Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NCAA Tournament Preview: Oakland vs. Texas

NCAA Tournament Round of 64
(13) Oakland vs. (4) Texas
Friday, March 18, 2011 | 12:15pm EST
Watch: CBS / MMOD
Radio: 1310 WDTW / WXOU
After a week of build up that included tons of words written and expert opinions given from sources both national and local in scope, Oakland and Texas are finally on the verge of actually playing basketball. This is the moment the Golden Grizzlies have been working toward for every moment since bowing out to Pittsburgh last season. The summer workouts, fall practices, brutal non-conference slate, and conference execution were all for the chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament and make some noise while there. Even though the team's seed is better this year, its opponent might be just as tough. Texas finished second place in the Big 12 and has had the look of a national championship contender at times this season. Oakland and Texas were in the tournament last season, but both suffered exists in the Round of 64. The Grizzlies and Longhorns are hungry to change their respective fates in this year's version.

Shortly after the bracket was revealed, I put together a brief post juxtaposing Oakland's offensive efficiency stats with those of Texas' defensive efficiency. From the tables there, we could see that Oakland excels on the offensive side of the ball, particularly on its two-point baskets, while Texas' strength is on the defensive end, especially in denying two-pointers. Here, I want to take a deeper look at the Texas defense, its calling card for much of the season.

As is hopefully common knowledge by now, the Texas defense is elite. Every Longhorn player is a capable man-to-man defender, which helps explain why their defense is so good despite the fact they don't force turnovers at an alarming rate. Their guys contest shots, and they do it to the tune of allowing opposing teams to effectively shoot just 42% from the field. Due in part to this dynamic, Texas only gave up 0.879 points per possession during its league play. That figure jumps up to 0.902 points per trip when including the Big 12 Tournament. Still, it's a stellar mark. Here's a chart featuring the team's defensive points per possession through its 19 league games (green line). Offensive efficiency is also included in the blue line.
Though Texas' defensive efficiency is gaudy even at 0.902 at the season's end, we can see from the green line that it has been trending upward over the last six games or so. Because Texas was so dominant early in conference play, the collective average still looks fantastic. But let's take a closer look at the stretch run, defined as games played after February 17th. Texas' information is presented on the right side of the table, while Oakland's is included on the left for further discussion in a moment.
As the Texas column shows, the team's defensive efficiency plummeted over the last few weeks of the season. It allowed a full 0.114 more points per trip after February 17th than its season average in conference play. Offensively, the Longhorns were about the same; to see the difference, one would have to carry out the figure to the ten-thousandths. If Texas played even at its average defensive output down the stretch, it's very likely it'd be a number one seed right about now. However, the slight slip-up in the final weeks is enough to give Oakland fans a shed of hope that the Texas "D" won't be impenetrable.

Oakland's figures during this same stretch are presented as well. Because the strength of the conferences is so different, I won't attempt to make any comparisons across the team columns. But we can see that relative to Oakland's average offensive efficiency in league play, the team was performing at an even more impressive clip down the stretch. Like Texas, OU's average defensive efficiency figure benefits from some early dominance, but the squad was allowing about 0.062 more points per trip than typical during the stretch run. There is reason to be concerned in that regard, but as a glass half-full fan, I am more impressed by the fact the Golden Grizzly offense has been performing at an elite level in recent weeks. They'll need that efficiency to punch holes in the Longhorn defense on Friday afternoon.

Key Match-Up
Will Hudson/Keith Benson vs. Gary Johnson/Tristan Thompson
Will Hudson and Keith Benson have been a formidable frontcourt duo for Oakland all season, both in and out of conference. Though it is true their strength, size, and experience gave them a distinct advantage over most Summit League takers, their production generally held up well against power conference competition too. OU will need all of their combined 17.2 rebounds per game against Texas' low-post pairing of Tristan Thompson (7.6 rebs/game) and Gary Johnson (6.8 rebs/game). Thompson, like Hudson, is an offensive rebounding machine, ranking fifth in the nation in raw offensive boards with 128, just ahead of Hudson's 127. Johnson has more of a presence on the defensive glass, similar to Benson. In a game featuring two great rebounding teams, the battle on the block among these players - all with last names ending in "-son" - figures to be key.

Texas Player To Watch: Jordan Hamilton
Though Thompson and Johnson are strong rebounders, Texas' leader in that category is sophomore Jordan Hamilton who averages 7.7 per game. The 6-foot-7 guard/forward also chips in a team-high 18.6 points per game. When Hamilton is playing efficiently and locked-in on defense, Texas is a very scary squad. During some of the team's late struggles, he was taking a greater proportion of the team's shots, particularly from long-range, and when they didn't fall, Texas came up on the losing end. Against Oakland, Hamilton's greatest advantage aside from his skillset is his size. OU is not very tall at the small forward spot, but Drew Valentine and Ledrick Eackles are athletes who will try as they might to guard Texas' premier player.

Learn more about other Texas players here in a question and answer I did with SBNation.com's Texas blog, Burnt Orange Nation.

Oakland Player To Watch: Reggie Hamilton
Reggie Hamilton will have the fun opportunity to go up against a great Texas backcourt that features freshman stud Cory Joseph and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Dogus Balbay. Oakland's Hamilton has been on some next-level stuff for much of the past two months, but he hasn't faced a guard tandem quite like this since becoming Oakland's lead ball-handler. The Golden Grizzlies will need every bit of the redshirt junior's playmaking skills in half-court situations as they attempt to maximize their possessions against the stingy defense of Texas. Most importantly, perhaps, Reggie's leadership and confidence will be an asset should the team succumb to a Texas run at some point in the game.

This will be the first game between Oakland and Texas. According to this very clever piece from SBNation.com, the 13-seed is 22-for-104 since 1985 in the Round of 64. The Summit League is 2-5 in such games in this time period, while Big 12 teams as 4-seeds are 3-2 against 13-seeds.

The past three tournaments have featured at least one 13-over-4 outcome, last year's coming in the form of Murray State's classic victory over Vanderbilt.

Two neat 13-over-4 situations that bode well for Oakland. In 2006, Bradley overcame another Big 12 opponent, Kansas, in the first round game held at the Palace of Auburn Hills on an Oakland University court. Furthermore, the most memorable NCAA Tournament victory for The Summit League (ex-Mid-Con) came in a 13-over-4 scenario when Valparaiso's Bryce Drew shocked the world to lead the Crusaders over Ole Miss. That game was held in Oklahoma City, just two hours away from Friday's game in Tulsa.

Though most Oakland fans will see the game tip at 12:15pm, it will actually begin in Tulsa at 11:15am due to the time zone difference. This is the earliest either team has played this season. Texas has played just one game occurring sometime during the noon hour, a 67-70 loss to Nebraska on February 19th. Oakland has played three such games: a 76-77 loss to Michigan State, a 51-69 defeat to Michigan, and an 86-78 victory over IPFW.

Pre-Game Linkage
Check out the Golden Grizzly Hoops forum where fans have been posting links and thoughts to everything they can find about Oakland and the tournament all week.

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