Monday, November 29, 2010

Summit League Power Rankings: Lamest Losses

It's been 10 days since our first installment of our Summit League Power Rankings, and a lot has happened. The conference went from picking up a few great opening week wins to coming up short across the nation in lame fashion. This week marks the beginning of the first conference games which should tell us more about a few teams (that's for you, UMKC) that at present are looking pretty good but have went untested. One thing is for sure, almost every team had at least one game where it looked pretty bad during the last 10 days. With that, we present our latest rankings based on the lamest losses.

#1. Oral Roberts (Lame Loss: at home to Indiana State)
It's not like Oral Roberts to drop a home game, let alone its home opener against a middling Missouri Valley team. But that's what happened two Saturdays ago at the Mabee Center. The game would have provided the Golden Eagles an opportunity to get on the right track after two tough opening losses, yet they came up short even despite a big effort from freshman big man Steven Roundtree. Fortunately, ORU seems to be getting things together now that Warren Niles is scoring in bunches and sophomore break-out candidate Damen Bell-Holter is putting together complete efforts. That is what helped the team spring the Red Line Upset over Utah and why another one seems possible Tuesday night at Texas Tech. If the Golden Eagles get consistent guard play and a return of the injured Michael Craion, that 0-3 start will be long forgotten.

#2. Oakland (Lame Loss: at Wright State)
Oakland had a big lead over the Raiders into the second half but several defensive lapses led to a big Wright State comeback which the Grizzlies could not overcome in the end. Just two days after fighting valiantly against Purdue, Oakland could not keep up the defensive intensity in Dayton, Ohio, leading to an 82-79 loss. Though OU bounced back over the weekend with wins against Southern and Austin Peay, beating Wright State would have meant a lot more for the program especially in a year where games against good mid-majors are few and far between in the non-conference schedule.

#3. North Dakota State (Lame Loss: at Green Bay)
It's very hard to discredit what North Dakota State did at the three-game tournament in Oregon to start the season, but the program could have made a bigger statement with a win at Green Bay in its first true road game against a mid-major. The Phoenix have a new coach this year and things haven't been exactly glowing thus far for the team (as a 63-46 loss to IUPUI would indicate). Despite having a near equal shooting night, winning the rebound battle, and distributing the ball better than Green Bay, the Bison came up short by two-points. Turnovers likely did them in at the Resch Center, a tough way to lose to a team that the Bison will probably look a little better than in the long-run.

#4. IUPUI (Lame Loss: at Miami, Ohio)
Though the Jaguars only lost by a point, the game against Miami of the Ohio persuasion represented a great opportunity for them to make a statement against a MAC school. Just like Oakland, games against the MAC and Horizon League are important for IUPUI because of its general proximity to schools in those conferences. The Redhawks have played a rather tough schedule up to this point, but the Jaguars could have shown some mettle by going into Oxford and picking up a win. Unfortunately, poor shooting and a reliance on the three-ball led to the "L" for the Jags. The non-conference schedule has not been nice to Ron Hunter's squad thus far, so it's probably a good thing their first conference games are at home. Centenary will be hungry and looking for its first win, so it'll be important that IUPUI doesn't look ahead to the Saturday tilt with Oral Roberts.

#5. Southern Utah (Lame Loss: vs. Drake or Ball State)
How does Southern Utah lose to Utah State by just 13 points and then get drubbed by Drake and Ball State by 19-points each AND on a neutral court? Quite simple, the Thunderbirds are having trouble putting points on the board, and that doesn't appear to be by some Western Illinois-inspired design. The loss to Utah State is anything by lame, but this Summit League enthusiast would like to see a bit more of a competitive product against schools like Drake and Ball State.

#6. Western Illinois (Lame Loss: vs. Morgan State)
A lot of folks will look at this and say, "Western Illinois lost to a MEAC team?" In all fairness, Morgan State is a fairly solid squad despite its conference affiliation and has made the NCAA Tournament the past two years under the head coaching revival of Todd Bozeman. What bothers us about this loss most is the margin: 19-points. This is the same team that took Missouri to the wire a week earlier and at least held on against Wyoming. The WIU everything-man Ceola Clark was out for this game which probably explains a lot, but hopefully future Leatherneck losses will not be as lopsided as this affair.

#7. Centenary (Lame Loss: at Tulane)
We won't be poking fun at the Gents this season, but you'd like to see them score more than 36 points against a pretty bad Conference USA. We understand Centenary essentially has a Division III roster right now and every point should be welcomed kindly, so here's to hoping the open of conference season allows them to be a bit more competitive.

In The Ether

UMKC dropped its first game of the season on Monday night at Wichita State, a team that is projected to lead the way in the Missouri Valley this season. It was also UMKC's first real test of the young season after three straight games against teams from the bottom of Division I. The Roos only lost by 19 but there was a point where the Shockers went on a 28-1 run, showing that UMKC will struggle to score points against legitimate defenses. Reggie Chamberlain had a solid game, but Wichita State held the UMKC star, Jay Cousinard, to 3-13 shooting. We don't consider this to be a very lame loss, quite simple because it's still tough to judge UMKC based on the schedule. We'll learn more this weekend as Summit League play begins.

Anything But Lame

South Dakota State
We're in week three of the college hoops season and the Jackrabbits have yet to lose. Their last two wins have come in a resounding fashion, no doubt due to the team's ridiculous three-point shooting. As of this post, SDSU leads the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 49.5%. Conventional wisdom would say that this figure will surely come back down to earth soon, but at this point it might not drop very far. The Jackrabbits have a high-profile home game on Tuesday against Nevada, and even though the Wolfpack look down this year, they should still present the Jacks with their first legitimate test since Iowa. Following that, we'll see if SDSU can take down rival NDSU at Frost Arena on Saturday. That will be THE conference game of the weekend.

The Mastodons did have a loss in this timeframe, at Cincinnati, but they hung tight with the Bearcats throughout the game. It was the second time in a week that Dane Fife's crew went to Cinci (first, Xavier) and came away with a loss that most would label a "good" loss. In essence, it would have been too tough to call this one a lame loss. We'll see if the Dons can take care of business this weekend as they host UMKC and SUU. If IPFW is a contender in the conference this season, these are the games it must win.

Red Line Upset Watch:
During our league preview series, we had a post laying out all of the games where Summit League teams would play against teams from above the Red Line. Here we keep track of how they have fared thus far:

Summit League: 2/10 (20%)
National: 49/340 (14.4%) [per The Mid-Majority]

Friday, November 26, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland vs. Austin Peay

Game 6: Oakland (2-3) vs Austin Peay (3-3)
Saturday, November 27, 2010 | 3:30pm
Watch: ($4.95) | Radio: WDFM-AM (1130)

Oakland continues its weekend in Chicago taking part in the Chicago Invitational Tournament. After dispatching Southern by a final score of 105-53 yesterday, the Golden Grizzlies will take on the other winner in their bracket, the Austin Peay Governors. APSU skated by Charleston Southern in the first round and has a history of being a solid mid-major program so the Governors should be a more formidable opponent. Oakland will try to leave Chicago with a 3-3 record heading into next week's conference match-ups.

More On The Opponent
Given the holiday, the quick turn-around between games, and the fact that there just aren't too many storylines between these two schools, we're nixing our typical game preview format in favor of a quicker look at the opponent. Austin Peay plays in the Ohio Valley Conference which has made some noise in recent years due largely to two other schools, Morehead State and Murray State. The former has a big man named Kenneth Faried who has been one of the nation's most productive rebounders since his sophomore season, and this year his name has come up a lot alongside Keith Benson's as two of the nation's best big man playing for mid-majors. Murray State had a breakthrough win in the NCAA Tournament last year and returns a solid squad. As a result of the successes of the two MSUs, Austin Peay hasn't been able to break through the OVC's upper echelon despite finishing at 11-7 and 13-5 in conference play the last two seasons. The Governors have been more or less solid over the past decade, never dropping below .500 in the OVC, no doubt due to the steady coaching of Dave Loos, who has been a staple at APSU.

Southern Player To Watch: Tyshwan Edmonson
One of the big question marks for Austin Peay heading into this season was how the team would replace the scoring of Wes Channels, a guard who averaged just shy of 17 points per game on his way to conference first-team honors. Tyshwan Edmonson, who played one year at Saint John's before spending a year at a junior college, has come in and done his best to fill that void. Through six games, the junior is averaging almost exactly as many points as Channels did while picking up 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. To say that this guy has had a breakout non-conference season would be an understatement. He has more or less replaced the production of his team's best player last season, and he's doing it while shooting 50% from the field on the season. Edmonson looks like he'll be a tough match-up for the Golden Grizzlies on both ends of the floor.

