OU men striving for most conference wins and Summit Tournament championship
By PAUL KAMPE
Of The Oakland Press
ROCHESTER – If you thought there wasn’t anything left to play for after sewing up the No. 1 seed to a conference tournament by virtue of your first conference title in a decade, think again. The Oakland men host Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne at the O’Rena at 6 p.m. Saturday with another chance for fame. With a win Saturday, the Golden Grizzlies would become the first team to win 17 games in an 18-game Summit League regular season. They would also send seniors Derick Nelson and Johnathon Jones out on a positive note in their final home game and keep the momentum, which has helped them win 16 of their last 17 games, in tact on their way to the conference tournament next weekend.
The cheerful goodbyes and record aside, a loss would have a harmful effect on the Golden Grizzlies’ RPI, which is currently 67. A home loss would negatively impact that score, which helps determine seeding should the Grizzlies advance to the NCAA tournament with a conference tournament championship.
“We can't afford that,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “We've got to win the game. We have a lot to play for and we have to keep it going. I expect we're going to play well.”
Oakland (22-8, 16-1) will enter the tournament as the top seed for the first time, which buys the Grizzlies a day of rest, something they didn’t have the good fortune of in a heartbreaking, last-second loss to North Dakota State in the championship game last season.
"I don't think it matters where you are or what (seed) you go in as. We've gone in as a two seed and a three seed and we also go in thinking we can win it. I'm sure all those other teams will, too,” Kampe said. “The good (thing) is … if we can win the first game, we get a day off. Last year, that really hurt us. We played three nights in a row and North Dakota State had a day off. They outscored us in the last five minutes by 15 points. That hurt us. When you look back at what went wrong, that was one of the things to look at.”
The Grizzlies beat the Mastodons (14-13, 9-8) earlier this season in the first conference game for both squads. Since then, IPFW has played one of its best conference seasons in recent memory and have won six of their last nine games.
The Mastodons are coached by Clarkston alum Dane Fife, winner of the 1998 Michigan Mr. Basketball award. Fife, the youngest coach at this level, has tied or broken the school’s mark for wins in its Division I era each of his five seasons with the program.
While the first three spots in the Summit League field are set for the season-ending tournament, the final eight spots are up in the air. IPFW is still battling for the fourth seed.
“We can get 17 wins and we want to keep our home-court winning streak alive and it’s me and Johnathon’s last game. Those are the reasons to get up for this game, period. You want to go into the conference tournament playing well, you don’t want to go in with a loss, there are a lot of reasons to get up for (IPFW),” Nelson said.
The tournament begins March 6 at Sioux Falls Arena in Sioux Falls, S.D.
A conference tournament title is the main reason Nelson returned to the Grizzlies after a broken foot forced him to redshirt last season.
“The championship is on my mind pretty much every day for a while. Anytime I’m on the court, that’s what I’m thinking about and anytime I have anything to do with basketball, that’s what I’m thinking about,” he said. “Until we get it, that’s all I’m going to think about.”
An Oakland win would tie the Grizzlies’ Division I mark for victories in a season, which they set in postseason play last year.
Saturday’s game can be heard on WDFN-AM (1130).
Paul Kampe covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PaulKampe.