MISSOULA — The Big Sky Conference has been known for its strong guard play over the years — and Montana has as good of a 1-2 combo as anyone in the league, several conference coaches told 406mtsports.com.
Redshirt junior Ahmaad Rorie and junior Mike Oguine have carried the Griz for large portions of nonconference play. They’ve shown they can help the Griz hang with Power Five teams, including an overtime victory against Pitt in which Oguine scored a career-high 29 points.
“Their guard play is so explosive,” Southern Utah head coach Todd Simon said. “They really do have what I think is an almost high-major backcourt. Those guys put so much pressure on you. They can combine for 40, 50 points. That’s a monumental challenge.”
“Their guards are excellent,” Weber State head coach Randy Rahe added. “Rorie and Oguine, one of those could be an MVP guy, and the other who’s not is a first-team all-league guy. That’s how good they are.”
Rorie is averaging 17.9 points per game, sixth among Big Sky players, and can create for others with 3.7 assists, fourth in the conference. He also gets his hands in the passing lanes and has the seventh-best mark in the conference with 1.7 steals.
Despite standing just 6-foot-2, Oguine leads the conference with 2.7 offensive rebounds per game and is ninth with 0.9 blocked shots. He’s adding 14.4 points per game and 1.3 steals.
“Mike Oguine is one of best two-way players in the league,” Eastern Washington head coach Shantay Legans said. “He’s one of the best rebounding guards I’ve ever seen. He’s right up there with Drew Brandon, who played with us four years ago.
“When you have him in the backcourt and you got Rorie, who’s darn near un-guardable, and you got 3-point shooters around and then you’re starting to get some play from your big, it’s a problem.”
Coupled with Rorie and Oguine, the Grizzlies’ defense has been a calling card throughout the season. They’ve limited teams to 69.2 points per game, which ranks fourth among Big Sky teams. They held Washington to a season low in their most recent game and haven’t allowed more than 80 points.
They lead the conference in blocked shots (4.6) and rank second in rebounding margin (plus-4.3). Additionally, they’re third in steals (7.6) and turnover margin (plus-3.25).
“Defensively, they’re off the charts,” North Dakota coach Brian Jones said. “Seeing what I have, they probably do the best job of sliding their feet. They do an unbelievable job guarding the basketball one on one. Their bigs do a great job sliding their feet. I’ve always been impressed with their toughness and the way they defend and their ability to show a lot of different weapons offensively.”
The Griz are being knocked for shooting just 43.7 percent from the field, 28.4 percent on 3-pointers and 67.5 percent at the free-throw line. Legans and Jones both said that didn’t mean anything and they expect those numbers to increase during conference play.
Junior wing Bobby Moorehead has been an emerging outside presence and is shooting a team-high 36.9 percent on 3-pointers while averaging 9.5 points.
“They make shots when they need them,” Legans said. “When you play with that bravado, you’re going to be very good. They’re one of the pillars of our league.”
They’ve been getting more contributions recently from 6-foot-8 forward Jamar Akoh as he’s avoided early foul trouble and gets more touches. He’s played 30 or more minutes the past four games and is up to 11.6 points and 6.4 rebounds.
He scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and the bench combined for 30 points in the win over UC Irvine. Even though Rorie and Oguine didn’t play up to their normal standards, Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said that win might have been the team’s most complete performance in his four seasons at Montana.
“Irvine did good job of defending their top players, and they still won by double digits,” Legans said. “It’s hard to game plan for them when you think you have the idea (how to beat them) and they turn around and beat UC Irvine by double figures and their best players don’t play great. That’s a sign of a good team.”
Fabijan Krslovic has made his impact more off the ball and on the defensive side in his new role this season, averaging 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals.
Off the bench, sophomore wing Sayeed Pridgett has been a steady sixth man, freshman forward Karl Nicholas can score and rebound but has seen his minutes dwindle recently, and freshman guard Timmy Falls came through with his best offensive game against UC Irvine to complement his defense.
“They have a whole lot of guys who can play at a high level on the bench, starting, you name it,” Simon said. “I think they’re going to be as tough an out in in the Big Sky as anybody, in my opinion. They’re going to put themselves in good position to be a major contender.”
“I think they’re as good as anybody in our league,” Rahe added. “Our league is an absolute mother. It’s the best it’s been since I’ve been here in 12 years. Montana is going to be at the top or close to it. They’re too good.”