Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: Illinois/Michigan State

This week's recap features thoughts and analysis on Oakland's games against two Big Ten opponents, Illinois and Michigan State.

The Big Picture
After watching the games against Illinois and Michigan State, one has to feel that Oakland is inching closer and closer to finally being able to knock off one of these top-ranked teams. It's easy to be negative about the losses, especially the one to Michigan State at The Palace, but there are a lot of positives to be taken from this week. For one, this year's team exudes confidence. They believe they can play with anyone in the country, and for the most part, they have shown that they can. It feels like Oakland will get one of these wins sometime soon, and if they don't by the end of December, you can bet that they'll be the most battle-tested Summit League team this season. That bodes well for the team's chances in the long run where the goal is to leave Sioux Falls with the nets in their hands.

The Anatomy of a Run
It's a common cliche in college basketball that a mid-major team must play "forty minutes of perfect basketball" in order to have a shot at a Red Line Upset. The heart of that statement is that these teams, those with less money and resources, just can't afford to make costly mistakes against those with the profile to recruit future NBA draft picks. At some point, talent simply takes over. Oakland fans know this well. We've seen the team come out strong against some of the nation's best teams, but at some point an OU turnover or missed rebound turns into points for the other team. And then those teams go on runs.

Another phrase heard a lot in basketball circles is that basketball is a game of runs. Watch enough mid-vs-high-major basketball games and one will notice that it's those runs that usually seal the fate of the little guys. In games against Purdue and Illinois, those runs have come in the second half. More specifically in Champaign on Wednesday, Illinois went on its run, one of the 18-0 persuasion, from the 17:47 mark, when Oakland was up by nine, until there was 12:52 left with the Illini now up seven. Here's how it happened:

17:29-16:54: Will Hudson held his ground in the paint, forcing a weak shot by Mike Tisdale that misses. Oakland came down the floor and worked the ball to Benson on the block, Mike Davis gets a piece of shot as it falls short. Oakland gets offensive board, resets the offense. Hamilton dishes to Benson on the left elbow, jumper falls short. Overall, not a bad possession.

16:54-16:47: Demetri McCamey takes ball coast-to-coast, Larry Wright fouls as he attempts a lay-up. Makes two free throws. Illinois run: 2-0.

16:47-16:32: Oakland turnover by Larry Wright.

16:32-16:12: McCamey sets the offense, gives it up to Jereme Richmond on the wing, and Oakland ends up with two big men on Richmond as a result of the screen. D.J. Richardson is cutting, but Wright leaves him to guard an unprotected Mike Tisdale in the post. Richardson buries the uncontested three. Hate to see a great three-point shooter open in the corner, but these things are bound to happen, as Coach Kampe has noted in the past, when the team's philosophy is not have Benson chasing guys on the perimeter. Illinois run: 5-0

16:12-15:48: Oakland works ball in the post to Benson who makes a move toward the basket and seemingly gets a shot off, but it's not called a shooting foul (seen below). This was one of the more questionable calls of the game, and Coach Kampe was irate as a result. Oakland resets out of the inbound, but loses the ball on a Drew Valentine pass to Will Hudson.

15:48-15:24: Illinois ball. Jereme Richmond leads the offense while Keith Benson was guarding him. This was one of the more interesting match-ups and one I didn't fully notice until rewatching the game. At this point, Hudson was guarding Tisdale inside, who again put up and missed a shot due to solid defense from Hudson. However, with Benson left to guard Richmond - who is a slashing playmaker - the freshman was able to slide into the lane and tip-in the Tisdale miss. That was the second of three plays where the Benson-Richmond mismatch led to an Illinois bucket. Illinois run: 7-0.

15:24-15:10: Oakland's offense was never really set on this possession. Ledrick Eackles made an attempt to get to the basket from the wing but was too long on a leaning jumper. If Eackles ever starts hitting those things (or getting the foul called), his presence will be much more welcome on the offensive end, at least in the mind of this observer.

15:10-14:59: McCamey pushed the ball up-court, gave it to Tisdale, then got it back on his way toward the basket. Here, Reggie Hamilton moved in front of McCamey and appeared to be set, but the senior point guard got the benefit of the doubt and a blocking foul was called on Hamilton. The basket also went in, as did the resulting free-throw. Perhaps more than any other call, this was the most questionable of the game, especially on a play that would give Illinois the lead. Illinois run: 10-0.

14:59-14:40: Larry Wright brings the ball up, sees a lane and makes a move toward the baseline. He gets a fairly nice look just outside of the paint on the left block, but it falls short, likely as a result of Mike Davis putting a hand in his face.

14:40-14:33: The Davis rebound off of Wright's miss leads to a fastbreak opportunity seemingly created by McCamey's speed. Instead of attacking the rack, McCamey spots up for a three-pointer and sinks it. Up until this point, the run was fairly unassuming, but this shot reenergized the crowd and the Fighting Illini as a team. Illinois run: 13-0.

