Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: Southern/APSU/SUU/UMKC

It's the third edition of the Gameplan's Weekly Recap, and it's also a super-sized one. Due to the holiday weekend, we opted to wait to do a recap directly after the Chicago Invitational, instead jam-packing our analysis and thoughts from those games with the two conference games that recently took place at the O'Rena. Here we go.

The Big Picture
Oakland wraps up the extended week on a four-game winning streak, two of which were resounding beatdowns. The team also picked up a close win on a neutral court against a solid squad from the Ohio Valley Conference on the second day of a back-to-back. Though this is a veteran squad, these experiences are always useful. Most importantly, Oakland is now 2-0 in conference play and ends the week with a huge win over UMKC. The team's confidence should be high heading into a week that features games against two of the Big Ten's best, Illinois and Michigan State.

Rarely A Letdown
Aside from Austin Peay, this week's games featured a slate of teams typically in the bottom fourth of Division I as measured by RPI. Over the past four years (or since the current senior class were freshmen), Oakland has done a great job of taking care of business against such teams, whether in conference or non-conference play and whether it's at home, away, or on a neutral court. One of the hallmarks of a great program is avoiding letdowns, and Oakland has proved that such letdowns are a true rarity. Since 2007-08, Oakland has played 33 games against teams that ended their seasons with an RPI ranking above 260, which is the bottom 25% of the rankings. In those 33 games, Oakland has a record of 30-3. In the first year of this study, 2007-08, Oakland went a perfect 8-0 against the worst teams in the conference:

Judging only by RPI, The Summit League was fairly strong as just four teams were above the benchmark. Oakland took care of all of those teams handily, the only close call coming via a one-point win at Frost Arena in Brookings, South Dakota. The following year, the same in which Oakland was one shot away from heading to the NCAA Tournament, the Golden Grizzlies dropped its only three games in this period of time:

Fans probably remember the 20-point loss at Centenary rather well as it was arguably one of OU's worst losses in recent memory. The losses to SUU and SDSU were on the road in tough places to play if not only for the travel involved in getting there. As we can see, though, generally Oakland's margin of victory increased as the RPI of the opponent increases. The same was largely the case last season:

Oakland's margin of victory at home was much higher than on the road, which is somewhat expected given the way the team has played at the O'Rena the last few years. The wins on the road - and they won all of them - offer a mix of close wins and sizable victories which tend to increase as RPI increases. This is a good indicator of a solid team, as the Golden Grizzlies surely were in 2009-10. What is perhaps most disheartening about this sample in particular is the size of it: five Summit League teams were in the bottom quarter of Division I last season. Yikes.

In non-conference games, Oakland has a perfect 6-0 mark against teams with RPIs of 260 or more, and only one of those wins was at the O'Rena. These games are important for Oakland to win considering Coach Greg Kampe schedules a lot of tougher opponents prior to Summit League play, so wins are usually few and far between.

Southern is included because there is a very strong likelihood that it will end the season with an RPI above 260. Austin Peay is probably safe from that distinction. Oakland will likely face either Eastern Michigan or Valparaiso at home on December 21. Both teams play in fairly strong mid-major conferences and should finish lower than 260, but there is a chance EMU could if it doesn't start winning some games. Other than that, Oakland's remaining games against such teams will come in conference play. Southern Utah is currently hovering right around 260, as is UMKC, the two teams Oakland beat this weekend. By season's end, you can bet The Summit League will have three to four teams in that range, so hopefully OU's history of winning these games will continue into conference play.

Keith Benson's 22/22/7/6
If Oakland fans ever see another statistical performance like that of Keith Benson's against Austin Peay, it'll likely come from the same player before he runs out of eligibility in March. To accomplish 20 and 20 is a sort of big man benchmark for greatness, but to do it while racking up 7 assists and 6 blocks is simply astounding. Using the efficiency measure from, which essentially accounts for all of a player's box score stats in one number, Benson's APSU performance ranks 10th in the nation so far this season. He was one of only two players in that range to come anywhere close to quadruple-double discussion, and perhaps the only reason this performance doesn't rank higher is since the efficiency stat likes a lot of points. His 22 rebounds tie him for most in a game in 2010-11 with Syracuse's Rick Jackson. He is only one of two players along with Morehead State's Kenneth Faried to have a 20 and 20 night this season. Short of finding a game-by-game statistics database that sorts by position, I'd also be willing to bet his 7 assists are a high for centers this season. Wow.

