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Drew Ellis covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. His news and notes keep you up to date with Golden Grizzlies men's basketball.

Monday, October 31, 2011

CollegeInsider poll ranks Oakland ahead of Oral Roberts

Bucking the trend of picking Oral Roberts to win the Summit League,, a top source of info in the Mid-Major landscape, has Oakland ranked No. 24 to begin the season, ahead of unranked Oral Roberts.
The Golden Eagles did, however, receive 54 votes, not enough to enter the top 25. 
The Golden Grizzlies finished eighth in the final poll for last season after their second straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Polls from Athlon, Lindy's, Sporting News, Blue Ribbon; as well as the league-wide preseason poll, picked Oral Roberts and Oakland to finish 1-2.
Detroit is one of three Horizon League teams listed, checking in at No. 15. Butler (2) and Cleveland State (22) also charted.
Summit League counterpart South Dakota State received votes, as did Oakland opponents Ohio, Valparaiso and Western Michigan.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe is part of the voting panel.
The next poll debuts Nov. 14. The Grizzlies open the season that night at Alabama.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who becomes Oakland's top rival remains to be seen

Oral Roberts' impending departure from the Summit League leaves a void in term's of Oakland's primary rival. Prior to the Golden Eagles, I've been told it was Valparaiso, which left the conference for the Horizon League in 2006.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe has repeated his sorrow for Oral Roberts' departure, but reiterated the league's current position is just a case of history repeating itself.
“Across the college landscape, that’s what’s going on. We have to dig in and get ready to play. We don’t sit here and prepare to beat Oral Roberts. We prepare to win a league championship and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
While Oakland's road to the conference title and subsequent NCAA tournament automatic bid could be less rocky, it won't replace the history between the programs. 
"We had some games. Both teams have to win them,” Kampe said. “That’s what you play for, to have games like that and rivalries like that. At the same token, five years from now, that’s going to be past history. Nobody is even going to think about it and the league is going to continue to grow and getting better as it has. Great things are happening for this league and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”
So who steps up to the plate and becomes Oakland's primary adversary? IUPUI? IPFW? South Dakota State? Even North Dakota State, they already have a recent classic finish that could even be considered a birth of the rivalry.
Proximity says the Indiana schools could be a natural fit. But as evidenced by the Golden Eagles rivalry, distance doesn't have much of an effect in a league as widespread as the Summit.
Rivalries are born by championship quality teams," Kampe said. "I can’t tell you how that’s going to work out. If we stay good and somebody else is there and on a roll ... That’s how it happened with Oral Roberts. It certainly wasn’t because of location.” 
The Jackrabbits appear to have things going their way, becoming an analysts' darling, but to become true rivals, teams will have to be perennial contenders. None of the conference's remaining schools can claim that except Oakland. Whomever comes to be the Grizzlies' chief rival is up to everyone else. 

Could Oakland leave the Summit League? Never say never

Oral Roberts' long-rumored departure from the Summit League became reality in a Tuesday press conference. The reaction from league was brief, highlighted by comments from commissioner Tom Douple, which gave the impression the move was long-awaited: 
"It is not a surprise Oral Roberts accepted the opportunity to align itself with a more geographic conference," he said. "The decision further tightens the Summit League’s midwestern footprint."
The program has to pay a $250,000 buyout fee to leave the league and another $100,000 to join the Southland Conference, according to the Tulsa World, which the university intends to do next summer.
That leaves Oakland fans buzzing, wondering if and when Oakland could or would ever leave the Summit League for a closer league such as the Horizon League. 
"You never say never about something like that," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "Oral Roberts did what they think is best for their university. Oakland and our president will always do what they think is best for our university. Could that mean moving leagues? Sure. Could that mean staying for 20 more years? Sure. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future."
Kampe presumes Oral Roberts' departure to be a cost-cutting measure, with Southland opponents being closer in proximity than those of the Summit, which is notoriously spread across the country.
Oral Roberts will be the sixth team to leave the conference, formerly the Mid-Continent, in Kampe's nearly 30-year tenure. Long-time rival Valparaiso, which is again on Oakland's non-conference schedule, left the Mid-Con in 2006.
“This league has grown," Kampe said. "I’m going to miss that rivalry. It takes a long time to build that. We had some games. Both teams have to win them.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Greg Kampe would be sorry to see Oral Roberts leave Summit League

