This just in from the chief researcher at the Home Office on a remote island in Puget Sound:
It didn’t take long for CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis to deliver the kiss of death last Sunday. He took one look at the East bracket and immediately anointed Montana, a 13-seed, to upset Syracuse, a 4-seed. Syracuse can be an enigma, even to Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, but it has at least three — and possibly six — future NBA ballers, led by likely lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. You may recall that ESPN analysts Andy Katz and Doug Gottlieb hopped aboard the Montana bandwagon last year, just before it careened over the cliff against Wisconsin.
Of course, hope springs eternal, even given the Big Sky’s 3-30 record in the past 30 NCAA tournaments. Some quick internet research on Monday revealed gristle for Griz fans to gnaw while waiting for Thursday’s tip-off in San Jose.
— In 1991 USA Today billed the Griz as “billion-to-one” longshots to defeat top-rated Nevada-Las Vegas and go on to win the NCAA tournament. That’s so retro. Today, thanks to tempo-based statistical analysis and algorithms that would make Stephen Hawking blink, we know precisely the odds facing the Griz. (Hint: they’re not good.) According to kenpom.com, a favorite stop for college hoops junkies, Montana has 1 chance in 1,226,993 of cutting down the nets in the Georgia Dome. (Now that’s One Shining Moment.) Montana is given a 9 percent chance to advance to the round of 32. The only teams with longer odds are the 16 seeds, a 15-seed (Albany) and a 14-seed (Northwestern State). Syracuse is given a 1-in-49 chance of winning it all, tied for 11th in the field of 68.
— A 13 seed, the same as last season, was surely the best Montana could’ve hoped for considering the weakness of the Big Sky Conference. Montana (69) and Weber State (98) were the only Big Sky teams in the top 220 RPI, and five Big Sky teams (Southern Utah, Montana State, Eastern Washington, Idaho State and Portland State) were in the 300s. Last season, the Big Sky was arguably the weakest it’s been in a decade; this season, it was worse.
— You want hope? No problem. Sure, Syracuse is one of the nation’s marquee basketball programs, but Boeheim and the boys have suffered their share of memorable NCAA upsets. Three times in the past eight years, a double-digit seeded team has squeezed the Orange: Vermont (13) in 2005, Texas A&M (12) in 2006 and Marquette (11) in 2011. And, of course, Syracuse endured one of the mother-of-all-upsets in 1991, losing as a No. 2 seed to 15th-seeded Richmond.
— Montana coach Wayne Tinkle might want to write two words in huge block letters on his pregame whiteboard: BLOCK OUT. Syracuse is fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. (Of its total rebounds, 39.8 percent have come off the offensive glass.) At the other end of the floor, Montana better make the first shot count. UM’s offensive rebounding percentage (25.1) is dead last in the 68-team NCAA field.
— Montana’s Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar are fine penetrators, but getting the ball to the tin figures to be difficult because a) driving lanes can close quickly against Syracuse’s quirky zone defense, and b) the long and athletic Orangemen have blocked 19 percent of their opponents’ two-point field-goal attempts. That’s tops in the nation.