Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: WVU/Ohio

As outlined in our season preview for the blog, this is our first week-that-was recap post (which does not have a unique name...yet). These things will probably change quite a bit throughout the season, with different takes on different aspects of the games that happened the week before as well as any other neat features that come to mind. But for now, we're happy to bring readers this supersized post that is greatly enhanced by the availability of archived videos of the games and a lot of excitement surrounding the opening of the season.

The Big Picture
Oakland ends its first week of basketball sitting at 1-1. I know fans are eager for the team to pick off a big six opponent one of these days, so the loss to West Virginia stings a bit. The Mountaineers shot lights out in the first half, and Oakland couldn't do much to reduce the deficit despite a better-played second half. In the big picture, the game will likely be an RPI-booster for the Golden Grizzlies which will be important if the team is contending for an NCAA tournament bid. Coach Kampe also noted in his post-game interview that such a game gave his team an idea of some areas for improvement. And boy did they improve. Against Ohio, Oakland played stellar defense and the trio of Larry Wright, Reggie Hamilton, and Ledrick Eackles really stepped up their collective game after a rather dismal performance against WVU. Ohio should have a nice RPI throughout the season which helps Oakland, but don't undervalue this win in the short-term or in the long-term. It gives the guys a nice boost heading into Sunday's game against Purdue and continues Oakland's recent success against MAC teams. It's always good to take care of teams from conferences in the same geographic footprint. The Golden Grizzlies certainly haven't come up short in that regard.

A Look At Shooting
One of the benefits of having games on ESPN3.com is that the game footage is archived for a few days after the game, meaning a task such as developing a shot chart becomes much more manageable. Amazingly, Ohio University also has old games on demand for free, so through two games of the season we have complete shot chart data. So let's take a look at the Oakland shot chart against West Virginia. Please keep in mind I'm not a trained statistician so the placements are probably not exact, though it should give a general indication of where shots were taken. Red is a miss, blue is a make, and the number indicates the player who took the shot.

The first thing that jumped out to me after charting all of the shots was the relative lack of mid-range shots in the area just outside the post and inside the free-throw line. Benson took quite a few, perhaps more than normal, but it's a shot he can certainly make and one that helps to showcase his skill-set for the next level. But aside from him, no one really stepped up in that area of the court, which, all things considered, probably isn't too revelatory. Oakland's offense has been geared toward getting Benson shots in the paint since he has arguably been the team's biggest weapon. When he gets double-teamed, then there is an opportunity for him to kick it out to the perimeter (more on this below). One thing I'm very encouraged about when looking at this chart is the spot just outside of the right block. Here, we can see that all four guards, but notably Ryan Bass and Ledrick Eackles, were able to penetrate the lane and take some typically high-percentage shots. They didn't fall against West Virginia, but we should be encouraged by their presence. These shots should become more prevalent as we head into conference play, where they're more likely to fall as well.

Looking at the Ohio game, the red-to-blue ratio from beyond the arc is fairly consistent with that from the West Virginia game. Bader struggled, but we have to remember he's a redshirt freshman and this was just his second game thus far. The mid-range game is once again lacking, but that's something I'll take given all of the blue we see right around the basket. Both Larry Wright and Ledrick Eackles were aggressive early on in the game, and Reggie Hamilton had a couple of nice moves to get into the lane. Mostly, though, we see that Hamilton took a bunch of three-pointers at the top of the arc, a spot he'll hopefully connect from all season long.

Benson To Bader
Travis Bader sure did make his mark in his very first Division I game on Friday. A lot of other fans also seemed to be very enthusiastic about his play in the West Virginia game, especially considering he did it as a starter. Bader had a few field goals in the early part of the first half that kept the game even, especially with Benson getting double-teamed in the post.

Once again thanks to modern technology, it's easier for fans to see how some of these things happen. In frame 1, you can see Bader (circled in red) setting a screen for Benson who then establishes himself against the defender in frame 2. Meanwhile, Larry Wright gets ready to pass the ball to Benson while Bader (still in red) continues to do work off-the-ball. In frame 3, Benson is double-teamed by the man who was on Hudson, so the guy who was on Bader transfers over to Hudson, leaving Bader wide open on the perimeter. In frame 4, we see Benson dish the ball to Bader who then proceeded to drain the three-pointer. This same play happened just mere minutes later, though Bader didn't connect. Still, one of the reasons why the redshirt freshman should continue to get looks on the perimeter is because of Benson's presence in the post. Those looks didn't come as often against Ohio, but Bader still got the start and looks to have the green light from Kampe to shoot, shoot, shoot.

How 'Bout Those Jerseys?
We got our first look at Oakland's new away jerseys on Friday night, except these jerseys weren't your typical new renditions. Nope, these saw the program introducing a new color into the Oakland University pallette: gray, or is it silver?

