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.

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