Oakland Player To Watch: Ledrick Eackles
Ledrick Eackles got the start against Southern and proceeded to go 1 for 8 from the field, including 0 for 6 from downtown. Why Eackles is hoisting up so many threes is beyond my comprehension, as I've always liked him getting his points by driving to the basket for a high-percentage shot (and considering he was a 25% 3-point shooter last season). His best game was against Ohio, where he was able to attempt nine free-throws while limiting his threes and being active on the glass and defensive end. His percentages have been terrible since then, so we think the onus is on Ledrick to come out and have a solid performance against the Governors today.

Oakland is 2-0 against the Ohio Valley Conference in the last three seasons. They have played and beat Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee Tech in each of the last two years, winning by 18 and 21, respectively. Austin Peay is 0-2 against The Summit League in the same span having lost to both IUPUI and Oral Roberts in 2009-10.

The Extra Pass
Over the summer the Gameplan did a feature on the various team logos in the Summit League in a series called the Summit League Logo Battle. Even though it was meant both as a way to do something creative and fill space during the summer months, part of us had a desire to keep it up for teams outside of the Summit League. If that were to ever happen, you can be sure that Austin Peay would be featured because of how closely the program's logo parallels that of the Associated Press, as illustrated here:

There are some interpretations of the Austin Peay logo that contain a red even closer to that of the Associated Press shade of red. Even so, seeing them side-by-side is spooky.

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. Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press will also be doing a live chat during the game at the Grizz Den.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland vs. Southern

Game 5: Oakland (1-3) vs Southern (1-4)
Friday, November 26, 2010 | 3:30pm
Watch: ($4.95) | Radio: WDFM-AM (1130)

Oakland will be in Chicago (or Hoffman Estates, Illinois, to be exact) over the holiday weekend taking part in the Chicago Invitational, a neutral site tournament featuring eight teams from varying levels of Division I. The big bracket contains teams like Purdue and Wright State, who hosted games against Oakland, while the small bracket showcases Oakland, Southern, Charleston Southern, and Austin Peay. Oakland will play two games at the Sears Center, the first today against the Southern Jaguars. The winner of the game will face the winner of Charleston Southern/Austin Peay tomorrow afternoon. The Golden Grizzlies will look to rebound after a loss on the road at Wright State, while the Jags look to get their first Division I win of the year.

More On The Opponent
Given the holiday, the quick turn-around between games, and the fact that there just aren't too many storylines between these two schools, we're nixing our typical game preview format in favor of a quicker look at the opponent. Southern plays in the SWAC, which is one of those leagues that seems to have a team in the NCAA Tournament play-in game every year. Southern has played four Division I schools and lost all of them by more than 20 points (including a 23-point loss at Wright State). Their lone win was against NAIA school Auburn Montgomery by two points. The Jaguars also lost by 13 at home to NAIA Tougaloo. Yep, that is right. Essentially, this is a very, very bad team.

Despite the record, Oakland is a very good team, or at least it has the makings of one. Oakland has gone up against teams like Southern in the past and taken care of business. After the loss at Wright State, fans don't just want to see a win over Southern but an absolute drubbing. It's on a neutral court and anything can happen, but Southern's track record thus far would indicate it doesn't matter if the game is on a home, away, or neutral court, the school will still struggle to keep things close.

Southern Player To Watch: Quinton Doggett
Quinton Doggett leads his team in rebounding so far this season, and as one of his team's tallest players at 6'8" it is easy to see why. Southern is the first Oakland opponent we have yet to see play prior to playing the Grizzlies, so we won't pretend to know a lot about his game. Still, Doggett's statistics indicate he is a productive player and will be one of the chief guys who will have to guard Oakland's bigs.

Oakland Player To Watch: Reggie Hamilton
Reggie Hamilton will be playing just a few miles outside of his hometown of Chicago this weekend, so there will be an added incentive for him to perform well. Not that he particularly needs one, considering the way he has played in Oakland's last two games. Hamilton has been shooting quite well from beyond the arc, and his percentages would likely be higher if he had not taken a couple of bad looks during the Wright State game. That said, the Oakland junior has gotten better with each game and has hopefully found his groove within the offense. Hamilton should use this game to work on limiting his turnovers. If he can do that while getting some points and making his teammates better, Oakland's chances of having a letdown performance are small.

Oakland and Southern have never met. Oakland is 2-0 against the SWAC in the last 10 years, including a win over Alabama A&M in the 2005 NCAA Tournament Play-In Game. Southern is 1-4 against Summit League teams in that time period.

The Extra Pass
NBA fans might recognize the last name of a certain Southern Jaguar. Madut Bol is the son of Manute Bol, one of the tallest players to have ever played the game professionally. The senior Bol was a great shot-blocker while in the NBA, and I still look fondly on the trading cards I have of the Sudanese center in those classic Washington Bullets jerseys. Bol was also very involved with various charities and relief efforts in his native Sudan up until he unfortunately passed away earlier this year at just 47 years old. Our condolences go out to Madut, who is back at Southern for his second year, looking to use his 6'9" frame to help the Jaguars out of the cellar of the SWAC. He had his best game against Gonzaga, scoring 12 points in just 19 minutes of play.

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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: Purdue/Wright State

Welcome and thanks for checking back for the second edition of the Gameplan's Weekly Recap. This week saw the Golden Grizzlies go on the road for preliminary action in the Chicago Invitational, held at campus sites.

The Big Picture
Any Oakland fans who witnessed the Purdue game probably left that viewing feeling rather good about the team's chances going forward. They carried a lead for much of the first half and kept battling well into the second before the Boilermaker attack was just too much, resulting in a 15-point loss. It was hardly the 20 or 30-point loss that fans were used to against ranked teams last season. By the end of the season, that will probably be one of those "good losses," a game that helped the team grow and keeps the RPI and strength of schedule measures high. The loss to Wright State, on the other hand, was a game the team needed to win. After taking care of Ohio from the MAC, it would have been another regional resume booster and a model of what it will be like on the road in The Summit League against some of the better teams. Unfortunately, the Golden Grizzlies blew a lead, allowed the Raiders to shoot well from deep, and couldn't limit turnovers in the second half. It's a loss that will sting, perhaps like the Eastern Michigan home loss from last season, but one that will be forgotten if the team can use it as a lesson for what it feels like to lose such a game in the future.

Anything But Medium
One thing that interested me about the Purdue game was the relative talent-to-height comparability between the Golden Grizzlies and Boilermakers. One could argue that most of Purdue's talent is concentrated in the backcourt and in the paint, especially without Robbie Hummel. Generally speaking, without Blake Cushingberry or Drew Maynard, most of Oakland's talent comes from the guards and big man combo down low. To visualize the similarities in height distribution, see the following graphs:

A general scan of the names involved, and you'll notice that most of the role players or developing players on Purdue's roster are in the 6'5" to 6'8" range, which also happens to be Oakland's weakest height range, essentially featuring Drew Valentine only. While there are likely factors that explain why Oakland kept the game so close for so long, height comparability is something to note, especially when juxtaposing with West Virginia.

West Virginia's roster is full of guys in the 6'5" to 6'8" range who are strong, quick, and athletic. Oakland's only answer against guys like Casey Mithcell, Dalton Pepper, and John Flowers were Travis Bader and Drew Valentine. I like Oakland's guys, but that is a steep drop-off in size and bulk when comparing the two rosters. Stemming from this observation, my hypothesis was that one of the reasons Oakland was able to keep things closer against Purdue than West Virginia was because the Boilermaker attack would be concentrated in areas where the Golden Grizzlies would match up well. To test it, I developed a distribution of percentage of points scored for the opposing teams at the different height levels:

Here we can see that WVU's bigger guards and then a whole slew of those middle-six-footers did most of the damage against Oakland. Purdue, on the other hand, got very little production from players in the same range. Therefore, the Boilermakers' two All-American candidates really had to do work in order to pull away from the Grizzlies in the second half. While this hardly qualifies as a source of causation (and things like ball control, perimeter defense, fouls drawn, etc might be more solid indicators), it's definitely something to think about for future games against BCS schools.

Reggie's Slashability
Reggie Hamilton really came alive this week, showing off bits and pieces of his scoring game as well as his passing ability. Against Purdue, he was able to drive to the basket quite a few times while knocking down a few timely triples. He's also had some delightful dimes the past two games. One of those came off a great move he made to the basket against Wright State.

