Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Closing Time

The 2010-11 season came to a close last Friday, and with that comes the closing of the blog for the off-season. Though the Gameplan came into existence during last year's off-season, I found it was much more enjoyable to write about and analyze actual games than hypotheticals. As such, there won't be much content here over the summer. The one exception will be if there is an NBA Summer League, especially if Will Hudson ends up with an invite. The Summer League, held in Las Vegas every summer, is one of my favorite basketball events, and it'd be a thrill to do a post or two on it if it features two former Golden Grizzlies. However, due to the potential NBA lockout, it remains to be seen if there will in fact be a Summer League in 2011.

If you read along this season, thanks a lot for stopping by. The blog was read more often than I ever expected, which perhaps shows that there are many Grizzly fans hungry for just about any coverage of their favorite basketball team. It was an honor to even be considered one such outlet.

Several conference-related posts also proved that The Summit League has some incredibly strong fanbases. It's no coincidence that the most popular posts from this season were those featuring analysis of North Dakota State and South Dakota State. It was a lot of fun to learn more about the conference this season, and several nice comments from other Summit school fans made that effort worth it.

If the blog comes back for 2011-12, it will start up on the eve of Midnight Madness. If not, it was fun while it lasted.

Thanks again to anyone who read, commented, retweeted, or e-mailed during this season. If you ever have something to say, feel free to drop me an e-mail: goldengrizzliesgameplan [at]

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'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, 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.

Oakland-Texas: Q&A With Burnt Orange Nation

As a part of the Gameplan's coverage of the upcoming Oakland-Texas match-up, I reached out to Peter Bean of's Burnt Orange Nation to get the scoop on the Longhorns. Though we'll both be cheering hard for our respective sides come Friday afternoon, a little blogging cooperation can go a long way toward becoming more familiar with an opponent. With that said, here's the full question and answer session with Peter. Many thanks to him for taking the time to answer.
For those who haven't seen much Texas this year, how would you broadly characterize the regular season the team put together in 2010-11? What were the high points, low points? And how do fans feel about the team heading into the tournament?

Burnt Orange Nation: Relative to expectations heading in, the season was an unqualified success. After losing three players to the NBA Draft, most of us thought this Texas squad looked like a 20-22 win team, with 9 or 10 conference wins. Instead, the Horns went 27-7 overall, finishing second in the Big 12 with a 13-3 ledger, then made the conference tournament finals before losing the rematch with Kansas.

Speaking of the Jayhawks, the high point of the season was Texas' incredible comeback win in Lawrence in which they outscored Kansas 51-28 in the second half, breaking the Jayhawks' 69-game home winning streak. The low point came in late February when the team lost three out of four to Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas State, but consecutive wins over Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M appeared to right the ship heading into the tournament. Most Texas fans feel like this is a team that at its best can play its way to Houston, but we’re young and have hit some bumps down the stretch, making it hard to say for sure whether this team is ready to play consistently good basketball in March.

For the first half or so of Big 12 play, a lot of the advanced metrics writers were collectively freaking out about the incredible defensive efficiency figures Texas was putting up. Then the Nebraska game happened, and the Longhorns started to look more "normal" on the defensive end in subsequent games. What happened to bring the Texas "D" back down to earth? How do they get back to that earlier approach?

BON: Part of it is that the other teams just started hitting more shots. Simple regression. But part of it was that Jordan Hamilton went through a terrible offensive slump, and our defense suffered with our struggling offense. It's easier to get in your set defense and play great D when you're filling it up on offense. If Texas is scoring against Oakland, the defense will be there, too.

Senior Gary Johnson (11.5pts/6.8rebs), sophomore Jordan Hamilton (18.6pts/7.7rebs), and freshman Tristan Thompson (13.3pts/7.6rebs) appear to give Texas a very strong and athletic frontcourt with very balanced scoring and rebounding. What kind of teams have given them trouble on the boards this season, if at all? If they are all playing to their strengths, just how far can Texas go?

BON: Teams with real muscle inside have given Texas some trouble on the boards, but for the most part Texas has done terrific work on the boards. The Longhorns are most vulnerable when a team has more than one tall banger inside, because at 6-6 Johnson doesn’t have the length to deal with a true big.

Senior Dogus Balbay is a noted perimeter defender, but freshman Cory Joseph has also developed into a strong defender over the course of the season. Where is Joseph at in his development on both sides of the ball? Can he "change a game" with a certain aspect of his skillset? Is he further along than where Avery Bradley was last year?

BON: Joseph is one of the most polished freshman I've ever seen, and though he's had his ups and downs he's largely been one of the most consistent players on the team. He's certainly further along than Avery Bradley was offensively, and while he's a good defender, he's at this point shy of elite. He struggles at times with guards who have the size and length to take him to the post.

Which two or three guys on the Texas roster should opposing teams be aware of that do not grab the headlines as much as some of the key starters? What kind of impact can each of them have on the game?

BON: The name for Oakland to know is J'Covan Brown. He's the best "pure" basketball player on the team (it comes so naturally to him), but his head isn't always in the game and he can make some devastatingly bad plays that take him out of the game, either figuratively or literally. At his best, though? He can drop 15 in the blink of an eye and make everyone else around him better.

We know the Burnt Orange Nation is huge and very passionate. Will the BOK Center be a heavy Longhorn lean on Friday afternoon in Tulsa?

BON: If this were a football game? Sure. As is, there won't be too many fans who travel to this one. Should we make it, I’d bet we’ll have a stronger presence in Anaheim than Tulsa. Expect most of the Oklahomans to pull for your Golden Grizzlies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The 23 Flavors: Rooting For Oakland

Every year in the days between Selection Sunday and the first tip on Thursday afternoon, millions of casual sports fans try as they might to soak up a season's worth of college basketball information to aid in their bracket selections. Inevitably, many of these folks will attempt to be smarter than their friends by going out on a limb with an upset pick. For a lot of people, that pick will be the 13-seed Oakland University over the 4-seed University of Texas. Whether they come up with it on their own based on a cooler mascot or because a national media expert told them to do so, it's already looking like a fairly popular upset pick.
The mere fact that people will be asking questions about Oakland and its basketball team because it is on the big bracket is one of the chief benefits of making the NCAA Tournament field. The attention is definitely warranted, but there are more reasons to be interested in a team like Oakland than its seed line. I've come up with 23 of those reasons below, a number which was picked as a nod to Coach Greg Kampe's favorite soda, Diet Dr. Pepper. You see, OU's coach is a very humorous guy, and that personality trait is on display for fans in his weekly Grizz Talk chats with Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press, his weekly radio show on WXOU, and his pre-game video updates callled "Coach's Corner" on the team's official website. Throughout the season, a meme of sorts has developed and permeated every single one of those updates about Coach Kampe's love of all things Diet Dr. Pepper. The venerable beverage is known for its unique mix of 23 flavors. And just like the DDP, Oakland is a unique program with 23 flavors of its own that make it worthy of the casual basketball fan's attention beyond the confines of your bracket. Presented in no certain order, the 23 flavors for why you should root for Oakland:

#23. Coach Kampe has a running inside joke about a soda!
Some coaches are Twitter fiends, others blog about their coaching experiences, and many more make the rounds with national television shows on the regular. But what coach in the entire nation has a running inside joke about a pop he really enjoys drinking? The Dr. Pepper meme is symbolic of a much broader characteristic of Coach Kampe: he's very media friendly. As an Oakland fan, you will never get bored of listening to this man talk, and he always keeps it real.

