In continuing with our coverage of the 2010-11 Oakland University men's basketball schedule, we have today a breakdown of each game that the Golden Grizzlies will play this season. Instead of simply giving an update on each opponent, we've attempted to provide brief thoughts on what the game means for Oakland in the context of the full schedule. For example, a discussion on a game against IUPUI on the road in February has been analyzed as such, as opposed to simply a game against IUPUI. Throughout the season, we'll have individual coverage of each opponent preceding the game.
On the road against: West Virginia (Sat, Nov. 13)
As Coach Greg Kampe is quick to point out, it's the three games in March that truly matter most for the Golden Grizzlies. Even with that said, winning those three games in March would be for nothing if the team didn't show up in November and December. See, a game against West Virginia will do wonders for OU's RPI, a measurement the NCAA Selection Committee uses when seeding teams in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, after winning those three games in March, OU's RPI and other indicators were strong enough for a 14-seed. This season, OU will be looked upon more seriously if it can keep games against RPI-boosters closer than they were in 2009-10. WVU is definitely the kind of team that OU wants to show up against. It's the first game of the season for both squads, so if the Golden Grizzlies can avoid first-game chemistry issues, then everything points to them being able to compete with a Mountaineers squad which lost its two most important pieces from last year's Final Four run.
On the road against: Ohio (Mon, Nov. 15)
This is the first winnable game of the season for Oakland. Incredibly, the Grizzlies are 8-5 against Mid-American Conference opponents in the last five years. Ohio made an improbable run in the MAC Tournament last season to earn an NCAA Tournament birth and subsequently upset Georgetown in the first round. Despite the departure of the team's best player in Armon Bassett, the Bobcats will be riding the wave of that success into the 2010-11 season. This could either inflate the team's ego to the point of underestimating Oakland or give them the foresight to know teams will be gunning for them. There's no doubt that a win against Ohio on the road would be a big boost for Oakland, especially with a duo of tough games on the horizon.
On the road against: Purdue (Sun, Nov. 21)
Purdue just might be Oakland's toughest test of the year. The Boilermakers return a trio of star seniors in E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, and Robbie Hummel who are anxious to get to the Final Four. Hummel, particularly, could cause fits for the Oakland defense because he's a 6'8" forward who can score at will and rebounds extremely well. This game, aside from helping the RPI, will give us an understanding of Oakland's defensive strength, particularly to see who will step up when it comes to guarding opposing small forwards. Derick Nelson did a fabulous job in this role last season, but this year there is a considerably large question mark hanging over the job. Defensively, Keith Benson will also be tested by the likely-to-be-drafted JaJuan Johnson and the combination of Larry Wright, Blake Cushingberry, and Ledrick Eackles will face a similar battle with Moore. Needless to say, we'll learn a lot about the Oakland's defense when the Grizzlies visit West Lafayette just before Thanksgiving.
On the road against: Wright State (Tues, Nov. 23)
Like the Ohio game discussed earlier, this match against Wright State is winnable. In fact, these are the kinds of games that Oakland should expect to win if it ever gets serious about moving to a different conference one day. The Raiders are no slouches, finishing second behind Butler last season in the Horizon League. Though its coach left for Clemson in the off-season, Wright State is still a solid program, and thus a win here would be celebrated. It would also do wonders for Oakland's record and confidence heading into two must-win games.
At a neutral site against: Southern (Fri, Nov. 26)
Southern has been absolutely horrible in the last few seasons. Oakland fans should be familiar with games like this from Delaware State/Southeast Missouri in 2008 and Tennessee Tech/Central Arkansas in 2009. Southern is another school from a lesser conference (SWAC) that Oakland absolutely must beat. It's easy to overlook a team like this, so the Grizzlies must come out strong and put them away early. It would prove that the program has not taken any steps back and would also provide bench players the opportunity to get some quality experience.
