Game 7: Oakland (0-0, 3-3) vs. Southern Utah (0-0, 2-4)
Thursday, December 2, 2010 | 7:00pm at the O'Rena
Oakland opens up conference play on Thursday night by hosting Southern Utah at the O'Rena. The game is OU's first home game all season and it comes on the heels of a two game win streak which saw the Golden Grizzlies thoroughly dismantle an opponent (Southern) and gut it out against another (Austin Peay). Back in Rochester and presumably well-rested, Oakland gets a Southern Utah team making its longest conference road trip of the season. SUU has just two wins on the season, one to DI independent Bakersfield and another over Great West member Houston Baptist. The Thunderbirds have had trouble putting points on the board, something which will surely prove difficult if the Grizzlies are defending like they have been lately. However, this is a conference game where every second counts and teams typically have a renewed sense of hope surrounding the league championship race, so the T-birds won't be lamenting over their losses.
Conference Games In Early December?
This is the fourth year now where Summit League play has started with two games in early December. It's also the third of the four where Oakland has faced the Southern Utah and UMKC combo (and second time at home). Interestingly, Oakland is 0-2 against Southern Utah in these games. While the merits of conference games at this point in the season can be debated, the simple fact remains that they are a reality right now in The Summit League, so the teams have to do the best they can to prepare for them like it's January. When your team is the home team, it comes as good news for fans since home games in November and December are often few and far between. Oakland fans know this well as the match with Southern Utah is the first home game of the season. Students are still in session, albeit getting ready for finals, and we're far enough from the holidays that the community at large shouldn't have too many distractions this weekend. Hopefully that combination will result in big home crowds for both the SUU and UMKC games over the next two days.
While the assist may seem like a pretty cut-and-dry statistic, there is actually some judgment involved on the part of the game statistician in how it is rewarded. One way of testing this is through the use of assist percentages (assists/field goals made) for teams when at home versus on the road. I got the idea to try this out for The Summit League after reading a great piece by Basketball Prospectus and was somewhat relieved to see that there are no incredible disparities in A/FM between home and away games in the conference. The rates, shown in the table above for the complete 2009-10 season, are all generally in a range that could be explained by simple things like better ball movement at home than on the road (or in the case of ORU, NDSU, and Centenary, a proclivity to distribute better on the road). The most interesting cases, though, were Oakland and Southern Utah. Both teams see a double-digit drop in assist percentages away from their homecourts. Is this explained by an assist-happy home statistician, a tendency to forget to pass the ball on the road, or something else? Now that we know about this difference, it'll be interesting to track assist percentages in their two matches this year.
Key Personnel Match-Up
Reggie Hamilton vs. Ray Jones, Jr.
With each additional game, Reggie Hamilton continues to win over the Oakland faithful with his three-point shooting, ability to get to the basket, and some of the dimes he has been dropping to his teammates. As Coach Kampe noted in a recent interview, one of Hamilton's strengths is his confidence in himself, which on one hand gives OU the kind of edgy player it needs in tough battles and on on other can cause Grizzly fans great pains when he jacks up a bad three here and there. Fortunately, the good has outweighed the bad, and now it is time to see what Hamilton can do as he re-enters Summit League play since his days in a UMKC uniform. As is always the case with this backcourt, it's tough to predict exactly who will guard who, but Ray Jones, Jr. seems like a candidate in this game. Although he's a junior, he's a new commodity for SUU and has had his fair share of ups and downs so far, but he gets to the line quite a bit and is his team's leading assists man at the moment. Like Reggie, Ray probably needs to limit his turnovers a bit, but otherwise has been a steady contributor for Roger Reid. This will be a good chance to see two junior guards establish themselves in Summit play.
Southern Utah Player To Watch: Matt Massey
Even though he had what most would characterize as an up-and-down first year as a Thunderbird, I really grew to like Matt Massey after seeing him in the O'Rena last year. He's a guy I thought would step in this year (he's a junior) and give SUU the spark it needed after Davis Baker graduated. His averages are up this season, but it has only been recently that Massey has really stepped up his game. He had 20 points in a win over Houston Baptist on 10 of 16 shooting, which might be the most shots he's had as a T-bird. If Massey can evolve into the scoring threat that he can be, SUU stands to have a much better season than it would otherwise. Even though he's not entirely a back-to-the-basket player, at 6'9" one would like to see Massey get to the free-throw line a bit more (he had zero FT attempts in that 20-point effort). Either way, the Australian will get a good test against Oakland.