#22. Great media support
Those various updates from Coach Kampe wouldn't be possible without a lot of great media support. The Oakland Press covers the entirety of Oakland County, but its year-long coverage of OU basketball is unmatched. Paul Kampe currently serves as the OU beat writer for the paper, and his weekly Grizz Talk show (featuring interviews with Coach Kampe and various players) is a fan favorite. Moreover, his Twitter feed and Grizz Den outlet are great places to go for the latest Oakland news and information. The team also benefits from having some of the best student media coverage out there. Dan Fenner has served as the student newspaper's beat writer for OU hoops all season, and Matt Pocket and Bryan Everson from WXOU student radio have been broadcasting games and hosting shows with Coach Kampe on a weekly basis. Great efforts, all-around.

#21. Top-notch broadcasting and communications
All of Oakland's road games are broadcasted live on WDFN 1130AM with play-by-play from Mario Impemba, who Detroiters likely know better as the voice of the Detroit Tigers. But during the winter months, Impemba spends his time on the road with the Golden Grizzlies. He's joined by Neal Ruhl who provides color commentary and plenty of catchphrases. Ruhl also delivers most of the "Coach's Corner" updates from far-away arenas, offering fans a glimpse into OU's game preparation. The Athletics department also does a fine job of covering the games; for example, this season the game recaps on the official website featured not only an original story and box score, but also photos, video highlights, and post-game press conference video. There's no way you'll be out-of-the-loop as an Oakland fan thanks to these efforts.

#20. A growing program with an appreciation for its roots
While all of you bracket filler-outers watched the Selection Show on CBS, a couple thousand or so Oakland fans mingled in the team's on-campus arena awaiting the seed announcement. There were students, administrators, faculty, and staff in the house as well as numerous alumni, families, and community members enjoying one another's company, free food, and many giveaways. The coaches and team made the rounds to interact with all of the fans. The presentation of the event was at the level of a big-time program, yet the atmosphere of it was one of familiarity. Oakland is a growing program, but it has to this point maintained an appreciation for its roots. It's a great thing with which to be associated.

#19. A glorious three-point shooter
Though players come and go, there is no doubt this year's team features a memorable cast of characters. Redshirt freshman Travis Bader is tops in the nation in three-pointers made among all Division I freshmen. He has made 92 in 34 games, which stands as the most since Seth Curry had 102 in 2008-09 in 35 games played to lead the nation. And Bader's not just jacking up a ton of shots, either. Among those freshman with a minimum of 100 attempts, Bader trails only Kentucky's Doron Lamb in three-point percentage. The young guard's stroke is smooth, giving Oakland the kind of threat on the perimeter that strong tournament teams typically employ. He's also another in a long line of superb three-point shooters Oakland has recruited in recent years, a diamond in the rough kind of guy that the coaching staff has been known to find.

#18. A power-six transfer with a smooth jumper
Though he'll be gone after this season, senior guard Larry Wright puts up 20 points or more every five to six games. In between, he'll still have a presence, but when he's on, he's on. And it just so happens that he is due for one of those stunning performances as his last 20 point effort came six games ago. On a broader level, Wright also represents the kind of power-six transfer player Oakland picks up every now and then. You won't find any McDonald's All-Americans at Oakland, but that doesn't mean there aren't big-time talents on the team in a given year.

#17. A Serbian assassin
Ilija Milutinovic, Oakland's 7-footer from Serbia, hasn't had a whole lot of playing time during his college career, but his best game came in the team's biggest win. Though he only scored four points when Oakland upset Tennessee, they were four very key points that came at a time when Keith Benson was off the court taking care of an injury. Ilija stepped in and filled the void for a brief time. When he hit a fall-back jumper as the shot clock drained out, the ESPNU broadcaster anointed him as "The Serbian Assassin," perhaps one of the best nicknames you will ever hear.

#16. Four-year seniors
There aren't many four-year seniors on elite teams these days, let alone two who do their work on the block. Oakland has such a tandem in seniors Keith Benson and Will Hudson. Combined, the forwards shoot 59% from the field and average 17.2 rebounds per game. They provide the Golden Grizzlies with a dual-threat that is as skilled, strong, and experienced as any other low post duo in the country. During the last few seasons, OU has had a commendable group of seniors each year who graduate while making an impact on the court. These are guys you can support.

#15. Professional talent
Just because no one on the Oakland roster is leaving for the NBA after a year doesn't mean the program hasn't produced professional talent. Rawle Marshall spent some time in the Association in the middle of the aughts, and Keith Benson could very well be the first Golden Grizzly to hear his name called by David Stern this June. Other players have gone on to play professionally overseas. In fact, one of last year's seniors, Derick Nelson, is expected to make his debut in Australia next month, an arrival the local papers have dubbed as "the most high-profile American basketball import" they've seen in that region in a decade.

#14. Michigan-based recruits
There are seven Division I programs in the State of Michigan, including perennial powerhouse Michigan State. With so much competition, Oakland has still been able to nab a number of great in-state recruits over the years. This year's roster features nine Michigan-bred players, including regular contributors Keith Benson, Travis Bader, Drew Valentine, and Larry Wright. As the program has grown, more out-of-state recruits have come aboard, including starters Reggie Hamilton (Illinois) and Will Hudson (Wisconsin), but this team remains a heavy Michigan lean. For casual basketball fans in Michigan, Oakland is a team worth rooting for because it scours the state for strong high school talent and helps develop them into great college basketball players.

