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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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Different decade, different NCAA tourney as Oakland prepares to host

Since Oakland last (and first) hosted the NCAA tournament at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2006, fresh off its first trip to the Big Dance a year prior, the tournament has changed.
The obvious difference: The field has expanded by three teams to 68 with two "First Four" games sending two teams into the field of 64, which is now deemed the second round -- likely in an effort to escape the stigma of a "play-in" first round that still trails Oakland's win over Alabama A&M in 2005. 
But the biggest change as it affects Oakland's hosting in next year's Dance is the sterilization of courts demanded by the NCAA. It was rather simple six years ago to look at The Palace floor and see who was the host. It's not that easy these days, as the only identifier of the locale is the venue name printed across the end line.
The goal with the first hosting duty was to help further propel Oakland into the national consciousness.
"People are ... realizing (OU is) not a California school," current director of athletics Tracy Huth told me back in my days as a budding college journalist.
In keeping with that ideology, the area inside in the 3-point arc was transformed to solid black, similar to the O'rena. Don't expect that next year. Very little is left to left to distinguish host arenas besides the grain pattern of the wood used in the floor.
Like 2006, Oakland will again be hosting games in the rounds of 64 and 32 in the tournament's first weekend.
If you're wondering, the Detroit Free Press points out in a recent story that Oakland, as host, is ineligible to play at The Palace if it makes the NCAA tournament. 
Two more NCAA tourneys, an NBA draft pick and hordes of games on the national stage later, Oakland is well on its way to achieving the individualism it strived for nearly a decade ago.

Fun facts about the 2006 NCAA tournament at The Palace: 
  • One of the regionals fed from The Palace was in Oakland (Calif.), the place Oakland University was going great lengths to distance itself from. 
  • No. 16 Oral Roberts represented the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League), losing to No. 1 seed Memphis. That game was part of the Oakland regional as well, but played at another site.
  • No. 13 Bradley stunned fourth seed Kansas and No. 5 Pittsburgh to advance to the Sweet 16, while No. 14 Northwestern State knocked off No. 3 Iowa in an opening-round contest of the Atlanta regional rated by TIME Magazine as one of the ten biggest opening-round upsets of all time.
  • Tickets for the six first-round games at The Palace were $180. Prices for the 2013 tourney haven't been announced, but the Free Press reports tickets will go on sale after Midnight Madness kicks off the 2012-13 season. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Postseason awards bear out differently for Oakland, Summit League

The recently-released conference awards from show different results than those of the ballots cast by Summit League media members and team personnel. The intra-league honors are voted on prior to the conference tournament by team media, sports information directors and coaches. It's unclear when the College Insider votes were cast, but one thing is for certain: Oral Roberts' Dominique Morrison is the Summit League's player of the year.
But after Morrison, there's a different twist. His coach, Scott Sutton, who was voted coach of the year in the conference poll after leading the Golden Eagles to a 17-1 conference record, is replaced by Western Illinois' Jim Molinari. He led the Leathernecks to their first winning season in 12 years as well as overtime of the conference tournament championship game against heavy favorites South Dakota State. The 'Necks' quarterfinal win was the school's first since 1999, in fact.
And what about those Jackrabbits? Well, start guard Nate Wolters was decided the most valuable player, an award the Summit League doesn't offer, rather opting to consider the top vote-getter in all-league voting the conference's player of the year.
There's yet another twist, as Wolters shares the award with Oakland's Reggie Hamilton, making the Summit one of two leagues with co-MVPs.
Hamilton, Morrison and Wolters are all finalists for the mid-major player of the year award to be announced this weekend at the Final Four. The trio were also named mid-major All-Americans, while Wolters and Morrison received honorable mentions from the AP All-America team. Meanwhile, Hamilton, the national scoring champion averaging 26.3 points per game, went unrecognized.
"I'm shocked by that," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. 
"He scored 940 points. People get into the hall of fame for scoring 1,000 points. He did it within the function of the team." 
Wolters was the only player of the three to make the Summit League's all-tournament team, earning MVP honors as the Jackrabbits won their first tournament title, advancing to the NCAA tournament. 
Hamilton last week was named the recipient of the Francis Pomeroy Award for the nation's best player under 6-feet tall, as well.
Hamilton and Wolters twice shared Summit League Player of the Week honors this season and each earned it three times outright.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is the Tournament a national championship?

Oakland at Utah State live chat

Join beat writer Paul Kampe and Oakland radio color analyst Neal Ruhl for a live chat during Sunday's game, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Counteracting Utah State’s home-court advantage

