Friday, December 31, 2010

Oakland's Scholarship Availability

The big news in Oakland roster moves this week was the announcement that junior Drew Maynard would be leaving the team to pursue an opportunity to play basketball elsewhere. While it is a bummer that Maynard, a local kid with a lot of promise, won't finish his career as a Golden Grizzly, his decision to transfer does open up a scholarship, most notably for next year. Prior to this announcement, it appeared that Oakland would be locked in with its 13 players signed for next year, barring any other transfers or leaving. Sans Maynard, this is what the scholarship situation will look like in 2011-12 and the four years after:

As we can see, Oakland now has a scholarship open in 2011-12 even after signing senior-to-be Laval Lucas-Perry and incoming freshmen Matt Poches and Dante Williams. According to, there are currently five guys left in the Class of 2011 who have not signed and are listed as Oakland targets. The prize of the bunch is Patrick Lucas-Perry, a three-star recruit who has offers from Harvard, Michigan State, Michigan, South Florida, and Oakland. That's some stiff competition for the 5-foot-10 guard, but given that his brother will be suiting up next year for Oakland, it at least makes you wonder if it gives the Golden Grizzlies an edge.

Aside from Class of 2011'ers, there is also the interesting case of Doug Anderson, a junior college player in his second year at Mott Community College in Flint. Anderson originally committed to Duquesne, but it has since been revealed that the 6-foot-6 forward is no longer headed for the Steel Town. According to, it looks like his recruitment is down to Oakland and Detroit. Anderson, who is a bit of a Mott legend for his impressive dunks, would fill a void for the Golden Grizzlies at the forward position for two years while Dante Williams puts on some weight and gets used to OU basketball.

We're just speculating here and are far from recruiting experts, but these are at least some storylines to keep an eye on. One has to think that the opened spot will go to someone, and perhaps Coach Kampe and his staff work their magic and find another Travis Bader late in the year to add to the team. Whatever the case, OU's roster looks strong heading forward.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland at Oral Roberts

Game 17: Oakland (8-8, 3-0) at Oral Roberts (5-9, 2-1)
Thursday, December 30, 2010 | 8:00pm
Watch: | Radio: WDFN (1130 AM)

After dispatching Centenary on Tuesday night, Oakland heads north from Louisiana to Oklahoma to take on conference rival Oral Roberts. Oakland is off to a 3-0 start in The Summit League, albeit against the three teams that finished in the bottom three positions last season, while Oral Roberts has solid road wins over IUPUI and WIU to its name. However, the Golden Eagles dropped their first conference home game on Tuesday to an improved IPFW team, the first time ORU had ever lost to IPFW at the Mabee Center. Oakland knows what that feels like as it picked up its first win in ten years there last season. The Golden Grizzlies will look to build on last season's victory in Tulsa with a strong outing this year against a team with a lot of talent. Oral Roberts will aim to find some consistency in an effort to take down the reigning champs.

A Non-Conference Flip-Flop
While Oakland fans were likely frustrated with the last few non-conference games, most would probably agree that it was largely a successful November and December when compared to last season. Oakland kept games close against some of the best teams in the country and picked up a few wins over solid mid-major teams. While wins against Wright State and Valparaiso would have capped off a great non-conference slate, the upset of Tennessee on national television did bring a lot of exposure to the program. Oral Roberts enthusiasts are probably feeling a bit like Oakland fans felt last year. They dropped a few games to mid-majors that they should probably be beating and were never very close in their games against BCS schools sans an 86-82 loss at Texas Tech. Last season, it was ORU that broke through with three big upsets (New Mexico, Stanford, and Missouri) and Oakland which floundered in such big-time games. While the non-conference stories have flipped, there is no doubt that both teams will be gunning for that conference championship this season. Oakland and Oral Roberts found out their weaknesses during the first two months of the season, and conference play will determine whether or not they can learn from their non-conference schedules in games against conference teams that are not quite as battle-tested.

A Story Of Inconsistency
As outlined above, ORU has had a fairly inconsistent season thus far, mostly consisting of non-conference games where the opponents vary quite a bit. In checking in on the Golden Eagle statistical profile, though, there are not many glaring weaknesses. The team is fairly average across the board, ranking somewhere between 125 and 250 in most categories across all teams in Division I. These figures pair well with Coach Scott Sutton's assessment of his team after the IPFW loss as "very, very average," despite the fact that at times the team has shown flashes of greatness. By taking a look at the team's shooting percentage in each game this year, we can see how the team has gotten to that average position:
In every loss, the Golden Eagles have failed to shoot better than 50% from the field except for the game at Texas Tech (which they nearly won). After starting the season with three straight losses, the team bounced back with two straight wins, including one on the road at Utah, and then went on to win its first two conference games. Following a last-second win at IUPUI, we can see that ORU really struggled with its shooting against some elite conference teams, none more than at Missouri. However, it's not just the opposing team's defense. This is a team that shot 57% against UALR in November and then 32% against the same team a month later. ORU can be a dangerous team when everyone is clicking at the same time, but as this year has shown, that has only happened so often. ORU does not have a single four-year player this season and is young at most positions, so perhaps this shouldn't come as such a surprise. However, the Golden Eagles are clearly one of the more individually talented teams in The Summit League, and at this point they're just desperate for some consistency.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Larry Wright vs. Warren Niles
Heading into this game, we're pretty much resigned to the fact that Dominique Morrison is going to get his numbers. He's a versatile forward who presents match-up problems for Oakland given his size and ability in the open-court and is bound to score 20+ points while chipping in with his fair share of rebounds and assists. With that said, the guy that we're most worried about then is sophomore Warren Niles. Niles has struggled to find consistency this season but is capable of scoring boatloads of points when his stroke is smooth. If both he and Morrison are getting to the basket with frequency and knocking down a few triples, it could be a long night in Tulsa for the Golden Grizzlies. The OU defense hasn't been particularly strong in the last few games (it gave up 71 points to a Centenary squad that averages 54 points a game - the difference of which was mostly earned at the charity stripe), so if this ends up being an offensive juggernaut, it will be important for Larry Wright to continue to be strong from the field. Since the Michigan State game, Wright has been an offensive weapon for the Golden Grizzlies, particularly from beyond the arc (18 of 33 in that stretch).

Oral Roberts Player To Watch: Steven Roundtree
Steve Roundtree is an easy player to spot: he's a wiry, athletic forward who stands at 6-foot-8 with a hairdo that might add two inches to his frame. But after getting a good look at that crazy 'do, Roundtree will impress with his game. He's just a freshman this season, yet he has started every game for Coach Sutton and is averaging 11.9 points and 6.9 boards per game on 50% shooting. For a team that has lacked consistency, it has been getting a lot of it from one of its youngest players. Roundtree is very skinny but has proven adequate as a post-player against similar-level competition and can also stretch the defense with his ball-handling and ability in isolation. He pairs nicely with sophomore big Damen Bell-Holter in the paint, giving the Golden Eagles a frontcourt that should be great over the next three seasons as both players age and refine their games. Against IPFW on Tuesday, Rountree displayed many of his talents, captured in a quick highlight video we put together below.

Obviously a lot of Roundtree's damage was done against smaller defenders (poor Peckinpaugh!), so he'll get one of his first big tests of the season against either Keith Benson or Will Hudson. Whatever the case, Roundtree has still proven himself to be one of the best newcomers to the conference.

Oakland Player To Watch: Will Hudson
Similarly to Morrison, we think Keith Benson will get his and more or less cancel out the scoring output of Morrison. Oakland's most consistent player, Will Hudson, will play a big role then in the outcome of this game. Hudson has proven effective as a defender all season and will need to utilize that determination to intimidate the young ORU frontline. This is a guy who played solidly against Illinois' Mike Davis and Michigan State's Draymond Green, so hopefully he can continue to do so against Roundtree and Bell-Holter. Once again, if this game ends up being a shoot-out, Hudson's offensive boarding and ability to get open when the double-team comes for Kito will be of increased importance.

Oakland and Oral Roberts have quite a bit of history with each other over the last decade. They have played down to the wire both in regular season and conference tournament games, though ORU has been the more dominant team in home games. From 1/20/2000 to 1/07/2010, ORU beat Oakland every time the Golden Grizzlies traveled to the Mabee Center. However, last season Coach Kampe and company finally broke through with a 67-60 win. Oakland also won the game at the O'Rena on a last-second shot by Johnathon Jones. No matter what happens, one can always be sure that this series will be entertaining.

