Thursday, February 10, 2011

Game Preview: Oakland vs. IPFW

Game 26: Oakland (17-9, 12-1) vs IPFW (16-8, 9-4)
Saturday, February 12, 2011 | 12:00pm EST
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit | Radio: WXOU (88.3 FM)

Oakland returns to action this weekend with a matinée home game against IPFW. It will be interesting to see how the Golden Grizzlies respond as this will be their first league contest played after dropping a game. The team has had a week off to rest and get prepared for the Mastodons. When the two teams met last time in Fort Wayne, it was a battle for first place. Since that meeting, however, IPFW has regressed just a bit yet remains a dangerous team. The Dons used the break in the schedule for a tune-up earlier this week against independent Chicago State. They won that game by a score of 95-50 on incredibly hot shooting. If they shoot like that at the O'rena, it will be a long night for the Grizzlies. However, Oakland has had a balanced attack all season long and remains the preeminent home team in The Summit League.

Taking Advantage Of Charity
If you juxtapose the team stats of Oakland and IPFW in league games, there is no comparison. Oakland wins them all. That's not necessarily a condemnation of the Dons; after all, Oakland similarly overshadows all conference foes in every important statistical category, standard or tempo-free. However, there are two areas where the Golden Grizzlies have lagged behind their conference counterparts: turnover rate and free-throw shooting. IPFW has taken care of the ball well for most of the year, which may be due in part to the fact the team is rather perimeter-oriented. As a result of their orientation, they are in the bottom-half of the league in terms of free throw rate, but the bottom line is when they do get to the line, they make their shots. Overall, IPFW's 78.5% team free throw percentage is fourth in the nation, and its 79.0% mark in conference games tops The Summit League. Oakland? Well, its 69.0% figure is good for eighth in the league. So how does a team get to such a gaudy percentage at the line? See the table:
This table charts the free throw shooting percentage and free throw rate for the team's five most productive players in conference games only. Although he fills a sixth man role, Jeremy Mixon was included since he plays major minutes and has a larger role in the offense than John Peckinpaugh (who has been nonexistent on that end of the court in league play). When I was compiling this information, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. All five of the team's top players shoot over 80.0% from the charity stripe! There might not be another team in the nation with a starting line-up as proficient at free throw shooting. Moreover, all of these players are fairly adept at getting to the line, as the free throw rate shows us. Frank Gaines, just a sophomore, is a beast when it comes to drawing fouls, particularly when one realizes he's just a 6-foot-5 guard. And Trey McCorkle, despite some inconsistency this season, has still made the most of his time on the floor by drawing fouls at a respectable rate.

For the sake of comparison, let's now look at Oakland's distribution. The table features Oakland's top six players in terms of minutes and production. Figures are for conference games only.
The table shows us that Oakland is far from balanced when it comes to free throw percentage. On the one hand is a guy like Reggie Hamilton, who makes an impeccable 93.3% of his free throws, and on the other is Drew Valentine, who struggles to make half his attempts. The key stat for Oakland, however, is the free throw rate. Valentine, interestingly enough, makes very few trips to the line so he's not necessarily hurting (or helping) Oakland in this regard. Hamilton goes there quite often, as does Keith Benson, and both of those guys will knock down their free throws more often than not. However, there is definitely a disconnect between the better free throw shooters and the guys who actually spend more time at the line. This is evident when noting how strong free throwers like Travis Bader and Larry Wright hardly go to the line while Will Hudson leads the team in free throw rate but has oddly struggled to take advantage of such charity.

The lesson here is that IPFW has been an elite free throw shooting team this season, which is one of the only areas where Oakland has been somewhat deficient in. If this game comes down to free throws, the season statistics show us that IPFW would own a distinct advantage. That is unless Reggie Hamilton is the one at the line for Oakland.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Drew Valentine vs. Frank Gaines
The sophomore class in The Summit League is led by SDSU's Nate Wolters, but the two players who have developed the most in their second year are Frank Gaines and Drew Valentine. Both players fulfill full-time roles with their respective teams, but they impact the game in different ways. Gaines has become a featured scorer for the Mastodons, averaging 13.9 points per game in league play on 49.6% shooting. He does most of his damage off the dribble and gets to the free throw line as well as anyone on his team. Additionally, he has been a beast on the boards and actually had a double-double against Oakland back in January. Valentine has also developed into a great rebounder, chipping in 7.5 boards per league game. However, his biggest impact in conference play has been on the defensive end where he is averaging 1.8 steals per game while guarding the league's best players. He's also an underrated passer (2.5 assists/game), and he's shooting at an impressive rate from the field (68.0% on twos, 52.6% on threes). Valentine currently has a leg up on Gaines because of his defensive ability. But Gaines is turning into a special player who has shown he can score at will, which is a trait Drew has yet to fully develop (partly because it's not necessary of him at this point). Either way, this is an exciting match-up of two guys who could be battling for All-League honors in future years.

IPFW Player To Watch: Ben Botts
Jeremy Mixon has been hot as of late for the Mastodons off the bench, but the guy who makes this team tick is Ben Botts. Now a senior, the six-foot guard is having a campaign to remember. He's upped his averages in all of the major statistical categories, and he's on pace to drain more three-pointers than he has in any other season. That says a lot for a guy who has always been rather prolific from beyond the arc. In league play, he's currently making 55.6% of his threes, which is a tally that ranks him ahead of the next best high-volume shooter, Oakland's Travis Bader (51.9%). Botts also rarely commits turnovers (and neither does his backcourt mate Zach Plackemeier) so it's tough to break him, particularly when he's playing out his last few games as a Don.

Oakland Player To Watch: Ryan Bass
It's impossible to predict how Coach Kampe will employ Ryan Bass from game to game, but if the true freshman doesn't get much time against IPFW, it won't be because of his lack of effort. The Dayton native had his best string of games as a Golden Grizzly on last week's roadtrip where he scored 10 points and racked up nine assists in 34 total minutes. It's an odd time of the season for him to be in consideration for more playing time, but he seems to have earned it with some of his recent play, particularly on the defensive end where he has been able to hound opposing guards in short bursts. His speed and quickness are always assets, but it's his developing court vision that has been most exciting to watch as of late.

In Summit League games, Oakland owns a 2-1 record over IPFW at the O'rena. Last year's contest was a fairly even one that OU won 88-85, but not before Trey McCorkle went off for 25 points and six rebounds against Keith Benson (who also had a monster line: 32 points, 10 boards, 4 blocks). Interestingly, the free throw disparity mentioned above held true in this game: IPFW went 16-of-20 (80%) from the stripe while Oakland made a paltry 26-of-42 (62%).

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.

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