As a Utah State victory became inevitable Wednesday, talk among Oakland fans began to focus on the incredible home-court advantage the Aggies cultivate inside their 10,000-seat arena in Logan, Utah, where they’ve won 99 of their last 105 home games. Of course, the Golden Grizzlies are no strangers to large, hostile environments, having played a challenging non-conference schedule for several seasons at Kansas, Syracuse and even Michigan and Michigan State.
“Hopefully our schedule pays off,” Oakland guard Reggie Hamilton said. “Guys on our team are used to that.
“The schedule we’ve played all year has us prepared for games like this.”
Besides Hamilton, fellow senior Laval Lucas-Perry and junior Drew Valentine, the Grizzlies play a young rotation, starting at least one freshman for much of the season. Freshman Corey Petros has started each of the past two games as classmate Kyle Sikora has been hampered by an ankle injury. Fellow freshman Dante Williams has played spot minutes in the CIT and Matt Poches has played just two minutes in the first three rounds.
“They’re not going to get too many minutes,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said of his freshmen. “If we need Dante, he’ll probably get his five to seven minutes. If we need him more, we’ll use him more. I’d like to get (Matt) Poches in the game. We can’t win if (Corey) Petros and Kyle (Sikora) don’t play well. We need one of those two guys to have a good game. One thing that’s been very evident in this tournament is that our post play has been good. That has a lot to do with the fact we’re winning.”
Petros had 16 points and seven rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Rice, while Oakland again held its own with a better rebounding team.

Turnover trouble
The Aggies committed a season-high 22 turnovers against Loyola Marymount Wednesday. Their previous high was just 18, but Kampe doesn’t expect the Grizzlies to force as many errors Sunday.  
“We’re not a team that creates a lot of turnovers for our opponents,” he said. “We don’t press. We don’t trap. We don’t do things Loyola Marymount does.”
The Grizzlies forced 17 turnovers against Buffalo in the second round of the CIT and 38 overall during the tournament.

Bader on the way back
Sophomore guard Travis Bader failed to reach double figures scoring for the first time in 14 games Tuesday, scoring just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting against Rice.
“Everybody has a night like that,” Kampe said. “He’s had 10 or 11 unbelievable games in a row. For him to miss some open shots, it’s going to happen. We were able to win because he didn’t miss in the first half. We need him to be back to his average or better to win this tournament.”
Bader was quick to get back to work, even though the Grizzlies took the day off Wednesday. He was in the gym with good friend Valentine hoisting shots.
The funk is also affecting Hamilton, who was 0 for 5 from 3-point range in his 30-point outing.
“Me and Bader are still a little bit off,” he said. “We have a couple days to get it back to where it should be.”
After going 0 for 7 from long distance in Tuesday’s second half, Oakland is in the midst of a four-day hiatus before playing Utah State Sunday in the CIT semifinal. 
It was announced Saturday morning the winner of the Oakland-Utah State semifinal will host the championship game of the CIT against the winner of the Mercer-Fairfield semi.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Former Oakland center Keith Benson reportedly called up to Golden State Warriors

Photo courtesy of NBDL
Multiple reports late Friday night indicate former Oakland standout Keith Benson will be called up by the Golden State Warriors after nearly two months playing in the NBA Developmental League.
Benson started in 18 of his 19 games with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, averaging 15.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
The repeat Summit League Player of the Year and 2010 Mid-Major Player of the Year was drafted 48th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in last year's NBA draft. He played briefly in Europe during the NBA lockout and was cut in training camp.
Benson signed with the NBDL in late-January and was placed with the Skyforce, whose home arena, Sioux Falls Arena, was quite familiar. Benson was 8-1 there as an Oakland player, winning consecutive Summit League Tournament titles there and leading Oakland to the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons.
Skyforce play-by-play broadcaster Peter Daniels first announced the move following Friday night's game via Twitter. Benson was quick to tweet "Man God is good" after the transaction was made.
Benson had 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in Friday's Skyforce win. He hit the game-winning free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining.

Grizzlies adjust to tournament ball; Utah State coach not happy with Sunday game

Oakland has now played three games, six halves, with the special Tournament ball. Despite early concerns, the Golden Grizzlies have only had one poor shooting performance -- the second half of Tuesday’s game against Rice, when Oakland was just 7 of 26 and an incredible 0 for 7 from 3-point range.
“We’ve shot it very well except for one half,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “There’s no complaints from me. Players are always looking for excuses and something to complain about.”
Guard Reggie Hamilton, who set a tournament record with 39 points in the Grizzlies’ opener against Bowling Green, still isn’t a fan of the new ball, but admitted it hasn’t slowed his game.
“It has a slippery feel,” Hamilton said. “When the ball gets wet, it’s super slippery.”
And speaking of Oakland’s quarterfinal being played Tuesday rather than Wednesday as the other three were, Kampe explained Oakland had the option of playing either night, but chose Tuesday in order for Oakland University President Gary Russi to attend.

New vocabulary
The Utah State broadcasting team became incensed after swearing could be heard originating from the Loyola Marymount bench in Wednesday’s semifinal. The duo may have to walk out on the job after they hear Kampe’s brand of coaching.
“I don’t change,” Kampe said about coaching in the conservative state of Utah. “I would prefer they lock me out of Utah so we don’t ever have to go back. If this is the last game Oakland ever plays in Utah, I’d be pleased.”
Southern Utah, located in Cedar City, which is by far the longest road trip Oakland takes each season, is dropping off the Grizzlies’ conference schedule after this season, so it’s quite possible Kampe won’t have to go back. Although, it’s unclear if the Grizzlies’ meeting with Utah Valley early this season was part of a home-and-home contract.
Sunday’s game with the Aggies was supposed to be played Saturday, but is being delayed because of the Western Athletic Conference gymnastics championships being held in the 10,000-seat Dee Glen Smith Spectrum Saturday.
Utah State coach Stew Morrill pleaded with fans to attend Sunday’s game.
“Obviously in this valley you would rather not play on Sunday, but you do what they tell you,” he told the Herald Journal of Logan, Utah. “You can’t play Saturday, but you can play Sunday and have a home game, you take it and run. We are a state school. Hopefully those that don’t like it will forgive us. Go to church and come to the game.”
Could religious observation dilute the home-court advantage that has helped propel the Aggies to wins in 99 of their last 105 home games?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Golden Grizzlies making a living (or killing) at the free-throw line