#13. A rocking pep band
Oakland's pep band is superb. They're a large and loud group that is just as active during media timeouts while playing the fight song as they are during actual possessions while cheering the team on with chants. They might also put on more face paint and other spirit-related items than the student section. The OU pep band will be there in Tulsa on Friday afternoon to cheer on and play along throughout the game. Dedication.

#12. The Grizz Gang
Although Tulsa is over 16 hours away from Rochester, Michigan, I'm hearing that the university's student government will be sending a couple of busloads of students to the NCAA Tournament game. This is nothing new for Oakland, as it has a history of supporting students' efforts to get to tournament games. The student section has grown rapidly over the last few years, and it even has a chant that is begging to be replicated by other sections around the country. It's three simple words: Poop. Your. Pants. When you hear a couple hundred students through your telecast yelling that in between Texas free throws, good luck holding back the laughter.

#11. Sweet gear
As the higher seed in the Texas game, Oakland will very likely be sporting its all-black uniforms with golden lettering. It's a sleek look, and this year it will be pulled together with some special edition kicks from Nike. The Detroit Free Press ran a story about the new tournament shoes yesterday where you can get a look.

#10. Strength in the non-conference
Does the team you normally follow typically play a measly non-conference schedule? Well, you might not be convinced that Oakland is a legitimate team yet, but there is certainly no denying the strength of its non-conference schedule. Coach Kampe takes on the toughest teams each year in part to help prepare his team for conference play. This season represented a bit of a breakthrough for the Golden Grizzlies as they were competitive in nearly every game they played against power-six schools, including a defining win over then-seventh ranked Tennessee. Every power team Oakland played in November and December is in the NCAA Tournament this season. This is a battle-tested group of guys who will not fear a team because of its conference affiliation.

#9. The Summit League is better than you think
Flowing from that last "flavor," the March-only basketball fan might say, "True, but who does Oakland play in January and February?" This is a very valid question, and providing a convincing answer might prove difficult. The March-only fan has likely never heard of most of Oakland's conference counterparts, and schools with names like IPFW, IUPUI, and UMKC inspire little confidence. But bear with me. This past season was one of the league's best to date, and certainly the strongest since three of its members joined a few seasons ago. In 2008-09, the conference ended the year as the 26th ranked league by RPI; in 2009-10, it was 23rd; and in 2010-11, it was 21st. One must also consider this year's ranking came with the inclusion of a team that very nearly went winless (that team is no longer in the league after this season). While there is still much room for improvement, The Summit League is better than you think - and Oakland just went 20-1 in it, including the tournament.

#8. An exciting brand of basketball
Coach Kampe implemented the dribble-drive offense a few seasons ago, but we are perhaps seeing it at its best this year with Reggie Hamilton as its chief conductor. The team averaged 85.6 points per game this season, which is second in the nation! For my tempo-free compadres, OU's 115.9 adjusted points per 100 possessions ranks 13th in all of Division I. Hamilton has proven to be an elite player off the dribble; his drives not only result in a lot of buckets for himself, but they also open up his teammates for passes on the perimeter. This dynamic has given Oakland a high-octane offense that is just as exciting in transition as it is in the half-court.

#7. The consummate team leader
Speaking of Reggie Hamilton, the redshirt junior has been a joy to watch this season. He's a versatile guard who shoots a high-percentage because of his ability to get great looks around the basket. But he's also a strong three-point shooter. Where Bader gets most of his looks in catch-and-shoot situations through screens or spot-ups in the corner, Hamilton can knock a defender off his feet with just a few dribbles. More often than not, that's all he needs to get enough space for the three-point attempt. His end-to-end speed and agility make him a tough guy to stay in front of no matter the situation. Most importantly, Hamilton has all of the intangibles a fan would seek in a high-profile talent: he's confident and well-spoken, and his teammates are ultimately better off because of his leadership.

#6. Black and gold
Are there two greater colors in existence? Give me black and gold over green and white, Carolina blue, or burnt orange any day.

#5. Depth
As the Oakland program has grown, so too has its recruiting profile. Consequently, there are some really good players buried on Oakland's bench who might be full-time players elsewhere. Because of the talent level on this year's roster, we haven't seen as much of talented underclassmen like sophomore Ledrick Eackles or freshman Ryan Bass. Eackles' biggest game of his career came in last year's NCAA Tournament, but a number of factors - including injury - have limited his playing time this season. Still, anyone who saw Eackles go up against Pittsburgh's guards last season know the young Louisiana native has a bevy of skills. Ryan Bass was too good for the team to redshirt him, and we've seen glimpses as to why when he's had a chance to play. Bass is a great passer and has shown a tenacity on the defensive end that, if cultivated, could make him a ballhawk in future seasons. There is also Blake Cushingberry, a big guard who can shoot the three, but he missed the season with a knee injury. Though it may seem like Oakland doesn't have much depth when one sees that six players get a majority of the minutes, the talent is definitely there.

#4. A yeoman's effort
If you want to root for a hard-working guy who never takes a play off, look for number 4 of the Golden Grizzlies as senior Will Hudson fits that description perfectly. Though anyone who watches an Oakland game could tell you that, we can also look at Hudson's offensive rebounding figures to back up the statement. Offensive rebounds are often the result of pure effort, and this 6-foot-9 forward has amassed 127 offensive rebounds this season. That's ten more on the offensive glass than he's had on the defensive glass, and it's a mark good enough for sixth in the entire nation (interestingly, Texas' Tristan Thompson has one more than Hudson). Will goes to work on every possession on both ends of the court.

#3. Confidence
During the stretch run, Oakland's players displayed a sense of confidence for the ages. There's not much showboating or chest-pounding with this team. Just confidence. They've played in some of the nation's toughest arenas this season against tournament teams, and they just finished going 20-1 against The Summit League, including three resounding wins in the conference tournament. Throughout league play, every Summit team gave Oakland its best shot yet fell short. It takes a lot of focus to get through such a schedule with nary a slip-up while remaining hungry and humble. One of the team's standout players during league season was sophomore Drew Valentine, and he continues to ooze with the confidence he's gained over the last three months. On the approaching tournament match-up, he told the Detroit News: "I want to be that guy that defends their best player."

#2. An NBA prospect in the middle
Per game averages: 18.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 blocks. Nineteen double-doubles. 55.3% shooting from the field. The conference Player of the Year award and top defensive player honor. Keith Benson is a dominant player, perhaps the most dominant at his level. There's no show to his game. He does what's necessary to he help his team win, and it just so happens that by doing so he ends up with double-doubles and a number of crowd-pleasing blocks. If you're jumping on the wagon today, there might not be many more chances to see the big man as he's a senior and on his way to a professional career. But for now, there's a game coming up against Texas. Everything's bigger in Texas, they say, and that is certainly true of the Longhorn frontcourt as a whole. But Keith Benson, in an elimination game on the biggest of stages, might have something to say about that. And as fans, it's just a pleasure to sit back and enjoy.