Player Points
As we learn more about the various teams in The Summit League, we hope to offer a few bullet points about most of the contributors for the highlighted opponent (when an opponent blog is not available for a Q&A). Since we've watched a bit of Oral Roberts this year, here's what we have seen from our black and gold lenses (Morrison, Roundtree, and Niles covered above):
  • Damen Bell-Holter has started every game this season, his sophomore campaign. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, DBH can be a force downlow. Two of his three double-doubles came against BCS opponents (Texas Tech and Missouri), and he has found himself going to the charity stripe more and more as the season has progressed (9 attempts against Rice and 10 against IPFW). We haven't seen enough of Bell-Holter to have a clear view of his defensive ability, but there has been no shortage of opposing big men getting up for matches against Keith Benson (hello, Jordan Morgan!).
  • Heading into the season, one of the questions regarding this team was how the point guard position would be handled. Early on, it looked like Rod Pearson would be the man after sitting out last season with an injury. Pearson is the team's best assist man in the backcourt and found himself starting for much of the first few games but has struggled to find playing time lately.
  • Hunter McClintock, the redshirt freshman, also sat out last season due to injury with Pearson. McClintock got his chance to start for a nice stretch but has thus far failed to be a steady distributor (1.5 assists per game, 0.67 assist-to-turnover ratio). McClintock has a lot of ability but in watching him those skills seems very raw yet. The young buck can go off, as his 19 point performance against Texas Tech would indicate, but he has yet to hit double figures in any other game.
  • Ken Holdman was one of ORU's main options at point guard last season and has recently found himself back in the starting line-up. He's the kind of guy where you know what he will bring you. He only seems to take shots when they are appropriate, grabs a few rebounds, and capably leads the offense. He has started the last three games for Coach Sutton, so barring another line-up change, look for Holdman to be out there against Oakland.
  • Tim Morton is a 6-foot-9 sophomore who mostly comes in to back-up Bell-Holter. DBH plays a lot of minutes, so Morton doesn't get a lot of time and it has been decreasing with each game. Morton reminds me a bit of the way Oakland fans looked at Ilija last season: come in to give the starters a brief respite, don't commit any turnovers, and limit fouls. Perhaps Morton will play a bigger role in the future, but so far this year he's mostly been playing that reserve role.
  • Kyron Stokes has been hampered with lingering concussion symptoms and Michael Craion may redshirt due to a foot injury. Stokes gives the Golden Eagles some depth at the 2/3 spot while Craion is a proven banger who can rebound with anyone in the league despite standing just 6-foot-5. No word as of this post if either player will be available against Oakland.
The Extra Pass
Leave it to Coach Sutton to find more guys for his team with dreadlocks! Oakland fans probably remember well one Robert Jarvis, a small point guard who had a thick set of dreadlocks. Just as he was leaving the school, Dominique Morrison joined up with his budding dreads. Two years later, DoMo's are approaching Jarvis-like length while newbie Steven Roundtree continues the trend with his unique hairstyle. At this rate, ORU might be able to honor an entire All-Hair Team at a half-time ceremony in the future.
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.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland at Centenary

Game 15: Oakland (7-8, 2-0) at Centenary (0-13, 0-2)
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | 8:00pm
Watch: N/A | Radio: WDFM-AM (1130)

The Oakland Golden Grizzlies head to Shreveport, Louisiana, for the last time ever as they resume conference play in The Summit League. Oakland played a brutal non-conference schedule which saw the team pick up an impressive upset of Tennessee and solid wins over mid-major programs Ohio and Austin Peay. The team also secured two early conference victories at the O'Rena during the first week of December which gives OU the undefeated start in league play. Centenary is in its last year of Division I play, and the results have not been too pretty thus far. Still searching for their first win, the Gents played a mix of elite conference powers and lower level teams in the non-conference but failed to score more points than the opponent every time out.

More On The Opponent
If you're a Centenary fan, there is reason to have hope heading into Summit League play. Out of all of the team's losses, its two closest games were during that first week of December when the Gents very nearly beat Western Illinois and IUPUI on the road. It will take a 40-minute effort, great defense, and perhaps a bit of luck to pull out a win over Oakland, but there is no doubt that a new season is born for this team on Tuesday night. They've played just two home games all year, and the last one was all the way back on November 22. The team has been as far west as Wyoming and as far north as Milwaukee in that span and will be looking to create a buzz at the Gold Dome for a team that probably needs a win or two to generate some more interest in this last DI season.

Centenary Player To Watch: Jeron Trotman
The switch to Division III has caused a lot of personnel movement with the Centenary program to the point where the only name Oakland fans might recognize this year is that of junior Maxx Nakwaasah. Double-X is leading the team in scoring at 10.4 points per game, but the most effective all-around player appears to be sophomore Jeron Trotman. The 6'6" forward is scoring just under 10 points, grabbing 7.8 rebounds, and blocking 1.2 shots in 29 minutes per game. That's a pretty impressive line for a guy who has likely been under-sized throughout the team's non-conference schedule. Centenary is a fairly small team so Trotman may have to deal with the twin towers of Keith Benson and Will Hudson which would favor Oakland, but his numbers indicate that he is a fighter. He just needs to get better at the free throw line where he is shooting just 48.6%.

Oakland Player To Watch: Ledrick Eackles
Tuesday marks the beginning of a new season for Ledrick Eackles. It was about this time last year when the then freshman went from scoring four or five points per game to double digits in 7 of 9 games from the end of December to the conclusion of January. Ledrick has struggled with his shot and shot selection so far this season, so it is hoped that the rebirth of conference season will see the sophomore guard find his touch again. Centenary is without much of a frontcourt which means that there should be adequate room for Eackles to use his athleticism to get to the basket for easy buckets or foul calls.

Oakland has been fairly successful against Centenary and posted a 38-point win over the school in Shreveport last season. However, just one year prior the Gents handed the Golden Grizzlies an embarrassing 20-point loss at the Gold Dome that probably still stings Oakland fans when looking back on the 2008-09 season. While Oakland has the better resume on paper, you never know what can happen in this conference with such big distances between schools.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: Valparaiso/Ohio State

Oakland continued its tough non-conference schedule this week with three games in four days. This week's recap features those matches with Rochester College, Valparaiso, and Ohio State.

The Big Picture
Whew. Oakland ends non-conference play with a record of 5-8 that includes four losses to ranked opponents and two more from elite conferences. The team and the fans would probably like to have the losses to Wright State and Valparaiso back, but it is what it is at this point in time. The Valparaiso lost happened on Tuesday night after the team beat Rochester College on Monday. In the big picture of the season, the loss to Valpo won't affect the team's NCAA tourney chances much, but it stings in the big picture of Oakland finding its place in mid-major college hoops. As was the case with the loss to Wright State, games against Horizon League opponents can make or break the mass opinion on a team's so-called "level" of play, and losing both of those doesn't help OU in this regard. The Ohio State loss was the worst of the year, but given the team's fatigue, some lingering injuries, and a general feeling of out-of-synchness, one can hardly complain too loudly about the performance. Last year, those losses piled on in November and December. This year, it only happened once. We can live with that.

The Rock Is In Benson's Hands, Or Is It?
Ever since dominating against Tennessee over a week ago, Keith Benson has had a hard time getting looks in the paint. First, Michigan coach John Beilein used an assaulting approach to double and triple-team the senior center which forced him to pass out of the post, force a shot, or commit a turnover. Then against Valparaiso, Benson was in a bit of foul trouble but also committed four turnovers and failed to convert half of his free-throws. Those were two of Benson's worst statistical performances in the past two seasons, especially considering he failed to grab a single offensive rebound. Against Ohio State and Jared Sullinger, Benson seemed to have a bit of his pep back on the offensive glass and even had a great hustle play where he stole the ball after an inbounds and dunked it for an easy two points. However, he also got into a bit of foul trouble and ended up fouling out with over eight minutes to play.

As most Oakland fans are probably aware, it's very rare for Benson to not get a double-double every night. So when he fails to do so in three straight games (sans the RoCo match), there are obviously some questions that pop up. Coach Kampe noted that Benson has been playing through an injury which could help explain the lack of production, but others have their theories as well. During the Big Ten Network telecast of the Oakland-Ohio State game, commentator Jim Jackson noted that (at least in his mind) Benson could have worked harder to demand the ball and establish himself in the paint. But he also mentioned that the guards needed to do a better job of getting him the ball in appropriate positions. Short of analyzing each and every possession (which we don't have the tape or time to do), these things are rather difficult to quantify. However, this discussion did bring up another issue that I was curious to explore: who has been the most effective at getting the ball to Benson? I went through the box scores and tallied up each time one of Benson's field goals were the result of an assist and gave the appropriate player an assist mark. For comparison's sake, I also included the data from 2009-10. Only non-conference games are included. After tallying up the individual totals, I did a small bit of math to figure out how many of Benson's field goals had been assisted in each year. The results are strikingly similar.