Whatever the case, I'm very torn on this new jersey for a few reasons. The main reason is that I feel there is nothing better than the all-black road uniforms, particularly the model worn last season. But perhaps just as prominent is the fact that without much gold, these silver and black jerseys with "OAKLAND" spewed across the front are vaguely familiar of another team, you know, the one in Oakland, California. The last thing Oakland needs is another reason for outsiders to mistakenly place the university. Perhaps the new jerseys will grow on me, but for now I remain conflicted, and I was glad to see the all-black uniforms back against Ohio on Monday night.

"Free Ilija" Watch
When the Gameplan previewed the players for the season, we included a quickly put-together image of a t-shirt reading, "Free Ilija." It's meaning was two-pronged: 1) Coach Kampe has said he has to get Ilija more playing time for him to improve; in essence, he needs to free him, and 2) There have been a whole slew of "Free ___" campaigns, but none more prominent than that of "Free Darko," so "Free Ilija" is a sort of nod to the whole "foreign big man stuck at the end of the bench" movement. With that said, we'll be tracking Ilija's progress this season in each week's recap post because you know, he is the future of our frontcourt and all.

Ilija's game against West Virginia was rather forgettable, not unlike most of his career thus far. Yet against Ohio, Ilija came out and played hard while Benson sat due to foul trouble. Ilija had a career night, scoring 8 points on 2-2 field goal shooting and 4-4 free throw shooting. The best part of his line from the game was his 9 rebounds. In 20 minutes, Ilija also only had 2 fouls and zero turnovers. While he'll face better frontcourts as the season goes on, one can't but help to be stoked by his outing against Ohio. Hopefully his performance will earn him some more time in future matches.

Tracking Possessions
A friend of the Gameplan's, Ryan P, tracked Oakland's possessions against WVU in an attempt to learn more about Keith Benson's role in the offense. Ryan has made several stops in the blogosphere but most notably spent the 2008-09 season as The Summit League correspondent for Rush The Court, so we're happy to feature a bit of his thoughts here.
In the first half, Benson was on the floor for 28 Oakland possessions, touching the ball on just 10 of those. Early on the offense scored easily even without Benson touching the ball. When he did he was immediately double-teamed but he found the open man on the perimeter with quick, pinpoint passes. He attempted only four shots before he exited the game at the 8:47 point (19 possessions) which included a forced three pointer at the top of the key that missed badly. Early on, he never really seemed comfortable in flow of game. He reentered at the 5:00 point and scored on three of the last nine possessions in the half, two of which were rebound putbacks. The six other possessions Benson did not touch ball, and in fact all six concluded with turnovers by the guards (largely just a first half problem).

In the second half, Benson was on the floor for 37 possessions, 19 of which he had no touches but at least 5 of them were because of fastbreaks and another was because Oakland had a 2 on 1 as a result of his nice outlet pass. There were not as many turnovers from the guards, thus the offense seemed to run through Benson more, oftentimes with him receiving the ball free throw line extended. Post up touches were lacking in comparison. He also led a fastbreak like a seasoned guard, showing off a nice handle and nimbleness not common for someone his height.

Overall, one of Benson's strengths is moving into open space as teammates attempt a shot. He gets boards outside of his area, attributed to his habit of usually not being flat footed on the offensive boards (he's always moving towards basket). Despite solid box score numbers, the variety in Benson's scoring was lacking as eight of his nine baskets were point blank. He simply didn't have the hook or jumper working against the Mountaineers, but the positive sign was it did not deter his aggressiveness. Hesitancy is not part of Kito's game. He has his mind made up and is quick to attack or shoot the jumper, which should pay dividends for the team and his future NBA potential when those shots fall. I hope this continues.
Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Larry Wright
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Larry Wright did work in the game against Ohio, scoring 15 points which included 7-11 shooting from the stripe. He's still adjusting to the point guard position which most likely explains why he has 5 assists to 7 turnovers through two games, but it's bound to get better. Larry's biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 was in rebounding the ball, accumulating 9 boards against Ohio in a game where Keith Benson was largely on the bench due to foul trouble. If the OU guards can rebound like that all season, the Golden Grizzlies should win the rebounding margin war night in and night out.

Top Three Plays Of The Week
1. Larry Wright's #omgdunx against Ohio (above) (animated gif)
2. Keith Benson's block on WVU's JohnFlowers (animated gif)
3. Will Hudson's steal and fastbreak lay-up against WVU (animated gif)

What's Next?
Oakland faces Purdue, its first of five Big Ten opponents, on Sunday. Our game preview will go up on Saturday. Following that, the Golden Grizzlies will head to Ryan Bass' hometown of Dayton, Ohio, on the 23rd to take on the Wright State Raiders.

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