#1. Longevity and loyalty
Coach Kampe has been at Oakland for 27 years. He built the program from the ground up into a winner at the Division II level, oversaw the transition to Division I at the turn of the century, and now leads it into its third NCAA Tournament. Though it should almost be expected that some bigger schools will make a few calls to Coach Kampe this offseason about coaching vacancies, precedent suggests that those phone calls won't go very far. Kampe is an institution at Oakland, so there's not much reason to worry about it all ending the day a Big East school comes calling like you might encounter with some other strong mid-major programs. To end this, I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Coach Kampe. During last year's March Madness, he was asked a question about why he stays at Oakland, and the answer is pretty moving:
"It's amazing how often I get asked that. It really is. I've tried to change the answer just for the fun of it. But it really comes back down to the grass is always greener on the other side. And I'm just a guy who -- I come from Defiance, Ohio, little town. My dad put fertilizer on his yard and he tried to make it as green as he could make it. So pretty much my background -- this is my job, not to chase other jobs, but to do my job as best I can. And I really view that my job is to make Oakland a special place. I've said that many times and I'll say it again. And when I'm done with this thing I hope that people think it's a special place that kids want to go there. And we won a lot of games and we won them in the right way with good people and with good kids. And I'm also lucky that I have pretty good job security. [...] There's also something to be able to walk across the campus, to know everyone on the campus from the janitors to cooks. That's kind of a good lifestyle."
Without a doubt, Oakland is a great program to root for. So pick the Golden Grizzlies on your bracket, but don't be afraid to stick around for a while.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oakland-Texas First Look: Offense vs. Defense

Earlier this evening, it was revealed in front of an anticipatory O'rena crowd that Oakland earned a 13-seed and a match with the Texas Longhorns, a 4-seed out of the Big 12. Though many folks have questioned how Texas fell to a 4-seed, the fact remains that OU and Texas will meet on Friday afternoon in the 4-13 match. On the surface, the contest will pit one of the nation's most efficient offensive teams in Oakland against the nation's best defensive team in Texas. Have a look:
The table presents Oakland's offensive numbers and national rank, while the Texas side features the Longhorns' defensive figures. In terms of adjusted efficiency, Oakland is right up there in the top 15 in the country on the offensive side of the ball, while Texas earns the distinction as the most efficient defensive team in college basketball. Looking down the Texas column, it's easy to see why: for the season, the Longhorns have held teams to 29% shooting from deep and 41.5% from inside the arc, both of which rank in the top five of the nation. For its part, Oakland is the second best shooting team from inside the arc in all of Division I, making 55.8% of its two-point attempts. The Golden Grizzlies also get it done from beyond the perimeter where they shoot 37.7%, good for 39th place. The key aspect to consider here is that Texas managed to put up these figures against Big 12 offenses while Oakland's offensive numbers hinge quite a bit on Summit League competition. One of the major inquiries, then, heading into this game is if Oakland's offense can withstand the brunt of a Texas defense that has been tested time and again against elite competition over the last two months.

For what it's worth, a lot has been written about the Texas defense this season, much of which came during the team's historical 11-0 start to Big 12 play. After a February 19th loss to Nebraska, though, Texas started to look a bit shaky, losing two of its next three games. What favors Oakland is that the collapse, as John Gasaway termed it, may have been precipitated by a simple lack of the same focus and intensity that the team had early on, which perhaps then exposed a team with an offense that struggled to be elite. Catch Texas on an off night and shots will fall, particularly for a sound shooting team like Oakland. But when the Longhorns are on, they're a beast to score against.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Gameplan's Championship Recap: ORU

For the second straight year, Oakland put on a show in the conference tournament championship game. Like IUPUI last season, Oral Roberts made a few runs that got the heart beating, but the Golden Grizzlies ultimately got the necessary stops to win this one going away. With the championship clinching win, it's on to the big bracket for the OU hoops squad.

The Run
When Oakland played Oral Roberts down in Tulsa earlier this season, the Golden Grizzlies played a dominant brand of basketball in the first half, and only a last-second three-pointer by Roderick Pearson stood between them and a double-digit lead at the halfway point. ORU bounced back in the second half and eventually grabbed a small lead, but Oakland did work down the stretch to retain the lead on its way to victory. In the championship game, OU's players came out firing just like they did at the Mabee Center, but this time they would head in at the break with a twelve point lead. When Oral Roberts came out gunning to begin the second half, it looked like this one would play out just like that December meeting.

ORU tied the game on a three-pointer by Warren Niles with 13:29 left in the game, and a mystical foul on Travis Bader led to Niles going to the line where he connected to give his team a one point lead. Then, despite precedent suggesting this one would be close, Oakland proceeded to put a thumping on the Golden Eagles for the next ten minutes in the form of a 28-9 run, all but assuring the automatic bid was safely defended. Here, I recap that run through the very subjective eyes of a stoked Grizzly fan:
13:14: Keith Benson passes out of the double-team to Will Hudson under the basket. Hudson completes the lay-up. Very comfortable play, team shows its poise. OU regains one-point lead. [Run: 2-0]