After moving around a screen in Frame 1 and 2, Reggie used his quickness to knife through the defense toward the basket. He had a decent look as you can see in Frame 4 and may have been able draw a foul if he had put up a shot, but at the last minute he kicked it out to Larry Wright who made a much needed three. Later in the game, Hamilton also hit a bankshot from beyond the arc which also drew a foul. It was a four-point play that I thought would have turned the momentum, but Wright State's Vaughn Duggins ended up coming back with an uncontested lay-up that sealed it for the Raiders. Still, Reggie displays a cool confidence in most aspects of his game. Oakland will need a guy like that down the stretch.

(Darth) Bader
To say that Travis Bader has exceeded expectations thus far would be an understatement. I don't know how he does it, but somehow he has managed to have his most successful three-point shooting nights against the big boys. At Purdue, Bader got Oakland on the board on the team's first play with a killer superhoop that he knocked down with the ease of a senior who had played in raucous arenas for four years. The dude is the definition of collected. We know shooters have their ups-and-downs, but so far Bader has been rock solid while starting and playing plenty of minutes as a redshirt freshman, though it is interesting that he's been a bit of a non-factor against the mid-majors. Either way, to think about the potential of him expanding his game in the future might leave you with goosebumps. I don't want to heap grand expectations on the young man, but it's very hard not to be stoked about his future with Oakland.

Jersey Update
In the last weekly recap, I came out against the silver road jerseys for fear that it just adds another layer of confusion to the Oakland identity. Part of my frustration, too, stemmed from not being a big fan of the tighter-fit model that the team is wearing this season. However, after seeing this new model in all-black against Purdue in person, I have shifted my thinking a bit. While I'm still not loving the silver yet, I can dig that sleeker look especially when it's all black with gold lettering.

"Free Ilija" Watch
This was a forgettable week for Ilija. After an inspiring performance against Ohio, Ilija played just two minutes against Purdue in relief of Will Hudson. In those two minutes, he picked up two fouls. He played a bit more against Wright State due to Will Hudson foul trouble, but didn't seem to have the confidence he had at Ohio. We'd also like to see him stop getting those over-the-back fouls. There will be better weeks for the seven-footer.

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Reggie Hamilton
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
We talked a bit about Reggie's resurgence above, and his stats this week really show how he has been able to help. While a win would have been nice out of the two games played, it's clear that Reggie is doing what he can while distributing the ball to his teammates as needed. He shot 7 of 15 from deep, good for 46% while racking up 14 assists. Where he needs to improve is in his ball-control, as he also had 11 turnovers in two games.

Top Two Plays Of The Week
Ledrick Eackles played some tough defense against the Wright State Raiders on Tuesday and ended up with two steals that led to quick fast-break points. I remember Eackles doing this quite often last season and was glad to see it from the sophomore guard once again. Here are some animated gifs of the two plays:

What's Next?
Oakland heads to Chicago for back-to-back games as a part of the Chicago Invitational Tournament. The first day's game is against Southern, followed by the winner of Charleston Southern vs. Austin Peay on Saturday. Our previews for these games will be much more brief than those before because of the holiday and nature of the opponent but should debut in the morning of the game days.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On The Road: Boiler Country

Purdue University was founded in the 1800s as a land grant university with an emphasis on the sciences. Today, its reputation for the sciences and engineering is well known, but the casual observer may only know of the school for its sports. Or perhaps Purdue's academic prowess is simply assumed, as Big Ten membership almost universally equates with high-quality higher education. Oakland University might as well be the antithesis of Purdue or any other Big Ten institution for that matter. Folks barely know where the university is located, so for them to think it could have strong academic programs or athletics would be far-fetched.

In college sports, these differences are magnified. The disparity between financial support is perhaps the biggest issue, but the differences also reflect in fan attitude and approach to the game. And that's where it's also most disheartening.


As an enthusiast of both higher education and sports, my trip to West Lafayette was doubly exciting. I quickly found that the engineering mindset permeates the entire campus. Everything has its place in the wider Master Plan, sidewalks are perfectly symmetrical, and even the buildings themselves look nearly identical in the Engineering Mall area. Mackey Arena is much the same. It's a perfect circle with very little frills. The concourse is well lit and features a beautiful mix of white and light gold-painted walls that give it a homey feel. As one walks around the concourse, a quick glance toward the inward wall reveals very open paths to the inside of the arena, the center scoreboard seemingly always in sight.

Past the ushers one will only find bleachers, wrapped all around the building. It's an old-school approach to seating, but one that maximizes capacity. Oh those engineers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Paint Crew, Purdue's massive student section named after Coach Matt Painter. The students stand tightly together for the duration of the game, their every movement in perfect harmony. They never take a play off, even for an opponent like Oakland who would likely end up as a tiny footnote on a season that is expected to end deep into the NCAA Tournament.

The Purdue students were knowledgeable, perhaps an indication that they - or at least their leaders - did the groundwork necessary to nag at an opponent beyond the "you got swatted" chants. This became clear when they uniformly chanted "JJ's better" in the direction of Keith Benson as a sort of way to offer their own confirmation that Purdue's JaJuan Johnson had a better game than the OU big man. But that was largely an observation of the Box Score Basketball Fan, where point and rebound margins are more telling than the many shots that were contested or the times where a quick post move by our guy led to an easy bucket over their guy. Alas, JJ might have been better on this night, but it's a bit easier to overcome a singular defensive match-up when you have All-Americans passing you the ball and getting you open looks based on their own penetration.

Beyond the student section existed a passionate fanbase which clapped during the fight song, stood during big moments, and consistently cheered their team even when they were down to Oakland during moments in the first half. However, along with the big school benefits comes the big school attitude. At the half, up just 5 on the tiny school, there was no talk of how the Golden Grizzlies were playing them tough. In those long half-time restroom lines where fans dissect the previous twenty-minutes, it was all, "We have to do this better" and "Johnson looked good but the other guys are doing this and that wrong." There was no, "That number 3 kid has veins of ice beyond the arc" or "Those Oakland guys are handling the pressure well." As fans, we all do this, but it's different in this setting. This is a team with all-conference players in the deepest conference in all of college hoops and upper-echelon recruits. They shouldn't be letting a no-name like Oakland stick with them, especially in their house.

But that's what Oakland did. Despite constant pressure and many forced turnovers, the Golden Grizzlies kept it close just up until the half-way point of the second half. As a traveling fan, that was all I could ask for. My travel partner and I never lost hope during the game, even as the lead grew larger in the last five minutes. Even with about four minutes left and down by 12, Oakland forced a turnover which resulted in a great three-point look by Ledrick Eackles. If it went in, the lead would have whittled into single digits, but the shot was bad and ended up with the ball sticking between the rim and the backboard. The deadball was perhaps symbolic of the larger Grizzlies mood which was worn down by the intensity of the Boilermaker defensive attack. Purdue's basketball team was just like its campus; there was a place and purpose for each player, and they filled those purposes expertly, even when it called for relentless and regimented defense. With little production from the Oakland reserves on this evening (if not only from the lack of a chance), that constant pressure sealed the loss for OU.

Post-game comments and blogger interpretations were all glowing of Oakland and Keith Benson. "It was the test that Purdue needed." "Oakland was a good basketball team, and they'll surely be great in their league." Those comments were nice, but a part of me wonders how they would differ if the outcome were different. If Oakland had sprung the unlikely upset, those half-time urinal comments would have been espoused by the fanbase at large. The Sportscenter highlights would have focused on what went wrong for Purdue, and not how little Oakland did X or Y or how Reggie Hamilton clawed his way to the basket or how Keith Benson turned it up a notch in the second half. For us as fans, it would have been the experience of a lifetime, the biggest upset in program history. For them, it's another win over a school that won't completely kill their RPI.

These things most fans of small-time college basketball know. But when you're there wearing your t-shirt, texting your buddies you went to games with in college, and doing your best not to be that fan, the realization of just how different we are truly sets in. It's disheartening, the feeling that no matter what your team does against the big boys, there's little room for respect. Yet despite that feeling, I'm glad to be on this side. We take little for granted over here.

