Tiny Dancers: Montana

Wayne Tinkle and Montana knocked off Weber State and will be dancing. (USATSI)
Wayne Tinkle and Montana knocked off Weber State and will be dancing. (USATSI)

Things didn’t look great for Montana in late February, when leading scorer Mathias Ward injured his foot and was eventually ruled out for the season. Meanwhile, star guard Will Cherry also missed time late in the season. While the Grizzlies went 19-1 in conference play, they weren’t playing their best down the stretch.

However, Montana was able to win its final four regular-season games to start the month --and then the Grizzlies won the Big Sky tournament. They defeated No. 2 seed Weber State in the title game 67-64, getting 20 points from Kareem Jamar and 18 points from Cherry to lead the way.

Had Ward been healthy, Montana might have been a team that could pull off a first-round upset. Jamar and Cherry form a dynamite backcourt, and the Grizzlies are able to hurt teams in different ways on the offensive end. Last year, Montana drew Wisconsin in the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament -- that’s simply not a good matchup.

With the right opponent, though, don’t overlook Montana.

Player to know: Will Cherry. Injuries have taken Cherry a step back from last season, but he’s still the Grizzlies’ best player and primary option. He’s also starting to come alive, averaging nearly 18 points in his last three games -- after it wasn’t clear he would even be available for the Big Sky tournament. Cherry draws fouls, is aggressive defensively and can make plays for others.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 25-6 overall, 19-1 in Big Sky
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2012
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 14
  • KenPom ranking: 144
  • Sagarin ranking: 132
  • RPI: 83
  • Best wins: Weber State (twice)
  • Worst losses: San Francisco, Weber State
  • Notable stat: In a close game, the Grizzlies might have the edge. They are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country, knocking down nearly 77 percent of its foul shots. That ranks No. 7 in the country. Moreover, they are one of the most efficient teams at getting to the free-throw line, getting nearly 23 percent of their points from the charity stripe.

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