14:33-14:05: Travis Bader makes a nice move on the perimeter to free himself of his defender, resulting in a jump shot just inside of the arc. Miss.

14:05-13:56: Richmond rebounds, passes to McCamey, who promptly comes down court and spots up for an NBA three. Hamilton contests it as best he can, but McCamey drains it. That was the second Illinois possession in a row where McCamey displayed no care for the hearts of his opponent. Just cold! Illinois run: 16-0.

13:56-13:43: Oakland ball. Bader loses the ball around the top of the key and somehow manages to also commit a foul. Not a good possession for the redshirt freshman.

13:43-13:23: Illinois sets its offense with McCamey off the ball. McCamey rotates off a screen and proceeds to slice through the Oakland defense on his way to an easy teardrop bucket. Illinois run: 18-0.

13:23-12:57: And this is how the run ended. Hamilton had a great look from deep, a miss that was rebounded by Benson. After an Illini player tipped it out of bounds, Hamilton got it to Eackles on the wing who missed an open look from the corner. After a tussle for the board, Hamilton ended up with it but missed the putback. The miss landed in Wright's hands who got yet another putback to finally go in. It was sloppy, but it put an end to a forgettable Illinois run.

By my count:
  • Five of the Illinois points resulted from missed Oakland defensive assignments.
  • Eight were the consequence of McCamey's talents alone: speed to push the ball up court, shooting touch from beyond the arc, and the stones to knock down tough shots. No one else touched the ball on the three plays that resulted in those eight points.
  • Three came from a questionable call, two from the shot McCamey hit and one from the And-1 free throw opportunity.
  • Two came as a result of Illinois' set offense designed to open a lane for McCamey.
And on the offensive end, Oakland had three turnovers, two to three poor shots (depending on your perspective), and one questionable call by the referees (calling a non-shooting foul when Benson may have in fact been making a move to shoot). The other possessions weren't bad, the shots just didn't fall. That combination did them in, and it's the same old story for most teams: turnovers, a few defensive lapses, missed opportunities, and - as we saw with McCamey - talent differential. Perfect is hard to do.

A Program, Showcased
Despite the one-point loss to Michigan State, Oakland had a great opportunity on Saturday to showcase the program. The game was played in front of a listed attendance of 17,115 which is a nice jump from the 15,361 figure the last time MSU visited OU at The Palace in 2008. Oakland had an impressive student turnout as well, and perhaps the first-timers or those watching at home saw a team play that they found would be worth their time and attention. Keith Benson had a great game to showcase his talents further, and Fox Sports Detroit even aired a great personal interest story on him during half-time (in a classy move, Benson noted after the game that he would have rather had a win). The telecast itself was top-notch, no doubt because of the knowledge play-by-play man Mario Impemba has gleaned from calling Oakland's road games this season. While one never knows how many times a chance to knock off Michigan State will come around, the hope is that such a performance will help continue to elevate the Oakland program to the point where close games like this happen every season.

The Curious Case of #12
Has any Oakland player had a more curious season offensively than Ledrick Eackles? The sophomore's best game came against Ohio, where he was able to use his quickness to get to the free throw line and his competitiveness to grab a considerable amount of boards. Aside from that game, Eackles has struggled mightily. He's taken one too many three-pointers in every game (he has made 3 of 25 all year) and his jump shot has been off in most games (28% shooting from the field). What makes his conundrum worse is that when he is able to get some penetration, his floaters and lay-ups haven't been falling with any regularity. In our minds, Eackles has still been playing strong defense and his quickness is such an asset on both ends of the court, but Oakland also needs him to be more efficient when he's on the floor. Take a look at some of his rankings using advanced metrics:
  • Using John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ratings, which gives a snapshot of a player's efficiency and effectivness based on box score figures and then adjusted for pace, Eackles has a rating of 9.67. Among players who use over 18% of their teams possessions and play at least 15 minutes per game (again, based on Hollinger), his 9.67 rating ranks dead last in the conference. Players near him using the same standards are SUU's Ramell Taylor (11.75), NDSU's Eric Carlson (12.59), and UMKC's Bakari Lewis (13.25).
  • Using's Average Efficiency figure, Eackles' 4.4 average ranks 67th in the conference, a range which puts him with a hodgepodge of young role players.
Maybe such comparisons aren't fair given Eackles is just a sophomore, but based on his age and the way he finished last season, it's safe to say the expectations for him were a bit higher than some of his conference brethren. This frustration is furthered when you take into consideration that Ledrick plays like a featured scorer: he currently has a usage percentage of 25.31%, just behind Keith Benson's 26.01% for team leader. In the conference, his usage rate puts in in the top thirteen. Others with higher usage rates: IUPUI's Alex Young, WIU's Matt Lander, ORU's Warren Niles and Dominique Morrison, UMKC's Jay Cousinard, SDSU's Nate Wolters, and others. There are a few outliers, but the overarching trend with those names is that they're are all All-Conference performers who use a lot of their team's possessions because they're featured scorers. Unfortunately, Eackles' production when compared to his usage rate just doesn't add up.

