Monday, January 24, 2011

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: SDSU/NDSU

The Big Picture
The Golden Grizzlies survived the treacherous Dakotas trip to the tune of two wins to zero losses. It's the second year in a row that the team swept through the toughest road trip in conference play. By winning both games, the program is now the official holder of the consecutive wins streak in conference play (17), dating back to last season. For this season, it means Oakland has beaten every conference foe at least once at the half-way mark of Summit League play. Teams will be gunning for OU in this second half, hopeful that they can correct their deficiencies from the first run through to top the beasts from Rochester before all is said and done.

Chairmen Of The Boards
Throughout the season, Oakland has consistently been the top rebounding team in The Summit League and one of the best in the country. In fact, as of this posting, the team's 36.8 rebounds per game rank 21st and its 54.6% rebounding percentage 48th in all of Division I. Whether you dig rebounding margins or rates, the fact remains that this team can board with the best in the country. However, for the first time in conference play this season, Oakland was out-rebounded in the match with North Dakota State on Saturday. Margins can tell us one part of the story, but rebounding rate more accurately paints the rebounding picture and allows us to make comparisons from one game to the next. Let's take a look at how Oakland has fared by this measure in conference games:
As is evident, Oakland's board dominance holds up in team rebounding rate as well. However, it's also worth noting just how out of character the performance was against North Dakota State. At the end of the game, the Golden Grizzlies still scored more points than the Bison which is all that mattered. But it is worth keeping an eye on for when the two teams have a rematch at the O'rena in late February.

All About Benson
Despite the frigid temperatures, Oakland's Keith Benson was hot on this road trip. He had 20+ points and 10+ rebounds in back-to-back games for the first time all season, and it was his first back-to-back double-double since the Michigan State and Tennessee games in December. Benson was given a little more room than usual as SDSU and NDSU did not always send an extra man when he got the ball; instead there were some possessions where Jordan Dykstra (SDSU) and Marshall Bjorklund (NDSU), both freshman, were given a chance to be physical with the OU senior. Kito responded well and had several great post-ups while staying active on the glass. His more dominating performance came against the Jackrabbits where he tied his season high in field goal attempts (17) while connecting on a season high 12 made field goals. With more touches, Benson was able to get a number of good looks in the paint. For example:
In frame 1, we see Kito establishing position in the key against Dykstra, awaiting a pass from Reggie Hamilton. Once he gets the ball in frame 2, it looks like he might have had a more direct path at the basket by spinning around his defender toward the basket, but he puts the ball on the floor and spins to his right in frame 3 where Dykstra is still the lone defender. By frame 4, it's clear Kito is going to muscle up a shot over Dykstra and the oncoming help, something he does successfully here.

In another situation, the attention drawn to Benson results in a made bucket for Will Hudson.
In this scene, Benson is running down the court and calling for a pass from Larry Wright. In frame 2, Wright is about to dish it to Benson on the elbow. Once he receives the pass, Benson has a few options but his go-to move in such a position has been to spot up for a jumper (more on this in a minute). However, as we see in frame 3, Benson makes a move toward the basket and draws Hudson's defender in the process. Kito, the ever-evolving passer, spots the deficiency right away and makes a nice dish to Hudson who completes the dunk in frame 4.

Against North Dakota State, Benson was far more likely to shoot the aforementioned mid-range jumper. He shot five long two-pointers, which to many observers is the worst shot in basketball. And his numbers from the two games more or less confirm this notion. Here's a breakdown of his field goal makes and attempts from the two games:
Before dissecting these figures, please note that tracking the distance of shots is somewhat subjective as there's not necessarily a way to take a tape measure from the player's position to the hoop. Generally, though, I think the categorizations hold up when comparing to the tape. One note is that a shot was counted as a jumper if it was taken in the key but outside of 5 feet or so from the basket (so, for example, from around the free throw line). So in looking at the table, we can see that Kito was incredibly efficient in post-up situations or when he was the recipient of a quick pass into the paint. Together, he hit 18 of his 21 attempts in this area for a total of 85.7%. Again, the closer one gets to the basket, the expected shooting percentage is higher, but Benson's figures are rather extraordinary, especially when taking a look at how he got a number of these baskets. On the flipside, he went just 2 of 11 (18.2%) on jumpers outside of this area, including 1 of 5 on those long twos against NDSU (of note is that one of his jumpers was cited as a three-point attempt but it certainly looked to be well within the arc). Benson is capable of knocking down those shots, so perhaps this was the wrong swing of games to highlight. Either way, I think most would agree he's much more efficient when he limits his jumpers to around three or four (like he did against SDSU) than eight or more.

