Monday, February 7, 2011

The Gameplan's Weekly Recap: Western Illinois/IUPUI

The Big Picture
After picking up a strong win over Western Illinois on Thursday, Oakland suffered its first setback in conference play with a 100-88 loss at IUPUI. Indianapolis has not been good to the Golden Grizzlies in recent seasons as its the only place they have lost in the last two years of conference play. The Jaguars had an aggressive plan that was predicated on attacking the basket early and often, particularly with Keith Benson out of the game due to foul trouble. While the loss ends any hopes of an 18-0 conference season, one can only hope that it's a sting to be remembered when February rolls into March. After all, IUPUI gave Oakland a knockout punch last February, but it was ultimately OU that cut down the nets in Sioux Falls.

What To Make Of A Loss
Losing isn't something we've had to discuss much since December, which seems so long ago at this point in the season. Yet, a lost was suffered on Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse to IUPUI, and now we're left wondering what to make of it. Well, to begin with, the Jaguars are a solid team and have proven as much in recent weeks. And while that team had a solid plan for attacking Oakland, we must also look at some other aspects of the game which may have dictated its outcome. In the interest of balance, we'll take a look at a few different factors, but we start with the issue of foul calling.

Just perusing the box score, the first thing that should pop out to anyone is the free throw disparity. Oakland had seven attempts while IUPUI had 34. In raw fouls committed, OU had 26 and IUPUI had 15. That's a big gap, and the heavy foul calling on Oakland definitely affected the game. Late in the game, Coach Kampe was ejected after receiving two technical calls for, presumably, calling out the officials for the uneven foul distribution. So that added four extra free throws to the IUPUI total. Still, the disparity is large enough that it's worth looking into some season-long statistics to determine what could have gone wrong. With the help of, let's first look at free throw rates for Oakland and IUPUI in conference games only. This is a measure of how often each team gets to the free throw line.
The "FTR" column gives each team's average free throw rate in conference games, but I split the games to show the impact of the February 5th match. Overall, one should be able to glean from this data that IUPUI and Oakland are polar opposites when it comes to getting to the free throw line. Oakland, prior to this game, had one of the highest rates in the conference while IUPUI hadconsistently been the worst. After the two teams met at Conseco, however, IUPUI made enough trips to the line to improve by a full percentage point while Oakland's lack of trips dropped it by over three points. That latter fact also moved Oakland into fifth in the conference in free throw rate.

Stemming from this split, I next wondered if this game represented an odd reality where Oakland wasn't as aggressive as usual, or if IUPUI was particularly adept at not fouling Oakland's shooters. To compare, let's look at opponent's free throw rate, a measure of how often each team sends the other team to the charity stripe.
After checking out the table, it's clear that this was a match-up of the conference's two best teams in terms of foul avoidance. This has been a strength of IUPUI throughout the season and one of the reasons (in addition to limiting turnovers) why that team has been successful thus far. However, Oakland is no slouch in this category either. The Golden Grizzlies have trailed IUPUI, sure, but they've been good about not committing fouls. Even after a game where they sent the opponent to the line for 34 attempts, the Grizzlies still rank second in the conference in opponent's free throw rate.

In sum, we shouldn't be so surprised that Oakland only had seven free throw attempts on Saturday night - IUPUI doesn't foul. However, we should be surprised that the Jaguars went to the line so much for two reasons. First, they are one of the weakest teams in the league at consistently drawing fouls. Second, Oakland is one of the best teams in the league at foul avoidance. Two other statistics back up this notion. First, Oakland's 9.5% free throw rate against IUPUI was its lowest of the season by a mile. The only other time the team was below 20% was when it was 19.7% at Ohio State (a notoriously "foul-phobic" team). Second, IUPUI's free throw rate of 54.8% was the highest Oakland had "allowed" all season long. The second worst was 52.6 in a loss to Valparaiso.

So was Oakland jobbed? One could certainly make that argument using the statistics, but it should be noted that IUPUI's plan all along was to attack the basket. They put themselves in a position where the officials had to make some tough calls. On the season, the number of fouls called in this game, 41, matches up well with each official's average for the year:

- Jerry Sauder: 38.7 fouls per game
- Eric Curry: 35.7 fpg
- Rob Kruger: 40.5 fpg

The major takeaway, though, was that those 41 foul calls were split 63/37 in favor of IUPUI. Whether or not that was "fair" is beyond the point now, but I know Grizzlies fans will be hoping that such a split does not occur again in Sioux Falls.

