Fresh off dispatching Wayne Tinkle's current team, Kansas faces his former team on Saturday. Tinkle took Montana to back to back tournaments in 2012 and 2013, and Montana is the defending Big Sky regular season champion under Travis DeCuire, who played at Montana after transferring from Chaminade (lots of parallels in this one!).
Considering I watch the Big Sky more than any other conference other than the Big 12, it's a bit curious that I haven't seen the Grizzlies play yet this season, but they've been extremely up and down. A nice win over Boise State and just a three point loss to Gonzaga are overshadowed by a 30 point loss to Washington and loss to San Jose State, who is ranked 331st in KenPom.
The Grizzlies' struggles have mostly been offensively. Montana, most curiously, is shooting just 25 percent on threes this season, but it is shooting about 53 percent on twos, which can keep them in games. They've struggled with turnovers as well, but an inability to shoot jump shots is what has killed them so far. It could be a nice game for the Jayhawks in that a lot of turnovers plus a lot of missed jumpers could lead to a lot of transition opportunities.
The best news for Kansas is that Montana is pretty small. They are 179th in effective height, aren't good on the glass (28.6 percent, 223rd) and their tallest regular players stand just 6-8. Kansas should be able to pound it inside fairly effectively, and this looks like a good Hunter Mickelson game considering Kansas doesn't figure to be challenged on the boards.
Players to Watch
Martin Breunig is Montana's best player and a favorite for conference player of the year (and was my preseason selection). Breunig is shooting 67 percent while taking 28 percent of the team's shots while he's playing, and is drawing a ton of fouls. He'll be a handful for the Jayhawks to handle, but maybe getting a couple shots blocked by Mickelson will slow him down a bit.
Fabijan Krslovic is shooting 56 percent on twos, is Montana's best offensive rebounder, and has a steal rate of 3.5 percent despite being 6-8. He's also taking a team high 68 percent of his field goal attempts at the rim via hoop-math.
Montana still looks like one of the Big Sky contenders, but unless they have a way out of character game from three they don't figure to threaten the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse. It might be a bit of a slow start because it's a Saturday afternoon game after finals week but the Jayhawks should win this one fairly comfortably. I'll go 86-70.