Game Preview: Oakland at Wright State

Game 4: Oakland (1-2) at Wright State (2-1)
Tuesday, November 23, 2010 | 7:00pm
Watch: Horizon League Network (free) | Radio: WDFM-AM (1130)

Oakland travels to Wright State for its second game in the preliminary action of the Chicago Invitational after losing to Purdue in a hard fought game on Sunday. The Golden Grizzlies will surely be looking to play like they did against Ohio last week coming off a loss against a high-major. Wright State has been a solid program in the last few years, seemingly always second in the Horizon League behind Butler. That track record was enough for the school's former coach to get plucked away by Clemson this summer, leaving new coach Billy Donlon to do what he can to keep his Raiders in the top tier of the Horizon. Wright State has seven newcomers on its squad this season who pair well with a few experienced senior leaders and have thus far beaten a non-DI school and lowly Southern. Oakland will be the Raiders' first solid mid-major test.

The Two Leagues
A few years after the Horizon League changed its name from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, the Summit League spurned its Mid-Continental Conference moniker too. It was a fitting transition, as the Summit League has more or less always been a step behind the Horizon League. In the 1990s, when the then MCC was in need of new members, it raided the Mid-Con of its many public universities, creating a league that would go on to be quite successful as far as mid-major conferences went. One of the Mid-Con's darlings, Valparaiso, even found a home within the geographically-sound confines of the Horizon League. It is perhaps because of all of that movement and geography that many Oakland fans point to the Horizon League as the sort of ideal conference for membership sometime in the future. With the future of conferences up-in-the-air thanks to realignment, who knows when something like that could come along, but the fact remains that in order to even be in the conversation, the Golden Grizzlies must continue to prove they can battle with Horizon League foes. Given Wright State's recent history of being a top-three school in that conference, this match is as good as any to showcase their might.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Larry Wright/Reggie Hamilton vs. Troy Tabler/Vaughn Duggins
The difference for Oakland against Ohio was the stellar play of Reggie Hamilton and Larry Wright as well as Ledrick Eackles off the bench. All of those guys were absolutely hounded by Purdue on Sunday which led to a lot of turnovers and bad passes, but that intensity will be toned down quite a bit against the Wright State backcourt. While Oakland clearly has the advantage in the post with Keith Benson and Will Hudson, it will be neat to see how the Oakland guards respond after a tough night in West Lafayette. Coach Kampe has stressed that games against the Purdues of the world will make his team better, and this is a great chance to show how. Tabler and Duggins are both seniors and have the ability to knock down three-pointers or take the ball to the basket. However, Hamilton and Wright have the talent, quickness, and athleticism edge. The Tabler/Duggins duo strikes me as one with a lot toughness and heart, so they won't lie down for Oakland's guards, but if Hamilton and Wright take care of the perimeter like they did against Ohio, the outcome will be favorable for Oakland. (As an aside, WSU's true starting point guard has missed the first three games due to injury. N'Gai Evans is a senior and is listed as a game-time decision against Oakland).

Wright State Player To Watch: Johann Mpondo
Johann Mpondo is one of two non-freshmen newcomers to the Wright State frontcourt this season. Mpondo was granted an immediate transfer since he played for New Orleans which is reclassifying (like Centenary). The 6'8" junior hasn't really stunned in the numbers department, but he's a starter and the only post guy on the Raider roster with much bulk. Needless to say, Mpondo will have to battle for every rebound and positioning in the post against guys like Keith Benson and Will Hudson. Mpondo might not end up with double-digit points or rebounds, but his team's success will likely hinge on his ability to play effectively down low.

Oakland Player To Watch: Keith Benson
Benson has put up big numbers thus far against West Virginia and Purdue largely thanks to solid second half play, but now it's time for the big man to remind Oakland fans of the sheer dominance he is capable of against far inferior frontlines. After battling with All-American candidate JaJuan Johnson at Purdue, Benson should (with all due respect) be able to dismantle Mpondo, Cooper Land, and Cole Darling. We weren't able to see such a dominating performance against Ohio due to foul trouble, so here's to hoping Benson can avoid fouls, fight through the double teams, and showcase his low post game throughout this match.

The two schools played each other twice as a part of a home-and-home series in 2000 and 2001. Oakland won the game in Rochester by ten points, while Wright State ran away with a 20-point victory in Dayton a year later. In the last five seasons, Oakland has a 3-2 record against Horizon League foes. Wright State is 2-0 against The Summit League in the same time frame. Another interesting fact is that Wright State last made the NCAA Tournament in 2007 as a 14-seed. Their opponent? The three-seeded Pittsburgh. It looks like both Oakland and Wright State have had first-round upset hopes squashed by powerful Pitt squads.

Bullet Points
There was not an opponent fan blog to be found for this game's preview, so instead we'll present some neat tidbits of information found while investigating Wright State:
  • It's a homecoming game of sorts for Oakland freshman Ryan Bass, who is from Dayton, Ohio. Bass was reported to have had a groin injury prior to the Marygrove exhibition game, but he's had plenty of time to rest due to limited minutes in the first two games and a DNP against Purdue. As a freshman behind more experienced guards, it's rather clear why he didn't get any time against Purdue, especially considering the game was close throughout. However, Bass will be playing in his hometown against more level competition so all signs would indicate he would get some playing time. We hope he makes the most of it and shows off some of his athleticism and playmaking ability.
  • Wright State freshman Matt Vest went from potential walk-on to scholarship player to box score stuffer in a matter of a few months. The 6'5" guard went 9 of 10 from the field against Southern and has clearly made the most of his increased opportunities. Vest played high school ball at Chaminade Julienne, which is the same place where Oakland freshman guard Ryan Bass spent most of his high school days in Dayton. Bass ended up at Dunbar for his senior season, but it's clear these two guys will be familiar with each other.
  • Another freshman to keep an eye on is forward Cole Darling. The Michigan native was recruited by Oakland, and in fact his final choice came down to just Oakland and Wright State. Ultimately, Darling chose Wright State, a decision which appears to be paying dividends for both him and his program far sooner than would have been the case at Oakland. Cole has thus far taken advantage of the playing time he's been given due to lack of depth in the WSU frontcourt, averaging just about 6 rebounds per game and shooting an admirable 50% from the field. He had 8 rebounds against Indiana, though we would venture to say Oakland's frontcourt will be a bit more imposing than that of the Hoosiers. Still, it's good to see a Michigan product contributing so early on in his college career.
The Extra Pass
With seven new players, it's great to see that the Raiders have a few strong senior leaders in guys like Vaughn Duggins, Troy Tabler, N'Gai Evans, and Cooper Land. For what it's worth, it appears these guys are a fairly likeable group with a good sense of humor. For proof, just check out this video which features a bit of singing, rapping, and Duggins doing his best Phil Collins impression (major props to a basketball player for being a Collins fan).

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. Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press will also be holding a live chart during the game at his Grizz Den outlet. Check it out!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland at Purdue

Game 3: Oakland (1-1) at Purdue (2-0)
Sunday, November 21, 2010 | 7:00pm

This is the first of five games the Oakland Golden Grizzlies will play against Big Ten teams in 2010-11. Prior to the practice season beginning, it also looked like the most difficult of the five. However, a season-ending injury to forward Robbie Hummel just a day after Midnight Madness knocked off one of the heads of Purdue's three-headed monster of seniors. However, the Boilermakers surely aren't playing like they're down a star, as their blowout wins over Howard and Alcorn State indicate. Oakland should be a tougher test for Purdue and the first team which will have a guy who can go at All-American candidate JaJuan Johnson in the paint. Oakland should be plenty rested having played its last game on Monday, a solid win at Ohio University. The Grizzlies will look to come out strong against its toughest competition yet, hoping to prove their black and gold superiority.

The Star Goes Down, Again
Many words have been written about Robbie Hummel and the impact his injuries have had on the dreams of Purdue fans everywhere. In fact, for perhaps the best rendition of this story, check out Luke Winn's piece for Sports Illustrated. But to bring Grizzlies fans up to speed, essentially last season was supposed to be "the season" for Purdue. The team had a three-pronged attack: JaJuan Johnson in the paint, E-Twaun Moore on the perimeter, and Robbie Hummel as the do-all forward (not to mention Chris Kramer's defensive tenacity at point guard). And the NCAA Tournament was going to be in Indianapolis, just a short jaunt from West Lafayette. However, Hummel tore his ACL just as the regular season was ending, and dreams of the Final Four were put to rest with a Sweet Sixteen exit. Heading into this season, Johnson and Moore put off the NBA in order for one last chance at a title with Hummel, who would come back fully healed. Yet one day into the practice season, Hummel retore the same ACL. Purdue still has a wealth of talent, but many think Hummel is the difference between an NCAA Tournament run and a deep NCAA Tournament run. The story is a sad one, especially for the Boilermaker faithful, and even though opposing fans would never wish injury upon a great player, the fact remains that Purdue is a bit more manageable opponent without Hummel. Key word: "a bit."