First, the macro-level analysis. As we can see, Benson made 77 field goals in non-conference play last year and 78 this season. His assisted field goal percentage has decreased by just three percent. Overall, it appears that half of the points Oakland gets from the field from Benson are still the result of play-calling for him. The other half of his baskets are presumably the result of his own playmaking - whether that is using his mid-range game or scoring points via offensive rebounding.

On a micro-level, we can see one huge change: no more Johnathon Jones. "JJ to Kito for two" was a staple in the lexicon of Oakland play-by-play announcers last season, which speaks just as much about Benson's finishing ability as it does JJ's court vision and feel for the game. There were no other players who even came close to matching JJ's ability to get the ball to Benson in 2009-10. This season, the combination of Reggie Hamilton and Larry Wright have made up for JJ's absence - together they've assisted 27 of Benson's field goals (JJ assisted 26). Although Larry Wright has been the chief guy to bring the ball up the floor, a few of the plays the team runs to get the ball inside end up with several other guys touching the ball first. Perhaps this is why his assist figures to Benson are lower than those of Hamilton. Either way, the numbers are about the same between the two years, but one has to wonder how many missed opportunities were present in each case.

On that note, it would be interesting (or painstaking) to go through the tapes to see how many turnovers Larry and Reggie committed while trying to pass the ball in to Kito. Since this humble blog does not have access to do so, let's just take a look at overall turnover figures and compare them to assists. For the non-conference season, Larry has 43 turnovers and Reggie has 46. JJ had 41 during the same period in 2009-10. As the primary ball-handlers, the combination of Larry and Reggie have 97 assists to 89 turnovers, while Jones had 74 assists to 41 turnovers. While the comparison might not be incredibly fair since Larry and Reggie have both attempted to be distributors and scorers (meaning the ball is in their hands more often as a combo), the ratios are still worthwhile: Larry/Reggie: 1.09 assists for every turn, Jones: 1.80 assists for every turn. From this, we can see that Jones was a special point guard, but that's not a new revelation. But it is likely that we can say that the point guard by committee method hasn't exactly been inspiring, particularly in the last few games. Perhaps a result, the team has struggled to get the ball to Benson, the focal point of the offense. There are perhaps too many turnovers committed in the backcourt or as the ball is being worked in to Benson, meaning he either doesn't get a chance to put up a shot (he had just 10 field goal attempts in the Valparaiso and Ohio State games combined) or is in a bad position and ends up drawing the double-team too quickly which can result in turnovers by Benson himself. There is also a chance that teams are just more prepared for Benson this year than last year and have better gameplans as a result.

We're not basketball coaches over here, but it is interesting to take a look at some of these figures and see what we might be able to infer from them as basketball fans. At the end of the day, the entire team has to step up on both ends of the floor to get this thing rolling again. A funny fact: Benson, oddly enough, had two of his worst games statistically right about this time last year. Against Oregon and Syracuse, he only had 9 rebounds total after posting double-doubles in the four prior games. Perhaps the confluence of teams aggressively gameplanning against Benson and team fatigue at the end of a brutal non-conference schedule were the forces behind these statistical letdowns in 2009-10 and 2010-11. As we all know, Benson went on to dominate The Summit League. I think most fans would take that over a forgettable performance in late December any day of the week.

The Young Hope
Ryan Bass played 12 minutes in the Ohio State game, his most against elite competition this season. Although he had one silly turnover that resulted in a Jon Diebler triple, Bass gave the team some good minutes and impressed with his passing ability. We still don't know much about his scoring ability, but Bass has, at the very least, shown glimpses of why Coach Kampe said he was too good to redshirt this season. At one point against Ohio State, it looked like Bass was the only guy who could get the ball into Benson's hands, and since we just spent a few paragraphs talking about guard distribution and Benson, we decided to look at some more assist data, this time with the freshman included.

The table above offers a very basic view of the distribution impact made by each of Oakland's primary distributors in the minutes they play (for non-conference games only). We use Johnathon Jones as a benchmark (his 2009-10 numbers) and see that he was dropping dimes approximately 17% of the time he was on the floor. This season, the committee tandem of Larry Wright and Reggie Hamilton have more than made up for Jones' raw assist figures, but those assists come at a lesser rate than that of the former point guard. This measure is inexact because of the fact that Wright "steals" assists from Hamilton and vice versa, but it can still be helpful when examining Oakland's distribution. For what it's worth, Ryan Bass has matched JJ's assists per minute percentage at 17%. While his raw numbers are far off from Wright and Hamilton, there is reason to have hope that the glimpses of purity we've seen from Bass at the point guard position are indeed indicative of some greater ability. While he's not likely to crack the regular line-up, we can't help but wonder how Oakland's offense would run if he could and Wright and Hamilton were left free from running sets.

"Free Ilija" Watch
Ilija continued to show his smooth stroke in games against Rochester College and Valparaiso this week. And while he went 1-5 from the field against Ohio State, he did calmly bury a three, grab two offensive rebounds, and look decent guarding the post against the Buckeye big men. Most importantly, Ilija was able to play in 10 or more minutes in every game this week. While a lot of those minutes were the result of Benson/Hudson foul trouble, it's still good to see him go out there and adequately fill in. Like it or not, Ilija will be a full-time player next season, and the more experience he gets this year, the better. Fortunately, he's mostly proven effective when out there so far.

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Travis Bader
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
While watching the Oakland-Ohio State game, I was floored when Travis Bader was guarding Jon Diebler. I kept looking at the two guards, noticing the similarities in their bodies and shooting stroke. Diebler, a senior, has been a straight-up baller for the Buckeyes during his stint there and is highly-regarded around the Big Ten for his shooting ability. Bader is just a redshirt freshman and might slowly command that kind of respect from Summit League foes as the season goes on. While Bader has shown us his ability to confidently knock down triples coming off screens, he also had a great mid-range jumper and a fastbreak dunk while in Columbus. By and large, Bader had an unexpectedly successful non-conference season. Now let's hope he can keep it up and help lead the Golden Grizzlies to a conference crown.

Top Play Of The Week
We were at all the games this week so no animated .gifs or screen caps for this week's plays, but we were mighty stoked about that Travis Bader dunk even though it came when the game was all but wrapped up by Ohio State.

What's Next?
Oakland takes a break for the holiday and then gets ready to start conference play in earnest on Tuesday, December 28 against Centenary. The Gents are winless, but the game is in Shreveport where anything can happen. Following that game, the Golden Grizzlies travel north to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to take on conference rival Oral Roberts. A lot will be on the line in that game. Let's hope the team gets some much deserved rest to shake off any of the fatigue or injuries that have stuck with them the past few weeks.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

On The Road: Ohio State

Growing up in a sports-loving household in Michigan, it's nature to hate Ohio State. While that hatred is stronger for those with family ties to the University of Michigan, it looms big for Michigan State folks too. Most of it stems from the old rivalries and the sports matches that are guaranteed every year due to membership in the Big Ten, but it's also about the State of Michigan versus the State of Ohio. Michiganders have a weird relationship with the Buckeye State. It goes back centuries to the Toledo War, a two-state dispute over a strip of land that is now Toledo. It's a story most children in Michigan learn during state history activities in elementary school and is remembered as the means by which Michigan acquired the Upper Peninsula in exchange for the tiny Toledo strip. Though Michigan clearly won that battle in the long-term, folks hailing from the Great Lakes State must be born with a hate for anything to do with Ohio, including its flagship institution.

Up until I got to Oakland University, my own lenses were painted maize and blue. After a year on the scene, I was fully bought-in to the mid-major life and retired any apparel I had with that familiar "M" logo. At the same time, I never got over my distaste for Ohio State, even as I completely distanced myself from college football, the one sport where hatred for OSU was strongest. Their basketball team always had individual players I enjoyed watching, but I still could not actively root for them. And it wasn't just sports. When I was winnowing down my list of graduate schools to apply to, I left off Ohio State because I just couldn't see myself getting down with the scarlet and grey. "Yuck," I remember thinking, even as I tried to tell myself it didn't really matter. But I guess you can't change your genes.

