Krslovic Sr. 6'8, 239 62 16 112 Very
Old school PF hits two, gets to line, OREBs against Big Sky comp.
C 15 Jamar Akoh Jr. 6'8, 253 65 25 112 Very
Huge FT rate, mostly a dunk-on-dish guy. Black hole if he posts.
G 1 Timmy Falls Fr. 6'2, 171 41 16 103 No
FR is 44% from three, 42% from two, and has huge TO rate.
F 4 Sayeed Pridgett So. 6'5", 195 56 22 95 Very
48% 2PT shooter with a 20+ TO rate.
C 5 Karl Nicholas Fr. 6'8, 212 21 22 96 Very
Only plays in big blowouts or when foul trouble is dire.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]



ahmaad rorie is going to get X'd

To echo the take from Monday's post: with all due respect to a 16-2 Big Sky team that is the best #14 by a great distance, this does not look like a scary matchup. In terms of team quality this is approximately the equivalent of a neutral court game against Wisconsin, and when Montana has faced even a B-level Kenpom matchup they've flailed.

The shape of Montana's team also doesn't lend itself to an upset. They go seven deep. They've got one legitimately good three point shooter. He's Timmy Falls, a bench player with a 26% TO rate who shoots 42/44. Their other three shooters are all pretty eh; their two posts are not at all stretch types. Death by a blizzard of threes—always the prime method of stunning first-round demise—seems pretty unlikely.

One of the other major avenues is "mid-major dude is the best guy on the court," and if Montana is going to go that route they're going to need PG Ahmaad Rorie to go nuts. Rorie, who transferred from Oregon after one year and is in his second year on the court in Missoula, launches 27% of Montana's shots and barely leaves the floor. He's the only member of the Griz to chuck unassisted threes; he takes a ton of unassisted 2PJs that he cans at a solid rate.

He's not very quick and struggles to get to the basket (just 25% of his shots are at the rim vs a Big Sky schedule and half his makes are assisted); he didn't particularly stand out in your author's viewing of the Big Sky title game. Zavier Simpson should be able to force him into a bunch of heavily contested looks. Rorie's been good at hitting those this year; it'll take a superlative performance to hit a 110 ORTG. This is of course possible—you remember the Minnesota game. That's what effective guard offense from the Griz looks like.

The off guard, Michael Oguine, is Montana's most efficient player. At 23% usage he's at a 122 ORTG largely because of his impressive, MAAR-level turnover rate. He's under 10% despite getting half his shots at the rim and creating 80% of those. He gets to the line and converts at a decent 52/35 clip from the floor. He will presumably draw MAAR in a battle of the zero-turnover penetrators; he's the gent most likely to have a worrying stat line at halftime.

Wing Bobby Moorhead is Just A Shooter hitting 35%. He wears a headband and you will instantly hate him if and when he hits a three. When Moorhead ventures inside the line he has a 1:3 A:TO ratio and hits 41%. Running him off the line is most excellent.

Montana's other two starters are interchangeable post types who both go 6'8" and are 240-250 pounds. Jamar Akoh and Fabijan Krslovic are near-indistinguishable statistically down to their identical .588 hit rates from two. Akoh is a foul magnet and a little bit better on the boards. Krslovic is also top 100 in FT rate but not top 20, like Akoh. Everything else is virtually identical. Both guys play the same way, too. They are in and around the bucket, throwing up short hooks and the occasional jumper if they can't work their way to the rim.

The last Montana player you can expect to see is F Sayeed Pridgett. He's a wing sort who doesn't shoot threes and is at 48% inside the arc with a 20+ turnover rate. Montana has played freshman post Karl Nicholas a bit but he hasn't seen more than token minutes in a close game since December. It'll take foul trouble for Nicholas to emerge in this one.




The Grizzlies are fairly balanced, 82nd in Kenpom's adjusted offense and 65th on defense. Their peripherals are pretty great because of their competition level… and that makes it somewhat hard to project how they'll apply to Michigan.

