Sunday, February 24, 2013

What Does Montana Look Like Without Cherry and Ward?

It seems almost certain that Will Cherry will miss the rest of the season, with reports that he re-broke his foot. Mathias Ward's status is less certain, but there is at least a very good chance he will miss this week's games, where they will travel to take on Montana State and Southern Utah.

What do they lose with those two guys? All season long, it has been said that the Grizzlies biggest thing going for them was the big 3. That was - Ward, Cherry, and Kareem Jamar. Obviously, this would take out 2/3 of that trio. Ward and Cherry account for almost 40% of the team's scoring. Ward is the best midrange shooter in the Big Sky, and Cherry is the best defender in the Big Sky.

They can't replace Cherry's defense. That is no offense to the rest of the team, it's just that there is nobody in the conference (and not many in America) that are as good as Cherry. He is second all time in the Big Sky in steals. But how will they go about replacing these guys' offensive production? Here are some things to watch:

1) Kareem Jamar has to be the man - Simply put, Jamar has to be at his best every game. With Cherry out (and possibly even if Cherry is healthy), Jamar is the best player in the conference. He averages 14 PPG, 6 RPG, and 4 APG.  He is now Montana's best scorer, rebounder, and passer. He has to do it all for them right now, and he is good enough to do that. On Saturday, he was two assists away from a triple-double, and that was no aberration. They will rely heavily on Jamar.

2) Spencer Coleman and Mike Weisner need to step up - Coleman and Weisner are probably more traditional threes, but they will be asked to play a ton of four and possibly even some five down the stretch. Over the last couple of years, the Grizzlies offense has been at its best when they have five guys that can step away from the hoop and shoot. They did that this year when Ward was at the five, and one of these guys at the four. Now, one of them might be asked to play center often. Both guys can hit the outside shot (Weisner in particular has been excellent from outside), but the key will be how they rebound and defend.

3) Keron DeShields and Jordan Gregory can no longer be role players - We looked at these guys closely before the season began, but now their contributions will be more important than ever. Both have made nice strides this year, but Wayne Tinkle is going to need them to be consistent offensive threats for the Grizzlies. Gregory has been the more efficient scorer this year, shooting 53% on twos and 43% from downtown. DeShields is a guy that Tinkle loves for his toughness and fearlessness, but he has been a little inconsistent offensively. He is only an average outside shooter (but better facilitator than Gregory), but he needs to take the next step without Cherry.

Looking at the roster... if Cherry and Ward are done for the rest of the year (or at least, however long they are out), the Grizzlies need these three things to happen. They have more traditional big men (Eric Hutchison and Andy Martin) but both guys have only been effective in spurts, and they are slow-footed post men. The Grizzlies have performed best with a quick lineup of shooters, and a lineup of DeShields-Gregory-Jamar-Coleman-Weisner is the best chance at that. But it's hard to say how that lineup would perform defensively and on the glass. I suspect we will find out down the stretch.

Wayne Tinkle is the best coach in the Big Sky. He has proven this over the year. But this may be his biggest challenge.

Follow me on Twitter @bigskybball

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