The Big Picture
A week after they were on the wrong side of the fouling distribution, the Golden Grizzlies used a substantial free throw advantage against IPFW to help them seal the victory. With the win, Oakland sweeps the season series with the Mastodons but should remain cautious of this senior-led team that could get hot in Sioux Falls. For now, though, Oakland continues to distance itself from the rest of the conference pack.
The Playmaker Quandary, Solved
Prior to the beginning of the season, I conducted an analysis of Oakland's shot creation during the 2009-10 season. In order to determine which Oakland players were the best at finding their own shot, I used play-by-play data from the box scores to split shots into those made as the result of an assist and those that were not. The resulting rate, Assisted Field Goal Percentage, then identifies which players are the best and worst at making their own play. For that season, then-seniors Johnathon Jones and Derick Nelson were by far the best playmakers, particularly on inside baskets. Jones, in particular, was otherworldly: only 12% of his inside buckets were assisted, meaning that he was able to cut to the basket for Oakland better than any other guard on the team. With that said, I wondered if any current Golden Grizzlies would be able to fill this very large void in 2010-11.
Well, with four regular season games remaining, Reggie Hamilton has proven to be an even more impressive playmaker than Johnathon Jones. I have been keeping track of these statistics throughout the season, and after another great performance against IPFW on Saturday, Hamilton surpassed Jones' raw figures (which include the three tournament and NCAA tournament games). Take a look (click to enlarge):
The chart shows us that of Hamilton's inside baskets, only 8% have come as the result of an assist. In raw figures, there is only a two basket difference between Jones and Hamilton in this regard; however, Hamilton is bound to continue to add to the "No Assist" side in these last few weeks. As for jump shots, the two players are just about even. When I tallied up the totals last season, I did not split jump shots between twos and threes, but I alleviated that this year. It's not shown in the chart, but only 11 of Hamilton's jump shots have been two-pointers outside of the paint. I can't say for certain what the total for Jones would have been, but based on memory, I'd say that about half of his jump shots were two-pointers. This is the main difference between Hamilton and Jones as scorers. Jones was able to pop back on the fastbreak for a 12-foot jumper, whereas Hamilton almost always attacks the basket. I do not have the statistics to back up this next assumption, but I would guess this is the reason why Hamilton gets called for charges more often than Jones did last year.
As for Hamilton, his ability to see plays unfold has continued to make him a scoring threat off the dribble-drive. Though he's been prolific in this regard, Hamilton has consistently deferred any praise to his teammates for giving him open lanes to score. While his humility is respected, I would say that he is just as often as responsible as his teammates' off-the-ball movements. But to begin with, we'll look at a play where Hamilton scored in a half-court set where his teammates help to give him an open lane.
In frame 1, Hamilton is setting the offense at the top of the key after a few passes on the perimeter failed to ignite a scoring opportunity. All of the players are shifting to the left, which is how Ledrick Eackles ends up on the opposite side of the picture in frame 2. Here, Hamilton is guarded by Ben Botts in isolation, and as he makes a move toward the basket in frame 3, we can see that the lane is completely open thanks to the shifting from the previous frames. As Hamilton drives off the dribble, the defense begins to collapse, and Drew Valentine's defender leaves him completely open in frame 4. As a result, Hamilton has the option of dishing off to Valentine for the open look on the perimeter, but he goes ahead with a spinning jumper in the lane instead. It wasn't the prettiest of his inside looks, but Hamilton rarely fails to finish in such a position.
Just as often, Hamilton gets inside buckets through team defense that leads to fastbreak opportunities. The junior guard is great in the open court and has the ball-handling skills and vision to find open lanes in such opportunities. Let's take a look at one of these plays from the IPFW game:
In the left frame, Hamilton is leading a fastbreak opportunity that arises from an IPFW turnover around the half-court line. In such a situation, Hamilton has typically done one of two things: 1) go hard at the basket, or 2) dish off to a teammate for a quick shot attempt. In other words, rarely does this team pass up an opportunity for a fastbreak bucket. In this particular play, Hamilton recognizes the open lane and uses his superb knifing ability to cut into the lane. In the right frame, he still has the option to pass off to Benson for a quick dunk, but Hamilton, confident as ever, goes up strong for the easy lay-up.
At this point in the season, Hamilton has surpassed Jones in terms of his raw scoring ability. He is as dangerous an option in isolated situations as he is on the fastbreak. One could argue that he's a more dangerous three-point shooter than Jones, too. And while he may turn the ball over more than Jones did, it's worth noting that in conference play no one is averaging more assists per game than Hamilton this season. He may not be the prototypical point guard, but Reggie Hamilton has been about as fine a playmaker - for himself and for others - as Oakland fans could have hoped for.