In all 20 wins this season, Oakland has gone to the free-throw line more than its opponent. The Grizzlies are a 0-7 when they don’t. That’s a pretty telling stat, and the free-throw disparity has gotten more significant as the postseason has continued.
Oakland has taken at least 21 free-throw attempts in each of its games in the Tournament. Their opponents have taken 27 attempts — combined. Fourteen of those came from Bowling Green in the first-round game.
Oakland was 25 of 34 from the line in Tuesday’s 77-70 win over Rice. The Owls were 7 of 9 from the free-throw line after Buffalo was just 2 of 4 in the second round. Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon wasn’t shy about disputing the officiating.
“We shoot a lot more free throws than our opponents,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe acknowledged Tuesday, and it’s likely due to the fact Oakland drives to the basket with reckless abandon in its dribble-drive offense.
“It’s an every game thing,” Kampe said of Reggie Hamilton in particular, who was 14 of 14 and has taken the most free-throw attempts in the nation (288) and also has the most makes (255).
“When you have a guy who has shot 300 free throws and made 275 of them, you’re going to win close games,” Kampe said.
The Grizzlies are ninth in the nation in free-throw attempts (955) and fifth in makes (630). Their opponents have taken 632 attempts. 
Oakland took a season-high 38 free throws, making 29, in an early-season win over Utah Valley. The Wolverines also found their way to the line that night, going 25 of 34. 
The Grizzlies' season low was a 6-for-8 performance at Arkansas nearly two weeks earlier. 

Distant Rice
The Owls made their longest road trip of the season, more than 1,300 miles, to play Tuesday at the O’rena in the only CIT quarterfinal not held on Wednesday. Rice beat Drake Saturday evening to advance to the quarterfinals.

“Flawless” and “textbook” were used to describe the Grizzlies’ first half, in which they went up by as many as 19 and carried an 18-point advantage into halftime. The travel could have also been a factor, but Rice coach Ben Braun stopped short blaming the turnaround time.

“We’re not going to use that as an alibi, (but) it affected our first half,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of prep time. And at this stage of the season, you don’t need that. It was a tough turnaround.”
Whatever they lacked in the first half, the Owls rediscovered in the second. Rice outscored Oakland, 40-29, after opening on an 8-1 run. They cut the lead to just three, but couldn’t get any closer. Braun credited his team’s depth to wearing down Oakland, which only called on its reserves for 20 minutes.
“We were the dominant team in the second half,” Braun said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Now, it’s Oakland’s turn to travel. After a season full of sky miles, the Golden Grizzlies are “95 percent certain,” again Greg Kampe’s words, to be on the road for the semifinals of the CIT after hosting the first three rounds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Oakland bends, but doesn’t break during second half Rice run

There aren’t too many teams that could withstand the first half Oakland had, but as coach Greg Kampe said, he knew Rice was going to make a run, that’s just what teams good enough to hail from Conference USA are capable of. But with the leads Oakland has lost this season, even Tuesday’s 18-point halftime advantage didn’t seem safe.
“You get some of that on your mind,” Kampe said. “But what I tried to do on that run was rest Reggie. I knew we just had to be one point ahead when it was over. There’s no style points.”
The Owls made an 8-1 surge to start the half and come within nine points with 17 minutes to play. The deficit stayed at a similar range until Rice came within six with 11:30 to play. Six straight points from Reggie Hamilton, and Oakland was back ahead by 12 with 10 minutes to go.
“Coach Kampe told us in the locker room they’re going to make their run,” Hamilton said. “Unfortunately, their run was too good. We held it together and players made plays.”
Then the Owls get within three and Drew Valentine misses a pair of free throws. (Where have you seen this before?) The Grizzlies begin splitting at the line, except when Hamilton steps up. He was 14 for 14 Tuesday. Their defense stepped up, too, clamping down and getting stops around the two-minute mark.
All the while, Kampe held on to his timeouts until the bitter end.
“I hear it all the time that I’m going to take all those timeouts to my grave, but I just don’t believe in them,” he said. “My players are good enough to stop runs. There’s a media timeout every four minutes. Every once in a while I’ll use one to stop a run, but I’m not big into that. Those timeouts are critical at the end of the game, especially with our deficiencies and our youth.
“We were able to use all those timeouts to make personnel changes and I’m not going to say we won because of that, but it was a benefit to have that.”
And with the win, Oakland becomes the first Summit League team to win three postseason games in the same season.
Bench coming up short
Laval Lucas-Perry’s free throw make was the only point scored by Oakland’s bench, which was outscored, 26-1. The Grizzlies’ reserves were outscored, 34-0, in Saturday’s win over Buffalo, but did outscore Bowling Green, 17-7.
Much of the bench scoring throughout the season came from Travis Bader, who has started the past six games.
“It’s win time,” Kampe said. “Our top five players are starting and you only need five out there. I know Laval can get 20 any night, so it could happen.”
Gray Day
Oakland got back over .500 when wearing the alternate gray uniforms they designate for big games. The Grizzlies are now 3-2 after wearing them during the Homecoming loss Jan. 28. They’ve also worn them in wins over Tennessee and IUPUI, which snapped a six-game losing streak. They’ve won the alternates in the aforementioned loss to North Dakota State as well as against Michigan at The Palace.