At a neutral site against: Austin Peay or Charleston Southern (Sat, Nov. 27)
Charleston Southern has not had a winning season since 2003, though last season was its best in three years. While anything can happen on a neutral court, I would expect Austin Peay to beat Charleston Southern. Oakland would then face Austin Peay, a very strong mid-major program which hasn't had a losing season in a very, very long time. Typically, the Governors are always near the top of the Ohio Valley Conference, which in the hierarchy of conferences is probably ahead of The Summit League. To win against APSU would give us an indication that Oakland can hang with a contender from yet another strong mid-major league. And because the schedule is stacked with BCS powers, it's incredibly important for Oakland to take care of similarly-leveled competition.
At home against: Southern Utah (Thu, Dec. 2)
In true Summit League fashion, the first conference game comes in the middle of the non-conference season. Whether or not you're a fan of this approach, at least this early-December league game is at home this year. After boosting momentum with what we're projecting as two wins in Chicago, Southern Utah is a great draw for Oakland. Every conference game matters, and coming away with wins in December would give OU a nice boost when the rest of the conference schedule begins.
At home against: UMKC (Sat, Dec. 4)
Sticking with the prevailing theme from above, it's important for Oakland to start its Summit League schedule on a strong note, especially when SUU and UMKC are coming to town. UMKC lost a few solid players this off-season, so on paper the team looks severely depleted and ripe for attack by the Grizzlies. If OU can win both of these games favorably, then the team and fans should head into the true conference schedule with a combination of confidence and excitement.
On the road against: Illinois (Wed, Dec. 8)
This is another game that will help out Oakland's RPI and strength-of-schedule measurements as well as overall profile. Illinois is expected to be right behind Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State in the Big Ten this season and likely an NCAA Tournament team. It would behoove the Grizzlies to give everything they have against the Fighting Illini. Some of the personnel match-ups are favorable for Oakland, and Illinois will be lagging a bit coming off a west coast trip to Gonzaga. The components are there for an upset or, at the very least, a competitive game.
At a neutral site/home against: Michigan State (Sat, Dec. 11)
It's always important to show up against the in-state teams, especially when that team happens to be wearing green and white. Tom Izzo always has glaring things to say about Oakland and Greg Kampe, and to be honest, those thoughts should always be reciprocated to Izzo. It's great he has the Spartans playing Oakland every year, rotating between the Breslin Center and The Palace, which happens to be in Oakland's backyard. Still, MSU fans will outnumber Oakland fans, but it's a great way to showcase Grizzlies basketball. Although it always ends in a loss, this game means so much on so many levels; let's hope the OU hoops squad can simply keep it close.
On the road against: Tennessee (Tues, Dec. 13)
Tennessee will likely be rolling by the time this game comes around, which does not bode particularly well for Oakland, especially at Thompson-Boling Arena where the Vols are 70-8 under Head Coach Bruce Pearl. The game helps out the various measurements used come seeding time if Oakland were to make the NCAA Tournament, but that's likely all this game will be remembered for.
On the road against: Michigan (Sat, Dec. 18)
This game should be on upset watch from the day the season begins. While we'll know a lot more about the Wolverines by the time this match happens, going into the season they are a very young and inexperienced team with little proven ability in the frontcourt. This happens to be great for Oakland as the Golden Grizzlies will have four-year players Keith Benson and Will Hudson occupying the paint. A win in Ann Arbor would do wonders for Oakland's national profile, not to mention in-state bragging rights.
At home against: Rochester College (Mon, Dec. 20):
Rochester College will be an easy win for the Oakland squad. It will give all players a chance to see the court, perhaps working on any small tweaks needed before the conference schedule begins. This game won't impact OU's season much, but as it is a part of the Lou Henson Tournament held at the O'Rena, it should spark some local interest in the team over the winter break.
At home against: Eastern Michigan or Valparaiso (Tues, Dec. 21):
This will be Oakland's final tune-up against a fellow mid-major before Summit League play, and no matter which team ends up as the opponent, a fine tune-up it will be. Eastern Michigan typically plays Oakland very close, and most fans would love to see the Grizzlies avenge last season's opening game loss at the O'Rena. Valparaiso, on the other hand, would be the sentimental favorite since it would bring back memories of the matches the two teams had in the then Mid-Continent Conference. Either way, Oakland will likely come out with a confidence-boosting win from a game that is sure to entertain fans over the holidays.
