Monday, January 10, 2011

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: IUPUI/Western Illinois

The Big Picture
Oakland continued its recent stretch of conference domination this week by beating IUPUI by 14 points and WIU by 29. In the former match-up, the Golden Grizzlies showed some of their scoring versatility as Reggie Hamilton, Travis Bader, and Drew Valentine all had great shooting nights. Not a single Oakland big man had a double-figure night in points despite a sizable advantage in the post. However, IUPUI's compensation in the paint left Oakland guys open on the perimeter on a night when all they did was hit shots (more on this below). Against Western Illinois, the story was one of balanced scoring as all five starters had ten or more points, and the Oakland defense led to Leatherneck struggles from the field throughout the game. Oakland heads into its toughest stretch of conference play with a 6-0 mark that is good for best in The Summit League. Perhaps most intriguingly, the team has managed to convincingly win all of these games despite the fact several of the players are banged up themselves. In the big picture, these confidence-boosting performances should give Oakland a deadly bench once everyone is healthy and playing again.

Two Times The Triples
Against IUPUI on Thursday night, we witnessed a stellar display of three-point heroics from Reggie Hamilton and Travis Bader. While both players have showcased their ability to knock down triples, it has been rare for them to do it in the same game. Yet we saw exactly that against the Jaguars when Bader went 5 of 8 from deep while Hamilton knocked down 7 of 8 three-point attempts. What is most interesting about these two sharp-shooters is that they get their triples in very different ways. Let's take a look at their shot charts from Thursday (click the image to enlarge):

Starting with Bader, on the right side of the graphic, we see that all of his threes came from the corner. The white lines are indicative of an assist - and four different players assisted his five baskets. Essentially, Bader is great at getting open on the perimeter in three situations. First, when Hamilton kicks it over to Bader from atop the arc, the pass typically comes early in the possession, or at least prior to the big guys getting touches in the paint. This could be a designed play, or it could just be the result of Bader feeling confident in his ability to knock down shots, so he springs it as a result. Second, the assist that Drew Valentine had came when he penetrated toward the basket but found an open Bader as defenders collapsed toward the middle. If Valentine can continue to develop his driving ability, one would naturally expect further looks to open up on the perimeter, and Bader is a fine dude to have waiting for those passes! Third, we see that both Will Hudson and Keith Benson had assists to Bader after they had received the ball near or in the paint. We've talked here before how the Benson double-teams will lead to open threes so long as Kito can kick it out, something he did well when he got the assist on Bader's superhoop. Simply put, Bader is a weapon when others are getting him the ball in position.

Reggie Hamilton, on the other hand, is deadly with the ball in his hands. Against IUPUI, four of his seven makes came from his own doing, while three were credited with an assist (though the one credited to a Travis Bader assist is a mystery - it looked like that was all Reggie). Hamilton also has three situations where he thrives from downtown. First, several of his seven makes on Thursday came as he led a fastbreak or brought the ball up the court only to stop on a dime just beyond the arc to knock down the trey. In this sense, he's more or less a spot-up three-pointer shooter, a characterization that is deadly when the ball is falling through the net. Second, he's also incredibly effective at using the dribble to get some space between him and the defender. And third, when those aspects of his game aren't working, he's able to roll off a Benson or Hudson pick to get an open look on the perimeter.

The trends from this game generally hold up when we look at the season as a whole. By using the box score from each game, we are able to credit each basket as assisted or not. For Bader and Hamilton, we broke this down into three-pointers only:

For the season, 63% of Hamilton's threes have been assisted - a number that we'd wager is as high as it is from when Larry Wright was acting as the primary point guard. Hamilton didn't have the ball in his hands quite as much in such a scenario and thus was the recipient of more passes. For Bader, we see that a whopping 95% of his threes have been assisted. Bader has proven to be the more reliable three-point threat, a distinction which perhaps stems from his teammate's ability to find him at opportune times. Hamilton might be the streakier shooter of the duo, but the fact that he has the ball in his hands could be a benefit because he's shown that he's not afraid to pull the trigger when he's feeling it. The bottom line is that Oakland has two players who can make it rain on any given night in very different ways. That's some versatility that will prove handy as the season moves on.

It was only a little over a month ago that many folks were wondering why the home crowds weren't quite as big as expected, or perhaps at least at the same level where they finished last season. Coach Kampe himself pondered the attendance, using Keith Benson and his solid team as a conduit for why he thought more people should come out. Far from poor (in fact the crowds for the SUU and UMKC games in December of 2010 were much larger than they were for the same two teams in December of 2007), anyone following the program's rise knew the Oakland basketball product this year was good enough to fly off the shelves. Well, we learned with this week's large crowds that perhaps that early letdown was a byproduct of academic finals, holiday worries, and onset of snow that normally occurs in December.

Although it was televised on Fox Sports Detroit, the IUPUI game on Thursday evening had a respectable attendance of 2,615. Most importantly, the Grizz Gang looked to be jam-packed, a telling sign of that particular organization's growth in recent years. Oakland continued to build on the attendance momentum against Western Illinois when a whopping 3,805 folks passed through the turnstiles. In the game story from The Oakland Press, beat writer Paul Kampe noted it was "the O'rena's fourth-largest crowd ever." It's a good sign when Oakland is able to draw its fourth-largest crowd ever for a game against a depleted Western Illinois team.

As a point of comparison, the last time Oakland hosted games during the first full week of January (when classes typically begin), the program drew in 1,946 for IUPUI on a Thursday and 2,612 for Chicago State for the Saturday tip. Now that's growth!

"Free Ilija" Watch
After a solid start to conference play, Ilija struggled a bit from the field this week as he went a combined 3 of 10 against IUPUI and WIU. However, he was able to limit his fouls and turnovers, an especially great note considering his 37 minutes played this week were the most he's had in back-to-back games this season.

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Drew Valentine
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Reggie Hamilton and Travis Bader were huge this week for the Golden Grizzlies, but Drew Valentine carried the momentum of his performances last week to the O'rena over the weekend where he became certified stat-sheet stuffer. Valentine was one rebound shy of a double-double against IUPUI, a fact which must have been motivating as he came out and grabbed 14 boards against Western Illinois on Saturday! Perhaps most importantly, the sophomore forward has also stepped up his defensive game which has helped to fill the void at that position when Blake Cushingberry went down with an injury prior to the start of the season.

Top Play Of The Week
Last season, alley-oop throwdowns were quite common with Johnathon Jones' heaves to a streaking Drew Maynard or a sneaking Keith Benson. This season, however, we haven't seen too many of these plays, though it's not as if the team hasn't tried. Ryan Bass almost had one against Western Illinois, but the best attempt was Reggie Hamilton's try to Ledrick Eackles on a fastbreak in the first half against IUPUI. Eackles somehow managed to get high enough to still tip the ball in the net despite less than ideal positioning:

While we hesitated to call this a top play given that Eackles injured his ankle directly after, but everything prior to the ball falling through the net was golden. And it certainly brought the crowd to its feet!

What's Next?
The Golden Grizzlies head to Fort Wayne to take on the IPFW Mastodons on Saturday. IPFW is off to a 5-1 start in conference play and coming off a home loss to IUPUI. Coach Dane Fife has the Dons playing strong basketball this season which has made them a tough opponent for all. It will be a solid road test for the OU ballers.

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