Article supposes Oakland to Horizon League after Butler exit

Something Oakland fans and likely coaches and everyone associated with Oakland athletics has wanted for a long time could eventually come to reality, as Butler is rumored to be leaving the Horizon League in favor of the Atlantic 10. The move would open the doors for a new team in the Great Lakes-area league, which features teams in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
A recent story in the Green Bay Gazette hypothesizes Oakland could fill the vacancy, but goes great lengths to imply the Golden Grizzlies wouldn't have the same drawing power as the repeat Final Four contestant Bulldogs.
"Oakland has a solid program that has had its share of success in the Summit League, formerly the Mid-Con, but it won't put fans in the seats like Butler did. When the Bulldogs visited the other nine Horizon League schools, those schools regularly drew their biggest crowds of the season."
It's more than likely Oakland-Detroit games would sell out, at least for the first season. And with closer road trips, it's likely more fans would be inclined to follow their team to Youngstown State, than say North Dakota State.
We all know how much easier the travel would be for the Golden Grizzlies, who routinely make trips of 700 to more than 1,000 miles to play — in conference. Two of the farthest trips, Southern Utah and Oral Roberts, are both being scratched as the schools exit the conference, however. The travel savings to the athletic department would still be immense.
The Gazette supposes any new additions wouldn't make the Horizon any better than the league Oakland would be leaving.
"Whether it's Oakland and/or someone else, the minute the Horizon League loses Butler, it becomes no better than the Summit League, the conference it tried so hard to distance itself from."
It's long been rumored Detroit blocked Oakland from joining the Horizon League when membership was last available. The story mentions the Titans' veto power, but it's difficult to assume they would automatically block Oakland.
"It probably will add a school like Oakland (Mich.), unless Detroit has enough clout to block that."
As eager as fans seem to be about leaving the wide reaches of the Summit League, would men's basketball coach Greg Kampe want to leave a league the team has called home for nearly three decades?
"You never say never about something like that," he said when Oral Roberts announced it would be leaving the Summit League for the more regional Southland Conference after this season. He supposed the move was motivated at least in part by travel expenses.
"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 20 more years? Sure. I don't know what's going to happen in the future."
Note the story mentioned above indicates no moves would be made until the 2013-14 season, so an official announcement won't happen until all the contracts are signed, and this is all predicated on Butler leaving the Horizon League and other league members approving a new member.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reggie Hamilton hanging in rare company

Besides a fourth consecutive 20-win season and a berth in the CIT semifinals, there is something else significant about Tuesday’s game against Rice. Oakland guard Reggie Hamilton, the nation’s leading scorer, is just 12 points away from 900 for the season.
“That’s an incredible feat,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “I don’t know if you’ll ever see anything like this again. I’ve never seen anything like that and I’ve been watching basketball for a long time.”
Kampe considers LSU’s “Pistol” Pete Maravich the best college player of all-time. Maravich scored more than 1,000 points in three consecutive seasons from 1968-70 before players were allowed to play their freshman seasons. Maravich is the all-time career leading scorer with more than 3,667 points scored, an average of 44.2 points per game. His single-season averages during that run are also the highest of all-time.
The Tigers played just 24 games in Maravich’s sophomore and junior seasons.
“You’re putting Reggie Hamilton in the same stratosphere as Pete Maravich,” Kampe exclaimed.
If Oakland were to win Tuesday, Hamilton could have as many as two more games to make a run at 1,000 points. He’s averaging 34 per game in the CIT.
Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette led the nation in scoring last season with 28.9 points per game and Hamilton is poised to become the Summit League’s first scoring champion at 26.1 points per game.  
Fredette was the first scoring champion to top the 1,000-point mark since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in 1993-94. Just 12 different scoring champions have hit the mark.