On the road against: Ohio State (Thurs, Dec. 23):
This game kind of popped up out of nowhere, considering several other marquee opponents had been rumored or mentioned by Coach Greg Kampe earlier in the offseason. However, it's a great addition to the 2010-11 schedule, and a fine way to conclude the non-conference season. Though the Buckeyes will be without star Evan Turner, they return nearly everyone from last season. The most important addition is center Jared Sullinger, a highly-touted recruit who looks to have a Greg Oden-like season for Ohio State before entering the 2011 NBA Draft as a one-and-done. OSU is a tough draw any year, but the team will be especially challenging during this campaign. By this point in the season the Golden Grizzlies could be rolling enough to take it to the Buckeyes, especially since attendance may be impacted by the game's proximity to Christmas. A win might seem improbable, but perhaps some holiday luck will kick in and the Golden Grizzlies will pull off the upset.
On the road against: Centenary (Tues, Dec. 28):
Gone from this schedule are the end-of-the-year conference home games fans had gotten used to over the past two seasons. Instead, the OU hoops squad will travel south (not a bad destination at this time of the year) to face-off against the Gents for what will likely be the last time at the Gold Dome. Oakland dominated there last season, and much to the chagrin of Centenary, they'll likely inflict the same amount of damage this year as well. Every game counts in conference play, and with the Gents severely depleted, it's absolutely essential the Grizzlies do not have a let-down performance here.
On the road against: Oral Roberts (Thurs, Dec. 30):
Many folks are expecting big things from Oral Roberts this season, myself included. They return a lot of key pieces as well as many new cogs for Coach Scott Sutton. It's so incredibly tough to win at the Mabee Center, though Oakland did it last season. For seeding purposes in Sioux Falls, it will be necessary for the Grizzlies to split the season series with Oral Roberts, at the very least. This is the type of game that will help shape The Summit League hierarchy going forward in the conference schedule.
At home against: IUPUI (Thurs, Jan. 6):
IUPUI could very well be 3-0 in the conference heading into this game and looking to prove its the real deal with a win in its first Summit League road game. Oakland, however, should be ready for the test, either enthused by its own perfect record or hungry after a defeat by Oral Roberts. Much like the series with ORU, the Golden Grizzlies must protect home court to at least split with IUPUI since the Jaguars will likely be dealt with again in March.
At home against: Western Illinois (Sat, Jan. 8):
Western Illinois has been making progress under coach Jim Molinari, to the point that they should not be written off as quickly as in the past. Even with that said, this is a home game on a Saturday during the first week of the winter semester: fans will show up. The combination of Oakland's superior roster and fan support means the Grizzlies should come out of this one smiling.
On the road against: IPFW (Sat, Jan. 15):
Oakland has owned IPFW since implementing its Athletics-sponsored road trip to Fort Wayne. The university brings too many fans down I-69 for the team not to be energized at Memorial Coliseum. It is difficult to not be excited by the prospect of a hundred or so fans out-cheering the home team. The Grizzlies should take care of business in this match-up.
On the road against: South Dakota State (Thurs, Jan. 20):
Thus begins the toughest three-game stretch for Oakland. Going out to the Dakotas expecting a sweep is foolish. Even though OU accomplished this feat last season, hopefully it does not give fans the impression that such should be done every season. It's just tough to do. South Dakota State could begin strong like it did last season, and this game will give Summit League enthusiasts the opportunity to see if either of these teams are really a part of the upper crust of the conference in 2010-11.
On the road against: North Dakota State (Sat, Jan. 22):
The Bison are so good at home, and they return my favorite non-Oakland player in Michael Tveidt who, aside from being my favorite, is also one heck of a competitor. Oakland will have to grind out wins against this squad, but a loss here wouldn't spoil the team's hopes of a conference crown.
At home against: Oral Roberts (Thurs, Jan. 27):
This is the game. By the end of January, we will know a lot about the standing of The Summit League. And no one would be surprised to see Oakland and Oral Roberts battling for the top spot. Having already played once in Tulsa, this game becomes that much more important for the Grizzlies because it means protecting home court. No one will ever forget last season's ORU-OU game at the O'Rena, for the last-second shot by JJ, the energy of the crowd, and those darn balloons. However, the Oakland administration won't be placing its homecoming game on a Thursday night, so some of those features will be missing. When it becomes time to hand out seeds for The Summit League tourney, this game will likely be pointed to as where one of these teams lost out at a "1."