The Summit League held its annual conference call with coaches Tuesday. Greg Kampe was asked about the possibility of long-time rival Oral Roberts leaving the Summit League for the Southland Conference (as transcribed by Mike Brown of the Tulsa World):
"That’s life. I don’t want ORU to leave because I have all the respect for Mike Carter and Scott Sutton and what they do. They’re a tremendous asset to our league. We’ve had tremendous games with them. We’ve had championship games that have gone down to buzzer-beaters that have been highlighted by ESPN that have brought great notoriety to our league. I think our fan base wants to beat Oral Roberts and I think Oral Roberts’ fan base wants to beat Oakland." 
Former Mid-Con rival Valparaiso left for the Horizon League in 2007.
"It takes a while to build those rivalries, so to lose that, I think in the short term would not be good, but when Valpo left, a lot of people wondered what would happen and the league is bigger and stronger than it’s ever been. If Oral Roberts leaves, I’ll cheer for them every time they don’t play one of our league teams, but our league’s gonna grow and get bigger and better."
Valparaiso is on Oakland's schedule for the second year in a row, as the Grizzlies travel to Indiana Dec. 17.  
Golden Eagles coach Scott Sutton is keeping his team in check after the smattering of preseason polls unanimously picked his team to win the conference title. 
"We haven’t done anything yet. ... All we’ve done is get beat by Oakland about five or six straight times the past two years, so they’d better be hungry. Obviously, on paper, we have a chance to be very good because of the experience we have coming back, but we haven’t been to the NCAA tournament (since 2008) and believe me, I remind them of that if not daily, almost every other day. So I think they’re very grounded and very hungry."
Fans are going to have to wait several weeks to see if the Golden Eagles can back the hype. Oakland and Oral Roberts meet for the first time this season Jan. 3 at the O'rena.

Oakland's schedule as easy as A, B, C

Greg Kampe has been trumpeting Oakland's 2011-12 schedule as the best ever since its finalization last month and referred to it as an "ambitious, tremendous schedule” during media day. 
“We just decided we were going to play the ‘A’ schools this year," Kampe joked.
The Golden Grizzlies open the season at Alabama Nov. 14, then travel to Arkansas Nov. 16. A date at Arizona is scheduled for Dec. 20. 
“Next year, we’ll look into the ‘B’s,” Kampe finished. 
Does that mean a tilt with consecutive NCAA Championship Game contestant Butler is in the works for next season? Maybe a tip with Kampe's alma-mater Bowling Green? What about UConn in 2013-14?

Travis Bader, Drew Valentine snubbed on preseason polls

Reggie Hamilton continued to receive recognition for his talents and breakthrough season a year ago when the preseason polls began to hit the presses (and web days earlier). 
Coach Greg Kampe said during Friday's media day he doesn't put much stock in to preseason prognostication, in particular the poll of league media members and coaches, which, like the others, picked Oral Roberts to win the conference. 
League personnel and media also picked IUPUI's Alex Young as the player of the year. Hamilton got first-team honors, but no other Oakland players got any recognition. 
Kampe was frustrated, wondering why Travis Bader and Drew Valentine didn't get any publicity. Kampe said if he were starting a team, he'd go with Valentine for the junior's versatility. 
“I would have voted for Drew Valentine. What can’t he do? All the things he does collectively, from guarding to his leadership — there’s a reason we’ve won a championship every season Drew Valentine has been in our program," Kampe said. 
When it came to Bader, a red-shirt sophomore, Kampe was a little more indignant. 
"Travis Bader made 94 3s in the league last year," Kampe said. "Did anyone else do that? And he’s not an all-league player? 
Bader was ninth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (44.3) in his first season.
The Mid-Major Freshman All-American said he's been improving other assets besides his well-known cannon.
"I’m trying to attack more and be more of a passer," he said. “I’m just focusing on the team."

The end of Keith Benson's Italian job?

Two-time defending Summit League Player of the Year Keith Benson is struggling in Italy. Sportando Basket is reporting the Hawks' draftee is close to being waived by Dinamo Sassari after just two games, in which he averaged six points and four rebounds in 21.5 minutes. The site says Benson could play one more game because the team doesn't yet have a replacement for him. 
Benson was drafted No. 48 by Atlanta in June's draft.
Roto World hypothesized Benson's struggles in Italy could mean he has a chance of being cut by the Hawks, whenever the NBA season resumes.
Benson, like many of this year's picks, opted for fancier pastures, signing with the club in mid-August.
Benson led the Golden Grizzlies to back-to-back conference regular-season and tournament championships and subsequent NCAA tournament appearances.
Prior to the draft, Benson had been rumored to be selected as a high as a lottery pick. Benson, also the league's top defensive player a season ago, averaged 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Videos from media day

Men's coach Greg Kampe

Women's coach Beckie Francis and guard Sharise Calhoun

Friday, October 7, 2011

Former Oakland guard Larry Wright to play in Germany

MLive reports former Oakland reserve guard and Summit League Sixth Man of the Year Larry Wright will be playing for the Frankfurt Skyliners in the Pro B League in Germany. He left Tuesday, the report said.
“I was just trying to get an opportunity to play. My agent called and said I had an opportunity in Germany. Do I want it?," Wright told MLive.
Wright is the third player off the 2010-11 Oakland team, which repeated as Summit League champions, to play professionally.
Keith Benson, drafted by the Atlanta Hawks late in the second round of the NBA Draft, has moved to Italy to play during the lockout. Scrappy rebounder Will Hudson is playing in Australia.
Wright transferred to Oakland from St. John's and sat out a season before becoming a starter in 2009-10. He began coming off the bench midway through last season and flourished in the role.
Wright also told MLive he was happy with how his college career played out, but wishes he hadn't been hurt as much.