12:52: Dominique Morrison drives on Drew Valentine, Kito comes to help leading to an opening under the basket for Tim Morton, ORU's back-up big man. DoMo completes nice assist to Morton [Run: 2-2]
12:25: Reggie Hamilton hits a falling-back jumper after losing Ken Holdman thanks to a Keith Benson screen. He kisses it off the glass for good measure. A fairly unusual play for Reggie considering just 6.7% of all of his field goals in the regular season were two-point jumpers outside of the paint, per my stats tracking. [Run: 4-2]
11:53: Ken Holdman misses an open three. Drew Valentine grabs the board over Steven Roundtree. A break for the Grizzlies.
11:30: After a Larry Wright drive and miss, Will Hudson offensive rebound and miss, and Keith Benson offensive rebound, the officials call a foul on Steven Roundtree. Benson goes to the charity stripe, hits both. [Run: 6-2]
11:21: Tim Morton hits a jumper while extended in the paint. Kito was protecting the basket so he had some room, but who has Morton taking that shot, let alone hitting it? Brings ORU back to within one. [Run: 6-4]
11:07: Hamilton passes to Benson early in the possession. Benson posts up Morton deep in the post, gets an easy two. [Run: 8-4]
10:28: Warren Niles' pass to Ken Holdman is intercepted by Hamilton who proceeds to run the length of the court for a transition bucket [Run: 10-4]
10:13: Warren Niles loses Larry Wright off a screen, gets pass on perimeter, and opts for the NBA-range three. Misses. Rebound Benson.
9:57: Hamilton gets space off the dribble, shoots a quick three that misses. Ball bounces around a bit before heading toward the sidelines at centercourt - last touched by Benson. But Benson dives to the ground to save it toward Larry Wright who is promptly fouled. Wright sinks 'em both. A great effort by Benson to save the ball on that play. [Run: 10-4]
9:39: Damen Bell-Holter's shot attempt is swatted by Keith Benson.
9:38: Hamilton races to grab the deflection, but he is called for a foul on Rod Pearson at center court. Coach Kampe can not believe his eyes! Though as Rasheed Wallace might warn, "The ball don't lie." Pearson misses the front end of the 1-and-1.
9:27: After a Drew Valentine rebound, Oakland races up the court where Hamilton dishes off to a streaking Benson for a lay-up. ESPN play-by-play man Lou Canellis proclaims, "He's headed to the next level as a lottery pick!" " [Run: 12-4]
9:07: Rod Pearson misses a lay-up that was altered by both Hamilton and Benson.
8:59: Hudson tosses the rebounded ball to Hamilton who drives straight to the bucket and finishes despite a foul by Damen Bell-Holter. Sinks the and-1 attempt. Lead is now back to double-digits. [Run: 15-4]
8:47: ORU scoring drought is over after a Will Hudson foul leads to two made free-throws by Dominique Morrison. [Run: 15-6]
8:39: OU breaks the ORU press, leading to a quick alley-oop pass from Valentine to Benson who dunks it home (the second one in this clip). [Run: 17-6]

8:19: Warren Niles forced into a long two-point jump shot after Hudson stops his path to the basket. Misses. Hamilton grabs rebound and...
8:11: ...takes the ball down the court and weaves through two defenders for yet another transition lay-up where a foul was called again. Canellis yells, "HE JUST DID THAT!" Yes, he did. He's a gunner. Hamilton misses the and-1 attempt. [Run: 19-6]
7:54: Damen Bell-Holter puts up a shot attempt over Keith Benson that soars over the top of the backboard. No comment.
7:40: Out of a media timeout, Hamilton spots up and drains a three over Ken Holdman. Ice cold! [Run: 22-6]
7:04: Will Hudson foul leads to two free-throws for Dominique Morrison. (It should be noted both fouls on Will so far in this run were on attempts to draw the charge) He goes 1-of-2. [Run: 22-7]
6:48-42: Ken Holdman finally gets the best of Hamilton, causing him to make an errant pass. Holdman shows off some of his own quickness by taking the ball from end-to-end for a lay-up. [Run: 22-9]
6:18: Grizzlies go to Benson on the block, guarded by Damen Bell-Holter. The sophomore big nicks Benson on the arm as he falls away with a jump shot. Shot does not fall, but one of the two free-throws does go in. [Run: 23-9]
6:01: Dominique Morrison misses a three contested by Valentine. Ledrick Eackles pulls down the board!
5:50: Hamilton cuts through the lane before dishing to Benson who is fouled by Steven Roundtree. The Newcomer of the Year fouls out with 5:50 left. Great year for the young forward, but foul trouble was an issue for him all year. During the free-throw attempts (Benson hits 1-of-2 again), they show the following graphic where, yet again, the loss to Wright State is lamented! [Run: 24-9]
5:29: Rod Pearson makes a nice move toward the basket but misses as he attempts a wrap-around lay-up.
5:01: With a 16-point lead, Hamilton takes his time bringing the ball up the court, which clearly messed with his aura because he only has one speed: go! It goes without saying that he misses the shot attempt.
4:55-51: Drew Valentine pops the ball out of Dominique Morrison's hands, which conveniently lands in Hamilton's hands. Hamilton gives the transition pass to Drew who dunks it with authority. [Run: 26-9]
4:38-32: Rod Pearson again tries to get off a shot in the paint, but Keith Benson's outstretched arms send the ball into the palms of Ledrick Eackles. Eackles, showcasing his own end-to-end speed, runs with Hamilton up the court and dishes to the junior for yet another transition bucket. And with that Oakland has itself a 20-point lead, thus completing the majority of this run. [Run: 28-9]
Most would agree the game was pretty much wrapped up at that point. OU bumped the lead to as high as 24 before ORU made a couple of late buckets to get it to a respectable fourteen point deficit at close. To recap the recap:
  • ORU's leading scorer during this stretch was Tim Morton with four points. Morrison had three points from free throws, and Holdman had a lay-up off the only forced turnover during the stretch. Furthermore, two of ORU's possessions ended because of an OU steal or block. A full six of the team's other possessions ended on missed field goals that were contested. Only two attempts - Holdman's three and Niles' NBA three - were mostly uncontested.
  • Hamilton led the team with 12 points during this stretch. Kito chipped in 10. Will, Drew, and Larry each had two. Winners, all of them.
What a run! This team's will to win showed up throughout the season and conference tournament, but nowhere was it more needed than right after Bader went to the bench with his fourth foul and Niles put ORU ahead. The team's seniors stepped up, and its unequivocal leader proved why he has earned such a role.

Keith Benson In Championship Games
Oakland's senior center had his best championship as a Grizzly against ORU in terms of point production, but he has more or less had monster lines all three times he's played in the Tuesday finale on ESPN2. His per game averages in those three games:
  • Points: 16.7
  • Field goal shooting: 59%
  • Rebounds: 15.0
  • Blocks: 4.0
Benson also had four assists in this most recent battle. Most importantly, he leaves Oakland 2-1 in championship games. Not a bad winning percentage to have on one's resume.

The Drew Valentine Signature
This is old news by now, but Drew Valentine was able to conduct his signature play yet again in the championship game. On this one, he steals a pass aimed for Dominique Morrison that leads to a transition dunk.
What's Next?
Oakland heads to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season as The Summit League's automatic qualifier. The team will find out its seed, site, and first round opponent on Sunday evening's Selection Show on CBS.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On To The Big Bracket

Congrats to the Oakland Golden Grizzlies! Summit League Tournament champions for the second year in a row!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Championship Game Preview: Oakland vs. Oral Roberts

Summit League Tournament Championship
(1) Oakland vs. (2) Oral Roberts
Tuesday, March 8, 2011 | 9:00pm EST
Watch: ESPN2 /
Radio: WDFN / WXOU
Oakland advanced to its third straight conference tournament championship game with a win last night over South Dakota State. The team starting firing early and often on its way to building a nice lead that sequestered any home court advantage for the Jacks. Now, just as it has been every year in Sioux Falls, Oakland remains as one of two teams to battle for the NCAA Tournament bid. The Golden Grizzlies will look to stay poised and focused in an effort to win the tournament crown for a second straight year. Oral Roberts, which advanced after taking care of business over IUPUI, will seek its first NCAA bid since 2007-08. The national television audience will be treated to a great game from the conference's most formidable foes.