College Painters
Oakland students should do their best to catch this game not only for the basketball action, but also to see and hear Purdue's student section in action. The Paint Crew, as it is affectionately known, is one of the country's best student sections. Its membership is huge, and its members are loud. Perhaps most importantly, they are also incredibly unified in their chants, movements, and attire. So when they call for a black-out, you can expect every single person in the Paint Crew to be sporting a black t-shirt. The student section's leaders also have a scouting report for every home game which features a mix of legitimate information and any dirt gathered on the opponent. We still like Utah State's version better, but it just shows how seriously Purdue students take their role at basketball games. Oakland's Grizz Gang has been solid of late, but it could surely learn a thing or two by seeing the Paint Crew in all its glory.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Keith Benson vs. JaJuan Johnson
This one is a no brainer. Benson vs. Johnson checked in as one of our most anticipated individual match-ups of the season when the schedule first came out, and that anticipation has hardly waned. The implications of this game could extend all the way to next June's NBA Draft, where Benson and Johnson have been projected as second-rounders. Their history in college is quite similar too, as this anecdote from Blue Ribbon suggests:
In short, Johnson has the skills to be a power forward at the next level and and he's working on gaining the necessary strength. Johnson has done yeoman's work during his time at Purdue. "He weighed around 180 pounds when he committed to us," Painter said. "He's a little over 220 now. He gained over 10 pounds this summer." Moreover, he's more than a one-way player. Johnson has made the Big Ten's all-defensive team the last two seasons.
That analysis sure does sound a lot like Benson's path to becoming an NBA prospect. In the here and now, this match-up represents Oakland's best way of stunting Purdue's quest for a blow-out win. The Boilermakers will not face a big man quite like Benson in any of their other games against mid-majors, so this match-up levels the playing field a bit. If Benson can have a monster game while containing Johnson, the odds of Oakland keeping the game close increase tenfold.

Purdue Player To Watch: E'Twaun Moore
When I think of Purdue, I think about engineers, Gene Keady's combover, and Glenn Robinson. The last person in that list was a star for the Boilermakers in the early 1990s and a mainstay of the Milwaukee Bucks during his tenure in the NBA. But E'Twaun Moore, who might not be the first guy people think of when thinking of Purdue basketball, is on pace to score over 2,000 points for his career, a list that doesn't include Robinson. In fact, if his team wins at least 21 games this year, he'll go down as Purdue's winningest player, according to Blue Ribbon. He's about as solid as they come and gets his points from all over the floor. At 6'4" it's likely that Larry Wright and Ledrick Eackles will guard Moore during this game, a task that will surely prove difficult. If Purdue manages to run all over Oakland, Moore will be the chief reason why.

Oakland Player To Watch: Will Hudson
Without Hummel, the Purdue frontcourt loses one of its most experienced and proven forwards. Having Johnson around certainly helps, but it is hoped that Benson will more or less contain him throughout this game. Therefore, we should look out for Will Hudson in this game. The senior forward's experience, size, and toughness will make him a challenging match-up for several of Purdue's younger big men who will fill the power forward role. While some of these sophomores and freshmen might have more upside playing in the Big Ten, there is no doubt that right now, Hudson will be a test for them. We hope he comes out on top.

Oakland and Purdue have only played one time, an 89-71 Boilermaker win in West Lafayette in 2001.

Opponent Q&A
We checked in with Travis from the Purdue blog Hammer and Rails for a deeper look at this year's Boilermakers.

We've read a lot about Patrick Bade, his off-season body transformation, and the opportunities he'll get this year. He hasn't had a whole lot of time on the court yet this season because Coach Matt Painter has really utilized his whole roster, but how do you feel so far about his game this year? Where can you see direct and subtle differences? How do you see him progressing against better competition?

Travis: He is more aggressive about getting to the basket and getting to the line so far. Last year he looked like he was playing on rollerblades at times. This year he looks to be in more control of his body. He is rebounding better and defending better, which is the #1 thing we ask him to do. I would like to see him stretch the defense a little more because allegedly he has a nice jumper, but we have yet to see it.

So far D.J. Byrd and John Hart have been playing really well. They may only play a few minutes but make their presence known. What do you expect from them against Oakland?

Travis: D.J. Byrd is the type of player that can be forgotten about until he has a big game. He's going to do a little bit of everything and is versatile enough to possibly play both forward spots. John Hart has been the better shooter from long range so far, hitting 8 of 11 attempts off the bench. These are just two of the guys that will likely rotate as our third offensive option from game to game. As long as one of them is hitting, the loss of Hummel has less of an impact.

It's been a bit hard to get a firm grasp on who will be a regular contributor this season because Coach Painter has had a very deep bench thus far. If this game is closer than those against Howard and Alcorn State, who do you see Painter sticking with outside of starting guys like JaJuan Johnson, E'Twuan Moore, Ryne Smith, and Lewis Jackson?

Travis: I think you'll see Sandi Marcius as a big rebounder and low post presence in crunch time. He has been impressive so far and he allows JJ (JaJuan Johnson) to move outside and stretch defenses. Ultimately he and Travis Carroll are the players that will free JJ from his post obligations. Teams must then decide if they want to commit a center on JJ and get crushed by our size advantage down low, or let JJ have better looks from 15 feet out. I also like John Hart and Terone Johnson to develop some crunch time minutes.

Purdue is currently holding its opponents to 26.7% field goal shooting. Looking at that you'd think this is a team defining itself on the defensive end, yet they're putting up gobs of points, too. What is it about this current Purdue squad that causes them to be so tough on the defensive end? In your mind, what is this team's defining characteristic early on?

Travis: Defense has alsways been our trademark. Gene Keady taught it and Matt Painter had to learn it as a player, so naturally it has carried over to his coaching style. I love it because it makes victory more likely. You don't have to work as hard to win on offense if you're holding teams below 60 points.

We thank Travis for taking the time to answer our questions (we also answered some of his over at the Hammer and Rails blog). There are a lot of Purdue players to keep an eye on, especially considering the scenario Travis lays out where Johnson can stretch the defense and cause match-up problems down-low. Hudson and Ilija will have to come to play to help out if Benson ends up trailing Johnson.

The Extra Pass
With Hummel gone for the year, the Boilermakers have thus far looked to a number of different players to replace his production. One of those players is 6'8" sophomore Patrick Bade. Bade is the typical kind of player who flies under the radar before getting his shot to shine; in essence, the kind of player good programs always have waiting in the wings. Travis gave us a good idea of what Bade has been doing this season, but to reach that point he also had to do his part in the off-season, as the Journal Gazette's Stacy Clardie found out:

When Lewis Jackson, Rob Hummel and JaJuan Johnson were asked who has been most impressive over the summer and early in Purdue's workouts, they all gave the same answer.

Patrick Bade. Not hard to see why. Bade's body has been transformed.

As a freshman last season, the 6-foot-8 Bade weighed 243 pounds. In the offseason, he focused on changing his diet and running and he'd dropped to 225 pounds at the start of the second week of individual workouts. Instead of looking a bit cumbersome as a big man, now Bade has an athletic-looking body and is moving well.

So far this season, Bade has started both games for the Boilermakers. He's averaging 4.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. He's just another player the Grizzlies will have to watch out for tonight, especially since his minutes will probably grow if OU can keep things closer than Howard and Alcorn State did.

To get in on the Oakland-Purdue conversation, you can head over to the Golden Grizzly Hoops forum to post with other fans before, during, and after the game: Game Thread. Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press will also be running a live blog starting at 6:45pm on Sunday night at his Grizz Den outlet. There was a nice contingent of folks chatting for the Ohio game, so we highly recommend checking it out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Summit League Power Rankings: Biggest Opening Week Wins

The first week of the young college basketball season is now behind us. We're just starting to learn more about players, teams, and conferences as games end and new ones begin. In The Summit League, there were some early ups and downs, but it was mostly a solid week for the conference. This is our first stab at a weekly column that will shed some light on the ten basketball programs in the league from the prior week. The way it will be formatted is in a sort of power rankings style; however, because it's impossible for us to evaluate every team during every game, this won't be your general "best" to "worst" team scale. This week, we rank the teams based on biggest wins during the week that was.