Golden Grizzlies returning to early-season form

While Oakland struggled through the middle of its regular-season schedule, coach Greg Kampe kept saying he was waiting for the team from November to show up. The Golden Grizzlies were 4-2 in that month with wins over Houston, a common opponent with Tuesday’s opponent Rice; Utah Valley and Tennessee. Oakland also battled at No. 19 Alabama and Arkansas.
The Grizzlies went on to run their winning streak to six games before a six-game slump ensued in late December and early January. Oakland appeared to have righted the ship, finishing the conference season 9-3 after a 2-4 start, earning the third seed to the Summit League Tournament. Then, they fell in a quarterfinal to No. 6 seed Southern Utah after squandering an 11-point lead in the final three minutes of the game.
“It was just a freak thing that happened,” Kampe said. “We played a great game and I told everybody that over and over. Southern Utah played a heck of a game and we played even better. We had a disastrous last two minutes of that game.”
The Grizzlies have won seven of nine going into Tuesday’s Tournament quarterfinal.
“I was happy with the way we were playing,” Kampe said. “We were poised and ready to make a statement in the Summit League tournament and we played a great game. A freak disaster happened and this tournament has allowed us to come back from that and continue to play and pick ourselves up off the ground and move forward and that’s what this team has done.”
With its second-round CIT win over Drake, Rice has now won two postseason games for the first time in its history. Kampe credited coach Ben Braun, who has a history of turning programs around.
“They’ve had basketball at Rice for 100 years and this is the first time they’ve won two postseason games in the same season. He’s done one heck of a job and it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known Ben since he was at Siena (Heights).”
The Owls play out of the motion offense, which led to their season-high tying 21 assists in Saturday’s win over Drake. Oakland has seen that formation a few times this season, most notably with the Dakotas. The Grizzlies were 1-4 against their conference counterparts in North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
“We know how to guard it, whether we can or not depends on the level of player,” Kampe said. (Rice) is a little bit bigger and stronger (than the Dakotas).”

Three’s a crowd
Oakland will host its third postseason game of the season Tuesday, an extra shot in the arm not seen the past two seasons when the Grizzlies played in the neutral-site NCAA tournament. The Grizzlies’ first game against Bowling Green saw 2,015 fans, while Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day matinee had 1,685 in attendance.
Many games around the CIT, with a few exceptions, are seeing similar attendance to Oakland’s home games, near the 2,000 mark.
“We’ll get more Tuesday as you go farther in the tournament,” Kampe said. “Anyone who was there Saturday would want to come back because it’s exciting, great basketball.”
The unseasonably warm March weather has also affected the turnout, Kampe said.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a game at Oakland where people were wearing shorts,” he said. “This unique weather has affected us.”

Good sign
Oakland recruit Lloyd Neely from Detroit Crockett finished fifth in the voting for the annual Mr. Basketball award, announced Monday.  
“I was very excited Lloyd was a finalist for Mr. Basketball,” Kampe said. “We really wanted him to win, but he had a fantastic year to be put into consideration as a finalist with four others.”
Neely was also Public School League player of the year.
Oakland forward Drew Valentine’s brother, Lansing Sexton’s Denzel Valentine, was second in the Mr. Basketball voting.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Officiating takes Buffalo out of its game

Oakland credited its entire team defense and rebounding for helping in Saturday’s win over Buffalo. The Bulls largely credited the officiating, which sent them to the line for just four attempts, while Oakland was 20 of 24 from the line.
“One of the teams got to the free-throw line,” Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “One obviously didn’t and that was the difference in the game.”
The bulls finished with 20 personal fouls to Oakland’s 12, as the Bulls had just one free-throw attempt in the second half.
“It’s not a good way to end the season,” Witherspoon said. “All but four teams are going to say that when the season ends. I will say this: We must have made somebody mad somewhere because we didn’t get to the free-throw line. There’s not a whole lot our guys can do about that. That’s clearly the case when you shoot four free throws the entire game.”
Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Mitchell Watt was frustrated by the officiating because it forced him to change his defensive strategy.
“We were taken out of our way of playing defense,” he said. “The fouls started from the beginning. I go straight up and a 5-11 guard falls into my waistband throwing up some junk and it’s a foul. It changes the whole way you have to play defense. You have to play with your hands off and try and contain somebody, that restricts you from playing physical defense.
“That took us out of the way we like to play hard-nosed, physical defense.”
Witherspoon did not relent when asked how Oakland would fare in the Mid-American Conference.
“If they could shoot 24 for free throws, they could win our league,” he said.
The Bulls finished in second place in the MAC East behind Akron after the regular-season battle came down to the last week of the season. MAC tournament champion Ohio was third in the East Division behind Buffalo and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Oakland plays big, battles on boards in CIT victory over Buffalo

Two things especially concerned Oakland coach Greg Kampe on the eve of Saturday’s second round Tournament matchup with Buffalo: The Bulls’ rebounding, and their two first-team all Mid-American forwards Mitchell Watt and Javon McCrea.
The Bulls, fourth in the nation in rebounding at more than 40 per game, did win the battle of the boards, 34-30, but the advantage was slight enough as not to affect the overall outcome.
Mitchell was held to 10 points after scoring eight in the first half. McCrea had just eight points total after a two-point first half.
“(Our effort) was outstanding,” Kampe said. “They got a couple easy ones when we were tired and (Drew) Valentine got caught behind a couple times. We double-teamed hard, that’s why they got some open looks early and hit some shots. We knew that would have a wearing effect. After 40 minutes, a guy who’s usually a 21-percent 3-point shooter is going to do that. He’s going to make a couple, but usually you want them to do that because they’ll keep shooting.”
Kampe said the key to success was simple repetition.  
“The wear-down effect worked,” he said. “(Travis) Bader was outstanding in his ability to double the post. Valentine and (Corey) Petros really did a nice job. Petros did a great job on (Watt). He only scored two points in the second half and it was a left-handed fadeaway hook late in the game.
Watt and Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon had another idea why the Bulls played the way they did, and it centered mostly around the officiating and the fact Buffalo was awarded just four free-throw attempts.

