Washington Huskies (6-2) vs. Montana Grizzlies (4-5), Saturday December 12th 3:00pm, Pac-12 Networks.
So this is a little awkward. Remember Martin Breunig, the German power forward recruited as part of the Class of 2011? He played sparingly for two seasons and then transferred to Montana. Perhaps years have passed since last you thought about Breunig. Or maybe you've already heard...he's good!
Breunig is undoubtedly the best player on a Montana team that, despite sporting a 4-5 record, most recently pushed Gonzaga in a 61-58 defeat in Spokane in which the Bulldogs trailed for large periods in the second half.
This is his second and final season seeing the court for Montana. After sitting for the 2013-14 season, the dude managed to average 16.7 points (on efficient 59% shooting), 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists over 30 minutes per game en route to a 20-13 season.
So far this year Breunig has been even better: 20.6 points (on 69% shooting!), 8.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 31 minutes per game. He isn't just producing against low-end talent, either. Breunig scored 20 points on 7-12 shooting in Tuesday night's loss to the Zags.
So the Huskies were recently served a resounding neutral court defeat at the hands of the same Gonzaga squad that Montana pushed to the very last moment in Spokane. Should Washington be worried?
Well, while I don't recommend the Huskies take any game lightly, I also think this is a prime example of why playing the transitive property of wins is a dangerous game. Maybe the Zags were having a rough night. Maybe the Grizzlies were having the night of their lives. Maybe both.
After all, the Grizzlies have lost to Pepperdine, North Dakota State, and San Jose State by margins that were equal to or greater than the three-point deciding margin on Tuesday. Somehow I doubt those three teams would have much of a shot at keeping a game versus Gonzaga within three points on any court.
Sometimes sports are just weird.
Projected Starting Five: G Walter Wright (Jr., 5-10, 165), G Michael Oguine (Fr., 6-1, 175), G Brandon Gfeller (Jr., 6-4, 190), F Martin Breunig (Sr., 6-8, 210), Fabijan Krslovic (Fr., 6-8, 225).
Key Bench Players: G Jack Lopez (Jr., 6-5, 210), G Bobby Morehead (Fr., 6-6, 190), C Bryden Boehning (So., 6-10, 230).
The offense depends almost entirely on Breunig for scoring. No other offensive player averages double-digit scoring with the exception of Wright (11ppg), who has done so at a dreadful 36% shooting clip.
Gfeller's shooting has been even uglier, with 8.3 points coming via 29% shooting. And the guy plays 26 minutes a night. The third member of the starting backcourt, Oguine, also contributes around 8.0 ppg and has also struggled mightily from the field.
That leaves the aforementioned Breunig and his front court partner Krslovic (52% shooting) as the only starters converting over 40% from the floor. Krslovic is only a modest scoring threat, but he wisely limits himself to shots he can make.
Several players attempt at least a few three-pointers on any given night, but nobody is hitting them at an impressive rate. Gfeller leads the team with an average of 7.0 deep attempts and hits an almost-respectable 30%. The only other shooting threat has been sixth man Jack Lopez, hitting 40% of his modest number of three-point attempts.
Even against Gonzaga the Grizzlies only hit 6 of 21 deep attempts. This tells me the Huskies can feel comfortable focusing defensive attention in and around the paint and allowing Montana's guards to jack up ill-fated shots.
On the other end, I hope Romar motivates Dickerson and Chriss to go at Breunig and force him to defend and perhaps commit some fouls. I have to imagine his offensive responsibilities weigh on him given the glee with which the refs seem willing to burden a player with two quick fouls this season.
The key to survival for Montana has been good team defense. Opponents have shot 42% from the field against the Griz, including a mere 27% from beyond the arc. Opponents have only scored 64 points on average.
With the way Andrew Andrews is playing, I don't think that defense will be enough to keep things close.
Anytime the offense hits a rough stretch, Andrews knows to put his shoulder down and earn a trip to the line. Over and over again. It was a valuable skill last year turned super-useful by all the extra whistle-blowing early this year. In the thrashing of TCU early this week, he didn't even bother working for foul shots because he was red hot from the field, hitting 6-6 threes.
Even more impressive: despite a career high in field goal attempts and assists, Andrews has not seen his turnovers spike from career norms. He has averaged 1.9 turnovers compared to 2.0 last year, while his assists have climbed to 3.8 from a previous career high of 2.6.
Andrews showed flashes of potential his first two years. He was a good scorer last year. As a senior, he is playing like a star, and it's opening up secondary ball handler Dejounte Murray to play loose, making some beautiful plays without having to worry too much about the occasional derpy moment.
Look for those two, as well as the increasingly impressive David Crisp, to come out and overwhelm the Grizzlies with their frenetic energy and eventually open up easy opportunities for Dickerson and Chriss.
Even if things don't go according to plan for Coach Romar and the Huskies start out slow, depth should still end up the deciding factor. Montana mostly sticks to an eight-man rotation featuring only one extra post, while the Huskies can rotate in several players without much dropoff.
My Prediction: Washington 79, Montana 61