A few friends and I, all Michigan born-and-raised, felt that the opportunity to cheer on Oakland against Ohio State was too good a chance to turn down, especially with no school or work obligations the next day. Even though it was a non-conference game, we figured our deep-seated dislike for the Buckeyes would be reason enough to get pumped up for the game and make it like traveling to a conference game against a heated rival. Well, were we wrong.

Value City Arena is a beautiful facility, hands down. But to say that it has anything to do with college basketball tradition is a bit far-fetched. It's an NBA-sized arena, and it feels like one, too. The seats are cushy, but unless you've got a few twenties, the views are not as comforable as the seats. Additionally, the pre-game production value was on par with that of most NBA teams, and the only thing missing was an exotic half-time show. The absence of any students or live band dampened the experience further. The December 23rd date didn't help much in this regard, but it made me realize that perhaps one of the benefits of Oakland being a regional, largely commuter-based school is that the band and at least a few dozen student section members will show up to games over break to preserve the college basketball feel of the O'rena. As one of the top public universities in the nation, OSU has a much broader scope and thus might not have that luxury, or at least it did not on this particular evening. As one of the top teams in the country, the students will probably be out in full force during Big Ten home games, and one can hardly blame them for not wanting to come out for some school they would probably blow-out, a task OSU had no trouble accomplishing over Oakland.

My impressions of Value City Arena as NBA-esque come from a lens that enjoys compact stadiums and tight-knittedness among fans at college basketball games. Mackey Court and Crisler Arena better accomplished this as far as Big Ten arenas have gone this year, but at this level it's all about maximizing revenues, and Ohio State's venue clearly takes the cake in that regard with its higher ticket prices and larger capacity. For what it's worth, the Ohio State fans were a bit more energetic during the game than Michigan fans in Ann Arbor. Whereas the UofM faithful failed to stand and cheer in unison until the final minutes of the game against Oakland, OSU fans were much more active, even as most of the crowd consisted of families. Additionally, most of the fans, at least in our section of the upper bowl, were quite respectful and peacefully allowed us Grizzlies fans to cheer on the team, even when they cut the lead to single-digits at the end of the first half and it looked like we might have had a "game." The second half was far more comical, and despite our disappointment as fans in the outcome, we cheered in the waning minutes for the team to cut the margin to under 30 points. Thankfully, Travis Bader knocked down a jumper with eight seconds left that put the OSU win margin to 29 points.

Ohio State has a big-time arena for a big-time program, and the team certainly looked big-time against Oakland on Thursday night. While it would have been amazing to witness Oakland come out a bit more strong, we ultimately knew as fans that the outcome of the game was the result of a brutal non-conference schedule that ended with four games in six days. While I'm no closer to rooting for the Buckeyes, I certainly left the game with an appreciation for their on-court product. Any team that plays stifling defense, commits few turnovers, effectively passes the ball, and relies on a post-up big-man will usually win my favor. But at the conclusion of the day, sitting there looking around that arena and seeing all of its amenities and program resources, the realization of how easy it is to be a fan of a big-time program really hits you. As Oakland fans, we can make an eight-hour round trip just to be a blip of black amongst a sea of scarlet for a measly two hours that will almost always end in a loss. The Ohio State fans, meanwhile, can count the "w" as one more needed to get to the 30 or so needed to secure a #1 seed in March. Boy, we sure are different.

I may have entered college with a distaste for Ohio State based on my prior allegiances to Michigan, but as my affinity for Oakland and the mid-major mantra has grown stronger, any dislike I have for the Buckeyes is the same I have for most big-time programs. I still enjoy the product they put on the floor as a fan of basketball, but it's impossible for me to sympathize with their fans after an upset loss or early exit from a tournament. It's just too easy to root for the team with the giant coffers. However, there is no doubting what it is like for a program to have tens of thousands of people supporting it. The Oakland program may aspire to one day reach that point of prominence, and if there is one thing I have been left wondering after traveling to some non-conference road games this year it is how a program can simultaneously capture a bigger audience while retaining its authenticity. Perhaps only further travels will tell.

Very nice campus, unique from other Big Ten campuses I have visited like Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. Highlight was visiting The Oval which had sidewalks that seemingly led to everywhere.
Outside of the arena. Oakland's player portraits on the doors of the O'rena pale in comparison to the player banner draped over the facade of Value City Arena.
Production value!
Even though it lacked a college basketball atmosphere, it would be fun to visit this place during a sold-out Big Ten game because I'm sure it would be electric with so many seats available. Though the sightlines were not as great as Crisler or Mackey, still had no trouble watching the game from high up.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland at Ohio State

Game 15: Oakland (7-7) at Ohio State (11-0)
Thursday, December 23, 2010 | 8:00pm
TV: Big Ten Network | Radio: WDFM-AM (1130)

It has been a long week since the Oakland Golden Grizzlies upset then seventh-ranked Tennessee in Knoxville. The team came up short in Ann Arbor in an in-state battle with Michigan then lost to its old rival Valparaiso in the final of the Lou Henson Tournament at the O'rena. There was a win over non-Division I school Rochester College in that mix as well, but the black and gold clad ballers haven't exactly been stellar since winning the biggest non-conference road game in school history. So heading into a road game against the second-ranked team in the country (the fourth game in six days, too), what should we expect of the Grizzlies? This is a team that, up until Michigan, had been in every game against Big Ten teams, but is it possible that ride wore them down emotionally and physically? Whatever the case, we'll find out in Columbus on Thursday night against an Ohio State team that is rolling and looks like a national title contender.

A Battle of Big Men
When Ohio State originally released its schedule for 2010-11, Oakland University was not on it. From an individual match-up perspective, that was a major bummer considering tOSU was thought to be a major force with the addition of freshman big man Jared Sullinger. It was a game we hoped would be on the schedule back in May when this blog first started, back before Sullinger had even played, because the consensus was the dude was just that good and presumably would be a great match-up for Oakland's Keith Benson. Well, somehow the stars aligned, and Ohio State announced it had completed its schedule with a game against Oakland. Fast-forward a few months and Sullinger has been everything folks thought he'd be and more. Even though he's slightly undersized when compared to Benson, he uses his skill, motor, and big frame to grab rebounds and fight for buckets in the paint. He's a large reason why Ohio State has been this good so early in the season and has found himself in the discussion for freshman of the year and national player of the year. Big stuff. For his part, Benson has played admirably against the toughest of opponents in a schedule that was partly designed to give him the exposure that Sullinger gets every night. This game is perhaps Benson's last chance to go up against a sure-fire first round pick this season. Benson has never had trouble getting up for the big games, as we have seen time and again throughout his career at Oakland. While individual match-ups should never be more important than the team game, there is no doubt that this one is incredibly exciting from an entertainment point of view. Sullinger is a Columbus native who chose to go to Ohio State. Benson is from Oakland County and plays for its namesake institution. Sullinger is a freshman, Benson a senior. Sullinger's per game averages this season: 17.6 points, 10.2 rebounds; Benson's: 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds. It's the best big man in the state of Ohio versus the best in the state of Michigan.

All They Do Is Win
Ever since Jared Sullinger's big performance against Florida, there has been an uptick in folks comparing the freshman big man to former one-and-done great Greg Oden. And since people have started to realize just how good the rest of the team has been, many analysts are also wondering if this is Thad Matta's best team since the 2006-07 squad he led to the national championship game. In my mind, there are a lot of similarities, but this year's team has a few valuable upperclassmen leaders whereas the 06-07 squad was dominated by one-and-doners - and that makes this Buckeye team that much more intimidating. But to take a more objective look, I pulled some stats from both years in an attempt to compare. The 2006-07 stats include Big Ten play and NCAA tournament games, whereas the stats for 2010-11 are just through the games played this year, so the latter will probably look a bit different in April. With that said, there are some striking similarities. Both teams did most of their damage in the paint (no doubt thanks to Sullinger and Oden) but could also kill you from beyond the arc (hello, Jon Diebler and Daequan Cook). Both teams had formidable offenses and played killer defense while taking care of the ball and always finding the open man (TOPG and APG numbers are top-20 in the nation). Finally, both teams have identical fouls per game averages. In 2006-2007, 11.3 FPG was the second lowest in the nation, while this year's 11.3 figure is third. Coach Thad Matta may be a great recruiter, but he clearly knows how to get his players to play smart with their abilities as well. That's a deadly combination.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Oakland's Perimeter Defense vs. Ohio State's Perimeter Shooters
Since we already highlighted the Benson vs. Sullinger match-up, let's take a look at the other area where Ohio State can be deadly from: the perimeter. Among guys who play more than 20 minutes per game, tOSU has two players shooting better than 40% from deep, seniors David Lighty (42.5%) and Jon Diebler (46.6%). Both players have had games where they've gone off from downtown. Lighty's came against UNC-Asheville when he shot 7-10 while Diebler did his damage against Florida Gulf Coast by going 9-14. In addition, freshman point guard Aaron Craft (38.9%) has proven effective from superhoop land when he looks for the shot. Oakland had a rather miserable defensive performance against Valparaiso on Tuesday night when they allowed the Crusaders to shoot 53% from three. If that happens again in Columbus, the final score will not be pretty.

