The Big Picture
Oakland closed its regular season this weekend with a sweep of UMKC and SUU on the longest trip in conference play. The wins came in different ways, one an offensive shootout and the other a defensive effort, but they ultimate sealed a second-straight 17-1 season for the Golden Grizzlies. In the biggest of pictures, hopefully we all get a chance to reflect on what the program has done over the past two years in going 34-2 in conference play. The conference tournament is just a few days away now, but this was another exceptional season for Oakland. Many congrats to the program are due as well as many thanks for providing us with a lot of exciting, and winning, basketball to watch this year.
Oakland used a hyper-efficient offensive night against UMKC and a hard-nosed defensive approach against SUU to finish the season as the conference's leader in efficiency on both ends of the court. It didn't always look like this would be the case, especially in the last few weeks, given the explosive SDSU offense and the much-improved ORU defense. But as it stands, Oakland's 1.19 points per possession and 1.00 points allowed per possession stand as tops in both categories. That's a testament to the team's winning ways, an approach that over the course of the season has valued offense just as much as defense. And while statistics often give us more reason to doubt than to champion, this weekend's results, as wacky as they may be, should show the versatility of this team.
Let's consider first the UMKC game. It was a high scoring game on an average number of possessions for Oakland, which led to an incredible scoring rate of 1.40 points per trip. That stands as Oakland's most efficient night in conference play. On the other hand, UMKC went for 1.22 points per trip, again a season-high for points allowed by the Oakland defense. It was, quite simply, a night when the Golden Grizzlies out-performed the opponent on the offensive end. Such games have gone in Oakland's favor all season long in conference play, even against high-powered South Dakota State.
After the UMKC game, Oakland showed off its defensive might against SUU in holding the Thunderbirds to 0.89 points per possession. That stands as the team's best defensive performance of the second-half of conference play, and it lags only behind truly dominant home games against Centenary, UMKC, and Western Illinois for the entirety of league play. On the other side of the ball, the Golden Grizzlies only went for 1.02 points per possession, far below their season average but still quite higher than what they allowed the T-Birds. We've now twice seen in the last two weeks (SUU and NDSU) the team struggle on the offensive end but come out with a win because of its defense.
While we may not be sure of the precise way Oakland will be oriented on a given night, this season's efficiency data shows us that one way or another it will be a winning formula.
Return To Form
Another reason Oakland was successful on this road trip was because of its rebounding effort. The raw numbers show as much, but the rebounding rates the team posted were astronomical. For the first time since the second week of conference play, the Golden Grizzlies posted back-to-back double-digit rebounding rate differentials. Additionally, the team posted two of its top three offensive rebounding performances of the conference season this weekend:
1. 54.5% offensive rebounding rate (at UMKC - 2/24/11)
2. 48.4% (at SDSU - 1/27/11)
3. 45.0% (at SUU - 2/26/11)
4. 40.0% (home UMKC - 12/4/10)
4. 40.0% (at ORU - 12/30/10)
So on average, Oakland rebounded approximately 49% of its own misses in the games against UMKC and SUU ... quite a feat! A week after losing the board battle to both NDSU (4.4% difference) and SDSU (2.7% difference), the Golden Grizzlies rebounded with truly dominant performances this week.
"Free Ilija" Watch
It's our last "Free Ilija" update, and it's highlighted by something the seven-footer rarely gets a chance to do: free throws! The Serbian Assassin attempted three free throws at SUU on Saturday night, making two of them. Before Ilija is ultimately "freed" next season, there is always a chance his number will be called in Sioux Falls this weekend. And as he showed us at Tennessee, he can make an impact even if he only plays for five minutes.
Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Will Hudson
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Will Hudson continues to play at a high level as his career winds down. He notched back-to-back double-doubles this weekend, marking the first time he's done that all season. He continues to work incredibly hard on the offensive glass, which in turn has afforded him a lot of open looks. Simply, the senior has come to play, and Oakland has been all the better for it. A final factor to note: in the last four games Hudson has made 21 of his 26 free throw attempts (81%). While he had a rough patch in the middle of the season at the stripe, his free throw shooting has been strong as of late and will surely be needed in Sioux Falls.
Oakland will head to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, this weekend to begin play in the conference tournament. The first game is a Saturday rematch with Southern Utah. It's win and advance or lose and go home from here on out. Best of luck to the Golden Grizzlies as they prepare for the tournament.