Interior Defense
Oakland has defended the paint extremely well all season long on the backs of Keith Benson and Will Hudson. The team has led the league in defensive field goal percentage throughout league play and currently holds opponents to a league-best 47.5% on two-point shots. However, in the game on Saturday, Oakland allowed IUPUI to make a whopping 62% of its two-pointers. One could argue that the reason for such a high percentage was due to the foul trouble of Benson and Hudson discussed above. However, credit should be given to the Jags for taking the ball to the basket instead of relying on jump shots or three-pointers. To put this figure into perspective over the course of the conference season, let's take a look at Oakland's two-point field goal defense.
Oakland started conference play by holding opponents to two-point shooting in the high 30s and low 40s, but lately these numbers have been gravitating toward the high 40s and low 50s. Oakland has still been winning these games with its own inside ability, but the IUPUI game surely marks a large departure from the norm. As a fan, the frustrating aspect of this statistic is that the Jaguars have a small frontline, which essentially means that a large portion of their buckets came from the lane penetration of guys like Alex Young (11-of-19 on twos), Leroy Nobles (4-of-6), and Stephen Thomas (6-of-10). The team's lone big man, Christian Siakam, also had a solid game (8-of-12). Siakam has been a big reason why IUPUI has been so solid as of late since he gives the team a much-needed presence in the paint. All told, IUPUI won the points in the paint battle 58 to 34. Maybe some of those points would have never happened if Benson wasn't on the bench for the last part of the second half due to foul trouble, but that's still a large total and serves as a reminder that this loss wasn't all about the foul disparity.

Coach Kampe has noted time and again that turnovers have been his team's biggest weakness this season. However, more often than not, Oakland's offense has just been too dominant for the turnover margin to make much of a difference on the outcome of the game. So after Oakland lost to IUPUI, I wanted to blame it on the turnovers, but the statistics don't back up that assumption. For one, each team had 14 turnovers, and the points scored from turnovers was 16-15 in favor of Oakland. It seems that in a game where a couple of things were going wrong, turnovers still didn't signal defeat for Oakland. Also of note is that OU had 21 assists against both IUPUI and Western Illinois. That's some impressive ball movement that bodes well for the future.

Ryan Bass Watch
Ryan Bass continues to be my favorite bench player to monitor as he has shown some glimpses of greatness in limited minutes this season. We all know that he can leap and pass, but his offensive game has largely remained a mystery. That picture started to come into focus a bit more over the weekend as the freshman logged a very important 21 minutes in OU's loss to IUPUI. While Bass did not get a dunk, he was able to drive to the basket and knocked down a killer three-pointer that kept Oakland within reach of IUPUI in the final minutes. Most impressively, he continued to showcase his passing ability as he had five assists, a season high (he also had four against Western Illinois in 13 minutes).

"Free Ilija" Watch
The seven-footer had a solid showing against Western Illinois after several games of spot duty. In 17 minutes of play, Ilija went 3-of-4 from the floor (including a three!), grabbed three rebounds, and tallied up four assists. That last stat was particularly impressive as we had yet to see much of the big man's passing ability. Ilija played sparingly against IUPUI and had a limited impact while picking up three fouls.

Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Reggie Hamilton
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
While Reggie Hamilton had a strong scoring week (43 total points on 52% shooting), his best statistic was his assist-to-turnover ratio. After struggling in this department last week, the junior guard tallied 10 assists to 5 turnovers. While there is still room for him to improve, there's no mistaking that's one of his better performances as of late. Moreover, Hamilton, once again, showcased his clutch play in the waning minutes against IUPUI. After sitting for much of the final quarter of the game, he came in and hit a monster three-pointer that cut the Jaguar lead to four points with 1:56 remaining. On Oakland's next possession, Reggie got to the free throw line. After hitting the first (and cutting the IUPUI lead to three), he missed the second but came out of nowhere to grab the ball out of the hands of the rebounder. Reggie made a strong move to the hoop, but IUPUI's Christian Siakam found a way to get set in front of him and drew the offensive charge with 1:17 remaining. It was a heartbreaking call, particularly considering how much heart Hamilton showed in getting the ball back after missing that free throw. That's a dude who hates losing, and that's a trait that should carry this team in Sioux Falls.

Top Play Of The Week
One of my favorite developments during the conference season has been seeing Drew Valentine become a defensive stopper. It seems that he gets one of these plays in every game nowadays where he'll intercept a pass on the perimeter and take it down for a fastbreak dunk. While he didn't get the dunk on WIU, the set-up surely looked familiar:
Valentine also picked the pocket of Alex Young against IUPUI, but Young, being the athlete that he is, was able to chase down Drew to disrupt the shot attempt.

What's Next?
Oakland has just one game this week, but as with every conference game, it's an important match-up. IPFW comes to Rochester for an early tip on Saturday. The Mastodons are no longer in second place but figure to give Oakland their best shot in order to gain some traction in the standings. The game will also be televised on Fox Sports Detroit!

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