I have been a little skeptical of Montana so far this year. They started 6-1 in the Big Sky (before this past weekend), but that was against a very soft schedule, and with a level of defensive performance that didn't seem sustainable based on their defense during the non-conference portion of the schedule. All in all, I liked them, but felt like they were behind Sacramento State and Eastern Washington.
However, after this past weekend, a re-assessment is needed. They pasted Portland State on the road Thursday, and had Sacramento State on the ropes Saturday before the Hornets came back for a win. (Arguably, Montana did more than have them on the ropes - when they led by eight at the three minute mark, they had a 97% chance to win the game. They were on the wrong end of some calls I felt were questionable, but they have themselves to blame with bad turnovers, missed free throws, and then of course giving Dylan Garrity an open corner three to win the game. Of course, Garrity is probably the last guy in the Big Sky you want shooting an open three with game on the line!)
If I did power rankings this week, I'd probably have Montana above Sacramento State*, because they had the Hornets dead to rights on their home court, even with their best player missing a lot of time due to foul trouble. It was an impressive effort, made more impressive because they had beaten PSU so soundly two nights before.
The Grizzlies continue to be head and shoulders above the rest of the conference defensively, as their PPP against of 0.929 is worlds above NAU in second, who is at 1.046. They are forcing turnovers at a conference best rate, and teams are struggling from the outside. Mario Dunn might be the best defender in the Big Sky.
Offensively, they can have dry spells, but it's good enough to keep them in most games. Martin Breunig is either the best or second best offensive post guy in the conference (depending on your preference between him and Venky Jois), which is obviously a huge luxury. Jordan Gregory has struggled a bit in comparison to past years, but he is still a very good scorer. Brandon Gfeller has become a dynamite shooting specialist. They have enough pieces that they are capable on that end.
Their schedule is tough the rest of the way... they host Weber State, still have to go to Greeley, and have two games left against both Eastern Washington and Idaho. This will probably hand them enough losses that a Big Sky regular season title is not likely. However, they have the pieces, and defense, to be a very tough contender for the Big Sky title. With their near road win over Sac State, they showed they can get it done at home or on the road, which obviously becomes even more important in the Big Sky tournament.
*This is one of the reasons I'm not doing them this week... I don't want to see the outrage that would ensue!
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