#1. South Dakota State (Highlighted Win: at Iowa)
It was just two years ago when South Dakota State lost all but one of its 16 road games. The lone win that year: at Iowa State. This year the Jackrabbits are 2-0 in road games. The big win: at Iowa. Against the Cyclones in 2008-09, it was then sophomore Clint Sargent leading the way, and while the now senior definitely contributed to his team's win against the Hawkeyes, it was another sophomore who came up big for the Jacks this time around. Nate Wolters had a decent freshman year last season, but his performance against Iowa put him on the map. He ended the game with 25 points which accumulated all over the floor, including 6-7 from the stripe and a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc. He also dropped 9 dimes, including a sick dish toward the end of the game which simply put to shame the Hawkeye defense.

Iowa isn't predicted to do very well this season, but we shouldn't let that diminish the value of this win for SDSU. They beat a Big Ten team and did it live on the conference's network. Anytime a Summit League team beats a Big Ten team, it's a big deal. And thus far, it's the biggest win for the league this season. Coach Nagy and his Jacks won't play another road game until December 18, but it's clear that they have gotten over their road woes of the past.

Cool Links: The Mid Majority weighs in on SDSU's Red Line Upset.

#2. Oakland (Highlighted Win: at Ohio)
The defending Summit League champions went into the house of the defending MAC champs and put a thumping on them. Keith Benson was largely a non-factor due to foul trouble, yet the Golden Grizzlies guards and reserves stepped up to secure the solid road win. The Bobcats are a young team this year, but they returned a lot of the players from their run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, so this is a good win for Oakland and the conference. Oakland has another tough road game stretch that features games at Purdue and Wright State, so the team will have to cherish this win and hopefully build on it against some more challenging competition in the coming days.

Cool Links: Eric Angevine of Storming The Floor/ESPN took in the West Virgina-Oakland game live, and he has pictures! Kyle Whelliston of The Mid Majority was at Oakland's game against Ohio and also has pictures and thoughts from the night.

#3. North Dakota State (Highlighted Win: UC-Santa Barbara, neutral court)
North Dakota State went to the BTI Invitational in Oregon over the weekend and left with a 2-1 record, which included wins over defending Big West champions UC-Santa Barbara and a future WAC team in Denver. The Bison also took Oregon, the host of the event, to overtime on Friday night. It was a successful weekend for the Bison by all measures. The UCSB win was perhaps their best of the bunch because it came a night after the difficult OT loss to the Ducks against a junior-laden team that was in the NCAA Tournament just last season. Saul Phillips' squad received contributions from many players, including Eric Carlson who has picked up where he left off last season averaging about 14 points and 7 boards through three games. Another player to keep an eye on as the non-conference season rolls on is freshman Marshall Bjorklund who had a big-time double-double against Oregon in his Bison debut. I suspect we'll find out more about this young team in the coming weeks, especially once their incredible 51.3% three-point shooting comes back down to earth a little bit.

Cool Links: Addicted To Quack was happy Oregon won, but gave North Dakota State its proper props.

#4. IPFW (Highlighted Win: at Southern Illinois Edwardsville)
IPFW took Xavier to overtime the other night but sadly came up short. That was probably a much closer game than most would have thought, yet the Dons are showing some poise this year no doubt due to the senior backcourt tandem of Zach Plackemeier and Ben Botts. The team did come together to pick up a 15-point win at SIUE, which is one of those games that a good team will win. That's perhaps what has been most exciting about this first week of Summit League play, the fact that the top seven teams or so all won games they should be winning. Roughly 39% of the team's made field goals have been three-pointers thus far, which means if these guys are knocking down the trey, then they can clearly stay in games against some of the big boys (watch out Cincinnati). However, to break into the top four of the league, they'll need bigger performances from Trey McCorkle who has just 5 rebounds through two games. McCorkle is a guy a lot of folks expected to become a big factor for IPFW this season. With a 6'10" frame, the big fella needs to do some more work on the boards.

#5. UMKC (Highlighted Win: at Central Arkansas)
UMKC has one of the most cupcake-filled non-conference schedules I have ever seen, so it's no wonder that they're already 2-0 on the season. Even though the opponents might not stack up with some of those their conference brethren are facing, the Roos have taken care of business thus far. Central Arkansas won't change the world this year, but it's great to see that UMKC was able to go into their arena and pick up a road win against the Corliss Williamson-coached Bears. Coach Matt Brown has a fairly short bench right now (where is KORVER?) which is fine for now with his two senior forwards averaging a boatload of points. But as the games continue, we'll see what happens with this team on nights when Jay Cousinard and Spencer Johnson are going up against stronger opponents.

#6. Western Illinois (Highlighted Win: at Savannah State)
Western Illinois kept the pace slow in pulling the win over Savannah State of the MEAC. Once again, this isn't a earth-shattering win for the conference, but it is good to see these Summit League teams beating squads from conferences that are accustomed to being seeded 16th come Selection Sunday. Matt Lander seems to be filling the scoring void left by David Nurse, which is probably something Coach Jim Molinari welcomes to lessen the load on Ceola Clark. Aside from those two guys, though, WIU is getting very little from the rest of its roster. If they can make teams go at their (incredibly slow) pace, then this shouldn't pose many problems; in fact, Western Illinois held Missouri to just 66 points despite the Tigers' advantage in athleticism and interior size. Credit the Leathernecks though for keeping the game close. With about ten seconds left, they were only down three to Missouri but Ceola Clark stepped out of bounds while trying to tip-toe the sideline to get the ball downcourt. The Tigers avoided the upset, but Western Illinois showed some fight.

#7. Southern Utah (Highlighted Win: at Cal State Bakersfield)
Well after losing its home opener to an NAIA team, Southern Utah went on the road and took care of Cal State Bakersfield, an independent. We're glad to see the Thunderbirds get on the board early in this season and hope they can fix whatever is ailing them against inferior competition (they also lost an exhibition home game to a different NAIA school).

- IUPUI (no DI wins)
The Jagurs will have a chance to get their first Division I win this weekend with three games to be played in nearby Oxford, Ohio. IUPUI was plastered by a Gonzaga team that was upset at home by the same San Diego State team which the Jags will play in one of those three games this weekend. However, Alex Young and Co. will also go up against Green Bay and Miami (OH), two games they should compete well in. We hope the fellas shoot as great as they did in their non-DI win the other night (49% FG, 29% 3PT) and not how they did against the Zags (35% FG, 17% 3PT)

Cool Links: Michael Hadley of Student On Sports is sad and then happy about his Jags.

- Oral Roberts (no wins)
The Golden Eagles have yet to get on the board this season, though they have played considerably tougher competition than some of their conference counterparts. They probably miss the presence of Michael Craion inside and need some more consistency on the defensive end. Oral Roberts was featured on ESPN as a part of the network's 24-hour hoops marathon, so they were the subject of more scrutiny than normal. ESPN's Doug Gottlieb offered his take:
Tulsa crushed Oral Roberts in the second half of the Mayor’s Cup. Jordan Clarkson bounced back from a six-turnover game in TU’s loss to Appalachian State and played terrific, especially in the second half. ORU shot the ball way too quickly and struggled to defend outside and Steven Idlet inside. The Golden Hurricane outscored the Golden Eagles 54-32 in the second half. It looked like ORU was gassed, while Tulsa -- coached by marathoner Doug Wojcik -- looked fresh as a daisy.
Cool Links: Storming The Floor investigates Kyron Stokes' Belizean roots.

- Centenary (no wins)
Centenary kept things reasonable against Tennessee-Martin after getting absolutely killed in its season opener at Memphis. There won't be much hope in Shreveport this season, especially after the Gents lost their home opener to DII Arkansas-Monticello on Wednesday. For what it's worth, the Gents do have some pretty cool road jerseys!

Red Line Upset Watch:
During our league preview series, we had a post laying out all of the games where Summit League teams would play against teams from above the Red Line. Here we keep track of how they have fared thus far:

Summit League: 1/5 (20%)
National: 18/167 (10.8%) [per The Mid-Majority]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: WVU/Ohio

As outlined in our season preview for the blog, this is our first week-that-was recap post (which does not have a unique name...yet). These things will probably change quite a bit throughout the season, with different takes on different aspects of the games that happened the week before as well as any other neat features that come to mind. But for now, we're happy to bring readers this supersized post that is greatly enhanced by the availability of archived videos of the games and a lot of excitement surrounding the opening of the season.

