Oakland kicked off league play in earnest this week by heading south for games at Centenary and Oral Roberts. Here's our recap.
Oakland picked up two league wins this week in The Summit League's southern most stretches. First, the Golden Grizzlies came out and did what most teams have done against Centenary this year: dominate. While the Gents gave a valiant effort, particularly late in the first half, OU was just too good to and ran away with the game in the second half. Following that, a win over conference rivals Oral Roberts. OU looked dominant in the first ten minutes of the game, but the Golden Eagles showed some heart and grit for perhaps the first time in many bouts this year to make it a game in the second half. As much as one attempts not to overlook opponents, the Centenary win was probably expected, but the ORU win is a big one that pushed Coach Sutton's team to 2-2 in conference play with a tough trip to the Dakotas on the horizon. That's a good thing for Oakland as the season goes on because it means that Oral Roberts might have a few more losses to its name than most expected.
Through four conference games, Oakland has looked impressive by averaging 90.8 points per game and holding opponents to just 68.8 points on average. The large discrepancy is aided by three blowouts over Southern Utah, UMKC, and Centenary. While SUU and UMKC both have wins over North Dakota State already this season, they were at the bottom of the conference last year. With respect to those schools, Oakland's astronomical point spread should come back down to earth a bit after battling more contenders like IUPUI, SDSU, and IPFW, but then again, maybe not. While per game averages are fine and dandy, tempo-free stats are a bit more revealing, especially since Oakland plays at a faster pace than its conference foes. Through Thursday's games, here's a look at each team's offensive points per possession and defensive points per possession:
It's no surprise that Oakland and IPFW, both at 4-0, are leading the way in efficiency differential. The neat thing about juxtaposing these two teams is that they've played the same four teams in the same situations (two at home, two on the road) up to this point, with Oakland clearly coming out on the top both in offensive output and defensive might. IPFW is a solid defensive team and is not far behind Oakland in the defensive measure, but OU has had the more explosive offense. The comparison might not be absolutely fair, but just to give those not familiar with tempo-free stats a feel for the greatness of a 1.21 O-PPP mark , take into consideration that the teams leading the nation in this measure (for all games) are Ohio State at 1.20 and Duke, Wisconsin, and Pittsburgh at 1.19! If Oakland can continue to inflict this kind of offensive damage while playing a .91 kind of defense, the results should continue to be pretty.
We See You, Drew Valentine
Drew Valentine has been impressive in four league games thus far this season, with his best performances coming during this most recent road trip. At Centenary, Valentine was active on the offensive glass, scooping up 6 offensive rebounds to pair with 4 on the defensive end. Along with his ten points, his effort was enough for him to earn his first double-double. Against Oral Roberts two nights later, the sophomore went 6 for 6 from the field, a perfect mark that included two three-pointers. His 14 points came in a variety of ways which showcased the various aspects of his skillset that makes him such a promising player. Let's take a visual look:
In this first clip, we see two of Valentine's drives. One comes during the normal sequence of an offensive set where he sees a lane and takes the ball hard to the basket. During previous games, Valentine hasn't showed as much confidence in his ability to do this which has resulted in a few travels or botched passes as he hesitates. Here, however, Drew splits two defenders and confidently puts the ball in the basket. In the second drive, Valentine stays steady despite the fact the shot-clock was winding down as he makes his way along the baseline for an easy lay-up. Some players on the team might have popped up for a quick, fading jump shot, but Valentine is much better around the rim and thus capitalizes on that ability.
Here we see two more plays featuring Valentine taking the ball into the paint, only this time he chooses to dish to the open man (Will Hudson in both cases). In the first scene, Valentine nearly turns the ball over but keeps his composure and quickly finds Hudson for the easy lay-in. In the second act, Valentine again gets deep into the defense from the right wing only to pass above the defenders collapsing on him to find an open Hudson who makes the bucket and gets fouled. If Valentine can continue to be aggressive from the wing, he will open up looks for Hudson and Benson and collect a lot of assists in the process.