Ohio State Player To Watch: William Buford
Entering the season, one of the questions about this year's Ohio State roster revolved around who would act as the team's primary distributor after Evan Turner left for the NBA. It looked like William Buford would fill that void, but the emergence of freshman Aaron Craft as a "true point guard" has allowed Buford to play in his more natural position off-the-ball. While his scoring numbers are down a bit from last season, Buford has upped his assist averages and his field goal percentage. Buford is a capable rebounder as well and gives the Buckeyes another threat to score from offensive boards.

Oakland Player To Watch: Will Hudson
Will Hudson has been the most consistent Golden Grizzly this season on both ends of the court and has played very smart while on the floor sans the Wright State game. There are not too many teams that have two solid front-court players like Oakland, but Ohio State does in the duo of Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale. Hudson has played solid defense against imposing bigs this season and will get a similar challenge with either of those two and possibly freshman Deshaun Thomas at times. On the other end, Oakland will need Will The Thrill to be as consistent as ever, particularly on the offensive glass.

Oakland has twice traveled to Columbus to take on Ohio State. The two meetings came in the earliest days of Division I for Coach Kampe during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons. The Golden Grizzlies lost both contests. OSU coach Thad Matta was not yet at Ohio State back then, but he has coached against Coach Kampe. While at Xavier, he led his Muskateers to a 76-66 win at home against Oakland in the 2003-04 season.

Opponent Q&A
We caught up with Chris from for our opponent Q&A for this game. Despite the football-focused name, Eleven Warriors offers OSU basketball coverage as well.

For folks who haven't had much of a chance to see Ohio State this year, what is it that has this team off to an undefeated start with key wins over Florida, Florida State, and South Carolina? What is this team's MO? How are they getting it done?

Without sounding like a homer, this team is doing virtually everything at a very high level. Before Tuesday’s game against UNC-Asheville, the Buckeyes were ranked 8th nationally in both points per possession and fewest points allowed per possession.

They are multi-dimensional offensively with Jared Sullinger owning the paint, Jon Diebler shooting nearly 48% from behind the arc, William Buford expanding his all-around offensive game, David Lighty providing some athletic slash and Aaron Craft hitting 50% from the floor when teams practically dare him to shoot. They are also a very unselfish group that looks to make the extra pass, but not in a Globetrotters kind of way, as evidenced by an average of 17 assists against 11 turnovers per game.

Defensively, Matta has officially shelved the zone he was forced to use much of the past two seasons. Ohio State hasn’t employed any significant full or half court press looks, but they do play a stifling man defense aided by length on the wings allowing for switching, when necessary, generating 18.4 turnovers while holding opponents to under 55 points per contest. Another signature of Matta coached teams, this squad commits the fewest fouls in the country.

Despite the undefeated start, what things could this team use work on? What can do they in these last few non-conference games to get better for Big Ten season? What weaknesses do they have?

Right now, the biggest weakness is a lack of depth. Matta is notorious for shortening his bench in conference play and realistically, I only see a max of seven guys in the regular rotation barring foul trouble. Craft is already kind of a de facto starter in that he typically sees more minutes than Lauderdale but other than that, the bench is really comprised of freshmen Deshaun Thomas and (potentially) Jordan Sibert. Thomas has struggled a bit with the transition of big time national high school star to role player – dude never met a shot he didn’t like – but once he accepts his role for this season and subsequently gets his basketball IQ in check, at 6'6", he has the ability to be a factor in Big Ten play. Sibert, on the other hand, will be called upon much less often to contribute but dude's got a confident stroke and a quick release, he just needs consistent defensive intensity to match. With a logjam of experienced and talented wings, Sibert will be stapled to the bench barring injury for anything other than mop up duty. Other than depth, it would be nice to see the veterans Buford (67%) and Lighty (65%) shoot a little better from the stripe considering the number of attempts they’ll rack up off dribble drives. I suppose it would also be nice if both shot a little better from distance to complement Diebler.

Coach Thad Matta has primarily used a short bench this season, but freshman Aaron Craft has been able to crack the line-up averaging about 26 minutes per game while limiting his turnovers over the last few games. What did Ohio State fans like most about Craft, and how does his skillset help the Buckeyes?

As I personally expected, Craft has been an outstanding addition because he is a true point guard on a roster loaded with guys who can score. His ability to bring the ball up the court and run the offense frees up Buford, and to a lesser extent Diebler and Lighty, from having to play out of position. Craft is one of those grinder types that plays within himself - rarely trying to do too much offensively - plus he's a terrific on-ball defender. In conference play, against stud point guards like Kalin Lucas and Talor Battle, Craft's currently overlooked defensive prowess may prove just as vital as his ability to orchestrate the offense. Though he's not a starter, Craft is averaging more minutes (26.7) than center Lauderdale (20.8) so far this season as Thad Matta has exploited match-ups; however, with Oakland's size on the baseline, we might not see quite as much of Craft on Thursday night.

The big in-game match-up for this game is between Keith Benson and Jared Sullinger. Sullinger has been everything anyone hoped for and more, while Keith Benson has continued to impress with big performances against high majors. When you throw in OU's Will Hudson and OSU's Dallas Lauderdale, we have two solid frontcourts going at it. What will OSU have to do to win this individual match-up? How does the gameplan change, if at all?

Not having yet faced a lot of teams with some actual bulk to go along with their height (see South Carolina's stringbean baseliners) it's a little hard to say if/how the gameplan will change. Matta played it pretty much straight up against Florida State's Chris Singleton (6'9", 225) with Sullinger and Lighty taking turns holding him to eight points (2/9 FG) which reminds me, if you haven't seen Lighty play, he can effectively guard virtually any college player 6'10" or under despite standing just 6'5". My guess is Lauderdale plays a few more minutes than we've seen as of late and OSU plays straight up. If the Oakland bigs have success, you may see some wings come down to double. I'd also expect good pressure on the perimeter to limit as many entry passes to Benson's and Hudson's sweet spots as possible. What I don't expect to see is a packed zone of any kind. Lastly, I'm not sure Ohio State feels like they have to "win" this matchup to win the game. Despite Sullinger's early season exploits, this team is still very effective at scoring from beyond the arc with Diebler or via the midrange games of Lighty and Buford.

Thanks to Chris for answering our questions as well as he did. We appreciate the inside look at the Buckeyes.

The Extra Pass
Basketball Prospectus writer John Gasaway recently wrote a piece for on Ohio State examining how they've managed to get better despite losing last season's Player of the Year in Evan Turner. He notes that Sullinger is a big reason why:
But Sullinger's value to a team trying to replace a national player of the year has been immense. In effect, the freshman's presence has allowed a veteran like Diebler to simply continue doing what he's done before on offense: function as a highly efficient supporting player. Defenses collapsing on Sullinger in the paint also have to account for Diebler, who is hitting 48 percent of his 3s.
Sullinger's overall offensive efficiency is excellent, and if he were better than a 70 percent shooter at the line that efficiency would be stratospheric. The freshman draws nearly eight fouls for every 40 minutes he plays, a number that harkens back to the aforementioned Blake Griffin. Not only has he taken over Turner's duties as an outstanding defensive rebounder, Sullinger is also very good on the offensive glass. He makes 61 percent of his 2s and, perhaps most impressively, absolutely never commits a turnover.
Evan Turner was a straight-up baller, but it's possible Sullinger might be even better and could be the piece needed to get Ohio State back to the Final Four. Before they do that, however, Oakland will look to play spoiler to the team's thus far undefeated season.