Oakland Player To Watch: Will Hudson
Why not? Will Hudson played out of his mind in Chicago, pouring in 40 points and grabbing 23 rebounds, 12 of which were on the offensive end. I think most Oakland fans expected Will The Thrill to have a solid senior season, but 20-point nights were probably not what they had in mind. Hudson is a guy who is always lauded for that things he does without the ball, yet perhaps now more than ever he deserves the ball. SUU's frontline includes two tall guys in Aussies Matt Hodgson and Matt Massey. If Oakland enters the game like it did against Purdue, then expect Benson to stay near the basket guarding Hodgson and Hudson spending some time on Massey. Massey's a fairly skinny dude who can do quite a bit with the ball in his hands, but Hudson will likely be the toughest opponent he has played against in recent games. Further, Hudson should be able to use his big frame to out-rebound the SUU bigs in the paint. This has the look of game where Will could really shine, yet again.
It's the first of what will be the final four games between Oakland and Southern Utah while the Thunderbirds ride out their Summit League membership (the team will join the Big Sky in 2012). SUU has always been a team that has given OU trouble in conference games, though the Golden Grizzlies have won three straight dating back to the 2008-09 season. SUU last won at the O'Rena in 2007 by a final score of 82-73.
- On Monday, Coach Greg Kampe took to the WXOU airwaves to answer a number of questions from cohosts Matt Pocket and Bryan Everson. It was great to hear Kampe talk about his defensive philosophy for this season and why at times it may appear like Oakland is giving up a lot of threes. Essentially, he noted that the team's gameplan is to force opposing teams to take their chances with the three-ball because OU has Benson and Hudson to protect the area near the basket (where teams are shooting just 43.6%). In some of the early games, teams have simply knocked down those three-point shots, often even with hands in their faces. The team currently ranks seventh in the conference in 3FG% allowed, but if the statistics don't lie, then that number should come down even more after the SUU game. Southern Utah is currently shooting 21.1% from deep, good for last in the league and 344 out of 347 in the nation. Now if the T-Birds get hot from beyond the arc at the O'Rena, then maybe we keep wondering about Oakland's three-point defense. But those chances are slim.
- Another statistical area to keep an eye on for this match-up is that of possessions. Oakland is currently the fastest teams in the league in terms of pace, running with 73.8 possessions per 40 minutes. Southern Utah, on the other hand, checks in at just 67.3. SUU may come in an try to control the tempo, but Oakland can get out and run if necessary, especially if SUU coughs the ball up as much as it has this season (which also applies to Oakland given its tendency for turnovers).
- If there were an opponent blog for Southern Utah, you can be sure I'd ask the T-Bird faithful about Matt Hodgson. This is a 6'11" guy who had a promising freshman season by shooting over 58% from the field and blocking 2.2 shots per game. This year, those categories are down considerably, as is Hodgson's playing time. Hodgy gets in foul trouble rather easily (he's already fouled out in 50% of SUU's games), which probably explains his lack of minutes, but one has to think Coach Roger Reid had higher hopes for this big man in his second campaign. For SUU's sake, he better be careful with those fouls against Oakland.
The Extra Pass
Some kindred spirits are officially launching a project entitled The Half-court Press, which is a gameday newsletter that aims to print for every home game (or set of home games when they're of the Thursday-Saturday variety). The effort is a collaborative one that features many current students at Oakland who will be doing their best to write brief satirical articles about the opponents for home games. You can check them out online here, where PDFs of the newsletter should appear. Otherwise, I believe students can find a printed copy somewhere prior to the game (or perhaps more correctly, the HcP overlords will find you). This whole thing is very reminiscent of Utah State's The Refraction, which is one of the best student section newsletters I have ever seen. We wish The Half-court Press the best of luck in gathering interest from students. Every little bit to make the student body more informed on OU basketball goes a long way toward keeping student interest strong!
Other Conference Games On Thursday
Centenary at IUPUI (7:00pm) - Can Centenary get over the hump for its first win?
UMKC at IPFW (7:00pm) - The home team always wins in this series.
Oral Roberts at Western Illinois (9:00pm) - WIU goes for its second straight win over ORU after beating the Golden Eagles for the first time since 2006 last February in Tulsa.
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.