Oakland finally begins conference play
The Golden Grizzlies, who are one of two teams yet to dip their feet in the Summit League play, start with four of their first five conference games on the road. That stretch includes stops in Macomb, Ill., where Oakland has won 11 straight, as well as South Dakota State (Jan. 10) and North Dakota State (Jan. 12).
“Everyone is talking about the non-conference schedule, but one of the reasons we did it was the conference schedule is top-loaded,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “We play the best teams on the road right out of the gate. We could be completely out of the league race for the regular season in the third week of the season, or we could be sitting really good.”
After losses against fellow mid-majors Ohio and Western Michigan, Oakland was 2-1 last week with the aforementioned wins over Valpo and Eastern Michigan, and held a late lead at West Virginia.
“We’re 5-8. We probably should 7-6, so I’m disappointed in that, but what’s happened has helped forge the team and gotten us better,” Kampe said. “(Saturday’s 59-57 win at Eastern Michigan) was an example of it. We had the adversity again, and we found a way to win.”
Oakland shot just 32 percent in the win over the Eagles, who previously stymied Purdue at the Convocation Center. Kampe was confident the Grizzlies’ shooting fortunes will turn around. Saturday, they shot below 40 percent for the fifth time this season.
“Now we begin league play where everybody uses the same ball and we’re used to the gyms and hopefully you’ll see us improve,” he said.
Kampe suggests Western Illinois (8-3, 2-0), which features sixth-year senior Ceola Clark, may have just struck the tip of the iceberg in its run to the Summit League final last season.
“They’ve proven they have a very good team and they made a run to the tournament finals last year,” he said. “I’m sure that motivated their players to have a great offseason. We know what we’re up against.”
Thursday’s game tips off at 8 p.m. and can be heard on WDFN-AM (1130).
Free throw woe
Oakland continues to get to the free-throw line more than its opponents, but the Grizzlies also continue to leave points off the board. They shot a season-low 58 percent (18 of 31) at Eastern Michigan, but Kampe is confident his team will rebound.
“You can practice stuff all you want, but you can’t simulate the game and the pressure,” he said. “I’m not a big a believer in situational practice.
“You toughen your kids and teach them to believe in themselves.”
Travis Bader and Ryan Bass were a combined 10 for 10 from the line, while Corey Petros’ 3-of-8 performance stood out for the wrong reasons. Also, frontcourt mate Raphael Carter was just 2 of 5.
Late gift for fans
After playing just three home games in the season’s first two months combined, Oakland fans will be spoiled with a season-high five games at the O’rena in the month of January. The first comes Jan. 3, when conference newcomer Omaha visits.
February will feature the biggest matchups, however, as North Dakota State (Feb. 7) and South Dakota State (Feb. 9) visit, as well as Oakland’s matchup in the ill-fated ESPN Bracketbusters series Feb. 23.