At home against: Centenary (Sat, Jan. 29):
The OU Homecoming tradition is only two years old, and in those two years the team has played Centenary and Oral Roberts over the first weekend in February. As the team is on the road at that time this season, Homecoming will come a bit earlier and once again feature the Centenary Gents. All I can say is that those alums coming home this weekend will have to enjoy other activities more than this game as the Grizzlies should obliterate Centenary.
On the road against: Western Illinois (Thurs, Feb. 3):
Oakland hasn't lost in Macomb since 2001, though the games are always rather close. I'm sure Western Illinois goes into this game every season looking to change that, but it is safe to say Oakland owns in Western Hall. Larry Wright had one of his best shooting nights there last season, so if he's struggling with his shot at this point in the year, perhaps this game will give him a chance to relive his 2009-10 performance to get back on track.
On the road against: IUPUI (Sun, Feb. 6):
In terms of the mix of roster and setting, this will likely be Oakland's last big test of the conference season. While the Grizzlies will still have a lot to prove for the rest of February, most are at home and none of the teams will have the talent of IUPUI. OU will look to perform better than it did last season in Indianapolis. The venue will be different (this game will take place at Conseco Fieldhouse, an NBA arena) but the game could still have an implication on the pecking order amongst the top teams in the conference as it did last year.
At home against: IPFW (Sat, Feb. 12):
The Golden Grizzlies have just one game this week, but it will not be a cakewalk. IPFW will be looking to upset the defending champs on their home-court. It would be a program-boosting win for IPFW which would further build on its impressive showing in the conference tournament last season. If Oakland's 17-1 record last season is considered an anomaly, then one could reasonably expect the team to drop one or two games against unsuspecting teams like IPFW. While it's more likely to come on the road, the Grizzlies could come out rusty and looking ahead to the more attractive opponents the following week.
At home against: North Dakota State (Thurs, Feb. 17):
If Oakland is competing for a conference championship and 1-seed in the tournament, then Coach Kampe will have them ready to close out the season strongly. He has always said he likes to see his players at their best toward the middle-to-end of February in preparation for March. With the roster he has coming back, this game against NDSU should be wrapped up with a "w."
At home against: South Dakota State (Sat, Feb. 19):
Oakland students will be on break for the last home game of the season when South Dakota State comes to town Saturday, February 19. This is a sad development not only because it will be a meaningful game in terms of the standings, but also because it will be Senior Night for three Golden Grizzlies. Keith Benson, Will Hudson, and Larry Wright will all likely be honored, and though we're Wright fans, it will truly be difficult to say goodbye to four-year players Benson and Hudson. I've always cherished those nights as a way to honor the seniors for what they have given the program; hopefully the O'Rena will be packed despite the mid-semester break.
On the road against: UMKC (Thurs, Feb. 24):
UMKC could be battling for a slot in the conference tourney by the time this game rolls around, so they're likely to be hungry. As is worth repeating, every game in The Summit League counts, and Oakland could very well still need wins to secure a regular season championship or better positioning in the tournament. The Grizzlies will need to come out strong to put away the Kangaroos.
On the road against: Southern Utah (Sat, Feb. 26):
This trip is brutal, put simply. Oakland has a tough time winning in Cedar City, not always because the Thunderbirds are particularly talented, but because of the sheer distance of the trip and short turn-around time. No matter how I look at this game, I just can not find any positives with it showing up as the last match of the year. If seeding for The Summit League Tournament is already set in stone, then the result won't matter much; but do we really want to see our team lose its last game to SUU before heading for Sioux Falls? Similarly, if Oakland needs to win this game for a day-off in the tournament, a game at Southern Utah is almost as bad a draw as at Oral Roberts. Basically, this road trip always stinks but coming at the end of the season is just painful.
So there you have it, breakdowns of every game in the 2010-11 season. We plan to preview each game more in-depth as they come (with more current information, of course) but this should give the casual fan an idea of what to expect based on preseason expectations, paper rosters, and the like.