Reservations for zero
Not only did Oakland’s bench contribute zero points Saturday, Kyle Sikora, Laval Lucas-Perry and Dante Williams collectively didn’t make a shot attempt.
“I think this is the first time I’ve ever coached a game where we didn’t get any scoring from the bench and not even got a shot attempt,” said Kampe, in his 28th year at Oakland.  
Kampe expects more from his reserves Tuesday.
“I went with my starters and I used my timeouts to rest them,” he said. “I didn’t need to substitute, so I didn’t play him. We’re not going to be able to do that every night, so we need Kyle on Tuesday and we’re going to need Laval."
Being in the postseason, Kampe felt compelled to coach as if there were no tomorrow.
“You don’t want to live that life, but we had to do that tonight to win,” he said. “Buffalo is a very good basketball team.”
The Bulls entered the game with an RPI of 79, while the Grizzlies’ was 142. It was just Oakland’s third win over a top-100 RPI team, bringing the Grizzlies’ record to 3-8 this season in such games.

Ryan Bass being rewarded for his hard work

Reggie Hamilton nearly had his ninth straight 30-point game, but it was sophomore Ryan Bass who was the talk of the town Saturday, scoring a career-high 22 points, going 3 of 4 from long range in the win over Buffalo.
“He’s our Vinnie Johnson,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said referring to the former Pistons reserve guard known as “The Microwave” for his ability to heat up quickly. “He’s a guy that I would rather have off the bench, but we can’t afford to do that now. He’s going to have nights where he does this in his future because he’s very confident kid. You can’t guard him because he’s so quick.”
Bass’ numbers from beyond the arc are significant because he’s added the distance shooting to a team that already had two solid long-range threats in Travis Bader and Hamilton.  
“He’ll hit a pull-up jump shot and you’ll back off him, and what he’s improved now is that he can really hit the 3,” Kampe said. “He couldn’t do that when he got here.”
Kampe also credited Bass’ defense on Buffalo sharp-shooter Zach Filzen, the Mid-American Conference leader in 3-point shooting.
Hamilton was also excited to see Bass’ work pay off.
“It’s exciting when you see guys going out there and putting in work behind the scenes and they go out there and believe in themselves and they also put on a show,” Hamilton said.
“I was able to relax out there and count on other guys and it felt good.”

Quality, not quantity
Oakland got a boost from another late-arriving crowd in the second round of the Tournament Saturday on another beautiful March day over 70 degrees. And it was St. Patrick’s Day to boot.
“We didn’t have a large crowd today, which was a little disappointing. But it was a very vocal crowd,” Kampe said. “Our team said after the game it was a like a sold-out crowd all the noise that was going on in here.”
A reported 1,685 fans were in attendance Saturday.
“People don’t understand how that helps you when you get tired going down the stretch of a game and our crowd had a lot to do with us winning,” Kampe said.

Stops and runs
Oakland took the lead for the first time after a 15-2 run in the closing minutes of the first half. They held that lead throughout the rest of the game, but the Bulls did tie the game with 3:51 to play, threatening to become the latest team to steal a game away in the closing minuets. Then, the Grizzlies forced turnovers on two straight possessions and held the five-point lead they had amassed.
“We played a great defensive game overall, even in the first half,” Hamilton said. “They were shooting like 60 percent at one point. We clamped down and took over and that carried into the second half. We kept that same energy down to the end and capitalized on their mistakes.”
Kampe was encouraged by the defensive effort, especially over last four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half.
“We were phenomenal on defense,” he said. “Our covers were great. We got misses and we played an outstanding game.”
Bass, who played 33 minutes, could feel the intensity.
“We were all communicating and that allowed us to have a great game on defense,” he said.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Matchup confusion caused by logistical miscalculation

If you were at the O’rena Wednesday or read The Oakland Press Thursday, you probably thought Oakland was playing Toledo Saturday at the O’rena. The Grizzlies instead will be hosting MAC East runner-up Buffalo, which was announced Thursday morning and accounted for in the online edition of Wednesday’s game story and blogs.
“I got a phone call at midnight and they asked if we’d be willing to play Buffalo because they couldn’t host and Toledo could,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “So now, they’re sending Robert Morris to Toledo and Buffalo to us.”
Oakland, which is 18-15, would likely had a more favorable matchup with Toledo.
“I said ‘Yeah, I’m OK with that, until I realized Buffalo was one of the better teams in the MAC,” Kampe joked. “We’re just so happy to be in it and playing at home, I didn’t care.”