If history tells us anything, it's that this will be a close game that goes down-to-the-wire. Oakland and Oral Roberts have a long history of intense battles, and those have only been magnified under the bright lights of the league tournament. In championship games, each school has exactly one win over the other. Oakland's came in 2005 by a one-point margin, and Oral Robert's was in 2007 by a final score of 71-67. In all likelihood, then, it's reasonable to think this one could be just as close. So if the game is on the line, which players are most likely to have the ball in their hands, and which of those might be the best options? For that, we turn to a clutch gauge.

There may very well be established measures of a player's "clutchness," but given the short turnaround between games, I was not able to fully look into this area. So for the time being, I've concocted a distribution I'm calling the clutch gauge. First, I define the clutch time as under three minutes left in the game, and for the purposes of this project, the score must have been within eight points, either way. If the team was down by eight points, then we would assume those players on the court would be most likely to try to bring the team within reach. Likewise, if the team is up eight points at that point in time, there is still enough time left for possessions to be valued. I also only use conference games to ensure a somewhat balanced schedule (ORU had 11 such games, and OU had 9). So with the basics defined, let's look at ORU's clutch distribution:
So we measure a player's contribution in this time frame by "Points Per Weighted Shot," which basically tells us how many points a player scored given the amount of shots he took (with free throws "weighted" accordingly). An average PPWS in The Summit League is about 1.09; essentially, the higher, the better. To ensure that a player isn't benefiting from simply taking one shot that he made, the "Percentage of Shots" column shows us the percentage of shots accounted for by that player. For ORU, when the game is close and under three minutes, we can reliably say that Dominique Morrison, Damen Bell-Holter, and Warren Niles will most often be taking shots. DBH seems to account for a lot of the team's free throws at this point in the game, so he gets a healthy boost. However, DoMo and Niles are the true shot creators here. More specifically, Niles might be the more dangerous of the two in the clutch. He's perfect on his free throws in this sample, and he's shooting about 62% on his three-pointers. As a result, he has a rather astronomical PPWS mark. Basically, if the game is in the final minutes and Niles is spotting up for a three, there is reason to be concerned as OU fans!

To a lesser degree, one must keep an eye on Ken Holdman. If he gets the ball to score, which he rarely does in these situations, he has at least proven effective. But more often than not, it's going to be Morrison or Niles, with a slight edge to Niles as the guy who can put the most points up with the least amount of shots. Now, to Oakland.
As a reminder, these numbers are developed through conference games only, so for Oakland it might not tell the whole story since a few of the team's closer games came in November and December. Still, there were enough league games where the Grizzlies had to "do work" to maintain a late lead for this to be useful. To no one's surprise, Reggie Hamilton proves to be the most clutch player on the team. Not only does he take a high percentage of the team's shots in the waning minutes, but he also connects on them, producing 1.68 PPWS. For Hamilton, that's largely a result of his accuracy at the free throw line (18 of 22 in these situations). Larry Wright and Keith Benson are next in order. Wright gets a major bump from some of the late threes he hit at North Dakota State. Benson doesn't look quite as strong due to missed free throws (9 of 14). Travis Bader has a great PPWS mark on the season, a reflection of his role as a three-point specialist, but he doesn't fair as well here simply due to a lack of sample size (meaning he hasn't often been called upon in the final minutes thus far). Finally, Will Hudson and Drew Valentine have both proven reliable with limited opportunities. In particular, Valentine's number suggests he has been ready to execute when his number is called in the final three minutes of tight games.

At the very least, these numbers can give us an idea of which players have proven to be the most clutch in close league games this season. It will be neat to monitor the roles of the players on the court in the final minutes if the score is indeed close.

Key Match-Up
Will Hudson vs. Steven Roundtree
Though Will Hudson has had a number of primetime performances this season, his two outings against Oral Roberts perhaps shine the brightest. Against his team's biggest rival, the senior averaged a stellar 21 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest, in part accomplished by going a combined 18-0f-21 from the field. Hudson's always been a high-percentage scorer, but 86% in the biggest of games is otherworldly, especially when one also considers the ORU frontcourt has played fairly strong all season. Sophomore Damen Bell-Holter and freshman Steven Roundtree had great years as full-time players for the first time. Roundtree, an athletic though stringy forward, held his own against Oakland the first time around, though in both games he was prone to foul trouble. Even so, he made his contribution on the offensive glass, as he often has done this year, and showed off glimpses of potential both on the block and off the dribble. In past meetings, the experience and toughness of Hudson won out, but both Roundtree and Bell-Holter have played well down the stretch.

Oral Roberts Player To Watch: Dominique Morrison
In his post game interview last night, Coach Scott Sutton brought up the fact that Dominique Morrison, who came to ORU after the school's string of NCAA Tournament appearances, had yet to achieve his ultimate goal of winning the conference tournament. Morrison, we can expect, is hungry to lead the Golden Eagles back to the Big Dance, and he gets a shot at doing so against a team he has played well against this season. In fairness to the Grizzlies, Morrison plays well against just about every team, but for the first time we get to see how the junior responds with an automatic bid on the line. He'll surely keep Oakland's defenders busy.

Oakland Player To Watch: Keith Benson
As with Morrison, Oakland's Keith Benson is the face of his team. He's the star, the two-time first team player, and the most likely to end up making big bucks playing this game. Benson has had a strong tournament so far and notable performances against ORU this year alongside Will Hudson in the frontcourt. Kito also showcased his stamina in those two previous matches by logging a full 40 minutes of playing time in each. History shows us that Benson has come out to work in championship games, particularly on the glass (15.5 rebounds/game) and through his shot-blocking (4.5 blocks/game), and it was also Kito who had the go-ahead dunk against NDSU before Ben Woodside ruined everything in 2009. Moreover, who can forget the two incredible defensive stops he had late in the championship game against IUPUI last season? He got the best of Alex Young with just under three minutes left, and then a minute later he pounded a shot attempt by Billy Pettiford that led to a face-melting and-1 lay-up by Derick Nelson. The game was over at that point. I can only hope we are lucky enough to watch another similar performance from the Player of the Year this time around.