Shortly after the IPFW game, I asked one of my friends if Hamilton was working his way into Oakland basketball lore. After all, the block he had on a Ben Botts three-point attempt in the waning seconds was just another addition to a long list of clutch plays he's made this season. My friend's answer was that he's got a ways to go to reach the point of being a legend simply due to his short tenure. While I agree with that assessment, Hamilton's impact this season has been monumental, and with a few more quality games in March, no one will soon forget his contributions.
A Defining Identity
Oakland's student newspaper, The Oakland Post, had a great feature in this week's edition about "the many faces of the Oakland brand." The leading graphic, seen in the article here, depicts most of the different logos the university has used in recent years for both institutional and athletic purposes. In the article, the authors note that Oakland is still a young university without a concrete brand, and as a result, there exists an opportunity for the school to create such a defining identity. These thoughts are echoed in the paper's editorial, too. As a person with an interest in branding and design, I was very excited to see this article and to read that the university is looking to stick with one logo in the future. For too long there have been one too many logos out there, and nowhere has this been as prominent than with Athletics. For example, when my friend and I went to the Oakland-Purdue game, he pointed out that on one arena screen there was the lone "Grizzly face" logo and on another the interlocking OU letters. Purdue, meanwhile, stuck with its identifiable "P" logo, everywhere.
One logo that is not brought up in the article is the "block O" logo. This is the first year I have personally noticed it on more than just apparel; it's on promotional materials, the game balls, and even the cheer team outfits. I like the "block O" as I believe, in some ways, it represents a movement toward OU athletics being known simply as "Oakland" instead of Oakland University or the dreaded Oakland (Mich.). However, my only beef is in its name. While I have no idea what it is officially known as, a cursory check reveals that there is at least evidence it has been referred to as the "block O." The reason for my beef? Do a quick Google search for "Block O."
There is no way Oakland will be trumping Ohio State in the battle for the "block O" language. The scarlet and gray have simply had it for too long. Although the shape between the two logos is similar, I believe they are distinct enough even in a grayscale, side-by-side depiction:
Or maybe I've just seen it too often to easily tell the difference. Either way, the block O is cool, but the name, or at least the one I'm inferring here, has a rather formidable foe to go up against. There are people with degrees in this kind of stuff who are paid a lot of money to brand products and institutions, so I won't go as far as to offer an uneducated opinion on where the university should go from here. I will say that the University of Oregon managed to construct a logo that is utilized for both academic and athletic purposes, and I'd argue it is one of the most recognized symbols in higher education. In sum, I'm just happy to hear that OU is looking to create an undisputed Oakland brand, and I hope that the result of the process is an identity that serves the school and its community well.
"Free Ilija" Watch
Ilija recorded his first "trillion" of any sort this season in the game against IPFW. He played two minutes total but did not register a single statistic for the game (therefore, when you scan the boxscore, you will see a "2" followed by several zeros). So technically, Ilija achieved a "two-trillion" in the Saturday matinée. If that seems like a knock, it most certainly is not. To put his two-trillion performance in perspective, consider the fact that he logged two minutes against Purdue but drew two fouls, or that he had two turnovers in two minutes of playing time against Austin Peay. Ilija is officially a member of the Trillion Man March.
Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Drew Valentine
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
The unheralded player in the IPFW games was Drew Valentine. Valentine drew a tough defensive assignment in Frank Gaines that may not have gone as well as hoped, but then again, Valentine did some damage on the offensive end as well. He hasn't been as involved in the offense as of late, but against IPFW he was very active and almost completely blew off three-point shooting in favor of putting the ball on the floor for high-percentage shots. As a result, he went 7-of-11 from the field for 14 points while pulling down seven rebounds and assisting three of his teammates' baskets. Kudos, Drew!
The Golden Grizzlies get to stay in Rochester this week but welcome two tough opponents in North Dakota State and South Dakota State. I consider these two teams to be the toughest travel partners in the league even when they are the visiting team. On Thursday, OU will meet an NDSU team that battled in their meeting at the Bison Sports Arena but ultimately came short thanks to some timely shooting by Larry Wright. Saturday, of course, is Senior Night for Oakland's trio of senior ballers. It's the last time to see Kito, Will, and Larry at the O'rena, and it comes against a team that has a more explosive offense than Oakland. In other words, get your tickets (or purchase your All-Access account) because these are not games you will want to miss!