Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Look Out For Montana

It has been an up and down season for Montana. They were 5-4 in non-conference play, and then surprisingly dropped their home opener against Northern Arizona once Big Sky play started. After a home loss to Northern Colorado, they were 2-4, and need a furious barrage of threes in the second half to take down Idaho State to avoid falling to 2-5.

But yet, after close road wins against Southern Utah and Montana State, the Grizzlies are 5-5 in the Big Sky, and I can't shake the feeling that when the dust settles, they will be in third or fourth in the Big Sky.

As I have documented here before, they have their issues. They are not a good defensive team, giving up 1.09 PPP in conference play, which is 8th in the Big Sky. Their frontcourt issues are well documented - their most used lineup features four guards playing. But I think they are getting better, and it wouldn't surprise me if they kept getting better - that's just what Wayne Tinkle's teams do.

Their struggles have masked the fact that they are actually pretty good offensively. Against DI opponents this year, they shoot 38% on threes and 53% on two-pointers, both top 50 marks in the country. They are able to get to the line, but also shoot a lot of threes, which is a nice combo for a good-shooting team. They have a top 50 mark in the country in terms of taking care of the basketball, with a solid 16.1% turnover rate.

They are still led by Kareem Jamar, who is carrying a big load but playing excellent basketball. He shoots 52% on twos and 38% on threes, while maintaining his great assist rate and solid rebounding rate. This season, he has dramatically cut his turnover rate even as his assist rate and usage rate has jumped. He's not getting as much hype this year because of the struggles of the Grizzlies, but he better than ever.

Jamar isn't doing it himself though, he is getting help from his backcourt mates. Jordan Gregory has been as good as predicted, maintaining his great efficiency even with increased minutes and usage. He is a fantastic scorer for them. Keron DeShields was a question mark coming into the year, but he has been a good player for them, hitting shots and taking care of the ball. Mario Dunn is getting better and better as the season goes along, and will be a vital part of the rotation as the year goes along.

All year long, most (myself included in this) have mostly been talking about Montana in terms of what they cannot do, and what their limitations are. However, it might be time to start talking about their strengths, because with six home games left in the final ten, they could be a factor in the Big Sky.

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