The Big Picture
Oakland ends its first week of basketball sitting at 1-1. I know fans are eager for the team to pick off a big six opponent one of these days, so the loss to West Virginia stings a bit. The Mountaineers shot lights out in the first half, and Oakland couldn't do much to reduce the deficit despite a better-played second half. In the big picture, the game will likely be an RPI-booster for the Golden Grizzlies which will be important if the team is contending for an NCAA tournament bid. Coach Kampe also noted in his post-game interview that such a game gave his team an idea of some areas for improvement. And boy did they improve. Against Ohio, Oakland played stellar defense and the trio of Larry Wright, Reggie Hamilton, and Ledrick Eackles really stepped up their collective game after a rather dismal performance against WVU. Ohio should have a nice RPI throughout the season which helps Oakland, but don't undervalue this win in the short-term or in the long-term. It gives the guys a nice boost heading into Sunday's game against Purdue and continues Oakland's recent success against MAC teams. It's always good to take care of teams from conferences in the same geographic footprint. The Golden Grizzlies certainly haven't come up short in that regard.

A Look At Shooting
One of the benefits of having games on is that the game footage is archived for a few days after the game, meaning a task such as developing a shot chart becomes much more manageable. Amazingly, Ohio University also has old games on demand for free, so through two games of the season we have complete shot chart data. So let's take a look at the Oakland shot chart against West Virginia. Please keep in mind I'm not a trained statistician so the placements are probably not exact, though it should give a general indication of where shots were taken. Red is a miss, blue is a make, and the number indicates the player who took the shot.

The first thing that jumped out to me after charting all of the shots was the relative lack of mid-range shots in the area just outside the post and inside the free-throw line. Benson took quite a few, perhaps more than normal, but it's a shot he can certainly make and one that helps to showcase his skill-set for the next level. But aside from him, no one really stepped up in that area of the court, which, all things considered, probably isn't too revelatory. Oakland's offense has been geared toward getting Benson shots in the paint since he has arguably been the team's biggest weapon. When he gets double-teamed, then there is an opportunity for him to kick it out to the perimeter (more on this below). One thing I'm very encouraged about when looking at this chart is the spot just outside of the right block. Here, we can see that all four guards, but notably Ryan Bass and Ledrick Eackles, were able to penetrate the lane and take some typically high-percentage shots. They didn't fall against West Virginia, but we should be encouraged by their presence. These shots should become more prevalent as we head into conference play, where they're more likely to fall as well.

Looking at the Ohio game, the red-to-blue ratio from beyond the arc is fairly consistent with that from the West Virginia game. Bader struggled, but we have to remember he's a redshirt freshman and this was just his second game thus far. The mid-range game is once again lacking, but that's something I'll take given all of the blue we see right around the basket. Both Larry Wright and Ledrick Eackles were aggressive early on in the game, and Reggie Hamilton had a couple of nice moves to get into the lane. Mostly, though, we see that Hamilton took a bunch of three-pointers at the top of the arc, a spot he'll hopefully connect from all season long.

Benson To Bader
Travis Bader sure did make his mark in his very first Division I game on Friday. A lot of other fans also seemed to be very enthusiastic about his play in the West Virginia game, especially considering he did it as a starter. Bader had a few field goals in the early part of the first half that kept the game even, especially with Benson getting double-teamed in the post.

Once again thanks to modern technology, it's easier for fans to see how some of these things happen. In frame 1, you can see Bader (circled in red) setting a screen for Benson who then establishes himself against the defender in frame 2. Meanwhile, Larry Wright gets ready to pass the ball to Benson while Bader (still in red) continues to do work off-the-ball. In frame 3, Benson is double-teamed by the man who was on Hudson, so the guy who was on Bader transfers over to Hudson, leaving Bader wide open on the perimeter. In frame 4, we see Benson dish the ball to Bader who then proceeded to drain the three-pointer. This same play happened just mere minutes later, though Bader didn't connect. Still, one of the reasons why the redshirt freshman should continue to get looks on the perimeter is because of Benson's presence in the post. Those looks didn't come as often against Ohio, but Bader still got the start and looks to have the green light from Kampe to shoot, shoot, shoot.

How 'Bout Those Jerseys?
We got our first look at Oakland's new away jerseys on Friday night, except these jerseys weren't your typical new renditions. Nope, these saw the program introducing a new color into the Oakland University pallette: gray, or is it silver?

Whatever the case, I'm very torn on this new jersey for a few reasons. The main reason is that I feel there is nothing better than the all-black road uniforms, particularly the model worn last season. But perhaps just as prominent is the fact that without much gold, these silver and black jerseys with "OAKLAND" spewed across the front are vaguely familiar of another team, you know, the one in Oakland, California. The last thing Oakland needs is another reason for outsiders to mistakenly place the university. Perhaps the new jerseys will grow on me, but for now I remain conflicted, and I was glad to see the all-black uniforms back against Ohio on Monday night.

"Free Ilija" Watch
When the Gameplan previewed the players for the season, we included a quickly put-together image of a t-shirt reading, "Free Ilija." It's meaning was two-pronged: 1) Coach Kampe has said he has to get Ilija more playing time for him to improve; in essence, he needs to free him, and 2) There have been a whole slew of "Free ___" campaigns, but none more prominent than that of "Free Darko," so "Free Ilija" is a sort of nod to the whole "foreign big man stuck at the end of the bench" movement. With that said, we'll be tracking Ilija's progress this season in each week's recap post because you know, he is the future of our frontcourt and all.

Ilija's game against West Virginia was rather forgettable, not unlike most of his career thus far. Yet against Ohio, Ilija came out and played hard while Benson sat due to foul trouble. Ilija had a career night, scoring 8 points on 2-2 field goal shooting and 4-4 free throw shooting. The best part of his line from the game was his 9 rebounds. In 20 minutes, Ilija also only had 2 fouls and zero turnovers. While he'll face better frontcourts as the season goes on, one can't but help to be stoked by his outing against Ohio. Hopefully his performance will earn him some more time in future matches.

Tracking Possessions
A friend of the Gameplan's, Ryan P, tracked Oakland's possessions against WVU in an attempt to learn more about Keith Benson's role in the offense. Ryan has made several stops in the blogosphere but most notably spent the 2008-09 season as The Summit League correspondent for Rush The Court, so we're happy to feature a bit of his thoughts here.
In the first half, Benson was on the floor for 28 Oakland possessions, touching the ball on just 10 of those. Early on the offense scored easily even without Benson touching the ball. When he did he was immediately double-teamed but he found the open man on the perimeter with quick, pinpoint passes. He attempted only four shots before he exited the game at the 8:47 point (19 possessions) which included a forced three pointer at the top of the key that missed badly. Early on, he never really seemed comfortable in flow of game. He reentered at the 5:00 point and scored on three of the last nine possessions in the half, two of which were rebound putbacks. The six other possessions Benson did not touch ball, and in fact all six concluded with turnovers by the guards (largely just a first half problem).

In the second half, Benson was on the floor for 37 possessions, 19 of which he had no touches but at least 5 of them were because of fastbreaks and another was because Oakland had a 2 on 1 as a result of his nice outlet pass. There were not as many turnovers from the guards, thus the offense seemed to run through Benson more, oftentimes with him receiving the ball free throw line extended. Post up touches were lacking in comparison. He also led a fastbreak like a seasoned guard, showing off a nice handle and nimbleness not common for someone his height.

Overall, one of Benson's strengths is moving into open space as teammates attempt a shot. He gets boards outside of his area, attributed to his habit of usually not being flat footed on the offensive boards (he's always moving towards basket). Despite solid box score numbers, the variety in Benson's scoring was lacking as eight of his nine baskets were point blank. He simply didn't have the hook or jumper working against the Mountaineers, but the positive sign was it did not deter his aggressiveness. Hesitancy is not part of Kito's game. He has his mind made up and is quick to attack or shoot the jumper, which should pay dividends for the team and his future NBA potential when those shots fall. I hope this continues.
Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Larry Wright
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Larry Wright did work in the game against Ohio, scoring 15 points which included 7-11 shooting from the stripe. He's still adjusting to the point guard position which most likely explains why he has 5 assists to 7 turnovers through two games, but it's bound to get better. Larry's biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 was in rebounding the ball, accumulating 9 boards against Ohio in a game where Keith Benson was largely on the bench due to foul trouble. If the OU guards can rebound like that all season, the Golden Grizzlies should win the rebounding margin war night in and night out.

