Friday, December 17, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland at Michigan

Game 12: Oakland (6-5) at Michigan (8-2)
Saturday, December 18, 2010 | 12:00pm

Oakland heads to Ann Arbor after pulling off arguably the biggest win in program history on Tuesday night in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Golden Grizzlies knocked off #7 Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena and earned a significant amount of media coverage, national and local, in the days that followed. Coach Kampe and his players knew that they were capable of the upset bid, especially after nearly taking down Michigan State at The Palace last weekend. This weekend, Kampe and Company will play yet another Big Ten team in the Michigan Wolverines. While Michigan may not have the same kind of seasoned talent as some of the Big Ten teams Oakland fans have seen this year, they are not a team to overlook. John Beilein's squad has taken care of business against teams from smaller conferences and only has two close neutral court losses (to Syracuse and UTEP). Just like with the MSU game, this is a great in-state battle for the program and an opportunity for the team to make a statement about its place in Michigan's college basketball scene.

The Spectacle Continues
Ever since the schedule was released in September, Oakland fans have been pointing to this current string of games as the one where we'd finally see the team get a breakthrough win. Since then, the national media has hoped aboard as well, always quick to show a graphic of the Illinois -> Michigan State -> Tennessee -> Michigan slate of games. Fortunately, that breakthrough win already came against Tennessee, so now we see if the team can keep the momentum going against a Michigan team that is playing like it has something to prove. After upsetting UT, the national eye was on Oakland, with seemingly every radio station interviewing Coach Kampe and many media outlets, both traditional and digital, offering up their ink and pixels to commemorate the victory. This played out last season when Portland of the West Coast Conference had a string of upsets, a national ranking, and, of course, increased attention. That team did not respond well and dropped its next three games including a city battle against Portland State. Coach Kampe has indicated in the hours since the upset that his team will have moved on to focus solely on Michigan. As Golden Grizzlies fans, let's hope they've all bought in to that mantra. While beating the seventh ranking team in the nation will help the program on a national level, beating an in-state program with the tradition and scope of Michigan would do wonders here in the state and local area.

Two Very Different Teams
In recent victories Michigan has done a great job of controlling the tempo and limiting turnovers (13 turnovers in the last two games). I put together the table above in an attempt to showcase this in the "ball handling" column, but it doesn't really come across too well. At present, Oakland actually has a better assist to turnover ratio than Michigan and is limiting its turnovers to just 5% of all possessions, which comes as a surprise given how turnovers have been a thorn in the side of this team on occasion. However, the key to this stat is likely that Oakland has a bigger set of possessions from which turnovers can be divided. OU averages over 10 more possessions per 40 minutes than Michigan. UofM's 63.3 possessions per 40 mark is among the lowest in the nation, even lower than the always slow Western Illinois. Michigan's game is slow, and they control the ball rather well as a result. The other area of the table looks at scoring, particularly each team's free throw rate and distribution of three-pointers attempts. Oakland has the advantage in getting to the line by looking at both free throws attempted per possession and per field goals attempted. The reason why is revealed in the third column which shows the percentage of shots each team takes beyond the arc. There are only 16 teams in the nation who shoot more than 42% of their shots from deep, so we can see that Michigan clearly loves the three-ball. As basketball aficionados surely know, when you live by the three, you die by three. It's in Oakland's best interest that the Wolverines are doing the latter on Saturday.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Larry Wright vs. Darius Morris
Darius Morris has had a breakout sophomore season as the starting point guard for the Wolverines in 2010-11. He's doubled his rebounding production (3.6 rpg) and tripled his scoring and assist averages per game (14.6 and 7.3, respectively). The 6'4" Los Angeles native is also shooting a cool 55% from the field. Dude is legit. In a recent game on the Big Ten Network, one of the commentators compared his jump to that of Evan Turner's in 2008-09 which holds up well when you compare the leaps in statistics. Morris still has some work to do before he's a lottery pick, but there's no doubt he has been his team's most impressive weapon on all fronts. Larry Wright has looked like a weapon in the past few games for Oakland, no doubt thanks to his renewed three-point shooting ability. Wright sealed the game for the Grizzlies on Tuesday on the offensive end, but they'll need the senior guard to do work against Morris on the defensive end in order to come out strong against Michigan.

Michigan Player To Watch: Stu Douglass
One of the reasons why Michigan isn't picked to finish very high in the Big Ten this season is due to its extremely young roster. Morris, the leading scorer, is a sophomore and the next two leading scorers are freshmen. But it is juniors Zack Novak and Stu Douglass who give this team most of its experience. Fortunately for the program, many of the young guys are pulling their weight and showing their talent, but Douglass remains the biggest threat from deep. I watched him go five-for-seven from deep in a great game against Harvard earlier this season, and you can bet he'll hoist up about as many attempts in the game with Oakland. Douglass must be watched for he is very capable of going off if his jumpers are falling.