As always, if you'd like to give your thoughts on the Oakland-Michigan game, you can head over to the Golden Grizzly Hoops forum to post with other fans before, during, and after the game: Game Thread.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland vs. Valparaiso

Game 14: Oakland (7-6) vs Valparaiso (8-4)
Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | 7:30pm at the O'rena
Watch: OU All-Access ($) | Radio: WXOU-FM (88.3)

After beating Rochester College on Monday night, the Golden Grizzlies will take on Valparaiso in the final of the Lou Henson Holiday Tournament. Valparaiso beat Eastern Michigan in the first round on Monday in a game where the Crusaders held the lead throughout despite some sloppiness from both teams. Homer Drew's squad was weak from deep but was able to get to the line much more than the Eagles while forcing their fair share of turnovers as well. Oakland shot lights out, especially from deep, and used its inside advantage to handily win the rebound battle against Rochester College. Both Oakland and Valpo have just one non-conference game left after their battle on Tuesday night, so each school will be looking to pick up a win here with opportunities for good non-conference wins dwindling.

More On The Game
Our regular preview format will return for the Ohio State contest, but we can't talk about Tuesday's game without bringing up a bit of the history between these two schools. For new or young fans, Valparaiso was a staple in the upper-echelon of the then Mid-Continent Conference during the late 1990s, at one point going to five straight NCAA Tournaments. The program's continued success earned it enough of a reputation to garner attention from the Horizon League, the conference it has been in since 2007-2008.

Prior to the move, Oakland had built a three game win streak against the Crusaders. However, Oakland had lost every prior meeting with Valparaiso dating back to the 1998-1999 season. This game represents a chance for the Golden Grizzlies to chip into that all-time lead just a bit more. In the here and now, Valparaiso has a team expected to do well in the Horizon League this season. The team has taken care of business against teams a top-four Horizon team should beat, sans a letdown to a struggling Toledo team. They also handily beat IPFW on Saturday by a score of 63-47. While the match-up will appeal to the long-time Grizzlies fans, it should also be respected by newer fans as it represents yet another opportunity for Oakland to show what it can do against a team from the venerable Horizon League.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland vs. Rochester College

Game 13: Oakland (6-6) vs Rochester College (8-5)
Monday, December 20, 2010 | 7:30pm at the O'rena
Watch: OU All-Access ($) | Radio: WXOU-FM (88.3)

Oakland heads home for its first non-league home game of the season on Monday night. It comes at the end of a brutal stretch of games against Illinois, Michigan State, Tennessee, and Michigan, however it is also the second game to be played of four over a six day period. Although no team should be overlooked, there is no doubting Oakland's history of dominance of Rochester College, located just down the street from Oakland on Avon Road. The Warriors are based out of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association and have an 8-5 record at their level. Their only DI opponent thus far was Kent State of the MAC, and the Golden Flashes won that game easily with a final score of 81-44. Expect RoCo to do the best they can to keep the game close as the team always has a lot of support for the annual game at Oakland.

More On The Game
We're nixing the traditional preview format for this one in favor of some quick thoughts on the game. At the top of this fan's wishlist is plenty of playing time for Ryan Bass, Drew Maynard, and Ilija. Bass played great against Michigan when he was used primarily to help press the Wolverines and could benefit from some extended time in the game on Monday night. Maynard needs the time more than any player since he just got back with the team a little less than a week ago. Finally, Ilija can always use time on the court. He's been solid as of late and one has to think he could use his size advantage to work on his post moves.

The other reason why it'd be great to see these guys in extended spurts is because the starters will need rest. The game on Tuesday will be against a formidable opponent no matter what, and it is important that the team does not have a letdown on its home court against either a MAC or Horizon League opponent (or from a different perspective, an in-state team or old rival). Also looming ahead is the showdown in Columbus with an Ohio State team that will most likely continue to be in the top five once the new polls are released after great performances in the prior week. That game will be of increased importance for Keith Benson as he'll go up against freshman big man Jared Sullinger. Sully has put himself in the discussion not just for freshman of the year but also player of the year with the way he has been playing. So here's to hoping Oakland can run out to an early lead in order to rest the starters for the coming games.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: Tennessee/Michigan

Another week, another weekly recap from the Gameplan. This week's edition covers the Tennessee upset and Michigan loss.

The Big Picture
The Tennessee game brought much exposure for the Oakland program. The team was featured on seemingly every national sports coverage show or college basketball website as well as by numerous local media outlets in print and radio. In the broadest of pictures, it let people know that this team and program is one to keep an eye on. For this season, it's about as high profile of a win the program could get in hopes of increasing its seeding if an NCAA Tournament bid is in the future. On the flipside we had the Michigan game. It represented a chance for the team to show that their upset over Tennessee was not a fluke and to perhaps further capture the attention of casual basketball fans in the state. The team did not play particularly well and missed an opportunity, but the way Michigan handled Oakland defensively should give the team plenty of material to get better for Summit League play.

The Anatomy of a Run II
Last week we looked at the run that Illinois made in the second half which more or less sealed the loss for Oakland. It was a run characterized by turnovers, missed opportunities, defensive lapses, and talent level differential - otherwise known as the four general factors that typically doom mid-major squads against high-majors. Against Tennessee, Oakland was able to make two runs of its own in the second half while preventing the Volunteers from making a significant one of their own. Here is how the Golden Grizzlies got it done to upset seventh-ranked UT:

13:09-12:55: Oakland is down by 11 after Tobias Harris hits a free throw. Benson grabs the board, Oakland brings the ball down court, and the result is a Larry Wright made baseline jumper from just outside of the right block. OU run: 2-0/UT lead: 9.

12:55-12:47: Steven Pearl gets some penetration but kicks it out to Skylar McBee who misses a wide open three-pointer from the left corner.

12:47-12:36: Benson comes up with another contested rebound. Larry Wright pushes the ball up court, dishes to Ledrick Eackles to the right who promptly gives the extra pass to an open Travis Bader from the left corner. Bader coolly knocks down the trey, as he has all season long in big games. Of note is that Eackles ran into a Tennessee defender as he was passing, a move which the UT faithful were hoping would result in a charge. However, the referees opted for a no-call that benefited OU. OU run: 5-0/UT lead: 6.

12:36-12:22: Bruce Pearl calls a timeout after the Bader triple. The team sets its offense after the break but fails to convert.

12:22-12:12: Benson comes up with his third straight rebound off a Volunteer miss. Ledrick Eackles gets the ball and, in one of his most impressive moves of the season, goes coast to coast and gets a lay-up due to his quickness and ability to attack the basket. The best part: he was also fouled. We can see exactly how it went down in the graphic above. In the first frame, we see Eackles go straight at the defenders. All three of them. He blew by those guys so quickly that all they could do was foul and hope he missed the lay-up. Eackles is most dangerous on the offensive end when he's got the confidence to use his speed to get into the lane. Though he missed the free throw, this play was sick, simply put. OU run: 6-0/UT lead:4.

12:12-11:39: Tennessee attempts to set its offense but fails to find a rhythm early in the shot clock. With just six seconds left, Steve Pearl (guarded by Ilija) drives to the right from the perimeter, but Ilija sticks with him and partially blocks the shot attempt.

11:38-11:04: Benson comes up with the rebound, but the resulting outlet pass almost goes out of bounds. Travis Bader makes a hustle play to save the ball and almost crashes into some front row fans in the process. Wright grabs the saved ball and sets the offense. Like UT one possession earlier, Oakland has trouble executing anything and almost loses the ball out of bounds with 7 seconds left on the shot clock. Bader brings the ball to the top of the key, dishes to Ilija with 4 seconds left, and Ilija drains a fade-away jumper with a defender all over him. As much as Oakland fans might have been pumped by the shot, there is no doubt that Ilija was probably even more excited about it. Good confidence booster for "The Serbian Assassin." Oakland run: 8-0/UT lead: 2.

Overall, this run was attributed to superior play by Oakland's bench players. Tennessee's McBee and Pearl could seemingly do nothing right, while Eackles, Bader, and Ilija all came up with important baskets. Pair them with Benson, who rebounded every UT miss, and you have a group that proved to be very successful while during this three minute run. Whereas in past games Oakland might have let the other team get away, in this one they played tough and hit shots.

The next few minutes would play out with each team trading baskets or, perhaps more appropriately, free throws. Keith Benson also briefly left the game with an apparent ankle injury. Ilija continued to play well as he hit a wide open jumper from the free throw line on the following possession. Eventually, UT got the lead back up to eight around the 7:17 mark. Following a pair of Scotty Hopson free throws, the Golden Grizzlies put together this incredible run:

6:58-6:57: Oakland gets its first two points via free throws from Ledrick Eackles after he was fouled following an offensive board. OU run: 2-0/UT Lead: 6.