As noted earlier in the post, the teams have met twice in the conference tournament. Oakland beat Oral Roberts as a seven seed in the 2005 tournament on a last-second shot by Pierre Dukes. ORU bested OU two years later as a part of the team's three-year reign as overlords of The Summit League's automatic bid.

Pre-Game Linkage
Finally, 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.

The Gameplan's Semifinal Recap: SDSU

True to the form of their previous meetings, the semifinal game between Oakland and South Dakota State was an offensive juggernaut where a lot of points were scored. Oakland got out to a hot start in the opening minutes and never looked back, eventually winning by a score of 110-90. Though SDSU received large contributions from its underclassmen - notably Nate Wolters, Jordan Dykstra, and Chad White - Oakland's experience, hunger, and confidence proved to be the difference, allowing the Golden Grizzlies to dominant most facets of the match. For more on how the game went down and reaction to it from the coaches and players, check out the game stories from Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press here and Dan Fenner of The Oakland Post here. And post-game press conference video from the conference is here, plus a WXOU interview with Drew Valentine here.

Where does one start with a performance like the one the Golden Grizzlies turned in on Monday evening? Scoring 110 points in a tournament game? The stunning production of sophomore Drew Valentine? The 57% three-point shooting? Keith Benson's well-rounded game? Travis Bader's squandering of SDSU's Clint Sargent? The ridiculous turnover rate? Or how about ESPN's Andy Katz chiming in about his respect for all things Oakland? Well, as has often been the case on this blog, let's first turn to Oakland's offensive efficiency.

If you read the preview for this game, you'll remember the table included with the possession-based offensive efficiency data. In two meetings, Oakland had scored 0.13 more points per possession than its conference season average on SDSU's defense, while SDSU managed to go for just 0.04 more points per trip than its own average on Oakland's defense. In the semifinal game, SDSU managed to boost this to 0.06, but it allowed Oakland to go for 0.31 more points per possession than its season average! It was, simply put, an absolute drubbing. Consider that Oakland's 1.50 points scored per possession was not only a season-high for the team, but it also ranked second in the entire nation out of ALL games played between Division I teams this season. Here's the top five, according to
It's interesting that the top three performances all happened in the past three days. Syracuse's is probably a bit misleading given the fact that Depaul is a cellar dweller in the Big East, but the drubbings put forth by Ohio State and Oakland were against fairly solid teams from their respective conferences. It's been no secret that Oakland's offense has been great, but for most of the season that has been the case despite the team's tendency to turn the ball over. The team has improved in that department over the year, but one of the reasons it was so efficient last night was because of its superb turnover rate. On this night we were able to see just how explosive Oakland can be sans those turnovers. To put the team's 5.5% turnover rate in perspective, consider the following:
  • 1. Oaklands 5.5% turnover rate against SDSU was a team best out of all Summit League teams, besting the next best by nearly a full percentage point (interesting: two of the top five were by SDSU against Oakland in the regular season).
  • 2. Oakland's next best turnover rate all season was 10.8% against Southern, a game which still stands as Oakland's most dominating performance of the season (taking into account both sides of the ball).
Astouding, really.

In other statistical superlatives, the team's 57.7% field goal shooting was its third best shooting performance of the year, and its 57.1% shooting from beyond the arc was second only to the home game against IUPUI. The 22 team assists mark was tied with several other games as its third best output of the season. Games like this only come around so often, and for Oakland, it certainly came at the right time. Talk about an "A game."

The Tournament Breakout Of Drew Valentine
On a night when all of Oakland's starters scored at least 12 points and contributed so much more in other numerical categories, there was no one with a more beefy line that sophomore Drew Valentine. The forward went off for 24 points by going 7-of-8 on his two-pointers, 3-of-5 on his three-point shots, and 1-of-1 from the free throw line. Drew also chipped in a team-high 11 rebounds, three of which came on the offensive glass. But no discussion of his offensive game would be appropriate without a look at his signature move, which he completed just minutes into the game:
We've seen Valentine execute that same play against so many different Summit League teams this season, so it was a great way for him to get going in this game. From there, he proceeded to get things done in transition, off the dribble, via tip-ins from offensive boards, and the standard lay-up. Here was what his shot chart looked like for the game, where the light blue lines represent drives, blue circles as makes, and white circles as misses. The "L" is for layup, "D" for dunk, and "3" for three-pointers.
Unfortunately, the shot chart doesn't capture well the intangibles Valentine demonstrated during the game. He finished at the rim like his more seasoned counterparts, and his determination on the boards was a pleasure to see. In his post game interview with WXOU's Bryan Everson, Valentine mentioned that he hasn't needed to be a featured scoring option this year with all of the great scorers on his team, but he made it clear that he can indeed be such a player when it's necessary. There's no doubting that sentiment now after this performance, which was all sorts of clutch. Like Blake Cushinberry's semifinal game last year, this is the kind of output that widens the eyes of Grizzlies fans. There's no telling what kind of ceiling the still young Drew Valentine has ahead of him, but if he makes plays like the one below, it must be pretty high.

How About Bader?
Travis Bader continues to exude the utmost confidence in his abilities despite the fact he's still just a redshirt freshman. At one point during the telecast, the commentators brought up the question of who they'd rather have in a game of H.O.R.S.E.: Bader or SDSU's Nate Wolters. One guy responded with Wolters because he had not seen Bader showoff much creativity. Within 30 seconds of that brief discussion, Bader made a winding move to the basket off the dribble that led to a nice two-point bucket. The commentators immediately gave credit to Bader for proving them wrong. What they didn't know was that it was a fairly new play for Oakland's starting shooting guard. Truth is, we haven't seen him attempt many shots from inside the arc like that. But in a key game, he again came through. He also came through from downtown, hitting four of his seven shot attempts. But hey, what's new in that regard? Well, how about a deeeep three that rivals Jimmer Fredette territory:
And Then There's That One Guy
Despite Oakland's balanced attack thus far, it was Reggie Hamilton and Drew Valentine who proved most captivating in these first two tournament games. Meanwhile, Oakland's center has - almost quietly - put together two very strong performances thus far. Fitting for a senior Player of the Year. What I enjoyed most about Benson's contributions against SDSU was his aggressive play on the offensive boards. It's not often that Kito has just as many offensive as defensive boards, but he did just that on Monday night. He was hitting jumpers and going up hard against SDSU's weaker frontline. And he completed a couple very nice passes that lead to easy baskets for his teammates. His most exciting play, though, came on an alley-oop pass where he not only connected, but also posterized Jordan Dykstra in the process:
What's Next?
The Golden Grizzlies are set to face off against Oral Roberts on Tuesday night at 9:00pm EST. The game will air live on ESPN2. The national television audience will get a chance to see a great game between the league's top teams and programs, and an NCAA Tournament bid is on the line.

