Let me throw a big giant caveat at the beginning of this article... Montana has played one game, and they have the best coach in the Big Sky, who has shown time and time again the ability to make adjustments as the season goes along to make the team better. However, this also needs to be said - The Grizzlies have some things to work on.
The fact that they lost on Tuesday to Minnesota is not a surprise. Minnesota is a good team, and they will win a lot of games this year. If Montana had won, it would have been a bigger upset than Northern Colorado beating Kansas State. However, the way they lost (84-58) had to be a bit discouraging for the Grizzlies. Heading into the year, it was easy to see some potential problem areas for Montana, which I highlighted in my preview. Through one game, those areas stood out.
Montana may well recover and win the Big Sky (nobody should doubt Wayne Tinkle at this point), but there are four big concerns I have about the Grizzlies right now:
1. Rebounding - Last year, they were not a good rebounding team. They had one of the lowest offensive rebounding rates in the country (25.1%, 334th in the nation), and personnel-wise, there doesn't seem to be a lot of help brought in. I think this is partly a function of their offense, but it lowers their margin for error offensively (more on the offense later). Defensive rebounding wise, they were not terrible last year, but frequently got outrebounded. Against Minnesota (who, it should be noted was the best offensive rebounding team in the country last year, although most of their best offensive rebounders from last season were not playing in the opener), the Grizzlies allowed 14 offensive rebounds, and got outrebounded 45-29. They may not be a great rebounding team, but they have to get better there. Fortunately, they won't play the Gophers again!
2. Defense - Don't look now, but the Grizzlies took a step back defensively compared to past season, allowing 1.00 PPP, after three straight seasons below 1.00 (including 0.96 PPP in 2012). This isn't a crisis - they were still second in the Big Sky by a big margin - but that is the difference between competing for a title and competing for second place. Against the Gophers, they allowed 1.24 PPP. The Gophers shot 11/25 from downtown, and their 14 offensive boards were a big factor there. Montana had a similarly bad game against BYU early last year, and things turned out ok, but it's something to keep an eye on.
3. Point Guard Play - In my preview, I noted my concern about Keron DeShields' ability to step in and run the show, and it was an uneven first game for him. He shot 3/11 from the floor (compared to 12 FGA for Kareem Jamar and six for Jordan Gregory), and had three assists compared to four turnovers. These are some of the same issues from last season, where he was a bit uneven as a ballhandler and not an efficient scorer. Backing him up, Mario Dunn played like a freshman. He was 2/5 from the field, but his line would have looked a lot better if he was better than 1/4 from the charity stripe. He had one assist and one turnover. I think Dunn will improve a lot as the year goes on, and could even seize the PG spot by conference play. We will see.
4. Interior scoring - To win in the Big Sky, you don't need an elite interior post threat. Heck, the Grizzlies have proven that the last couple of years. Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't something you would like to have. Against Montana, they had none. To wit, the lines of the frontcourt guys:
- Eric Hutchison played 11 minutes and was in some foul trouble. He scored two points and had no rebounds in his time.
- Chris Kemp played just seven minutes, going scoreless but grabbing three rebounds. I think he will be a bit like Spencer Coleman last season... slowly getting worked into things before becoming a big-time contributor by the end of the season.
- Andy Martin played six minutes, also going scoreless while grabbing one rebound.
- Michael Weisner is like Mathias Ward last season a bit... he is a frontcourt guy, and started at the four spot... but he is almost more comfortable on the perimeter. He scored five points on 2/5 shooting, grabbing two rebounds but turning it over four times.
Again, it's only one game, against a very good opponent, and these things will definitely get better. Still, I bring them up because they were seen as potential areas of weakness heading into the season, and they were glaring in the opener. It is far too early to make any type of conclusions, but they will be things to watch. Grizzlies fans, what are you worried about (if anything)?
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