Penn State Vs Montana Preview: Grizzlies Seeking Second Consecutive PA Upset

By Chad Markulics on November 15, 2017 at 10:45 am
Nov 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Montana Grizzlies coach Travis DeCuire reacts during a NCAA basketball game against the Southern California Trojans at the Galen Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports
Montana Grizzlies
2-0 (0-0 Big Sky)
7:00 p.m. ET – WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15
Viewing Info: TV (Big Ten Network) | Live Stream
Opponent KenPom Rank: 141 OVR, 118 AjOE, 183 AjDE
Vegas Line: Penn State -12

It's kind of a stunning stat, but you can look it up for yourself: Penn State hasn't started 3-0 under Pat Chambers since his first season in 2011-12. They'll have the opportunity to rectify that tonight as they play host to Montana in a non-bracketed game of the Legends Classic. These contests are typically considered schedule filler, but don't say that to the Grizzlies - they took down Pitt in overtime at the Pete on Monday night. While the Panthers (who Penn State will face in Brooklyn on Monday) are beginning a massive rebuild, it's no excuse for PSU to take the projected Big Sky champs lightly.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a near-complete performance, albeit against a tame Fairleigh Dickinson squad. Mike Watkins made his triumphant return to the lineup on Sunday, and his importance to the back end of the Lions' defense can not be understated - FDU was forced into 31 turnovers and scored just 0.69 points per possession. That kind of stellar defense combined with the leadership of Tony Carr will win a boatload of games. Can they put forth that same defensive effort to further justify their 15th-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency?

Projected Starters
Penn State   Montana
Tony Carr - 6'5 - So. 1 Ahmaad Rorie - 6'1 - Jr.
Shep Garner - 6'2 - Sr. 2 Michael Oguine - 6'2 - Jr.
Josh Reaves - 6'5 - Jr. 3 Bobby Moorehead - 6'7 - Jr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8 - So. 4 Fabijan Krslovic - 6'8 - Sr.
Mike Watkins - 6'9 - RS So. 5 Jamar Akoh - 6'8 - Jr.

Scouting Report

I caught the back end of Montana-Pitt on Monday night. I had two takeaways: 1) Pitt's not very good. 2) Montana has some legit skill on the perimeter. Michael Oguine scored 29 points in the victory and was particularly impressive, getting to the rim virtually at will and connecting on clutch shots down the stretch. However, he did struggle in their opener against Division III Whitworth (2-10 from the floor, 4 turnovers). Fellow junior Ahmaad Rorie led the team in minutes played last season and inherits full-time point guard duties from the departed Walter Wright. The Oregon transfer also had a good game at Pitt, posting 18 points and five boards. Head coach Travis DeCuire will rely on the Rorie and Oguine duo to play big minutes.

On the wing, Bobby Moorehead is off to a solid start in replacing Jack Lopez, who graduated after shooting 44 percent on threes in his senior season. Moorehead went 3-5 from deep against Pitt. DeCuire rotated three big men in the win, none of whom exceed 6'9. It should be another advantageous matchup for Watkins down low.

Keys to the Game

Penn State's defensive efficiency is currently ranked 15th nationally on KenPom. That largely has to do with his model's preseason projections, but they played up to that billing against FDU. By forcing thirty one turnovers, many of which caused by Josh Reaves, Penn State was able to get out in transition and mask some of their offensive issues in the half court.

That havoc creation will be put to the test in this game. Montana has been very good at avoiding turnovers in their four years under DeCuire. Last season the Griz ranked 16th nationally in offensive turnover percentage, turning the ball over on a mere 15.6 percent of possessions. Oguine and Rorie are experienced guards that can handle pressure as they displayed against Pitt. The pair was responsible for only three turnovers (all by Rorie) in 88 combined minutes. Tonight will be a better indicator of just how disruptive the Nittany Lions' 1-2-2 pressure can be.


This game is shaping up to be far more of a test than either Campbell or Fairleigh Dickinson could provide. Montana has been a heavy hitter in the Big Sky conference for the past decade and looks the part of a title contender yet again. Pitt's defeat to the Griz isn't as big an indictment on the Panthers as it seems from the surface. Penn State will be challenged, but I expect them to respond. Shep Garner is due to regress to the mean in a big way after his 2-14 start to the season, and like most mid-majors, Montana has no answer for Watkins inside. The Nittany Lions will make a struggle out of this but pull through in the end. Penn State 75, Montana 68

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