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.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Gameplan's Quarterfinal Recap: SUU

Oakland won its quarterfinal game against Southern Utah last evening by a score of 82-66. Similarly to the last game between these two squads, Oakland built a solid lead in the last two minutes of the first half before pulling away during the second half. For now, the Golden Grizzlies advance and await for their next opponent to be determined at the conclusion of tonight's SDSU-IPFW tilt. For a full recap of last night's game, you can check out game stories from a number of sources, including The Oakland Press, The Oakland Post, and the Detroit Free Press. Additionally, the conference provided video of the post-game press conference here, and WXOU also has its own post-game interview with Coach Kampe available here. Great coverage, all around!

Defensive Score Sheet
Last night's quarterfinal game was a much more efficient affair than the regular season closer between Oakland and Southern Utah a week ago in Cedar City. Both teams scored well above last week's rate, despite the fact the score was nearly the same. As a result, the defensive score sheet from this game was a bit less extreme than last week's edition. For a brief introduction to the concept of a defensive score sheet, check out the debut post from Friday. Now we'll dive right into the charts, starting with Oakland.
When comparing charts between games, one might wonder why this week's individual defensive ratings are higher. This is due to the fact that individual defensive ratings are calculated in part from the team defensive rating. The tournament game featured a much more average defensive performance by Oakland, on a per-possession base, than the last one which was on the extreme low end (note that OU's "average" defensive output is tops in the league - so this is a good thing). As a result, the numbers look higher, when indeed they are still quite strong. The column that really stands out to me is that of Percent of Team Defensive Possessions. We would expect, on average, each player to account for 20% of a team's defensive possessions, and Oakland comes really close to achieving this standard. As opposed to the last game where Keith Benson was active at a very high clip, this time he's right on the average mark at 20%. SUU went at Travis Bader quite a bit for the second straight game as the redshirt freshman, along with Benson and Will Hudson, faced the highest number of possessions in raw terms. In what has been a trend between these two teams, Ilija faced an incredible amount of possessions in very limited minutes. But his stop percentage improved drastically here (from 16% to 35%). Kudos.

Now we turn to Southern Utah's score sheet. Unlike Oakland, SUU allowed the offense to score well above what it has allowed on average in conference play.
Oakland's bigs went at SUU's frontcourt from the post and the guards attacked them from the perimeter, so we end up seeing guys like Matt Massey and Kyle Davis accounting for a lot of the team's defensive possessions. Ray Jones, Jr. was also above the average by this standard, no doubt due to the many times he found himself trying to prevent Reggie Hamilton from driving to the hoop in the first half. Here's one play where Hamilton shakes off Jones and scores over Massey's out-stretched arms:

There's nothing too alarming here with the rest of the SUU defensive score sheet, though I do want to showcase the individual lines of Matt Massey and another of SUU's many post options, Matt Hodgson.
Massey had a stop percentage of just 12% in the time he was on the floor, in large part due to Keith Benson getting the best of him. Benson was hitting most of his jumpers and hook shots, and he was going up hard when deep in the post. Massey took the brunt of those makes, and while he hit a few jumpers over Benson himself, he was definitely overmatched on this night. Matt Hodgson, on the other hand, used his length to bother shots. He and Benson shared the court at times during the game, and a few of those forced misses or defensive boards were while guarding Benson. Perhaps most incredibly, Hodgson didn't commit any fouls that sent a player to the stripe - this from a guy whose minutes have often waned due to foul trouble. Hodgson did, however, make a lazy pass that led to this:
And that was the story of the game for Oakland. No matter the adjustments Southern Utah made, they were just too talented and focused for the Thunderbirds to pull an upset.

Reggie The Conquerer
In his first elimination game as a Golden Grizzly, junior Reggie Hamilton did not disappoint. His performance in the first half was simply otherworldly. He scored 21 points during the opening 20 minutes, hitting everything from floaters in the lane to spot-up threes from downtown. He used his defense to create offense, and he got to the free throw line off the dribble-drive. All aspects of his skillset were on display, including his constantly improving ball control (just two turnovers). That run he made in the first half ensured Oakland's lead was safe while SUU was still within striking distance, and his teammates picked up where he left off in the second half. What I enjoyed about Hamilton's performance, more than the numbers, was his demeanor. At one point while he was shooting a free throw, the camera panned in on him and he looked mean, confident, ready to win. It's the "gunner" face:
Hamilton had that face early in the season, especially during the first few road games, but I had thought it was born more out of frustration from his early struggles than anything else. But as I watched him more and as he found his fit as the team's lead guard, it began to look more and more like that gunner mentality. Sure, such play can lead to mistakes from trying too force the issue, but more often than not, it has worked for Hamilton to the benefit of the team. It's a trait that is unique to him on this squad; no one else has exhibited that same kind of "take it to you" attitude. And for Hamilton to put it on display in the tournament, as he has done often in conference play, is a good omen for the Golden Grizzlies as they try to move forward.

An Excuse To Show You Travis Bader's Block
We all know Travis Bader has the smoothest stroke on the team, but apparently he's also been working on his swatting form. At about the midpoint of the second half, Bader had a great block on Ray Jones, Jr. from the weak side. Not only was the block cool, but it lead to a transition three-pointer for Drew Valentine assisted by, you guessed it, Travis Bader!

That was Bader's fifth block of the year, so it's safe to say it's a moment that should be treasured. Bader's passing ability has also been on display in recent weeks, including this quarterfinal game where he had four dishes. He was also the recipient of a pretty sick pass from Larry Wright:

Bader also had an NBA-range three, available in .gif form here. In non-Bader multimedia entries, you can also check out a great play from Larry Wright here. What I liked most about that one was that he was aggressive on the defensive glass and used his quickness in the open court and agility in the paint to get a good look in transition. Finally, a little love for Keith Benson: a stop and pop jumper tailor made for the NBA.

What's Next
Oakland moves on to the semifinals face the winner of tonight's SDSU-IPFW game. In addition to being available on, the game will air live on Fox Sports Detroit, which is also a win for the local area! That game will be played Monday night at 7:00pm.