|Does Montana have the firepower from 3-point range to knock off Syracuse and become Cinderella? (sbnation.com)|
By now, you've seen all the "expert" predictions on who could make a splash with a big upset in the second (first) round and possibly carry the banner of 'Cinderella' into the Sweet 16. You've probably taken this advice and settled on a couple Cinderellas to feature on your bracket. But don't turn that sucker in to the pool manager without giving one last hard look at the Montana Grizzlies, the scrappy champions of the Big Sky Conference.
Montana returns the bulk of its players from a first-round-tournament exit one year ago, which was not particularly competitive. Giving a hot team like Montana additional motivation to prove itself is like adding fuel to the fire. The Grizzlies have won 21 of 23 coming into their Thursday night match-up with 4-seed Syracuse.
We all know how big a factor 3-point shooting is for underdogs to overcome their disadvantages in the athleticism department. This is particularly true when going up against Syracuse's vaunted zone defense. As a team, Montana shoots 38.5 percent from 3 — five percentage points better than Syracuse. They also post the No. 23 highest overall field goal percentage in the nation at 47.4 percent.
Aspiring Cinderellas always benefit from experienced floor generals, and Montana has that in senior point guard, Will Cherry. In a close game down the stretch, Cherry could be the difference, along with the Grizzlies' stellar 76.8 percent team free throw percentage. One reason to hesitate when picking Montana to advance tonight, though, is its loss of leading scorer and senior forward Mathias Ward late in the season to a foot injury. Montana managed to persevere and make it to the Big Dance anyway, but he could be sorely missed in those moments when the Grizzlies desperately need a bucket to turn back Syracuse's momentum.
It won't be easy for Montana to pull off the upset, by any means, but if Syracuse goes cold, the Grizzlies are the perfect team to take advantage. Some hot shooting from deep, early and often, coupled with enough opportunities at the charity stripe, could spell trouble for the Orangemen... and victory for your bracket.
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