Oakland Player To Watch: Ledrick Eackles
Mr. Eackles got back into double figures in the win over Tennessee for the first time since the UMKC game and just the third time on the season. One of the ways he did that was by attacking the basket, as his five free throw attempts showcase. Eackles still had a couple of questionable looks but did knock down a few of them, even if they were ugly. Oakland needs the ball to start falling for the sophomore guard more often. Here's to hoping he can build off the momentum of the Tennessee performance to get into double figures again while helping his team on the glass and defensive end, as always.

This is the seventh meeting between the two schools and the fifth at Crisler Arena. Oakland is 0-4 all time in Ann Arbor and 1-6 in the series. The sole win came when the Wolverines made a rare trip to the O'Rena in 2000, losing 97-90 to the Golden Grizzlies (it was quite an event for the program as you can see by how packed the arena was in the last few minutes of this video clip). The teams last played at The Palace in 2008. While Oakland lost 89-76, it was one of the first games where Keith Benson showed a glimpse of the player he would eventually become. He went for 23 and 11 up against DeShawn Sims. It was also the first game Laval Lucas-Perry played for Michigan. Oakland fans will remember well that he hit a ton of threes to help the Wolverines to victory. LLP is currently sitting out the year after he transferred to Oakland following the 2009-10 season.

Opponent Q&A
As far as team-specific college basketball blogs go, there might not be a better one than Dylan Burkhardt has developed the site into a powerhouse for Michigan basketball coverage. They do it all: pre-game and post-game analysis, macro-level pieces on the program, and intense coverage of the team's recruiting efforts. Throughout it all, he's stayed independent, grown a formidable community of readers, and just recently underwent a great redesign. His site has definitely served as an inspiration for the Gameplan, so we're happy to cooperate with him for this game preview. Here are Dylan's responses to our questions:

One thing that has stuck out to me in loosely following Michigan is how the team has limited its turnovers. There are only 12 teams in the nation who turn the ball over less, and they also have an Assist to Turnover Ratio that's in the top 50 in the country. When you pair good ball control and good movement with a team that ranks in the top 25 in defensive field goal percentage, it looks like Michigan playing really smart basketball. Are the statistics telling the whole story? How are they getting it done?

DB: There are a couple things that you can be sure of when you face a John Beilein-led team. They won't turn the ball over, they'll shoot a lot of threes, and they won't foul you very often. Michigan is actually turning the ball over more frequently than the last two years but they still have kept things very reasonable in that department. Turnovers are vastly important because if you aren't turning the ball over then you have more possessions that end with shots at the basket. Michigan's problem offensively is that they just aren't making enough of these shots. The 52.1% two point shooting looks good but Michigan shoots just 31.1% from three and they attempt over 40% of their shots from long range.

While the shots aren't falling, this team is doing something that Beilein teams aren't known for: playing defense. Level of competition plays a role but Michigan's defense has been phenomenal over the first 10 games. The Wolverines rank 34th in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings thanks to a defensive effort spearheaded by defensive rebounding and keeping opponents off the charity stripe.

Tell us a little about Darius Morris. How has he been able to catapult himself from a minor role player to a star in the making? What are his strengths? And what can he still improve on, keeping in mind he's just a sophomore?

DB: Darius Morris has played better than most Michigan fans imagined was possible -- averaging 15 points and 7 assists per game. Morris is controlling the game and is the catalyst for most of Michigan’s successful offensive possessions. At 6-foot-4 he has used his size advantage over smaller guards effectively to connect on an array of different shots around the bucket leading to an impressive 61% 2 point field goal percentage. There are still times when he tries to do a little bit too much but thus far it's tough to do anything but rave about Morris’ play.

In terms of improvement, it all boils down to shooting. Morris' shot has improved but he still has a ways to go with his three point shot. He's shooting just 29% from three point range and his long range jumpshot is the one element that can elevate his game to a higher level going forward.

If there is a knock I hear about Michigan, it's the lack of imposing frontcourt players. That said, the young big men on this team have looked pretty good with a lot of potential. Can you give us a brief introduction to the new big guys and why we should pay attention to in the future? How do you see them handling Oakland's experience post men in Keith Benson and Will Hudson?

