Monday, March 7, 2011

Semifinal Preview: Oakland vs. South Dakota State

Summit League Tournament Semifinal
(1) Oakland vs. (5) South Dakota State
Monday, March 7, 2011 | 7:00pm EST
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit / / Summit TV ($)
Radio: WDFN / WXOU
For the second straight season, Oakland had a day off for the Sunday quarterfinal games while it awaited the winner of a South Dakota State-IPFW match. This year, however, the Jackrabbits were able to get the best of the Mastodons to advance to the semifinals. On Monday night, the league's two most explosive offenses will battle for the third time this season. The Golden Grizzlies will look to build on their impressive win over Southern Utah that featured sound offensive execution, great defensive play, and steady ball-control. The Jackrabbits will try to harbor the greatness that was their first half performance against IPFW as they attempt to usurp the seasoned squad from Michigan.

Throughout the season, South Dakota State's calling card has been its offense. While the team gets major contributions from guard Nate Wolters off the dribble, it's been most deadly from beyond the arc. At present, the Jacks are currently shooting 41.3% from downtown, good for fifth in the nation. And that's not inflated from a lack of sample size: a full 36% of the team's shots come from three-point land. Pair such shooting with an above average offensive rebounding pedigree and a ludicrous turnover rate (the team turns it over on just 14.4% of its possessions, second in the nation right now) and it's no longer a mystery as to how this team has been so explosive offensively.

Oakland is no slouch with the ball either. OU can get it done from the perimeter (40.1% in conference games), but it's bread and better is in the paint. The team is second in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.6%) and far and away first in the conference. While the Golden Grizzlies are a bit more turnover prone than the Jacks, they're a superior team on the offensive glass and when it comes to drawing trips to the foul line. So while the two teams accomplish their offensive efficiency in different ways, the bottom line is they're both among the best in the country. It's no surprise, then, that the two games they've played thus far have been offensively slanted.
The table presents scoring data in both traditional points and points on a per-possession basis, the latter of which adjusts for pace of the game. The "rank" column shows where that particular possession-based offensive performance ranked for the team for the entire season, excluding non-DI games. Two of Oakland's top five offensive performances came against South Dakota State, and the team needed every one of those points as SDSU scored at an impressive clip against Oakland. But as SDSU's rank shows, these formidable scoring outputs barely cracked its own top ten. One might wonder, then, how the team ended up with the fifth seed in the conference tournament. The answer lies on the other side of the ball. In conference play, Oakland allowed just 1.00 points per possession on average while SDSU gave up 1.08 points per trip.

The coaches will say that only one stat matters in this regard, and that is the one marked down in the win or loss column. And while it is true that Oakland won both games, these stats do tell part of the story as to why. Consider that even though each team has an elite offense, Oakland scored over 0.13 more points than its average (1.19) on SDSU's defense, while SDSU managed just 0.04 over its own average (1.17) on Oakland's defense. Both teams will need their elite offense if they want to win on Monday evening, but if it goes like the last two meetings, it might be more about which team's defense forces a more "average" performance from the opponent.

Inevitably, a lot of the build-up to this game has been, and will continue to be, about the inherent advantage South Dakota State has with the tournament being held in Sioux Falls. I experienced that advantage first-hand at Sioux Falls Arena last year during the team's quarterfinal game against IPFW. When the fans stood for the fight song at the beginning of the game, I got chills. It was amazing to see that many people embracing a Summit League squad, even if they were all there before the school was even in the conference. But a funny thing happened. The Jacks dropped that game, just like they had a year before to Oakland in the semifinals (but not before upsetting Oral Roberts in the quarters). No one will doubt that this year's team is much better suited to win than the previous two versions, and it's possible the home crowd will be advantageous as the Jacks try to upset Oakland. But if it does, it will only be that way in the minds of the fans and the people writing stories about the game.