Larry's One Best Way
Back in the early part of the 1900s, management theorist Frederick Taylor began to analyze work in a way that had not been done before. He would look at mundane tasks in an effort to determine the best way to accomplish work. He wrote a book about this around the idea of "scientific management," which would go on to inform business managers for the next 50 years on how to get their workers to do work in the "one best way" possible. Essentially, everyone had their duty in achieving maximum efficiency for the organization. The game of basketball utilizes the abilities of different players of varying talent levels to achieve one goal: wins. Presumably, every player has their own one best way of helping the team accomplish that goal. For Larry Wright, one could argue that his one best way has never been fully realized as a Golden Grizzly. He came here expected to be a scoring two-guard but struggled to find his shooting touch for much of the season. Now he's been asked to be a point guard for the first time in his career, a position which is he still learning. However, against Southern Utah on Thursday night, I think we finally saw Larry get closer to discovering his one best way.

At this point in time, I'm not sure I expect Larry Wright to ever knock down triples like he did when he was at Saint John's. While his role as PG has limited his number of attempts, he's still only made three all season. With that said, hopefully he'll score by doing what he did against SUU. In the chart above, we see that all four of Larry's field goals came as a result of his own penetration (beginning of the blue line indicates where he started, the circle indicates where the made shot was taken). One was a mid-range jumper that he connected on, but the other three all came in a high-percentage area of the court, created by his athleticism and ability to get to the basket. In the other two games where he was able to do this (Ohio and Wright State), he scored in double digits but also got to the free throw line quite a bit. If he's able to get in the lane like he was on Thursday - his one best way - those chances will increase, as will his shooting percentage and ability to help his team when taking shots. For Oakland to be successful, it may not need Wright to score in bunches (especially with the emergence of Hamilton), but four or five baskets a game like this would certainly go a long way to helping in addition to his distribution duties.

Drew Valentine's Conference Splash
Drew Valentine had a great opening to the conference season in games against Southern Utah and UMKC. The sophomore player is one who many expected to make a big leap this year, yet he struggled early on in the slew of road games. At home, however, Valentine kicked things up a notch to put together two very solid performances. Drew also had a monster dunk in each game. Kudos to Mr. Valentine.

Home Crowd
One of the benefits of having conference games in December is that it gives the team a 50% chance of having home games during a stretch of the season where most games are played on the road. The crowds at the O'Rena on Thursday and Saturday passed the eye-test, but how were they when compared to the last time OU hosted conference games during the first week of December?

Date ... Team ... Attendance
Dec 2007 ... Southern Utah ... 1,705
Dec 2010 ... Southern Utah ... 2,015
Dec 2007 ... UMKC ... 1,165
Dec 2010 ... UMKC ... 2,505

This offers us a pretty solid comparison considering the opposing teams were the same. It's great to see such a large jump in attendance figures from 2007 to 2010, especially for these early-season conference games. Props should also go to the student section which looked to be full despite the approaching finals week.

"Free Ilija" Watch
Ilija finally got some extended playing time in Oakland's rout of UMKC on Saturday where he compiled eight points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of action. The big man also knocked down a triple which both he and the crowd were visibly excited about. If he plays like that in other conference games, Oakland's bench will get a big lift.

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Will Hudson
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Will Hudson has played admirably this season, but he was seemingly unstoppable at the Chicago Invitational, scoring 40 points and grabbing 23 rebounds. He came close to another double-double against Southern Utah with his 11 points and 8 boards. Finally, his presence in the post was a big reason why Oakland dominated UMKC so much. OU's guards were more active on the boards in this one, so Will The Thrill left his mark by scoring 17 points in 25 minutes. The senior forward is having a heckuva year.

Top Play Of The Week
Reggie Hamilton's bank shot triple to send the game against Austin Peay to overtime was the highlight of the season so far for the Golden Grizzlies.

What's Next?
Oakland gears up for its toughest stretch of the season, starting with a road game at Illinois against a stellar Fighting Illini squad. The team will come back to Michigan after that for a semi-home game at The Palace against the Michigan State Spartans. It's Big Ten week for the Golden Grizzlies.

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