Top Three Plays Of The Week
1. Larry Wright's #omgdunx against Ohio (above) (animated gif)
2. Keith Benson's block on WVU's JohnFlowers (animated gif)
3. Will Hudson's steal and fastbreak lay-up against WVU (animated gif)

What's Next?
Oakland faces Purdue, its first of five Big Ten opponents, on Sunday. Our game preview will go up on Saturday. Following that, the Golden Grizzlies will head to Ryan Bass' hometown of Dayton, Ohio, on the 23rd to take on the Wright State Raiders.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland at Ohio

Game 2: Oakland (0-1) at Ohio (1-0)
Monday, November 15, 2010 | 7:00pm

This game pits two defending conference champions against one another. Oakland will be looking to rebound after its loss to West Virginia on Friday night. Ohio faced Delaware at home on Saturday night and ran away in the second half to secure the win. The Bobcats will be a tough match for the Golden Grizzlies as they return several key players from last year's squad, most notably all-everything guard D.J. Cooper. However, Coach Kampe will surely look to get Keith Benson involved early and often since Ohio lacks a big man of Kito's caliber. To go into Athens and pull out a win against a strong MAC team would do wonders for Oakland, especially with a week off to think about the approaching match with Purdue. Simply put, this would be a big and meaningful win for this squad early in the season.

The Tale Of Two 14 Seeds
Heading into last year's NCAA Tournament, Oakland fans had reason to hope that a win in the Round of 64 was not out of the question. The game was in Milwaukee, a close enough drive that the school would have great fan support. Pittsburgh hardly had the starpower of the year prior and looked like a team that could be upset. And most important, Oakland was clicking and had the three-headed monster of Johnathon Jones, Derick Nelson, and Keith Benson leading the way. Just south of Michigan, expectations at Ohio University might have been a bit tamer. The Bobcats went 7-9 in MAC play and had only played one game against a BCS school, a 49-74 pounding by the Pitt Panthers. Moreover, they were set to face Georgetown, a team with an experienced backcourt and a future NBA lottery pick in big man Greg Monroe. Plus, the game was in Providence, Rhode Island, of all locales. The story quickly shifts from here. Oakland couldn't get past Pittsburgh, and Ohio made national waves with a rare 14-over-3-seed upset of the Hoyas. Clearly, Oakland fans would have loved to see the Golden Grizzlies do what the Bobcats were able to do in the Tournament.

The Little Guard Who Could
Armon Bassett received most of the individual recognition for Ohio last season, and rightfully so. He scored 91 points over the three days of the MAC Tournament and led the way with 32 against Georgetown. His burst of production was enough for him to leave for the NBA Draft one year early (though he was not selected). With Bassett long gone, the MAC faithful will get to know 5'11" sophomore point guard D.J. Cooper a little bit better. He was his conference's freshman of the year in 2009-10 and is poised to contend for overall honors in 2010-11. His statistics as a freshman were unreal: 13.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. If he improves his shooting percentages a bit, there's no reason to believe he won't end the year as one of the most prolific all-around players in a mid-major league this season. In his game against Delaware, Cooper already showed why with a 25 point, 7 assist, 5 rebound, and 3 steal effort. Cooper will probably end the season with at least one triple-double, and one just hopes it doesn't come against Oakland U tomorrow night.

Key Personnel Match-Up
D.J. Cooper vs. Reggie Hamilton
Since we're still getting used to OU's backcourt, it's not a certainty that these two will guard each other throughout the game, but it sure would be fun. Hamilton is a just a bit bigger than Cooper, but they are similar in that they can score from many different places and distribute the ball effectively. Moreover, both of these guys are from Chicago so one has to think there is a little bit of Chi-town pride on the line in this game. Hamilton had a rather forgettable first night as a Golden Grizz, so we're hoping he can come out against the Bobcats and show us all what he can do both offensively and defensively. Cooper will be aiming to do what he can to make sure that doesn't happen, but Oakland will need good guard play to contend with Ohio.

Ohio Player To Watch: Tommy Freeman
This dude might not look like a basketball player, but he can straight up shoot. The Indiana native (no wonder he can shoot) had an up-and-down junior campaign, but whenever he scored a lot of points it was because he drained trey after trey. In his team's second round NCAA game against Tennessee, Freeman hit six three-pointers. He doesn't do much else that shows up on the stat line, but his 48% shooting from downtown is enough to make you think twice about leaving him open. He isn't unguardable at 6'5" and 190 pounds but should be considered a player to look out for.

Oakland Player To Watch: Keith Benson
As will be the case a lot of times this season, Benson is Oakland's X-factor against the Bobcats. It's too early to tell if any of Ohio's young bigs will test Benson, though sophomore Reggie Keely had a strong outing against Delaware with 19 points and 11 rebounds. The Bobcats also have a 6'8" senior in DeVaughn Washington who has been a solid big man in the past, but he has yet to play this year due to suspension. Just because these guys aren't as tall as a guy like Benson doesn't mean they're not able to bruise around in the post. Benson has the skill advantage here, though, which should trouble the Ohio frontline, or at least until they bring the double-team.

The two schools have played each other twice as a part of a home-and-home in 2000 and 2001. Ohio was victorious in both games. In the last five years, Oakland has a 7-3 record against teams from the MAC. During the same timespan, Ohio has gone 9-5 against Summit League teams. The Bobcats will also play IUPUI from the Summit League in 2010-11.

Opponent Q&A
We got in touch with webmaster Ted to get some answers to a few of our burning questions about Ohio.

D.J. Cooper really burst onto the scene last year as a freshman. His numbers were gaudy and many predict he'll improve on them on his way to MAC Player of the Year. But as a fan who spent an entire season watching Cooper, what areas of his game are fans looking for him to improve this year? Or what would you all like to see him do more of in his second year?

Ted: Playing at 165 pounds last year, Cooper needed to get stronger. He says he's added 10-15 pounds of muscle but hopes he hasn't lost too much quickness. This season, with Armon Bassett gone, Cooper may have to pick up more of the scoring load while trying to walk the fine line of running an efficient offense.

Can you give us a little big of information about your big men? DeVaugn Washington seems to be the only really well-known commodity in the paint? Who else is anticipated to step up this season

Ted: Washington started to show some consistency at the end of last season. At his best, he plays at an All-MAC level. The Bobcats are thin inside so he'll need help from Reggie Keely and Ivo Baltic. Keely developed a nice post game last year as a freshman. Baltic has the athleticism but is still looking to put it all together.

Who is an under-the-radar player who could do some damage against this Oakland squad?

Ted: Reggie Keely is quietly developing into a double-double type player. Took some time for him to make the always tough transition for a big man to college basketball. But down the stretch last year he played with a great deal of confidence.

Ohio and Oakland were both 14 seeds in the NCAA Tournament last season, yet Ohio was able to get over the hump and win with the upset over Georgetown. What is driving this team this season after having accomplished a lot last year? What are fans hoping for?

Ted: This year's team is trying to prove they just didn't "get hot" at the right time last year and that they were carried by Armon Bassett. The Bobcats entered the MAC Tourney as a 9-seed last year. This season, the team and fans are looking for a MAC regular season title.

The Extra Pass
This match-up looks like a great early-season test for Oakland. The Golden Grizzlies will be evenly matched on the perimeter and on the wing. The game will likely come down to post play. Ted gave us a look into the Bobcat frontcourt in our Q&A above, but for a further look, we turn to the following from Mark Adams of, who previewed Ohio just prior to the start of the season.

DeVaughn Wahington, a 6-8 senior, also showed improvement in practice. He has added an elbow J to his offensive repertoire and that ability to face and score will add dimensions to his already considerable athletic ability. Washington is a big-time fullcourt runner. He can out run anybody and when he does he can finish in entertaining fashion. He is one of the best in the MAC at running the floor and also going and getting offensive rebounds. He seems stronger and more self-assured defensively. That is bad news for the rest of the MAC.

The fate of this Ohio team will be decided by the rest of the players. Ivo Baltic, a 6-8 sophomore, caught my eye with a variety of successful scoring opportunities in their intrasquad scrimmage. If he learns to guard and is willing to rebound, he becomes an X-factor. And Reggie Keely showed defensive prowess and might be the perfect complement to Baltic at the 4 spot.

In order to win the MAC this season, D.J. Cooper will surely need some help from his developing big men. In the here and now, they'll get their first solid test of the year against Oakland seniors Keith Benson and Will Hudson. While the game will depend as much on guard play as post play, the battles in the paint will be intriguing to watch.

You can share your thoughts with other OU fans before, during, and after the game at Golden Grizzly Hoops Forum (not connected to the Gameplan but a great forum to post at): Game Thread.