DB: Michigan is the 7th youngest team in the country and their youngest players are in the post. Two redshirt freshmen and a true freshman man the five spot. Jordan Morgan, at 6-foot-8 240lbs, starts at the five and he has exceeded expectations thus far. He's not the tallest or most athletic but he has a nose for the basketball and has done a great job making himself available in the lane for dump offs and assists. Jon Horford is Michigan's next most productive five man. Just a true freshman, Horford obviously has a ways to go physically (6-8, 215) but he is extremely active and has played very well over the last two games. You are also likely to see Blake McLimans, a 6-foot-10 redshirt sophomore that's been touted as a shooter but has connected on just one three pointer in 14 attempts.

The four position might be even more unique. 6-foot-9 freshman Evan Smotrycz starts at the four and is very much a skill player. Smotrycz loves to shoot the three (34%) but also has a great pump fake and will put the ball on the floor. The four position is very much a "wing" position in Beilein's offense so you will see a lot of Smotrycz on the perimeter. You will also see Michigan's starting two guard, Zack Novak, slide over and play the four. Novak, a junior, is just 6-foot-4 but he has played the four position the last two seasons and is also Michigan's best defensive rebounder.

Michigan has had trouble guarding the post this year and they haven't faced anyone nearly as talented as Keith Benson. I suspect they will start out guarding him straight up before eventually experimenting with a variety of double team looks. The best bet to stop Benson might be to force him into some cheap fouls, as Morgan has done a great job drawing fouls on opposing big men.

The four position might be an even better mismatch for the Grizzlies. Smotrycz does not play great defense in the post and Hudson obviously has a huge size differential on Novak. Michigan's counter here is that Hudson will be forced to guard the quicker players on the perimeter. At the end of the day it all comes down to defensive rebounding for Michigan. Oakland excels on the offensive glass and Michigan needs to do everything they can to limit their second chances. The Wolverines have been great on the defensive glass this year but they haven't faced an offensive rebounding team quite this good.

This is an in-state match-up featuring a young program on the rise in Oakland with a historic program trying to reestablish itself in the Big Ten and the country in Michigan. As Oakland fans, we love these in-state series for a chance to go up against the best in the state. Why should Michigan fans be similarly stoked about this series, if at all? What does this game mean for you all in the here and now?

DB: It's a bit crazy to look back at the last time these two teams played – December 2008 – as Michigan was coming off of a huge upset win over Duke. That squad appeared to be building something but last season was undoubtedly a step back. Now with an extremely young team, Michigan is rebuilding again but have played a little better than most expect which has began to generate some buzz.

As a program, I think it's great to play these games against local schools like Oakland, Detroit, Central, etc. When they aren't playing Michigan, I love to watch Oakland play and think it's obvious what a tremendous job Greg Kampe has done building the program. This is a game that could probably go either way and I think both teams know that. While teams out of this state might underestimate Oakland, I don't think you will find Michigan (or Michigan State) underestimating them one bit.

Thanks to Dylan for answering our questions with so much thought and depth. We did a Q&A with his site too which can be seen here.

The Extra Pass
While Oakland was beating Tennessee on Tuesday night, Michigan was also playing on the Big Ten Network in what was a win over North Carolina Central. The day after the game,'s Michael Rothstein was able to get a Wolverine point of view on Oakland's big win and upcoming visit to Ann Arbor:
The Wolverines knew what its next opponent had been oh-so-close to doing on Saturday in a 77-76 loss to Michigan State. In the wake of Michigan's 64-44 win over North Carolina Central, the Wolverines were already aware that the Grizzlies had upset the nation's No. 7-ranked team. "Coach (John Beilein) was talking and he asked about it," redshirt freshman forward Jordan Morgan said. "You want to be focused on every game. We know Oakland is a good team, so we just have to come out with the same intensity that we have to come out with every game."

At noon Saturday, Michigan will play a team all of a sudden in the national spotlight when Oakland plays at Crisler Arena.

Tennessee was the fifth major conference team the Grizzlies (6-5) had played this year. They played Illinois and Purdue, both ranked teams from the Big Ten, close before the one-point loss to then-No. 7 Michigan State, when they failed to make free throws down the stretch.

"That's a great win for them," Beilein said. "It's great for Oakland and if we can have an opportunity to beat them here it's great for us, because they are obviously a very good team."
There is no doubt that Coach Beilein and his Wolverines will be ready for Oakland on Saturday.

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.


  1. Great preview, as usual - especially the point about what happened to Portland last year. Oakland needs to stay focused and not get distracted by the media attention after the Tennessee win. I think Oakland gets this one, but it will be a tough game.

  2. I think it will come down to one of the lesser players to have a breakout game and really push his team over the top.

    Vogrich for Umich, how about Valentine for the grizz.

    OU 73 Umich 67