Anyway: on offense, Montana shoots very few threes (#342) because they're bad at them (#218) and runs an iso-heavy offense that's 313th in assist rate. (Assist rate varies less than you might think: average is 52%; Montana is the 300s at 46%.) They get to the line, pound the boards, and avoid steals very well. Everything else is fairly eh.

On defense Montana is a trap-heavy outfit that forces a bunch of turnovers and steals (30th and 21st, respectively), gives up a butt ton of free throws (315th), and does a great job of preventing threes. That latter is a bother if Michigan isn't dunking as compensation.

Unfortunately, they only played three top 100 teams this season so any attempt to filter for reasonably good teams fails due to sample size, but FWIW it looks like their defense holds up much better than their offense when the biggish boys roll into town: PSU, Stanford, Georgia State, and Washington all had 1 PPP or worse when they played the Griz. Those were all losses because Montana's offense crawled in a hole and died, averaging about 0.8 PPP. Penn State is the best of those teams on D, finishing 21st. Michigan is about 4 points per 100 possessions better than PSU, and far better than the other teams.

This might be a bit of a meatgrinder.


Don't get trapped. Montana is a pure man to man team that will frequently hedge so hard they trap on the pick and roll. This helps make up for a lack of athleticism and remained effective against major conference teams that saw it. Michigan doesn't have to turn the ball over for super-hard hedging to be effective. Montana is capable of disrupting Michigan possessions and sending them into late-clock mode, where they suck.

Hopefully Beilein's week to prepare pays off here. Michigan has spent a large chunk of the year combatting progressively more desperate attempts to thwart the pick and roll.

Just, like, defense against them? It is deeply improbable that a Big Sky team that struggles to crack 0.8 PPP against good teams and is amongst the country's least three-heavy outfits is suddenly going to blow up against a ***TOP FIVE*** defensive unit. I just don't see how it's possible given the talent the Grizzles will field unless they have one of those games where they hit literally every dumb shot they throw up.

Hit some free throws. Preferably a lot, but I'll settle for "some." Montana will be going all out for transition opportunities and is probably going to put Matthews and Simpson on the line frequently as they exploit the low downside of getting up close and personal with those guys.


Michigan by 8.



March 13th, 2018 at 6:17 PM ^

the big boys, I took a look at the actual game charts against PSU, Stanford and Washington.

Just to freak myself out even more.  Those charts...did not make me feel better.  They most certainly did hang with the big boys on the road.  And yes, none of those teams are world beaters but all three are top 100 in kenpom.


Montana was only down three with four minutes to go in what had been a single digit game throughout.  PSU would hit two threes to go up nine and then fouling made it 13, but they certainly hung around.


Again, Montana was only down two with four minutes to go after leading by six with ten minutes to go. Standford would get the lead to eight with two minutes to go, but then Montana must have kept fouling and not scoring such that they lead swelled to 16.  This was again, much more comptitive than the final score indicates.


Montana was up by one with four minutes to go and wound up losing by three.

It's incredible how that four minute mark hit in all these games and they turtled up. But they have definitely hung with some decent teams on the road and have to be super excited to be playing not on the road but in what will be a dead gym (something they're used to I'm sure).

This team's lofty kenpom is not inflated.  They are a really solid squad.

Not to mention Michigan has to play a game that is going to start at around 10pm their time, while Montana gets to play at a much more comfortable 8pm their time.  I hope we don't come out sleepy after an 11 day layoff.

I'm officially freaked out about this game!


March 13th, 2018 at 7:15 PM ^

"When the difficulty level steps up they haven't been able to hang."

That assertion was made based on score margins of 13 and 16 against PSU and Stanford, respectively.  Those scores make the games seem like comfortable victories in which the loser did not hang.

New information: those games were actually close until the very end and the margins were drastically inflated by fouling.

You fail to see how the new information wouldn't make one more nervous?