This next video shows Valentine's ability in the open court, perhaps the most exciting aspect of his game. In the first frame, Valentine anticipates a weak pass to Dominique Morrison, steals it, and runs away with it for an easy dunk. Morrison is a tough fella to guard, and while this wasn't entirely the ORU forward's fault, it was nice to see Valentine get the better of him on this play. The next scene does not result in anything statistical for Drew, but it does show how he can help the team push the tempo. Here he grabs a rebound and darts with the ball toward the other end of the court hoping to ignite a quick scoring opportunity. When nothing comes to fruition, he slows it down and gives it to Eackles who draws a foul. Finally, in perhaps one of the best plays of the game, Keith Benson swats a Morrison shot attempt which flies into the hands of Valentine who promptly runs down the court and finishes with a reverse lay-up. The Lansing native has never struck me as the most athletic player on the court, but he has some sneaky athleticism and ability in the open court that comes to light in these clips.
In this last clip, we witness both of Valentine's triples from the game against Oral Roberts. The first one is a great example of teamwork as Keith Benson passes out of the double-team to Travis Bader who then makes the extra pass to Valentine in the corner. Sound execution, and also the subject of a post on the great college basketball playbook blog The Mikan Drill. The second one might have been Drew's biggest knock-down all year as it more or less sealed the game. He was left wide open after Hamilton got into the lane, and all it took was a nice dish for Drew to confidently drain the three-point attempt.
In going over Valentine's six field goals, nearly every one of them was at a clutch moment or had some level of pizazz. Valentine is showing that he can create offense for himself and his teammates while rebounding and knocking down treys in the process. The distribution of his scoring thus far is paralleling that of Blake Cushingberry's last season. While he may be far from being as solid a playmaker as Derick Nelson was last year (who created 69% of his inside baskets on his own ability or from offensive rebounding), it is looking like he has the skills and is gaining the confidence to one day approach that level. As Valentine gets more playing time and experience guarding Summit League forwards, hopefully he can continue to take his game to new heights.
"Free Ilija" Watch
Keith Benson played a full 40 minutes against ORU and Will Hudson had a strong 20-and-10 effort, so Ilija wasn't freed in Tulsa on Thursday. However, in one of the more interesting moves of the season, Coach Kampe went big for a few minutes against Centenary by using a line-up that featured Benson, Hudson, and Ilija. It was funny to witness so many big men out there at once, but with Ilija's ability to knock down triples (he is 2 of 3 from deep in conference games) and jumpers, it looked like it could be an effective method against certain opponents.
Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Reggie Hamilton
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Drew Valentine and Will Hudson had big weeks, but Reggie Hamilton was often a big reason why due to his increased distribution role this week. He tallied 9 assists against Centenary and 7 against Oral Roberts, many of which came as a result of his ability to get deep into the paint before dishing to a big man or an open man on the perimeter. As a result, Hamilton's scoring has been down as of late while others have stepped up. Perhaps his biggest contribution aside from passing came against Oral Roberts where he went 8 of 8 from the free throw line. That's an impeccable mark for a guy who had been to the line just one time in the previous two games.
Top Play Of The Week
The top play was actually a sequence of plays which kept Oakland on top in the second half against Oral Roberts. Keith Benson sparked it by swatting a Dominique Morrison shot attempt that led to a sick reverse lay-in on a fastbreak by Drew Valentine. On the following possession, ORU's Roderick Pearson attempted to make a play in the paint and yet again Kito came up with the big defensive stop.
The winter semester begins at Oakland University this week, and with the new classes come new home games! On Thursday, the Golden Grizzlies will take on an IUPUI team that is coming off of a solid win against Western Illinois. That same WIU team will come to the O'rena on Saturday for another conference tilt. Before the IUPUI game, the Oakland players will have had a full seven days off from game action and traveling, a break that is probably welcomed with open arms.