After several months of speculating how it would all come together, the Oakland University men's basketball schedule has officially been released today by the university. For those following along with our schedule tracker, there aren't too many surprises, but it is great to see it in its finished, perfect form. Aside from thoughtful pieces on the Oakland basketball community and geeky analysis of the game, the process of scheduling and nitpicking future/potential opponents is one of our favorite things to do with this outlet since it blends together a love of the Golden Grizzlies and the national scene of college basketball. With that said, there will be a number of articles in the next few days breaking down various aspects of the 2010-11 schedule, starting today with some general thoughts on its construction and what it all means for Oakland.
Travel: There will be an entire post dedicated to this topic, but it's neat to bring up the fact that Oakland's non-conference schedule very much sticks to one region. There are no coastal or deep south trips, and even the Tennessee game is a straight trip down I-75 from Rochester (though the team will probably enjoy a plane ride). Credit Coach Greg Kampe and his staff for putting together a incredible non-conference schedule in terms of travel.
Now With More Home Games: Home games in the fall semester! As a student, I always lamented the fact that Oakland rarely had home games in the fall semester. This time around, though, students will have the chance to see two Summit League games in early December, as well as an exhibition game which provides a great chance to see players who may not get much playing time this season. Moreover, the Lou Henson Tournament is one of the coolest things I can remember happening at the O'Rena. Hopefully there will be some deals on tickets to help get fans into the non-OU games featured. Should be a good two days of college basketball.
But No NYE: I had quickly gotten used to going to Oakland games on New Year's Eve afternoon the last two years, so it is with some sadness that we see the team will be on the road this year during the holiday.
Big Ten: I haven't done the research, but it's probably safe to say that Oakland will play more Big Ten squads this year than any other team, save for Big Ten schools themselves. The Golden Grizzlies will play an incredible five different Big Ten games in 2010-11, which is great on a number of levels. First, the Big Ten is the biggest conference in the region, so it's always great to see Oakland get a chance to play in those arenas (though a return game would be nice one of these days!). Second, the Big Ten has its own television network which gives Oakland some added exposure since the games are likely to air on the BTN. Third, the power conference is expected to be one of the strongest in the country this year, with two legitimate Final Four contenders (Purdue and Michigan State). Oakland will play both of those schools in addition to Ohio State and Illinois, which are projected to round out the top-four of the league (though Wisconsin probably has something to say about that). Finally, big men! Most of the schools that Oakland will play this season have highly-touted big men, including Purdue's JaJuan Johnson, Illinois' Mike Tisdale, and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. Coach Greg Kampe is giving Keith Benson every opportunity to shine against the best competition in the country with these games.
Non-Conference Breakdown: Big Ten (5), SEC (1), Big East (1), MAC (1 or 2), Horizon (1 or 2), SWAC (1), and [Big South (1) or Ohio Valley (1)].
Easiest Game: Aside from the non-DI games, Southern should be the simplest test for Oakland. In the conference, a depleted Centernary squad should lay over for the Grizzlies.
Toughest Game: I have to go with at Purdue. It's an early-season game, but the Boilermakers have a veteran roster coming back that is incredibly focused on reaching the Final Four. The individual match-ups may also cause fits for Oakland. Plus, students will be on-campus packing The Paint Crew, taunting every Grizzly move. I expect this game to end like most of the BCS games from OU's 2009-10 season.
Most Likely Upset: The greatest chance for an upset in 2010-11 is when Oakland travels to Ann Arbor, Michigan to face the Wolverines. John Beilein's team is depleted this year, and though they will have a number of games under their belts by the time Oakland comes to town, I still feel strongly that OU may be the better team.
Most Challenging Non-Conference Stretch: @Illinois, neutral site against Michigan State, @Tennessee, and @Michigan. Will any mid-major program in the country face a more difficult stretch of games?
Most Challenging Conference Stretch: @ South Dakota State, @ North Dakota State, and home against Oral Roberts. Amazingly, Oakland came away from the Dakota trip 2-0 last season. Both teams should be solid again this year, and lightning rarely strikes twice. The team then faces an Oral Roberts squad that could be tops in the conference this season. This is an important stretch, too, because it's about midway through Summit League play and will set the pace for how the team performs in the all-important month of February.
Best Individual Match-Up: This one could go in a number of different directions, though they all likely involve Keith Benson. With that said, the battle between Benson and Purdue's JaJuan Johnson is most interesting because both are projected as second round draft picks in 2011. There will likely be a lot of scouts at this game, so it will be a great opportunity for Benson to gain some ground amongst his fellow big men draft prospects.
Most Anticipated Home Game: The Oral Roberts game will be a must-attend, but in terms of anticipation, I'm going with the Lou Henson Tournament. As noted earlier, hosting a tournament like this is an exciting opportunity for the Oakland program. It will provide fans the opportunity to watch some quality mid-major basketball at a value price. If Oakland manages to handle Rochester College in the first-round, either a match-up against Valparaiso or Eastern Michigan would be accepted with open arms.
Stay tuned to the Grizzlies Gameplan for more schedule coverage over the next few days. We have lined up a number of schedule-themed posts which we're excited to share with the Oakland U community.