6:57-6:42: Trae Golden misses a jumper, but Steven Pearl grabs the offensive board and is fouled by Travis Bader. This was also the play where Larry Wright was flattened by Brian Williams on a screen at mid-court. He looked very woozy for a bit (see the images below). Pearl misses the free throw attempt.

6:42-6:41: Keith Benson grabs the rebound and at the same time UT's Kenny Hall gets tangled with Will Hudson, and a foul is called on Hall. Many earlier fouls had put Oakland in the bonus so Hudson got to shoot two from the charity stripe and sunk both. OU run: 4-0/UT Lead: 4.

6:40-6:11: Tennessee burned quite a bit of time off the shot clock before Scotty Hopson attempted to make a move toward the basket but his arrant move resulted in a Ledrick Eackles steal. Eackles pushed the ball up court before pulling up for a mid-range jumper. Knowing Eackles shots haven't been falling, this might not have been the most appealing shot he took of the night (especially so early in the possession), but he clearly felt he had the advantage running the ball up the court. And just like it had earlier, the ball fell through the basket. OU run: 6-0/UT Lead: 2.

6:11-5:54: Cameron Tatum made a nice move to get to the basket but did not take it all the way to the rack due to Keith Benson's presence. As a result, he put up a floater that bounced around the rim before falling into the hands of Eackles.

5:54-5:22: Coach Kampe calls a timeout and the resulting possession came down to a Keith Benson three-point attempt from the top of the key. It wasn't a bad look considering he had made that shot twice earlier in the game, but it came across as an interesting move coming out of a timeout. Was it designed to get Benson an open look or was it the result of a breakdown in the play?

5:22-5:09: In what may have been Steven Pearl's worst possession yet, he was attributed with a turnover and a foul on the same play. The turnover might not have been completely his fault as it looked like a loose ball, but after Larry Wright had secured it he put his hand in there, perhaps out of frustration. It was bad play that one would usually expect of the mid-major team on the road, but one that nonetheless led to more free throws for Oakland. Larry Wright knocked down both of them (just about a minute and a half removed from the bludgeoning he experienced). OU run: 8-0. Game tied.

5:09-4:38: Hopson looked to get to the basket as he did just a few possessions earlier but was once again stripped. The ball went out of bounds with 11 seconds left on the shot clock. After the inbounding the ball, Melvin Goins took an NBA range three with 6 seconds on the shot and Larry Wright's hand in his face. For a team that had thus far prided itself on creating two-point opportunities in the paint, it was a fairly uncharacteristic play on the part of Goins.

4:38-4:34: Will Hudson grabs the board and is promptly fouled by Steven Pearl under the basket. It is pretty amazing that Pearl was still in the game at this point as he had thus far committed a number of mistakes. Hudson went 1 for 2. OU run: 9-0/OU lead: 1.

4:34-4:02: Goins attempts to redeem himself after that bad three attempt by cutting into the lane but is met again by the twin towers of Benson and Hudson. The lay-up attempt misses.

4:02:3:54: Hudson grabs the board and delivers a great outlet pass to Larry Wright who pushes the ball up court, stops just outside the painted area to pass the ball back to a running Benson. Benson thinks about shooting the three but steps in for a deep two-pointer and sinks it. This was one of the better plays of the game, starting with that quick pass from Hudson all the way up to Benson's decision to step in for a shot he has shown more comfort with this season. While ability was involved on this play, Oakland's three seniors also showcased their basketball smarts. OU run: 11-0/OU lead: 3.

3:54-3:36: Oakland keeps up the defensive pressure on UT's next possession, causing them to force a pass into the post that was broken up and stolen by Hudson.

3:36-2:39: It wasn't the greatest possession in the world, but somehow Oakland managed to burn almost a minute from the game clock by boarding two misses: one a jumper by Larry Wright and the other a triple attempt by Bader. Coach Kampe opted to call a time out, which was followed with a Larry Wright drive and dish to Will Hudson who made the bunny. OU run: 13-0/OU lead: 5.

At that point, Oakland had a two possession lead that was only in jeopardy for one stretch where Wright committed two straight turnovers. After all the senior guard had went through in the second half - the brain-shifting screen, the need to make high pressure free throws, and those turnovers - Wright demonstrated his poise by knocking down the shot of the year, a beautiful pump-fake three pointer that sealed the win.

Oakland's game-clinching run was the result of several factors, and aside from that poised jumper, Keith Benson was not a huge factor (not to discount what his mere presence does on the defensive end). In fact, when Oakland gained the lead and built it up, it was mostly on the back of Will Hudson. That's a positive for this team. Benson had kept them afloat in the first half, and a combination of reserves and other senior leaders helped the team get over the hump in the second half. It was a true team effort, something that should pay dividends for the rest of the season.

Futility From Downtown
In the Tennessee game, Oakland was able to get significant contributions from all of its players, especially the reserves. Against Michigan, it seemed like no one could get going, resulting in a lot of missed chances on the offensive end. In Knoxville, the Volunteers mostly opted to stick one man on Keith Benson. In Ann Arbor, Michigan double and triple-teamed him. Oakland has shown it can overcome the double coverage, primarily through Benson dishing to the open man on the perimeter, as we highlighted in our West Virginia recap. Looking just at the box score, we can see that Oakland had a lot of three-point attempts, something Coach Kampe noted to reporters by saying that Michigan dared the Grizzlies to shoot. So on the surface it would appear like Oakland followed the typical gameplan when Benson faces heavier coverage: pass to the open man. They just didn't knock them down.

But how many of the three-point attempts came from playing the inside-out game? We watched the game again to see just how each three-pointer was attempted to get some answers. Before we start, we must keep in mind that Oakland has been a fairly competent team from beyond the arc, and as such not all of their attempts are necessarily the result of first getting the ball to Benson (more on this at the end).

First Half
(1) 19:11- Larry Wright miss with 23 seconds left on the shot clock. The ball never passed the inside the arc on this possession, and while Wright had some separation off the Will Hudson toss, UM's Zack Novak had a hand in his face throughout the shot attempt.

(2) 18:38- Drew Valentine miss with 17 left seconds on the shot clock. Larry Wright got the ball to Benson who was promptly triple-teamed. Benson tossed it back to Wright on the perimeter before Wright made the extra pass to a wide open Valentine.

(3) 18:21- Reggie Hamilton make with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. This was a good shot that was more typical of how OU has made its three-point field goals. Larry Wright pushed the ball up court and quickly found an open Reggie Hamilton. He never had a hand in his face and made them pay.

(4) 16:42- Reggie Hamilton miss with 23 seconds left on the shot clock. Another fine shot perfectly within the offensive set. Hamilton set a pick on the player guarding Benson, and then lost his defender as he went to guard Benson. Hamilton used that to shoot back out to the perimeter where he was left open for a Larry Wright pass.

(5) 15:36- Drew Valentine miss with 29 seconds left on the shot clock. Drew was wide open in the corner with the ball after a Larry Wright pass. It was quick in the possession, but it's hard to pass up that shot and was in fact a solid look. Him being wide open looked to be the result of a missed defensive assignment more than a focus from Michigan on guarding Benson.

(6) 13:54- Ledrick Eackles miss with 26 seconds left on the shot clock. This was vintage Eackles, the high usage player. It was almost exactly like Wright's first attempt, too. Same spot on the court and during the same sequence of this particular offensive set. Knowing Eackles has not proven to be a great shooter from deep, I would have preferred to see him dribble back toward the top of the key to keep the sequence moving, especially considering it was far from a wide open look.

(7) 10:29- Ilija miss with 21 seconds left on the shot clock. Ilija was playing Hudson's role in this sequence and found himself fairly open beyond the arc. Hudson would never take that shot, but Ilija has shown he can make triples. Michigan never had a hand up through the end of his attempt, and it just didn't fall for him.

(8) 7:25- Travis Bader miss with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. Though it came early in the possession, this shot attempt was primarily the result of great anticipation from Larry Wright. Instead of walking the ball to half-court, he saw two guys open near the perimeter down court. A quick pass put the ball in Valentine's hands who quickly shot it to Travis Bader in the right corner. Bader had a great look, and the shot was unaffected by the late arriving defender.

