Oakland hasn't always been dominant
“The first three years we were eligible for this tournament, we got beat on the first night,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said, following the Golden Grizzlies' semifinal victory Monday. “It's hard to win (at the conference tournament). It's a whole different environment.”
That's hard to fathom when analyzing a team that's made five of the last seven conference tournament finals.
The Grizzlies won the tournament last year as the No. 1 seed and in 2005 as the No. 7 seed. They advanced to the finals of the 2009 tournament, only to lose on a last-second shot. They were 7-1 in conference postseason play heading into Tuesday's final at Sioux Falls Arena, where the tournament was held for the third straight year.
Oakland (24-9) won the Summit League regular-season title for the second straight year, repeating a 17-1 league record and leaving each opponent in its dust, with the exception of IUPUI. The Jaguars defeated the Grizzlies once each season, but they were eliminated by Tuesday's other title contender, No. 2 Oral Roberts. In a tournament where the top seed has made the finals each year since 1992, this is the second straight year the finals have come down to No. 1 vs. No. 2.
“Several years ago in Tulsa, Okla., we were a No. 1 seed and they were the seven seed and they beat us,” Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said. “It's a one-game series. Anything can happen.”
Oakland swept the regular-season series from the Golden Eagles, winning by eight on the road and squeaking out a three-point win in Rochester. Oral Roberts had won 10 in a row entering Tuesday.
The Golden Grizzlies easily handled home state favorite South Dakota State in Monday's semifinal. Sioux Falls Arena was filled with nearly 6,000 blue and yellow clad Jackrabbits fans, not far from South Dakota State's home arena in Brookings, S.D. The Grizzlies' response: Go out and beat the “home” team by a stammering margin, 110-90. It was the second-highest point total in conference tournament history.
Oakland knew if it could neutralize the crowd, it would have a better shot at beating No. 5 seed South Dakota State. An early 25-9 advantage helped them follow through.
Scoring points has never really been a problem for Oakland, which boasts likely NBA center and two-time defending conference play of the year Keith Benson (Birmingham Detroit Country Day). He's joined by all-conference first-team pick Reggie Hamilton, who has become one of the team's many weapons cited by recently defeated coaches.
“They're just so talented offensively,” Sutton said. “You have to pick your poison.”
South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy looks to the Grizzlies as a team to emulate.
“Oakland is serious,” he said. “Their program is serious. The other programs, if you want to win championships in this league, you better be serious about it.”
Paul Kampe covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PaulKampe.