And look, I'm nervous in the way that a neurotic fan of a three seed would be when facing a poorly seeded and pretty solid 14 seed. I'm not like, omg, we're gonna lose. It's more like, ugh, I can't feel comfortable until we're up double digits so we don't have to be nervous about something crazy happening at the end (FTs much?).

But your examples of two teams in this quality range that actually did beat us this year is exactly why I'm worried! That we could lose a matchup that should be an easier tune-up for the second round with relatively high likelihood (I buy the kenpom prediction of 25 or so percent) is worrisome to me.

Big Boutros

March 13th, 2018 at 7:48 PM ^

Sure but I would argue those were different Michigan teams to the one that will play Montana, particularly in the LSU game.

Similarly, the Penn State team that beat Montana was a lot worse than the one that we beat in Happy Valley -- they were in the midst of losing to Rider, not rocketing to #1 on Torvik.

I am a Kenpom enthusiast so if he says 25% there must be some validity to it. But his metrics do not account for several variables: in-season improvement (or regression), matchups, and prep. We've broken his system several times over the past six weeks, particularly in the B1G tournament. We've been dogs in 5 of our last 8 games by his metric and won them all. So either we have been really lucky with a sequence of coin flips or there is something ascendant in our game that he's not capturing.

If you use Torvik's custom split you'll see that Michigan is #1 in the country since February 7 and Montana is #87, surrounded by P5 teams going 2-5. Their offense has dipped to #110.

Having said all that, I don't want you to think I am trying to police your emotions. I think your research is worthwhile. We just have the opposite opinion -- I think this game is actually easier than it looks, not harder.


March 14th, 2018 at 1:39 AM ^

because I quite literally said I buy the kenpom projection, which is to say, I think it's exactly as hard as it looks through the kenpom lens.

Everyone here is extremely confident that this is going to be easier than it appears, and kind of discounting Montana so I was just pointing out some research that suggests they may be better overall than what the superficial scores suggest.

It's just the paranoid fan in me to come up with things to be worried about and I'm somewhat being tongue-in-cheek.

I love this Michigan team and the way they're playing down the stretch, and agree that Montana is a pretty good matchup style-wise. I think there's a good chance Michigan comes out eager and fired up after the layoff and blows the doors off this game early.  Hoping for that, mentally preparing for a rock fight of a first half too.


March 14th, 2018 at 8:06 AM ^

As you noted, Montana seemed to turtle up at the 4 minute mark against better teams. That may have something to do with their high foul rate. Their starters get into foul trouble/foul out late in games and there's a drop-off to the bench.

Mostly I'm reassured that while we may be looking past Montana, I know Beilein isn't. He'll have a game plan to attack their weaknesses.


March 13th, 2018 at 6:32 PM ^

I would note that Montana starts five upperclassmen, so it's possible that they were closer to their peak level early in the season than a lot of college teams (particularly from major conferences) would be.  (We struggled at home against CMU the same week PSU played Montana.)  But yeah, the team shouldn't take these guys lightly.




March 13th, 2018 at 7:01 PM ^

Good point, and it does seem that Penn State improved quite a bit as the season progressed.  Their OOC schedule:  woof!  It's no wonder they were not in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid. They played mostly bad teams from mediocre conferences.  Two exceptions were Montana whom they beat and Rider to whom they lost.


March 14th, 2018 at 1:59 AM ^

PSU started the season ranked pretty highly in kenpom (40th) and stayed within a very small band of rankings between 33rd and 45th all the way untll January 12th, which is to say they were remarkably consistent as about the 40th best team in the country during that time.

And sure enough, Torvik had them ranked exactly 40th during that span (beginning of the season to 1/13).

People drastically overestimate the significance of a one point loss compared to a one point win.  There's basically no difference in terms of team quality.  It's a single bounce in an otherwise identical game.

After that they played like the 18th best team in the country, per Torvik.  A nice improvement over 40th but I wouldn't say waaaaay better (maybe just a couple aa's in there). People underestimate how decent they were for the first half of the season based on just two one point outcomes.