This Oakland team is well-equipped to handle just about any crowd or setting in the nation. The non-conference schedule from this year speaks for itself, as does the team's win at Thompson-Boling Arena where Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl had been very close to unbeatable. If I sound like a homer right now, well, that's probably right on. But the history backs up those sentiments. Instead of focusing on a perceived home court advantage, I would instead urge the conversation to shift toward one of simply appreciating the Jacks fanbase this evening. Oral Roberts radio man Geoff Haxton tweeted a video shortly after yesterday's game that showcases the crowd eruption after Nate Wolters buried a key three-pointer:

It's awesome, quite simply. The conference is lucky to have such a passionate fanbase attached to one of its member schools, and it's a pleasure to see it on display every March in Sioux Falls. So appreciate it, learn from it, and be in awe of it. If it gives the SDSU team a lift, so be it. But don't expect it to phase this experienced Oakland bunch.

Key Match-Up
Drew Valentine vs. Griffan Callahan
If the "names" in this game end up achieving their typical levels of output, then one thing to keep an eye on is team depth. Which team will have guys step up who might not otherwise get the spotlight? In Oakland's Drew Valentine and SDSU's Griffan Callahan, we have two players with such potential. Though both have been regular starters and contributors, they don't get as many of the headlines. Their output may vary from game-to-game, but most of the time you know what you are getting from these two individuals. They share a similar build, and they're both very capable three-point shooters who do such work sneakily alongside noted distance threats Clint Sargent and Travis Bader. From an Oakland standpoint, Valentine has the edge on Callahan with his inside game and rebounding ability. Callahan, however, is the more careful player as he rarely turns the ball over. Valentine vs. Callahan might not be a match-up we'll see a ton of during the game (especially since SDSU uses a starting line-up that has four guys at or near 6'4"), but this pair comprises two players who could come up with a surprise performance.

South Dakota State Player To Watch: Dale Moss
Dale Moss, a senior guard for South Dakota State, has had a fairly unassuming career. He's never been a big box score guy, but he's always had a way of energizing his team with hustle plays and big dunks. In the numbers department, he has had his best season as a senior, serving as one of the team's better offensive rebounders and high-percentage scorers. But what he did last night against IPFW was some next level stuff. Moss went 7 of 8 from the field; the lone miss was a three-pointer. He shot a season-high 12 free throw attempts and connected on seven of them. Combined, he accumulated 21 points to go along with nine rebounds and two blocks. The dude went off! Moss has never really had a night quite like that, so there's no telling how he'll follow up against Oakland. But it's worth noting that the veteran was playing out of his mind on a night when his team needed it the most.

Oakland Player To Watch: Larry Wright
In the quarterfinal preview, I pegged Reggie Hamilton as the guy I was most excited to monitor because it was his first time leading Oakland in an elimination game. True to form, Hamilton killed it. While he looks like he can't be stopped right now, one player I am hoping to see do a lot of stopping is Larry Wright. The senior guard's defensive ability has proven to be an asset for Oakland in several key instances this year, and the team will need another solid contribution in this game. Wright has the length and quickness to keep up with Nate Wolters, the main offensive force for SDSU. In two games against Oakland this year, Wolters has gotten his points, but he's largely been a volume shooter in those contests (17 of 44 in those games). While Wright won't exclusively guard Wolters, one would expect him to see some time defending him and perhaps Clint Sargent as well. Hopefully he and the rest of the Grizzlies defenders can force them both into tough, contested shots.

According to the archives, Oakland is 8-1 all-time against South Dakota State. The lone setback for OU came at Frost Arena during the 2008-09 season. Since then, the Golden Grizzlies have won five straight over the Jackrabbits. The two squads met in the semifinals of the 2009 conference tournament where Oakland, the two seed, won over SDSU, the seven seed, by a score of 74-56. That was the lone tournament game between the two schools.

Since Oakland first appeared in a Summit League conference tournament in 2001-02, there have been seven games pitting the one seed against the five seed. The one seed is 7-0 in that time span.

Pre-Game Linkage
The Oakland Press has a preview of semifinal action here. A Detroit Free Press preview with Coach Kampe's thoughts on attaining greatness here. And a quick snapshot of the game from the Detroit News is available here. Also stay tuned to the tournament section of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader website for game coverage, including a live video preview of the semifinals to start the evening.

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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