NCAA Tournament Cheat Sheet: Getting to know Montana

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Read through the rest of the Cheat Sheets here.

Conference: Big Sky

Coach: Wayne Tinkle

Record: 25-6, 19-1

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 146
– RPI: 88
– AP/USA Today: N/A

Seeding?: Our Dave Ommen had Montana as a No. 15 seed in Saturday’s bracket projection.

Names you need to know: Will Cherry (13.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.2 apg), Kareem Jamar (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.1 apg)

Stats you need to know: Montana has lost three games with Will Cherry in the lineup. One of them was in double-overtime against South Dakota State in Cherry’s first game back from a broken foot. He played 13 minutes. The other was in overtime at Davidson in a game where Cherry missed the last five minutes in regulation after aggravating the injury.

Tendencies: With Mathias Ward out with a foot injury, the Grizzlies have become a team heavily reliant on their back court duo of Cherry and Jamar, who are both talented playmakers and scorers.

Big wins, bad losses: Montana’s best wins this season were both against Weber State, but the Grizzlies didn’t have any terrible losses.

How’d they get here?: After winning the Big Sky regular season title, the Grizzlies knocked off Weber State in the tournament title game to earn the automatic bid.

Outlook: Montana is a really good basketball team that, if healthy, may have had the horses to make a run at an upset in the opening round. But without Ward — their leading scorer — Montana has to rely heavily on Jamar and Cherry. But Ward’s injury isn’t the only one that Montana has dealt with this season, as Cherry broke his foot in the preseason. Five of Montana’s six losses can be tied directly to that injury, and those losses are part of the reason that the Grizzlies may end up as a lower seed that they would like. Montana might be able to pick off a four or a five seed; I’m not sure they can beat a two or a three seed this season.

How do I know you?: The Grizzlies went dancing last season, and you may have seen their head coach hosting late-night TV.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.