On the defensive end, Benson was just as dominant as usual. In the box score, we see that he had eight blocks and three steals over the weekend. While Marshall Bjorklund did have a career night against the Oakland frontcourt, there were several plays where it looked like Benson was being extra careful on him in the second half as he was playing with three fouls early on. Still, one of the best plays of the game came on a Benson block that led to this:

What is especially mesmerizing about this play in particular is that Benson blocks the oncoming opponent, gets the ball, takes it up the court like a guard, and has the presence of mind to dish it to a streaking Drew Valentine who drains the three. If you keep watching post-shot attempt, you can see Benson running toward the basket for the potential rebound. That is a game-changing play, and one that makes him the most valuable player in the conference.

The Gray Uniform Phenomenon
Since Oakland debuted its gray uniforms in the opening game of the season, there have been other teams popping up around the country embracing the color as well. The resurgent Colorado Buffaloes have been doing the gray look since the beginning of last season, proving that a black and gold school can make the achromatic look good (officially, CU's version is listed as silver). On the other hand, Valparaiso showed us all that gold on gray is, well, see for yourself:
Kudos to Oakland for minimizing the gold as that's clearly something Valpo overlooked or misjudged in its own design. While I wasn't initially stoked about adding gray to the Oakland color scheme, the alternate jerseys have grown on me. I'm glad that they got some gray/silver undershirts for the NDSU game as they had previously worn white which detracted from the allure of the jerseys just a bit. Whatever the case, Oakland's gray uniforms have definitely spruced up the program's identity, and it's safe to say that they rank among the best executed gray alternates.

"Free Ilija" Watch
The Serbian Assassin had just two points and two rebounds in 19 total minutes this week. As the season has played on, Coach Kampe's rotation seems to be getting even tighter. Injuries are partly to explain for that, but it's looking more and more like the current starting five plus Larry Wright are the fellas who will be getting most of the time the rest of the way.

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Larry Wright
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Larry Wright was channeling his mid-December self on Saturday night against North Dakota State. While he didn't have a great game against SDSU on Thursday, he really was the guy who ignited Oakland in the second half against NDSU. He scored 20 points in 24 minutes of play, including a stellar 4 of 4 mark from beyond the arc. It was great to see Larry looking like he was at 100% again. Here's a clip of all of his makes from Saturday night. If you listen closely, you won't hear too much rim on those buckets.

Top Play Of The Week
There were a few contenders this week. Larry Wright, in addition to the highlight reel above, had a twisting and turning drive against South Dakota State that showed his ankle woes are behind him (animated .gif). Likewise, Travis Bader had a rare drive to the hoop that showed off some of his non-three-point shooting potential (animated .gif). However, Drew Valentine's emergence as a defensive stopper has been a highlight of this conference season. In both games this week, he had a perimeter steal that led to a fastbreak dunk.
Bonus plays! Watch Ryan Bass fill the bucket on three separate occasions against NDSU. And here's Kito dominating NDSU's Mike Felt on two different possessions.

What's Next?
It's homecoming week for Golden Grizzlies fans this week, highlighting by the men's and women's basketball games on Saturday against Centenary. However, the big game of the week is on Thursday when Oakland welcomes Oral Roberts to Rochester. These two teams always have battles. Hopefully the O'rena will be jam-packed for this annual rivalry game. Not only does the game have historical meaning, but it could also have a major impact on the conference standings as ORU is currently in a three-way tie for second place and will be looking to separate itself.

1 comment:

  1. Valentine has stepped up in a big way this season. Ever since that bad OSU game he's been pretty darn solid-has come a long way from hardly playing last season.

    OU will need Ilija to play solid in some very important minutes.. it always works itself out that in a big game the team whose 7th, 8th, 9th guys contribute the most most times come out on top. Essentially I'm saying Ilija better stay ready. Bass too.