Introducing Cinderella: Montana returns to the NCAA tournament

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Montana is heading back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.

The Grizzlies dug themselves an early hole, trailing Eastern Washington by double-digits in the first half, but the best team in the Big Sky played like it in the second half.

Sayeed Pridgett scored 18 points to lead four players in double-figures in a 68-62 win.

CONFERENCE: Big Sky

COACH: Travis DeCuire

RECORD: 26-8

RATINGS

  • KENPOM: 137
  • NET: 123

PROJECTED SEED: Montana was a No. 15 seed in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection. Their 25-8 record is impressive, and they do have wins at South Dakota State (103) and against Georgia State (128) and North Dakota State (222) at home. They should avoid the 16 seed line.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Montana has played the majority of this season without their leading scorer and rebounder, Jamar Akoh, which has been a major blow. Without him in the middle, the Grizzlies rely even more on the play of their talented backcourt. Ahmaad Rorie is probably the best of the bunch, Michael Oguine has carried this roster at times this season as well. Sayeed Pridgett can play, too.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Montana hasn’t really beaten anyone of note beyond a couple of the better mid-majors in college hoops.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Without Akoh on the floor, the Grizzlies have become one of the better three-point shooting teams in college basketball. They make 37.9 percent of the three that they take, and they have been forced to use lineups that play five perimeter-oriented players. Donaven Dorsey, Bobby Moorehead and Pridgett play

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: The Grizzlies have been one of the best programs in the Big Sky for a long time. This is their second NCAA tournament in a row and the fifth they’ve reached this decade. It’s also a place where a number of terrific coaches have launched their careers: Wayne Tinkle, Larry Krystkowiak, Blaine Taylor, Stew Morrill, Mike Montgomery, Jud Heathcote …

FINAL THOUGHT: … and it looks like the next guy on that list is going to be Travis DeCuire. Considering the job that he has done with the injuries that this team has dealt with throughout the season, that is going to get him noticed by bigger schools looking to make a relevant hire. DeCuire has made it to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and he has won three Big Sky titles. Someone is going to want to bring him into the fold.