Friday, January 14, 2011

Game Preview: Oakland at IPFW

Game 20: Oakland (11-8, 6-0) at IPFW (11-5, 5-1)
Saturday, January 15, 2011 | 7:00pm EST
Watch: IPFW Live ($) | Radio: WDFN (1130AM)

After a week off, Oakland picks up Summit League play with its annual roadtrip to Fort Wayne to take on the IPFW Mastodons. The Golden Grizzlies are off to a 6-0 start in the conference, trailed closely by the Dons at 5-1. Despite the lone loss to IUPUI last weekend, IPFW is still off to one of its best starts under coach Dane Fife and figures to be a player in the conference race throughout the season. The team's bid for a conference crown would pick up some traction with a win over Oakland at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. For their part, the Golden Grizzlies will look to come out strong in their attempt to retain the driver's seat in The Summit League.

Deep Shooting
Throughout the season, IPFW has been beating opponents primarily on the perimeter. It's duo of senior guards, Ben Botts and Zach Plackemeier, have been doing more than their fair share of scoring, distributing, and rebounding. And they've also been solid defensively by holding opponents to a league-best 29.8% three-point shooting in conference games. The seniors are helped out by a pair of juniors, Jeremy Mixon and Antwaun Boyd, who ensure that there isn't much of a letdown when Botts and Plackemeier need a rest. All four guards shoot better than 38% from deep (led by Botts' insane 47.4% mark), a fact which has made the Mastodons a rather deadly team on the perimeter. On the season, IPFW is second in the league in percentage of field goals taken from beyond the arc. And they're the most efficient from long-range.

As the table above depicts, Dane Fife's team takes 38.2% of its field goals from downtown, a mark that puts them just a tenth behind UMKC for tops in the league. Unlike UMKC, however, IPFW actually makes a high percentage of those shots. That is the profile of a team that can systematically beat opponents with the three-pointer as opposed to one that simply jacks up treys whenever possible. For IPFW, such an orientation comes with its associated costs and benefits. In a post on the now-defunct Big Ten Wonk blog, the author notes that perimeter-oriented teams, like IPFW, will typically have smaller turnover rates but lower offensive rebound and free throw rates. Intuitively, this is wonderful sense as a team taking a lot of threes will generally spend less time in the paint where dribble-penetration can lead to turnovers or where fouls are drawn from said dribble-penetration. Likewise, with more guys on the perimeter, it leaves less guys ready to grab offensive rebounds. To see if this holds up with IPFW, we move to the table:
While some of the features of a perimeter-oriented team do not hold up for other Summit League squads, it appears as if IPFW fits the mold extremely well. The team trails only South Dakota State as the least-turnover prone in the conference, a factor that is probably also influenced by the fact that the team is led by four-year ball-handlers. As far as offensive rebounding, IPFW sits just below Western Illinois as one of the worst offensive rebounding teams. While the team lacks size in the middle, its tendency to shoot a lot threes no doubt influences this weakness. Finally, the Mastodons check in with the third-lowest free throw rate. All of these considerations are consistent with the Big Ten Wonk hypothesis about perimeter-oriented teams. While Oakland can, at times, be a turnover machine, it definitely has the advantage in second-chance opportunities and ability to get to the line for easy attempts. And while the Golden Grizzlies have struggled to guard perimeter shots in the long-run, they're holding teams to 32.6% three-point shooting in conference games only, good for third in The Summit League. It will be interesting to see which style of play prevails in this match-up.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Will Hudson vs. John Peckinpaugh/Oleg Kovalov
With most teams employing two or three players to limit Keith Benson offensively, it has been Will Hudson who has been making opposing teams pay with his inside presence. Against IPFW, Hudson will probably face a mish-mash of players, more than likely highlighted by the undersized but uber-competitive John Peckinpaugh and the 6-foot-8 Oleg Kovalov who is coming off a career-high 16-point performance against SIU Edwardsville on Tuesday. Whatever the case, Hudson has been an X-factor for the Golden Grizzlies this season on both ends of the floor. If IPFW chooses to double Benson, the team's relative lack of size should give Hudson an advantage that could lead to a big night from the senior.

IPFW Player To Watch: Frank Gaines
If there has been an X-factor the the Mastodons this season, a case could be made that it has been sophomore Frank Gaines. The owner of a great name, Gaines leads his team in rebounding at 6.3 per game and chips in 12.5 points per game which is good for second on the team. In some senses, Gaines reminds us a bit of Oakland's own Ledrick Eackles in that he's athletic and aggressive. This combination of skills allows him to be such a great rebounder and to get to the free throw line fairly often. Like Eackles, Gaines struggles from deep (29.3%) but limits turnovers while creating his fair share of them as well.

Oakland Player To Watch: Travis Bader
We know good three-point shooters can get hot at the Coliseum. After all, IPFW wouldn't be one of the better teams from deep if it couldn't knock down shots on its home court. However, one of the best shooting nights ever at that arena belongs to one Erik Kangas. As a senior two seasons ago, Kangas went 8 of 13 from deep on his way to 39 points in an Oakland win. While he's not likely to have as great a night as that (since Kangas' 39 was the stuff of legend), freshman Travis Bader has shown Oakland fans he's capable of putting up numbers like that one day. It's just happened a lot sooner than anyone expected.

Since IPFW began playing in The Summit League, Oakland owns a 6-2 record against the Dons. OU dropped the two games in the 2007-08 season before winning the last six matches, including two conference tournament games.

The Extra Pass
One of our favorite aspects of the Oakland-IPFW series is the proximity of the two schools. Fort Wayne isn't more than a four-hour drive from Rochester which makes it the closest destination in the conference. As a result, OU has made a habit of sending a few busloads of students down to the Memorial Coliseum each year to give the Golden Grizzlies a strong fan presence for the game. Hopefully several fans, students and non-students alike, have a chance to check out the game as it is held in a nice facility and features two teams at the top of The Summit League standings. Although I won't be at the game, I stopped by the campus last week on a trek through the Hoosier state to ensure they knew OU was coming to town.
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.

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