Friday, March 4, 2011

Quarterfinal Preview: Oakland vs. Southern Utah

Summit League Tournament Quarterfinal
(1) Oakland vs. (8) Southern Utah
Saturday, March 5, 2011 | 7:00pm EST
Watch: Webstream ($) | Radio: WDFN / WXOU
After achieving a 17-1 record in conference play, Oakland heads to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the conference tournament. As the number one seed, OU is the first to play on Saturday evening in a game that pits the team against Southern Utah. These two squads met a week ago in Utah where the Golden Grizzlies came away with an 82-68 victory. Prior to that loss, the Thunderbirds had won three straight games including a big one over IUPUI in Indianapolis. It took a bit of time for Coach Roger Reid's young team to come together, but they finally did during the stretch run. It wasn't enough to propel them any further in the standings, though, so they still enter this game as the eighth and final seed in the tournament. The talk from the Oakland camp all week has been about staying focused, while the Southern Utah contingent has stressed the desire to leave it all on the court. Whatever happens, it looks to be a battle as it's win or go home from here forward.

If you stopped by the blog earlier, hopefully you had a chance to check out the introduction to the Defensive Score Sheet. Though it would have been great to debut that feature earlier in the season, I figured last week's Southern Utah match would be a great starting point given the looming rematch on Saturday evening. If you haven't read the post yet but appreciate data-driven insight, please check it out. I'm going to revisit the defensive ratings from that post here, though with a different focus this time.

From the data in that post, we learned that in last Saturday's match the most active defenders were the big men on both teams. Since Oakland and Southern Utah are well-stocked in the frontcourt, such a statement comes with little surprise. Even though SUU's bigs put up a fight, the data showed that OU's seasoned veterans came away with the more dominating performance on the defensive end. On most nights, that has been the case. Oakland's guards, on the other hand, have rarely been patted on the back for their defense. Though they have made key stops or have had quality nights guarding the opponents, most nights guys like Reggie Hamilton and Travis Bader are more lauded for their contributions on the offensive end. Yet against Southern Utah, the information gleaned from the Defensive Score Sheet shows they were quite influential on the defensive end, too.
As a reminder, the lower the defensive rating, the better. Both of Oakland's starting guards concluded the game with stellar defensive ratings while active on a decent portion of defensive possessions. In raw numbers, Southern Utah went at Travis Bader the third-most of any player (just behind Kito and Will), and the redshirt freshman held his ground, stopping 62% of those scoring opportunities. Bader also had a steal and four defensive rebounds, all of which helped him attain his strong defensive rating for the night. Hamilton did a fine job as well, though it is interesting to note that the opposition did not attempt many shots against him. Still, when they did, he stopped 58% of them while chipping in two steals and one defensive board. SUU's starting guards were scored on more than they stopped their respective opponent, as both Ray Jones, Jr. and Ryan Brimley had stop percentages under 50%. These trends hold up with the reserves as well, though SUU did receive solid defensive contributions from some of its role playing guards in very limited minutes.

Oakland's defense has been superior to that of Summit League opponents throughout the conference season, largely through its incredible post defense. That will always come in handy against a big team like Southern Utah, but if the game from last Saturday tells us anything, it's that Oakland's guards were also able to shut down and score on Southern Utah's guards. If they can match such a feat in the quarterfinal game, the Golden Grizzlies will be difficult to surmount.

Key Match-Up
Will Hudson vs. Kyle Davis
Though SUU's Ramell Taylor had the bigger game last Saturday at the forward spot, Kyle Davis has been the most consistent throughout Summit League Play. Taylor, who dropped 15 points and eight rebounds on Oakland, had only been in double figures three other times all conference season. Davis, on the other hand, has quietly had a strong freshman season for the Thunderbirds. Though he struggled to put the ball in the basket last week against Oakland, he had been on a bit of a roll as he averaged 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in February. According to what some of the players told Carter Williams of SUU News, they will be trying to limit the second-chance opportunities Will Hudson usually provides Oakland via the offensive glass in this game. Davis will likely get first dibs at accomplishing that task, though Hudson does not figure to be easy to stop. He attained a double-double in three of Oakland's final four games, and a full 46% of his rebounds were on the offensive end during that stretch. Because of his strong performance against Oakland, Taylor may also be a player to keep an eye on as he contends with Hudson. Many of his made field goals last weekend were of the "falling back jump shot" variety, though he did have four offensive boards.

Southern Utah Player To Watch: Jackson Stevenett
That surge Southern Utah made during the last month of the season coincided with very consistent play from sophomore Jackson Stevenett. The 6-foot-5 sophomore has been playing very well as of late and topped off the regular season with a respectable line of 12 points, seven rebounds, and four assists against Oakland. He also had a great dunk that showcased some of his sneaky athleticism. The Thunderbirds have had very balanced scoring all season, but Stevenett seems like the kind of guy that could have a big scoring night given the many ways he can score. Matt Massey is like that too, especially when his jumper is falling, but he's more prone to foul trouble than the young Jackson.

Oakland Player To Watch: Reggie Hamilton
Oakland is so deep this season that any player could have an outstanding game this weekend, or the team could simply have a balanced effort to pull out a win. So ignoring match-ups or trends for this pick, the guy I am most excited to watch in this game is Reggie Hamilton. Coach Kampe has mentioned many times this season that Hamilton is the guy from last season without a ring (since he was sitting out due to transfer rules), and throughout conference play, we have seen the junior guard play like a guy hungry to win that championship. Fresh off being honored as a First Team All-Summit League selection, Hamilton will play his first elimination game as a Golden Grizzly. I can't wait to see how he responds.

In two meetings this season, Oakland went 2-0 against Southern Utah. On a per-possession basis, the Golden Grizzlies held the Thunderbirds to 0.89 points, a full .16 points lower than their typical offensive output in conference play. Oakland scored 1.09 points per trip, well below their season average of 1.19, a number impacted by last week's game where OU shot just 39% from the field. The teams have met just once in the conference tournament back in the 2002-2003 season. OU was a three seed and lost 55-66 to SUU which had the six seed.

Since Oakland first appeared in a Summit League conference tournament in 2001-02, the number one seed has won the tournament seven times, the two seed once, and the seventh seed once (Oakland in 2004-05). Additionally, the number one seed has made the championship game in every year since at least 1993-94.

Pre-Game Linkage
The Argus Leader out of Sioux Falls is bringing everyone great coverage of the tournament all weekend. They've established a launching page for the tournament which will contain everything written, recorded, or tweeted about the tournament, available here. In addition, Paul Kampe, Oakland beat writer for The Oakland Press, is in Sioux Falls covering all of the action on both the men's and women's side. I would highly encourage keeping tabs of his Twitter feed for immediate news and insights. Dan Fenner of The Oakland Post, OU's student newspaper, is also at the tournament. His Twitter feed can be found here, where he has posted news and insights from the games as well, and the launching page for all of his coverage from the tournament is here. Lots of great coverage should be expected from those outlets throughout the tournament. We are lucky as fans to have them covering the team and tournament!

As for the Gameplan, it'll be game previews for as long as Oakland has games to play. If the team makes it past Tuesday, then a recap and more coverage will follow. And I hope to use all of the great television action over the tournament as fodder to create a stockpile of animated .gifs. Fun times.

Finally, you can always 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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