The long-time coach also wasn’t concerned with the fact the Bulls are allowing just 67 points per game. He pointed to the contrasting styles of play in the MAC and Summit League for an explanation, feeling confident if the Grizzlies get near Wednesday’s point total, they have a good chance to advance to the third round of the College Insider Tournament.
“If we can get to 85 points, we can win,” Kampe said.
Defensively, Oakland was forced to swtich to a zone defense to counteract Bowling Green’s pick-and-roll offense. That’s a luxary they won’t have Saturday.
“They have a (Travis) Bader-type shooter,” Kampe said of Bulls guard Zach Filzen, who led the MAC in 3-pointers made with three per game. (For comparison, Bader averages 3.4 treys per game, third in the nation.)  “It’s going to be tough to play zone.”
Freshman Corey Petros will be tasked with guarding MAC player of the year Mitchell Watt as Kyle Sikora is expected to play sparingly after spraining his ankle before Wednesday’s game.
“We’re just going to play. I don’t think we’re going to do anything special,” Kampe said. “We’ll double if we have to.”

Planting the seed
According to a Buffalo hoops blog, the Grizzlies are the No. 17 team in the 32-team CIT field, while the Bulls are second. Weber State from the Big Sky conference was the No. 1 overall team and Robert Morris was third.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kyle Sikora’s injury clears the way for Dante Williams

Freshman Kyle Sikora played just two minutes after starting Wednesday’s game after spraining his ankle in practice Tuesday. That opened the way for fellow frosh Dante Williams, who scored a career-high seven points, including his first 3-pointer, which put the Grizzlies up three right before the half. He played a total of seven minutes.
“I’ve been on him lately,” Kampe said. “For a freshman, he hit a huge 3 before the half. He finished by the basket for us with the pressure late in the game.
“He’s long and athletic and can guard. If he can finish like that, we’ll play him more.”
In Sikora’s absence, Kampe was forced to play Corey Petros 34 minutes, where he grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Kampe will have more opportunity to use Williams Saturday, because he doesn’t expect Sikora to play in Oakland’s second-round game against Buffalo. 

Switching it up
After not guarding the ball-screen well, Kampe switched Oakland defensive strategy.
“The move to zone was big for us,” he said. “We don’t play much zone, but it took the pick and roll out of the game and we dared them to shoot and they were not having a good shooting night. It didn’t take a lot of intelligence to realize we should play some zone.

Reggie Hamilton comes alive in second half

It’s hard to think after an 11-point first-half performance that Reggie Hamilton would be the College Insider Tournament’s single-game scoring leader, but he finished with 39 points to overtake the mark set last season.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe felt Hamilton was tentative in the first half.
“He’s not usually a guy that will go for 22 in each half,” Kampe said. “When he sees we need him, he goes. I was mad at him because he turned down some shots in the first half, 3s against that zone, because he wanted to probe. I wanted him scoring. Then he was complaining about the ball.
“He came out and shot and once he did that, he became Reggie.”
It began at the free-throw line, where Hamilton began the night 12 for 12, as he hit two shots to tie the game after an early second-half run by Bowling Green. He then hit consecutive 3-pointers before another pair at the line, as he scored 10 straight Oakland points in nearly a four-minute span.
“There isn’t anyone in the country who can guard him,” Kampe said. “He is an unbelievable talent with the ball. He gets carried away, but all great players do.”

In the zone
Hamilton and his teammates benefited from the Falcons’ zone defense, which allowed them to shoot nearly 50 percent. They also collected 13 offensive rebounds to help their cause.
“We knew we could shoot the ball and we preached it all through practice that no team should ever be able to play zone against us,” he said. “It just comes down to us knocking down shots. Tonight, a lot of us did that.”
The Grizzlies were 28 of 59 on the night, led by Hamilton’s 10 of 16 and Travis Bader’s 8-of-17 night.  “We found gaps in the high post and were able to kick it out,” Bader said.
Kampe considered it a case of each team doing what it does best. 
“When you have the shooters we have, they have to stretch their zone. … They have to get out and guard us on perimeter because of the way we shoot the ball," he said.

Subtle changes as College Insider Tourney comes to O’rena

Hosting a national postseason tournament brought just a couple slight changes to the O’rena Wednesday evening, as Oakland dispatched Bowling Green. 
Maintenance had to change the net of the north end goal at the O’rena prior to the opening tip because a link had become torn. But the biggest change is the game balls. They’re branded with a large College Insider logo and can be hard to grip. It was on Reggie Hamilton’s mind, as he hesitated to shoot from the outside in the first half.
“He was complaining that it was slippery,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “I said, ‘Reggie, you’re 1 of 2 from the 3. I would rather you be 1 of 15 from 3 than (Corey) Petros turning it over seven times. Shoot it’.”
That Hamilton did, scoring 28 second-half points on his way to a new single-game tournament record 39 points.
The Grizzlies had an incident at Illinois last season where much of the first half was played with a women’s ball, smaller than the standard size used in a men’s game. The Grizzlies were shooting well after airballing some early shots.
Also, the 2,015 in attendance was similar to an Oakland home game this season as well as their first home game in the CIT against Kent State in 2009.

Big MAC attack
Kampe said with the league season shortened to 16 games, it’s possible more MAC schools could find their way onto Oakland’s schedule.
“We used to play them all the time and we would like to continue to play them,” he said. “It’s hard. You have to get so many big-time games and then we have 18 league games. Now that we’re going down to 16 league games, you’ll see more Toledos and Bowling Greens on the schedule.”
Although Oakland’s all-time record against MAC schools is just 19-40, Kampe estimated the Grizzlies are 15-10 over their last 25 against the conference. For comparison’s sake, Kampe liked what the Summit League has been able to accomplish against his former conference.
“Oral Roberts beat their champion,” he said. “South Dakota State beat Buffalo by 20-something. We played their top teams.”
He added Oakland would have fared well in the MAC-heavy CIT the past two seasons had they not reached the NCAA tournament.

