The Montana Grizzlies have counterbalanced the bad with the good. The two-time defending Big Sky Conference men's basketball champions slumped through January, and at one point were mired below .500 and in the bottom third of the league standings. But with three victories last week, the Griz have now won four in row. “I’m really excited about the run we’ve put together, but we’re still far from where we need to go,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle conveyed to the Missoulian after an 82-77 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday. “And we’re starting to gel, but our chemistry is not quite there. “If you go on a slide, you’re right back at the bottom of the league. We said in the locker room that we stay humble and hungry and we let our success do our talking for us.” All three wins last week were tight. Prior to the five-point victory over EWU, Montana beat rival Montana State 70-66 on Monday and defeated Portland State 82-76 on Thursday. Leading the way in all three games was league MVP candidate Kareem Jamar. Jamar averaged 20.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and two assists last week. Overall, the senior guard showed his veteran presence, shooting 24 for 32 from the foul line and 6 for 13 on 3-pointers. Against EWU, Jamar became the 32nd player in Big Sky history to reach the 1,500-point plateau. On Monday Jamar earned a share of the Big Sky player of the week award along with Weber State forward Joel Bolomboy. At 7-5 in the league, the Grizzlies (12-9 overall) are in a four-way tie for second place with Northern Colorado, North Dakota and Northern Arizona. The top seven teams qualify for the Big Sky’s postseason tournament. Things didn’t look so good three weeks ago, but UM is again in the postseason hunt. The possibility of the Grizzlies hosting the league tournament for the third straight year, however, is a different story. Weber State, at 10-2 in the conference, is firmly entrenched in the No. 1 spot. The Grizzlies play a huge game at Northern Colorado on Thursday. Just two games separate second place from 10th place with four weeks left in the regular season. RPI reality The Big Sky’s RPI ranking remains near the bottom of Division I: The league ranks 27th out of 32 conferences. RPI (an acronym for Ratings Performance Index) ranks teams and conferences based upon wins, losses and strength of schedule. The Big Sky is 23-62 (.271) in non-conference games this season, the third-worst winning percentage in Division I. The Big Sky hasn’t won a game in the NCAA tournament since 2006 when 12th-seeded Montana upset No. 5 seed Nevada 87-79. That remains the league’s only tourney win since 2000. It is 11-48 all-time in NCAA tournament games, and has never received an at-large bid. Is there reason to believe the Big Sky will do something of note this year in the Big Dance? Not based on current numbers — or history. But anything can happen come March.
Win streak puts Griz men back in the hunt
Billings Gazette | Feb 12