Friday, January 28, 2011

Game Preview: Oakland vs. Centenary

Game 24: Oakland (15-8, 10-0) vs Centenary (0-22, 0-10)
Saturday, January 29, 2011 | 6:00pm EST
Watch: OU All-Access ($) | Radio: WXOU (88.3 FM)

Oakland continues Summit League play with a match against the Gentlemen of Centenary. The Golden Grizzlies improved to 10-0 on Thursday by beating rival Oral Roberts, while the Gents came within 10 points of picking up their first win at IPFW. Essentially, it's the conference's best team versus its worst team, and it comes on a night where the O'rena should be packed due to Homecoming. As such, Centenary will need an otherworldly performance to knock off the Grizzlies on this particular evening.

Farewell To Centenary
Centenary is making its final trip to Rochester this weekend before it reclassifies to Division III in 2011-12. This year hasn't exactly been kind to the Gents as they remain the only winless team in all of Division I. Things haven't always been this bad in Shreveport, though. While the school has never made the NCAA tournament, there have been some highlights over the years, most notably that long-time Celtics big man Robert Parish once suited up in a Centenary uniform. However, even then there was some unexpected misery, as the Mid Majority's Kyle Whelliston points out:
Robert Parish averaged 21.6 ppg and 16.9 rpg for the Gents between 1972 and 1976, but not a single point or rebound counted. The NCAA docked Centenary six years of probation and postseason ineligibility for converting Parish's Louisiana high school test scores into a standardized format to fit the NCAA's eligibility requirements at the time, but kept the school and star center erased even though the requirements were changed. Centenary went 87-21 during the four-year Parish era, but the NCAA insists none of that even happened.
The rest of the Centenary story, as told just the other day by the Mid Majority, can be read here. There aren't too many favorable games left on the Gents' schedule, though they did have a half-time lead at IPFW on Thursday night. Perhaps they'll build on that momentum to stay competitive and eek one out here in their waning days of Division I.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Drew Valentine vs. Maxx Nakwaasah
Maxx Nakwaasah is one of the lone holdovers from Centenary's past. He's a proven Division I player who is quietly having a solid year in conference play thus far. At 6-foot-3 he's a bit undersized for the guard-forward role that he plays, but such is life at Centenary this year. The junior has a Drew Valentine-like impact on the game in that he can score by going to the basket, knocking down the occasional three, or getting to the foul line. He's also a great rebounder for his size, particularly on the offensive end. The major difference between these two teams is that Nakwaasah does all of that as his team's featured scorer while Valentine accomplishes such tasks as the fourth or fifth option on the team. Again, such is life at Centenary in 2010-11.

Centenary Player To Watch: Aaron Harwell
For all of their defensive deficiencies, the Gents are actually rather adept on the perimeter. In league play they are allowing 37.7% three-point shooting which is sixth best in the league, and they force turnovers at a 15.3 rate, good for first in the conference. Several of those turnovers are forced by Aaron Harwell, a 5-foot-11 freshman who plays 24.2 minutes per league game. In his time on the court, Harwell is averaging 2.7 steals, a mark that is far and away best in conference games only.

Oakland Player To Watch: Ledrick Eackles
After injuring his ankle against IUPUI, Ledrick Eackles has been listed as probable since the Dakotas trip but saw his first game action on Thursday against Oral Roberts. There was one possession where he grabbed a defensive rebound and led the fastbreak just like old times which served as an indication that he had some of his burst back. The sophomore played just seven minutes and picked up three fouls, so here's to hoping that he can get some valuable playing time on Saturday to get ready for the stretch run here.

The games between Oakland and Centenary at the O'rena have always been rather close affairs. Unlike at the Gold Dome, the Golden Grizzlies have never blown out the Gents in Rochester. Centenary was also Oakland's first homecoming opponent in the 2008-09 season, a game OU won 78-65 in front of 3,855 attendees.

The Extra Pass
After beating Oral Roberts on Thursday, Coach Kampe attributed the win to the program's culture, that volatile mixture of a consistently packed house and venomous student section. It was an interesting time to bring up culture since it comes on the verge of this Saturday's Homecoming game. The Homecoming tradition enters its third year this season, and it has quickly grown into a fan-favorite tradition, one that has helped to build that very culture. But with such growth comes further changes to the culture. For instance, the university is allowing students to tailgate before the games on Saturday, a rather huge break from the school's traditional culture. It will be interesting to monitor how that goes over. Additionally, if there are more than 500 students eager to attend the game, then those beyond that threshold will have to pay, a first since I've been following the program. Such changes are inevitable with the growth of the program, but one can only hope that the culture, still in a malleable stage, continues to grow into something all fans can get behind.

Pre-Game Linkage
The folks Half-court Press, the burgeoning OUsatire newsletter, have concocted their latest offering for the Centenary game. To learn about Centenary's diabolic plan as well as the origins of Maxx Nakwaasah's name, read up on it here.

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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