Well-rested Michigan gears up for Montana

Michigan coach John Beilein has seen just about everything and traveled just about everywhere during his nearly 40 years in coaching, but even this will represent a couple firsts for him.

Beilein’s Michigan team is seeded No. 3 in the West Region and will face off against No. 14-seed Montana in a second-round game Thursday night in Wichita, Kan., which will represent uncharted waters in a couple ways.

One, Beilein told the Detroit Free Press after Sunday’s selection show that he has never been to Wichita.

As unfamiliar as he is with the site of the game, Beilein, when the pairings came out, was equally unsure about the opponent.

“Nothing, nothing,” Beilein told the Free Press when asked about what he knew about Montana.

But Beilein and the Wolverines have spent the past couple days on a scouting crash course to get to better know the Grizzlies, who are making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2013.

Montana (26-7) punched its ticket to the tournament with an 82-65 victory over Eastern Washington in the Big Sky conference title game and enters the contest ranked No. 71 in the kenpom.com college basketball ratings.

The Grizzlies are led by three players who average in double-figure scoring, those being junior guard Ahmaad Rorie (17.3 points per game), junior guard Michael Oguine (15.7) and junior forward Jamar Akoh (13.3).

“I think it’s a good matchup,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “I haven’t seen them play this year. We have been scheduling high nonconference (games) for three and four years now and those are the type of teams we have been building towards competing against. Now we have that opportunity.”

Competing against Michigan though will be a tall order given the Wolverines ended the season as arguably the hottest team in the country.

Michigan enters the NCAA Tournament on a nine-game winning streak and is coming off its second straight Big 10 Tournament title.

The Wolverines (28-7) feature the best defensive team they have ever had in Beilein’s 11 seasons, giving up only 63.5 points per game — ninth-best in the nation.

Michigan’s usual strength under Beilein, its precise offense that spreads the floor with shooters and limits turnovers, is starting to become a strength once again.

The Wolverines recorded lopsided wins over Big 10 powers Michigan State and Purdue in the final two games of the conference tournament, but they might be affected by a longer than usual layoff.

With the Big 10 moving up its conference tournament a week early this year so it could play it at Madison Square Garden, Michigan will go 11 days in between games by the time it tips off with Montana.

“We want to play,” Michigan junior forward and leading scorer Moritz Wagner told the Detroit News. “We haven’t played in a week, so it’s time to get rolling.”

The winner will play Houston or San Diego State in Saturday’s second round.