CIT first round vs. Bowling Green live chat

Monday, March 12, 2012

Greg Kampe faces alma mater once again; top scorers Hamilton, Lillard could meet in CIT

Reggie Hamilton could see 2nd-leading scorer Damian Lillard in the CIT.
For the first time in three years, Oakland wasn’t participating in Selection Sunday as the NCAA tournament field was announced on CBS. The Grizzlies already knew their fate, a return to the College Insider Tournament.
“You feel sick about it. I feel bad for our fans and bad for our kids,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “I kept saying at the end of last year that people don’t realize how lucky we’ve been. … You get used to winning and it isn’t easy.  Hopefully our players feel the same way I do watching this.”
Fellow Summit League standout Oral Roberts, which matched the Grizzlies’ 17-1 regular-season mark of a season ago, was the first team left outside of the field of 68 for the Big Dance. Kampe sympathized with the Golden Eagles’ plight.
“I wasn’t surprised by it but I felt bad about it,” he said. “They deserved it and earned it. … That could’ve been us.”
The Eagles defeated top-10 Xavier on the road as well as Texas Tech and carried an RPI of 46 on Sunday.
“The way things have changed and the landscape of college basketball and how good everyone is getting, they’re looking for reasons to keep teams out of that tournament. Oral Roberts scheduled well. You can’t blame them,” Kampe said.
“What they’re basically telling us is: ‘You’re not getting in unless you win your league.’ ”
As far as Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies are concerned, it’s a homecoming of sorts for the longtime Oakland coach, who will face his alma mater, Bowling Green, in Wednesday’s CIT first-round game. 
Kampe is a 1978 graduate of the school where he became the first and only player in Mid-American Conference history to earn first-team all-academic honors in both football and basketball. The Grizzlies have won the past three meetings in the all-time series.
“I spent a lot of time there and I have a lot of close, good friends,” Kampe said. “It’s a program close to my heart. I’ve always wished them success and to do well, but I’m going to have to cheer against them Wednesday.”
The MAC is sending three teams to the CIT for the second consecutive season, while the Falcons (16-15) haven’t been to the postseason in three years.
The most notable other name in the CIT would be Big Sky runner-up Weber State (24-6), which features the nation’s second-leading scorer in Damian Lillard. He is, of course, second behind Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton.
It’s possible the two teams could later meet, as the CIT won’t actually be seeded until the second round. 
“Two of the top scorers in the nation in the same tournament is pretty exciting, but the bigger picture is I get another chance to play a game in front of the Oakland fans," Hamilton said. "That’s pretty sweet and I’m excited for it.”
After collapsing in the Big Sky tourney championship game, the Wildcats were expecting an NIT berth, but were sorely disappointed.
Oakland kicks off its fourth consecutive postseason run Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the O’rena. The game can be heard on WXOU-AM (88.3) and a live chat will be available on “Grizzlies Den.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oakland headed back to College Insider Tournament

While Oakland won't be in the NCAA tournament this season, the Golden Grizzlies have accepted an offer to play in the College Insider Tournament for the second time in four seasons. Oakland played in the inaugural event in 2009 after falling to North Dakota State in the Summit League Tournament final on a last-second shot. The Grizzlies then went on to lose on a three-quarters court shot to Bradley in the second-round of the CIT.
Oakland will host a first-round game Wednesday at 7 p.m., but its opponent won't be announced until Monday once the fields for the NCAA and NIT tournaments are announced. 
"I'm very excited to reach postseason for the fourth consecutive year," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "It is quite an accomplishment when you consider who we lost off last year's team. I am happy for our players and to be able to host makes it even sweeter."
Oakland beat Kent State in a home game at the O'rena three years ago before falling to Bradley, which advanced to the tournament final against Old Dominion.
The tourney field consisted of just 16 teams the first year, but has since been expanded to 24 teams. The tournament's top four teams earn second-round byes. It's unclear how Oakland (17-15) will be seeded.
Oral Roberts played in the tournament last season after losing to Oakland in the Summit League Tournament final, which earned the Golden Grizzlies their second consecutive berth in the NCAA tourney and third overall.
Participating teams are required to finish with a winning record over the final 10 games of the season. Oakland finished 7-3 before losing in Sunday's conference tournament quarterfinal to Southern Utah.
Some of the other household names to take part in past tournaments includes: Valparaiso, Western Michigan and Harvard.
It's possible Summit League Tournament finalist Western Illinois could be invited to the CIT or its competitor, the College Basketball Invitational, a 16-team tournament, which was founded a year earlier. Summit regular-season champion Oral Roberts is likely to accept a bid to the NIT it earned with a 17-1 conference record. The Leathernecks defeated the Golden Eagles in a Monday semifinal before falling to South Dakota State in overtime Tuesday.  
Tickets are on sale for next Wednesday's game at and Seats can be purchased for as low as $7.