(9) 5:58- Travis Bader miss with 27 seconds left on the shot clock. Bader ditched his defender to get open at the top of the key thanks to a Drew Valentine pass. Yet again, a defender only moved over toward him after he was to his release point. It was a great look, and yet again it did not fall.

(10) 3:46- Reggie Hamilton miss with 31 seconds left on the shot clock. In another attempt to push the tempo, Oakland got the ball down court with great swiftness, resulting in Hamilton's quick attempt. By most measures, Hamilton was open or at least had the space to reasonably get the shot off.

(11) 3:27- Reggie Hamilton make with 31 seconds left on the shot clock. Wright rushed the ball up court, drove toward the painted area, and noticed a streaking Hamilton behind him. He turned toward the perimeter and dumped it off to Hamilton for a wide open three. Even though number 23 had airballed his previous attempt, you have to love his confidence to go straight back at it.
(12) 1:58- Reggie Hamilton miss with 21 seconds left on the shot clock. Questionable attempt from Reggie as he was guarded closely and resorted to trying to shake his man before settling for a fading attempt.

(13) 0:01- Drew Valentine miss as the clock expired. Valentine's shot attempt from the corner was actually heavily guarded by two defenders. It looked like Oakland did not execute the last play particularly well, which probably led to the less than ideal attempt. At least he got a shot off.

Second Half
(14) 18:00- Larry Wright miss with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Benson had the ball but was immediately flocked by three defenders. He had just enough room to quickly dish it out to Wright, who caught the high pass, came down with it, and got off the triple attempt with a defender back on him.

(15) 17:35- Keith Benson miss with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. It's hard to make much out of this attempt. On the one hand, we all know Benson can make a triple every now and then. But on the other, is it ideal to have Benson on the perimeter? Either way, he took it because Jon Horford was giving him a lot of space. He was open.

(16) 17:02- Reggie Hamilton make with 27 seconds left on the shot clock. He relied on his own ability on this play, taking a few seconds to attempt to shake the defender. The defender stuck with him, but Hamilton got it to go through.

(17) 15:54- Travis Bader miss with 29 seconds left on the shot clock. This was a perfect play all for the fact the ball didn't go through. Benson had the ball with his back to the basket and kicked it out to Bader who was left open due to a coming triple-team on Benson. The result was a great look by Bader that did not go in.

(18) 13:22- Larry Wright miss with 22 seconds left on the shot clock. Wright was able to slide to the right corner off a screen, and Benson found him from the top of the key. A defender also slid over just as Larry was coming up for the shot.

(19) 14:54- Larry Wright miss with 31 seconds left on the shot clock. A strange shot attempt all around. Darius Morris was covering him rather closely and OU had only had the ball for four seconds. No ball movement occurred on this one.

(20) 11:40- Reggie Hamilton miss with 19 seconds left on the shot clock. This was the result of a rather chaotic play that is difficult to look at in isolation. Valentine had recovered the ball after getting stuffed by Horford and threw a careful pass along the baseline to an open Hamilton in the corner. A maize defender eventually got to the corner, but Hamilton had already lifted for the shot. But like most of the night for this team, it didn't fall.

(21) 10:46- Reggie Hamilton miss with 31 seconds left on the shot clock. Hamilton shot up to the perimeter after setting a pick down low, received the pass from Wright, and took an attempt with good coverage from the Michigan defender. It came quick in the possession but was perfectly within the realm of OU's offense and Hamilton's ability.

(22) 9:22- Reggie Hamilton make with 24 seconds left on the shot clock. A great look for Hamilton coming off a Will Hudson pick.

(23) 8:49 - Reggie Hamilton make with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. This one looked a lot like his make toward the end of the first half. He was streaking down court and Ryan Bass had the presence of mind to get him the ball at the top of the key. Drained it.

(24) 8:00- Reggie Hamilton miss with 19 seconds left on the shot clock. Another solid look for Hamilton who was clearly feeling it at the moment. He got open after rolling around a Hudson pick, but it didn't fall for him this time.

(25) 6:47- Ledrick Eackles miss with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. Eackles was doing his best Hamilton impression on this play, hoping to spark the offense with a quick triple. It didn't fall.

(26) 6:26- Reggie Hamilton make with 31 seconds left on the shot clock. Eackles got a long rebound and pushed the ball up court to find a streaking Hamilton who, yet again, knocked down the open trey. At this point, I got the sense they were just jacking them up, but it was probably all they could do to attempt to get back into the game as quick as they wanted.

(27) 5:11- Reggie Hamilton miss with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. Hamilton brought the ball up and opted for the quick shot attempt while the defense was attempting to get back into position.

The remaining four attempts, 28 through 31, were all more of a result of last ditch efforts under the 1:30 mark when the team was down by 15 or more. So excluding those, here is what the distribution of three-point shot misses looked like:

Keep in mind that the characterizations do not follow an objective pattern. They are inherently subjective, but I did my best to base them all on the same general principles where an "open" shot was a shot taken without a defender or the defender's hand arriving as the ball was leaving the shooter's hand and where a "guarded" shot was with a defender clearly present. Inside-out shots were those taken after the ball had touched someone in the post, most notably Benson, while those within the "normal" range were shots that occurred based on some sort of ball movement around the perimeter, a cut, or screen - or those that might normally occur within the course of a game for Oakland. The final column features those shots that were rushed (i.e. on a fastbreak or very early in the possession with no ball movement).

Using this framework, we can see that Oakland missed 13 open three-pointers, surely quite uncharacteristic of this year's squad. However, the high number of threes taken within a normal sequence of events (13 total) may also lend themselves to bringing up the fact that the team simply did not get the ball to Benson enough. There were only three plays where he had the ball and dished it out to a man on the perimeter (the other in the inside-out column was the Valentine pass to Hamilton). On other possessions, he was effective at getting a shot off, a tactic perhaps more appropriate than the onslaught of threes since Benson would have high percentage shots or a greater chance of getting fouled. And if he found himself stuck, he could have had more opportunities to be a factor in the inside-out game - as we noted, only three of OU's attempts from beyond the arc resulted from such manuevering.

While the Oakland players left a lot of points out there in the form of 13 missed wide open shots, credit should also go to the Michigan defense. One of the reasons Benson did not have a chance to make that extra pass was due to their collapsing defense.

The screencaps above show how Michigan's gameplan was to rush as many players as possible toward him to prevent him from being a factor. This became apparent as soon as Oakland's first possession (frame 1) and continued throughout the game (frame 2). In frame 2, Benson had a turnover as he attempted to get the ball to his teammates. But look and you'll see he had an entire team on top of him. The defense was solid, but one also has to wonder what kind of player in the entire country will face that kind of pressure again? Oh, the perils of being a pro talent on a mid-major squad.

Missed three pointers weren't the only reason Oakland loss this game, but they surely were a major factor in the letdown performance. As a fan, I can only hope the team learns from this one moving forward because at the end of the day, as Coach Kampe always says, this particular record doesn't matter for the team's conference championship hopes.

"Free Ilija" Watch
Ilija has been giving Oakland some very solid minutes as of late. His presence in the Tennessee game was surely felt when he knocked down two great jump shots. While he didn't get on the board against Michigan, he played well during a stretch in the final minutes of the first half. With a game against Rochester College on the horizon, it is hoped that he can get some more playing time to build on the confidence he has already gained.

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Will Hudson
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Will was the only Golden Grizzly other than Kito who had solid back-to-back games. Hudson has been a constant for Oakland this season, no doubt one of the reasons why the team was able to upset Tennessee. He had 17 points (including 7 of 9 from the stripe) and 9 rebounds in Knoxville and followed that performance up with 10 points and 6 boards against Michigan. Most importantly, Will was active on the offensive glass and played smart in both contests. Kudos to Will. He has shown all season long why he's a captain on this team.

Top Three Plays Of The Week
1) Larry Wright's step-back triple to seal the game against Tennessee. It was also #7 on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays that night. (link)
2) Ilija's fadeaway jumper against Tennessee as the shot clock was expiring. (link)
3) Keith Benson's block on Tim Hardaway, Jr. With most other players, Hardaway would have had a posterizing dunk, but against Kito, he was the one looking like a fool.

What's Next?
Oakland has its first and only two non-league home games on Monday and Tuesday as a part of the Lou Henson Tournament. The Michigan game also started a stretch where the team will play four games in six days. Monday's game is against Rochester College, while Tuesday's will pair the winner of that game with the winner of Eastern Michigan versus Valparaiso. On Thursday the Golden Grizzlies will travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a battle against Ohio State.