March 14th, 2018 at 2:11 AM ^

to fill out the schedule in November.  Please, give us all the Grizzlies.  This is not football people.

In basketball you absolutely want to schedule teams that you have a very good chance of beating (because at home, this game is very, very likely to be a W) and who will have a sparkling record at the end of the season to boost your RPI, even if there's a tiny at home chance you lose.

Heck, they're 76th in the RPI which is one spot away from a Q2 game for the host.  Q2 wins re rewarded far more than Q2 losses are punished, so there's hardly even a downside. 

Add to that the fact that they're not going to want a return trip, and it is a great non-conference game. These are the kind of games the smart teams schedule! Not games against SWAC and MEAC teams.


March 14th, 2018 at 6:57 AM ^

Montana nearly ran the table in the Big Sky this year.  You can't be certain that will happen again, and almost any loss they have in conference is an RPI-killer.  If you lose to them at home (and it would be a home game), there's a good chance it will be regarded as a bad loss, even if they're actually a pretty solid team.

The way to beef up your schedule isn't to add actual good small-conference teams.  It's by playing high majors, and then finding the sweet spot in guarantee-game scheduling - about RPI 150 - where they're not very good (so they won't beat you) but not awful (so they won't be an anchor).



March 14th, 2018 at 9:52 AM ^

That's not the way RPI works.

I mean, you're right about the second part, but you're wrong about "almost any loss they have in conference is an RPI-killer."

RPI doesn't care whom you beat or to whom you lost.  It's not an input to the formula.  If you play Duke and Montana at home, and you go 1-1, your RPI will be identical whether you beat Duke and lost to Montana or beat Montana and lost to Duke.  Either way, your record for RPI purposes is an outrageously stupid 0.6-1.4 (home wins / road losses = 0.6; home losses / road wins = 1.4).

It makes very little difference to Michigan's RPI whether Montana goes 22-6 or 18-10.  What mattes is that they don't go 2-26 -- and especially that they don't go 2-26 against a bunch of other teams that all go 8-20.

KenPom sells a service to college coaches where he will give them access to his preseason projections and scheduling advice before the season starts.  This is (a) brilliant, (b) sad, because the NCAA shouldn't use a system that can be gamed so easily, and (c) worth the cost, whatever it may be.  If Michigan had played mid-level MAC teams instead of Alabama A&M and Jacksonville, they might be playing in Detroit, because they might have had too much of an RPI advantage for MSU to overcome by being the regular-season conference champion.*  Hell, scheduling Buffalo (and beating them) is pretty much the only reason Syracuse is in the field.

* the committee vacillates on whether or not they admit that this matters, but they have long shown a seeding preference for regular season conference champions.  It goes back to the days when there wasn't such a massive schedule disparity within conferences, and having the best record over 18 games was more impressive than winning 3-4 in a row during a conference tournament.  They don't seem to take standings into account, but it's like there's an extra bonus for being regular season champs.


March 14th, 2018 at 12:53 PM ^

again, but if they lose a few more conference games, they'll be in that 100-200 RPI range that you think is the sweet spot and which you're arguing is the ideal opponent! So it's win-win.

I can't be certain of who is going to win mid to low major conferences any more than you can be certain who is going to be about 150th in RPI (probably more difficult to judge that).

And that's the whole point: you want to schedule mid-to-low majors who are likely to have a good record.  And you are correct that they should be at least good-ish since they return 4 guys from a solid team.

Best-case scenario, IMO, is they're a top 100 team and offer a chance for an easy quality win and big RPI boost (to J.'s correct point above, 50% of a team's RPI is simply opponents raw record), with very little downside.

Second-best-case scenario, is they're a team in your sweet spot - that 100-200 range that will help your RPI and is an even easier win, but is potentially a "bad" loss.

The difference in a good team's likelihood of winning a game at home between those two scenario's is only about 85-90% v 90-95% anyway.

