By: Will Burchfield
John Beilein just about winced Tuesday morning at the mention of Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine, the duo that comprises Montana’s dynamic backcourt. Beilein believes these Big Sky scorers have Power 5 flair.
“They’re really two Big 10 guards,” Beilein told 97.1 The Ticket, pointing out that Rorie began his college career in the Pac 12 at Oregon. “They’re just veterans. They really play. They can score from the outside, they both pass the ball well.”
Three-seed Michigan is set to take on Rorie, Oguine and the 14th-seeded Grizzlies in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night in Wichita. The two juniors are Montana’s top two scorers. Rorie’s averaging 17.2 points per game, good for seventh in the Big Sky; Oguine’s averaging 15.8; good for 11th. Rorie’s also averaging 3.7 assists, third best in the conference.
It will be incumbent on the likes of Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to keep Rorie and Oguine in check — particularly Rorie, a former four-star recruit and a first-team all-conference selection this season.
As much offense as Montana gets from its backcourt, its team defense is even better. The Grizzlies held teams to 68.7 points this season, best in the Big Sky. Oguine was conference defensive player of the year.
“Montana is no joke,” Beilein said. “Montana is the real deal. I’m telling everybody, they’re the real deal. We’re going to have to play extremely well to win, and I think that goes for the rest of the tournament. You have to play well every day or you’ll probably go home at this time of year.”
The Grizzlies enter play Thursday night having won 19 of their last 21 games. They share two common opponents with Michigan. Both teams breezed past UC Riverside. Montana lost to Penn State, 70-57, while Michigan beat the Nittany Lions, 72-63.
The Wolverines haven’t played since topping Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament championship March 4. Beilein allowed his team some extra rest last week, before dialing things up in an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday. He’ll hold another hard practice on Tuesday, he said, and then “back it off a little bit (Wednesday).”
He’s certainly not looking for excuses.
“I think we’re in a normal rhythm, and I’m of the mindset that the layoff will not have any affect on this game,” Beilein said. “We’re going to have to play well. If we win, it’s (because) we played really well; if we get beat, Montana was a better team. It won’t be about the layoff or the travel or the site or anything. We’re just playing ball.”