Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 3 Wins of the Non-Conference Season

Yesterday we took a look at Oakland's Top 3 Losses of the Non-Conference Season, ranking their lost to Eastern Michigan as the worst loss. Today we'll look at the brighter side of the non-con season by ranking the Top 3 Wins. The most important win in the first two months was undoubtedly the road win against IPFW, but because this was technically a conference match-up it does not apply to the criteria here.

3. Oakland at Tennessee Tech; November 23, 2009 (W, 77 - 56)
This win became Oakland's first against a Division I opponent in the non-conference season. After blowing the home opener against Eastern Michigan and then losing on the road to Wisconsin, it was imperative that the Grizzlies pick up an early-season win. This game appeared on OU's schedule because both squads were a part of the Hall of Fame Showcase, which guaranteed games at Memphis and Kansas along with one home and one road game against a mid-major. Most OU fans expected to beat the Golden Eagles, even though the game was Tech's first at home after a grueling road trip to start the season. Up until the 13-minute mark of the second half, it appeared as if this one would go down to the wire as the teams were tied at 45. But then the Grizzlies got hot and went on a 10-0 run before closing out the game with a 21-point victory, the largest on the road this season.

While Tennessee Tech has been a middling Ohio Valley Conference team the last few years, the win nonetheless came at a very important time, and it came on the road. The stellar performance from the Golden Grizzlies in the second half put to rest some of the fears we all had about their ability to close-out games. This win won't help OU's strength of schedule or RPI much, but it surely brought out many of the team's strengths when faced with a similar opponent.

2. Oakland at Seattle; December 17, 2009 (W, 77 - 68)
When looking at the OU schedule when it was first released, many deemed this a trap game. Not because anyone was expecting a freshly-minted DI school to have a solid year, but because it was on the West Coast and two days before the more sexy match versus Oregon. However, as the year wore on, SeattleU (as they call themselves) turned out to be quite a contender behind big man Charles Garcia and first-year head coach Cameron Dollar. The Redhawks beat up on a number of usually solid mid-major teams, including Weber State and Fresno State, and they even picked up a win on the road against Utah. To go along with this, Oakland would be playing SeattleU in a venue where they had won 14 straight. (Note: SeattleU plays its games at Key Arena, the same arena where the tenacious tandem of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton unfortunately ran into MJ in his prime while wearing one of the best NBA uniforms ever).

The game was close for much of its duration, but the Grizzlies managed to get Garcia into some foul trouble and got some quality minutes from Larry Wright who scored a season-high 21 points on 6/13 FG and 7/7 FT. This was Wright's second straight-game where he played like the guy we all expected him to be, but more on that later. By the time the buzzer sounded, OU had put this one away, giving the team another quality win over a mid-major opponent, some 2,000 miles away from Rochester, Michigan. We're hoping this far-away road win is a sign of things to come when the guys travel to Cedar City, Utah in February, a place they haven't won at since the 2005-2006 season.

1. Oakland v. Green Bay; December 13, 2009 (W, 76 - 52)
This was the fourth season in a row OU had scheduled a game against the Phoenix, the last two being played in Green Bay. OU had the 2-1 lead in the series, but Green Bay was on a 5-game winning streak which included a gigantic home upset against the same Wisconsin Badgers that brought down OU earlier in the season. Without one of their best players on the floor due to an injury, it looked like Oakland would have a shot to compete against the Phoenix, and boy did they ever...

After a first-half where each team traded baskets, the Grizzlies took over for much of the second. The home team was sparked by the defensive intensity of Ledrick Eackles and the first great complete performance of the season from Larry Wright, who connected on three triples on his way to a line that included 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and just 1 turnover. Keith Benson looked the best on paper behind a 23 point/18 rebound effort, and Derick Nelson had a solid complimentary night with 15/6. Overall, the team shot 50% on the night, their highest against a DI opponent this non-conference season. In sum, everything seemed to go right in this game, and it happened on a night against a hot team from a conference we aim to compete with year in and year out. While a win against a BCS school would have been nice while out-of-conference, the Green Bay win should serve as a quality benchmark for the Grizz as they head into Summit League play.

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