Game 4: Oakland (1-2) at Wright State (2-1)
Tuesday, November 23, 2010 | 7:00pm
Oakland travels to Wright State for its second game in the preliminary action of the Chicago Invitational after losing to Purdue in a hard fought game on Sunday. The Golden Grizzlies will surely be looking to play like they did against Ohio last week coming off a loss against a high-major. Wright State has been a solid program in the last few years, seemingly always second in the Horizon League behind Butler. That track record was enough for the school's former coach to get plucked away by Clemson this summer, leaving new coach Billy Donlon to do what he can to keep his Raiders in the top tier of the Horizon. Wright State has seven newcomers on its squad this season who pair well with a few experienced senior leaders and have thus far beaten a non-DI school and lowly Southern. Oakland will be the Raiders' first solid mid-major test.
The Two Leagues
A few years after the Horizon League changed its name from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, the Summit League spurned its Mid-Continental Conference moniker too. It was a fitting transition, as the Summit League has more or less always been a step behind the Horizon League. In the 1990s, when the then MCC was in need of new members, it raided the Mid-Con of its many public universities, creating a league that would go on to be quite successful as far as mid-major conferences went. One of the Mid-Con's darlings, Valparaiso, even found a home within the geographically-sound confines of the Horizon League. It is perhaps because of all of that movement and geography that many Oakland fans point to the Horizon League as the sort of ideal conference for membership sometime in the future. With the future of conferences up-in-the-air thanks to realignment, who knows when something like that could come along, but the fact remains that in order to even be in the conversation, the Golden Grizzlies must continue to prove they can battle with Horizon League foes. Given Wright State's recent history of being a top-three school in that conference, this match is as good as any to showcase their might.
Key Personnel Match-Up
Larry Wright/Reggie Hamilton vs. Troy Tabler/Vaughn Duggins
The difference for Oakland against Ohio was the stellar play of Reggie Hamilton and Larry Wright as well as Ledrick Eackles off the bench. All of those guys were absolutely hounded by Purdue on Sunday which led to a lot of turnovers and bad passes, but that intensity will be toned down quite a bit against the Wright State backcourt. While Oakland clearly has the advantage in the post with Keith Benson and Will Hudson, it will be neat to see how the Oakland guards respond after a tough night in West Lafayette. Coach Kampe has stressed that games against the Purdues of the world will make his team better, and this is a great chance to show how. Tabler and Duggins are both seniors and have the ability to knock down three-pointers or take the ball to the basket. However, Hamilton and Wright have the talent, quickness, and athleticism edge. The Tabler/Duggins duo strikes me as one with a lot toughness and heart, so they won't lie down for Oakland's guards, but if Hamilton and Wright take care of the perimeter like they did against Ohio, the outcome will be favorable for Oakland. (As an aside, WSU's true starting point guard has missed the first three games due to injury. N'Gai Evans is a senior and is listed as a game-time decision against Oakland).
Wright State Player To Watch: Johann Mpondo
Johann Mpondo is one of two non-freshmen newcomers to the Wright State frontcourt this season. Mpondo was granted an immediate transfer since he played for New Orleans which is reclassifying (like Centenary). The 6'8" junior hasn't really stunned in the numbers department, but he's a starter and the only post guy on the Raider roster with much bulk. Needless to say, Mpondo will have to battle for every rebound and positioning in the post against guys like Keith Benson and Will Hudson. Mpondo might not end up with double-digit points or rebounds, but his team's success will likely hinge on his ability to play effectively down low.
Oakland Player To Watch: Keith Benson
Benson has put up big numbers thus far against West Virginia and Purdue largely thanks to solid second half play, but now it's time for the big man to remind Oakland fans of the sheer dominance he is capable of against far inferior frontlines. After battling with All-American candidate JaJuan Johnson at Purdue, Benson should (with all due respect) be able to dismantle Mpondo, Cooper Land, and Cole Darling. We weren't able to see such a dominating performance against Ohio due to foul trouble, so here's to hoping Benson can avoid fouls, fight through the double teams, and showcase his low post game throughout this match.
The two schools played each other twice as a part of a home-and-home series in 2000 and 2001. Oakland won the game in Rochester by ten points, while Wright State ran away with a 20-point victory in Dayton a year later. In the last five seasons, Oakland has a 3-2 record against Horizon League foes. Wright State is 2-0 against The Summit League in the same time frame. Another interesting fact is that Wright State last made the NCAA Tournament in 2007 as a 14-seed. Their opponent? The three-seeded Pittsburgh. It looks like both Oakland and Wright State have had first-round upset hopes squashed by powerful Pitt squads.
There was not an opponent fan blog to be found for this game's preview, so instead we'll present some neat tidbits of information found while investigating Wright State:
- It's a homecoming game of sorts for Oakland freshman Ryan Bass, who is from Dayton, Ohio. Bass was reported to have had a groin injury prior to the Marygrove exhibition game, but he's had plenty of time to rest due to limited minutes in the first two games and a DNP against Purdue. As a freshman behind more experienced guards, it's rather clear why he didn't get any time against Purdue, especially considering the game was close throughout. However, Bass will be playing in his hometown against more level competition so all signs would indicate he would get some playing time. We hope he makes the most of it and shows off some of his athleticism and playmaking ability.
- Wright State freshman Matt Vest went from potential walk-on to scholarship player to box score stuffer in a matter of a few months. The 6'5" guard went 9 of 10 from the field against Southern and has clearly made the most of his increased opportunities. Vest played high school ball at Chaminade Julienne, which is the same place where Oakland freshman guard Ryan Bass spent most of his high school days in Dayton. Bass ended up at Dunbar for his senior season, but it's clear these two guys will be familiar with each other.
- Another freshman to keep an eye on is forward Cole Darling. The Michigan native was recruited by Oakland, and in fact his final choice came down to just Oakland and Wright State. Ultimately, Darling chose Wright State, a decision which appears to be paying dividends for both him and his program far sooner than would have been the case at Oakland. Cole has thus far taken advantage of the playing time he's been given due to lack of depth in the WSU frontcourt, averaging just about 6 rebounds per game and shooting an admirable 50% from the field. He had 8 rebounds against Indiana, though we would venture to say Oakland's frontcourt will be a bit more imposing than that of the Hoosiers. Still, it's good to see a Michigan product contributing so early on in his college career.
The Extra Pass
With seven new players, it's great to see that the Raiders have a few strong senior leaders in guys like Vaughn Duggins, Troy Tabler, N'Gai Evans, and Cooper Land. For what it's worth, it appears these guys are a fairly likeable group with a good sense of humor. For proof, just check out this video which features a bit of singing, rapping, and Duggins doing his best Phil Collins impression (major props to a basketball player for being a Collins fan).
As always, if you're interested in getting in on the conversation with other Oakland fans before, during, and after the game, we highly suggest checking out the Golden Grizzly Hoops forum: Game Thread. Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press will also be holding a live chart during the game at his Grizz Den outlet. Check it out!