An argument could be made that Ledrick should have the ball in his hands. According to's rather deep stats database, the sophomore has the highest free throws attempted to possessions ratio on the team, by a wide margin. Essentially, Eackles has the innate ability to find gaps in the lane which often results in the other team fouling him. That's a good weapon to have, but it's only useful when he's attacking and not settling for three-pointers that he'll only make 12% of the time. We're big fans of Mr. Eackles here and love his intensity, so we hope he's just slumping with his shot selection right now. A confident Eackles who can knock down shots and get his teammates involved come conference season would make Oakland an even mightier beast.

Coach Kampe's Big Ten Road Trips
Much has been made about the fact that Oakland's schedule includes five Big Ten teams this year. Aside from the Michigan State game, all of the games have been or will be played on the road. That's a familiar concept for Oakland fans seeing as the team tends to play at least one team on the road against the Big Ten every year. Coach Kampe has talked at length about why he schedules these games, but we can't help but wonder if Coach also has a side goal to coach a game in every Big Ten arena by the time he hangs it up. To see how far he would have to go, I went through the archives to see just how many times Coach Kampe has taken Oakland to a Big Ten arena.

As we can see, Coach Kampe has coached at least one game on the road against eight of the Big Ten's eleven teams. The figures in this table include this year's games, and as we can see the out-of-state combination of Illinois, Ohio State, and Purdue were not new additions for Kampe. In all of these games, Oakland has only won one time (at Northwestern). Still, there is something to be said for having coached one's team in some of the nation's most historic arenas. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that Kampe at least considers that in scheduling games, as he has taken his team to places like UCLA's Pauley Pavillion and Kansas' Phog Allen Fieldhouse in addition to some of the more storied arenas in the Big Ten. What's interesting is that he has yet to take Oakland to either Indiana's Assembly Hall or Minnesota's The Barn, the former which proudly boasts five national championship banners and the latter which is one of the country's oldest venues. For Indiana, Coach Kampe already has a scheduling connection with IU coach Tom Crean: they did a 2-for-1 in the middle of last decade while Crean was still at Marquette, an agreement that brought the Golden Eagles to the O'Rena in 2004-2005. So who knows, perhaps in the next few seasons we'll see Coach Kampe try to schedule these games to complete his Big Ten road trip.

"Free Ilija" Watch
Oakland was able to keep its games this week rather close, which meant lots of playing time for Keith Benson and Will Hudson. Still, in the Michigan State game Ilija gave the Golden Grizzlies some solid minutes. He did not commit any fouls in nine minutes of play with zero mistakes. It would have been something else if his triple attempt had fallen through the net. For what it's worth, Lindsey Hunter, who was providing commentary on the FSD telecast, was very complimentary of the seven-footer!

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Larry Wright
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
A week after we wrote about wanting to see Larry Wright get more of his baskets by driving, he comes out against Michigan State and drains four of his five three-point attempts. Wright had a performance that hearkened back to his Saint John's days, and though he was turnover prone against MSU, his performance was largely responsible for keeping Oakland in the game during a few stretches there. Kudos to Wright for his offensive explosion while Reggie Hamilton struggled from the field. It's not often we get to see that from him this year in his new role!

Top Play Of The Week
We don't have an animated .gif of it, but how sick was Larry Wright's block on Korie Lucious? Wright had the ball picked from him, Lucious ran down court for what he presumed would be an easy lay-up, and Wright came flying in with the monster block. The Fox Sports Detroit telecast had several great views of it via replay, including one from a camera looking down on the court. Monster block.

What's Next?
Oakland continues its toughest stretch of the season with a game at Tennessee on Tuesday night. The Vols are currently undefeated coming off an absolute drubbing of Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh. Following that, the Golden Grizzlies will take a quick bus ride to Ann Arbor to face Michigan. Early indications are that more than a few OU fans will be in attendance on Saturday. Go Grizzlies!


  1. Great breakdown of the Illini run that killed us. Nice job, even though it's painful to read.

    As for the game vs. MSU, I heard countless Spartan fans at the Palace express amazement at how talented Oakland is. MSU played well and still only won by 1. Oakland fans also represented well at the Palace, and the program continues to make more and more believers in the area. Several local Spartan fans told me they definitely planned to check out the Grizzlies at the O'Rena and would root for us the rest of the way. It's a long climb, but this tough loss was another step in the right direction.

    On to the Vols and Wolverines. What an ooc ride. Go Grizzlies!

  2. Great analysis on both games! If I could grant one wish for the Grizzlies it would be for them to be able to play U of M next instead of Tennessee. With their current momentum I think OU could beat U of M no problem, however if they suffer a bad loss to the amazingly talented Tennessee team, it could knock the wind out of their sails. We need OU to come into Ann Arbor fired up, not defeated. Let's hope they at least keep it reasonable in Tennessee.