Welcome and thanks for checking back for the second edition of the Gameplan's Weekly Recap. This week saw the Golden Grizzlies go on the road for preliminary action in the Chicago Invitational, held at campus sites.
The Big Picture
Any Oakland fans who witnessed the Purdue game probably left that viewing feeling rather good about the team's chances going forward. They carried a lead for much of the first half and kept battling well into the second before the Boilermaker attack was just too much, resulting in a 15-point loss. It was hardly the 20 or 30-point loss that fans were used to against ranked teams last season. By the end of the season, that will probably be one of those "good losses," a game that helped the team grow and keeps the RPI and strength of schedule measures high. The loss to Wright State, on the other hand, was a game the team needed to win. After taking care of Ohio from the MAC, it would have been another regional resume booster and a model of what it will be like on the road in The Summit League against some of the better teams. Unfortunately, the Golden Grizzlies blew a lead, allowed the Raiders to shoot well from deep, and couldn't limit turnovers in the second half. It's a loss that will sting, perhaps like the Eastern Michigan home loss from last season, but one that will be forgotten if the team can use it as a lesson for what it feels like to lose such a game in the future.
Anything But Medium
One thing that interested me about the Purdue game was the relative talent-to-height comparability between the Golden Grizzlies and Boilermakers. One could argue that most of Purdue's talent is concentrated in the backcourt and in the paint, especially without Robbie Hummel. Generally speaking, without Blake Cushingberry or Drew Maynard, most of Oakland's talent comes from the guards and big man combo down low. To visualize the similarities in height distribution, see the following graphs:
A general scan of the names involved, and you'll notice that most of the role players or developing players on Purdue's roster are in the 6'5" to 6'8" range, which also happens to be Oakland's weakest height range, essentially featuring Drew Valentine only. While there are likely factors that explain why Oakland kept the game so close for so long, height comparability is something to note, especially when juxtaposing with West Virginia.
West Virginia's roster is full of guys in the 6'5" to 6'8" range who are strong, quick, and athletic. Oakland's only answer against guys like Casey Mithcell, Dalton Pepper, and John Flowers were Travis Bader and Drew Valentine. I like Oakland's guys, but that is a steep drop-off in size and bulk when comparing the two rosters. Stemming from this observation, my hypothesis was that one of the reasons Oakland was able to keep things closer against Purdue than West Virginia was because the Boilermaker attack would be concentrated in areas where the Golden Grizzlies would match up well. To test it, I developed a distribution of percentage of points scored for the opposing teams at the different height levels:
Here we can see that WVU's bigger guards and then a whole slew of those middle-six-footers did most of the damage against Oakland. Purdue, on the other hand, got very little production from players in the same range. Therefore, the Boilermakers' two All-American candidates really had to do work in order to pull away from the Grizzlies in the second half. While this hardly qualifies as a source of causation (and things like ball control, perimeter defense, fouls drawn, etc might be more solid indicators), it's definitely something to think about for future games against BCS schools.
Reggie Hamilton really came alive this week, showing off bits and pieces of his scoring game as well as his passing ability. Against Purdue, he was able to drive to the basket quite a few times while knocking down a few timely triples. He's also had some delightful dimes the past two games. One of those came off a great move he made to the basket against Wright State.
After moving around a screen in Frame 1 and 2, Reggie used his quickness to knife through the defense toward the basket. He had a decent look as you can see in Frame 4 and may have been able draw a foul if he had put up a shot, but at the last minute he kicked it out to Larry Wright who made a much needed three. Later in the game, Hamilton also hit a bankshot from beyond the arc which also drew a foul. It was a four-point play that I thought would have turned the momentum, but Wright State's Vaughn Duggins ended up coming back with an uncontested lay-up that sealed it for the Raiders. Still, Reggie displays a cool confidence in most aspects of his game. Oakland will need a guy like that down the stretch.
To say that Travis Bader has exceeded expectations thus far would be an understatement. I don't know how he does it, but somehow he has managed to have his most successful three-point shooting nights against the big boys. At Purdue, Bader got Oakland on the board on the team's first play with a killer superhoop that he knocked down with the ease of a senior who had played in raucous arenas for four years. The dude is the definition of collected. We know shooters have their ups-and-downs, but so far Bader has been rock solid while starting and playing plenty of minutes as a redshirt freshman, though it is interesting that he's been a bit of a non-factor against the mid-majors. Either way, to think about the potential of him expanding his game in the future might leave you with goosebumps. I don't want to heap grand expectations on the young man, but it's very hard not to be stoked about his future with Oakland.
In the last weekly recap, I came out against the silver road jerseys for fear that it just adds another layer of confusion to the Oakland identity. Part of my frustration, too, stemmed from not being a big fan of the tighter-fit model that the team is wearing this season. However, after seeing this new model in all-black against Purdue in person, I have shifted my thinking a bit. While I'm still not loving the silver yet, I can dig that sleeker look especially when it's all black with gold lettering.
"Free Ilija" Watch
This was a forgettable week for Ilija. After an inspiring performance against Ohio, Ilija played just two minutes against Purdue in relief of Will Hudson. In those two minutes, he picked up two fouls. He played a bit more against Wright State due to Will Hudson foul trouble, but didn't seem to have the confidence he had at Ohio. We'd also like to see him stop getting those over-the-back fouls. There will be better weeks for the seven-footer.
Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Reggie Hamilton
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
We talked a bit about Reggie's resurgence above, and his stats this week really show how he has been able to help. While a win would have been nice out of the two games played, it's clear that Reggie is doing what he can while distributing the ball to his teammates as needed. He shot 7 of 15 from deep, good for 46% while racking up 14 assists. Where he needs to improve is in his ball-control, as he also had 11 turnovers in two games.
Top Two Plays Of The Week
Ledrick Eackles played some tough defense against the Wright State Raiders on Tuesday and ended up with two steals that led to quick fast-break points. I remember Eackles doing this quite often last season and was glad to see it from the sophomore guard once again. Here are some animated gifs of the two plays:
Oakland heads to Chicago for back-to-back games as a part of the Chicago Invitational Tournament. The first day's game is against Southern, followed by the winner of Charleston Southern vs. Austin Peay on Saturday. Our previews for these games will be much more brief than those before because of the holiday and nature of the opponent but should debut in the morning of the game days.