Monday, November 11, 2013

Hoops Preview: Gophers vs. Montana

After an easy-ish win over Lehigh, the Montana Grizzlies will come into Williams Arena on Tuesday and, for good or for ill, this will be the Gophers toughest home non-conference opponent - yes, they're better than Florida State.  The Grizzlies have won the Big Sky in back-to-back years, and are poised to go after the three-peat.  They do lose three starters off last year's team, but that hasn't mattered in year's past as coach Wayne Tinkle (hee hee) has a solid system in place and the results are solid no matter the roster turnover.

Montana's big wild card on Tuesday will be swingman Kareem Jamar, who just won both the regular season and tournament MVP in the Big Sky while leading the Grizz in scoring (14.2 per), rebounding (5.9), and assists (4.0).  He very well might be the best player on a mid-major in the entire country, and most of us won't get to see it because the stupid game isn't on tv anywhere and paying for Gopher All Access is basically giving in to extortion.  Jamar is a model of consistency as his stats from last year are nearly identical to two years ago, although with two of the starters who are gone being the other two big scorers on the team his numbers could take a drastic jump.  He can hit the three (36%) but isn't dependent on it (3.3 attempts per game), can drive and get to the line and make them, find an open shooter or score himself, and he has a solid mid-range game.  He should be pretty fun to watch (if you can) and a good early season test for Austin Hollins defensive shutdown skills.

I downplayed the loss of three starters earlier, but although a solid team system can help ease the loss when you're talking Big Sky, having your second and third best players, both double-digit scorers, gone from last season hurts when going up against a major conference foe, especially since this is the first game of the year for Montana.  Those two did have some injuries issues which caused them to miss 18 games between the two of them which helped the depth gain some experience, but outside of Jamar I'm not sure what Montana really has here.

Similarly to Lehigh, the Grizzlies shouldn't pose too big of a threat to the Gophers' questionable front court, particularly with Mo Walker out.  Most of their returning minutes come from Jamar and two guards - Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields who I am going to assume is related to Delino because that's cool and I refuse to look it up and prove myself wrong and their top incoming recruit is another guard.  Gregory was actually one of the most efficient players in the country on the offensive end last season (71st) due to good shooting percentages (46% from two, 42% from three, and 88% from the line) and a refusal to turn the ball over (just one per game).  He's going to have be more involved this season due their losses, and more importantly become more of a play maker (1.2 assists per game).  One of Montana's big strengths last season was tough perimeter defense, so these guys have a lot to live up to.

While the perimeter overall is probably ok, the front line is where some issues could arise.  Montana will be relying mainly on three guys who have the size (Michael Weisner 6-7, Eric Hutchison 6-9, and Andy Martin 7-0) if not the experience (21 minutes per game, 16 minutes per game, and 8 minutes per game) to give the Gophers trouble.  They also have a 6-7 JuCo power forward coming in who I can't find any information about other than what I just said.  His name is Chris Kemp.  Probably Shawn Kemp's kid.  Anyway, looking at the box scores from their last exhibition game it appears rebounding is a serious weakness, and not like it was kind of a weakness last season for Montana but I mean like holy balls bad.  Getting out-rebounded by Lewis & Clark College is not good.

Overall, Montana was a decent team last year whose main strength was their offensive efficiency and ability to score.  Their weaknesses were overall defense and rebounding.  Although they will still end up being in the mix for the Big Sky title, the players they lost are only going to diminish their strengths and highlight their weaknesses until the new players and players in new roles get things figured out, and that's not going to fly against a Gopher team, even for all its flaws.  Enjoy watching Jamar though, assuming you can.

Minnesota 70, Montana 57.

FUN FACT:  I once met some girls from Montana.  They refer to partying hard as "getting rugged" out there.  Good to know.

I bet they got rugged after.  And before.

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