Even if you lose a game to a good-ish mid-major, it's not the end of the world.  If you go on to have a good season, the committee will completely ignore it as a fluke (see UNC v Wofford or Purdue v WKU), if you go on to have multiple bad losses, you're probably not very good so who cares? There's only a tiny band of outcomes for which one of those losses would maybe matter much, and it's for teams on the bubble. 

I don't expect to be back there anytime soon.  We're playing for protected seeds for the foreseeable future.  So we should be scheduling for that.



March 13th, 2018 at 7:27 PM ^

I mean, they are a conference champion from a reasonably competitive mid-major. I always assume that when people say a team won't be too big a hurdle, it's with the understanding that they are all competent.

It will be a game for a bit, but Michigan has run through a half-dozen teams in the past month that are demonstrably better than Montana, and they'll be doing so with weeks to prepare.


March 13th, 2018 at 11:55 PM ^

Great post. I agree this game will be closer than we would prefer. I would envision a game similar to Iowa in the Big Ten Tourney without the overtime. The long layoff, travel to a different time zone and the late start time all works against us. I see a sloppyish game until 3 or 4 mins left when MAAR takes over for the win.


March 14th, 2018 at 10:10 AM ^

Yeah, I definitely wouldn't include Stanford in a justification that Montana hung with and/or nearly beat "big boy" teams. Stanford went 11-7 in the Pac-12 but 6-7 in the non-conference with losses to Eastern Washington (by 6 @ home), Portland State (by 9 @ PK80), and Long Beach State (by 8 on the road).

Big Boutros

March 13th, 2018 at 6:26 PM ^

Seems like their ISO offense plus our slow pace will lead to a very short game. And since they can't hit threes, the margin will likely chip away into a larger and larger hole. I could see a final score around 60-44.

Shop Smart Sho…

March 13th, 2018 at 6:27 PM ^

Teske's 10-12 minutes in this game might be wildly entertaining. Especially if they're hedging hard on whomever is running the pick and roll with him. I forsee a couple of rolls to the basket ending in his slightly awkward post-dunk celebrations. And I'm all for it.


March 13th, 2018 at 6:35 PM ^

This feels like a game where Montana gives them trouble for a half and then they Michigan gets into gear and it's over. Montana is a legitimately good team for a 14 seed, but Michigan can absolutely choke them on defense and score enough to get the KenPom cover.

Big Boutros

March 13th, 2018 at 6:38 PM ^

Michigan's #4 defense has come against the composite #21 opponent offense. The only other top-5 defense that has played such a tough offensive schedule is Tennessee.

Montana's SOS (202nd) is bottom-15 in the tournament. So their offense that has a tendency to curl up and die against P5 defenses will be especially vulnerable against a Michigan defense that has cut its teeth on the best offenses in the country.


March 13th, 2018 at 6:47 PM ^

"Akoh is a foul magnet"

"..probably going to put Matthews and Simpson on the line frequently as they exploit the low downside of getting up close and personal with those guys."

I dig a Beilein strategy from the opening tip of going straight at these guys with Wagner/Rahk/Matthews drives off the PnR. Since they only go 7-deep and Akoh is prone to 1st half foul trouble, let 'em foul Matthews and Simpson all they want. I dig our chances reaching the double bonus with 5:00 plus to go in each half. Look for us to double KenPom's prediction.

Go Blue! Win the game.

The Man Down T…

March 13th, 2018 at 7:58 PM ^

Game starts.  Michigan is rusty as hell as they have only played scrimmages against each other for 2 weeks and that doesn't keep the rust from hitting.  They fall behind and struggle early and through the first half.  The MGoBlog open thread is full of F-bombs and screaming at Delaney as we panic and start wailing to the world and bargaining our first born to the devil for a win.  Halftime Beilein adjusts and Michigan comes out and puts them away and we praise Beilein for 2 days, demand muppets and open appreciation threads by the dozens.  On Saturday, Michigan comes out and does the Gallagher versus a bunch of grapes on who ever they play and rolls on from there.  

Serioulsy, there's going to be some rust and stale play early.  But this team will win and come Saturday will roll.