Sunday afternoon should be our first semi-major test of the season. Oakland comes to town for the first game of the Chicago Invitational Challenge. The Golden Grizzlies were an NCAA Tournament team a season ago. It was their second time ever in the Big Dance, and it was a short trip as they lost 89-66 in the first round to Pittsburgh. That was a lot like how their entire season went. They were 26-9 overall and 20-1 against Summit League competition (dropping one of three games against IUPUI), but they were 0-6 against major conference teams.
For this preview we can get some inside information. Corey from Golden Grizzlies Gameplan contacted me a few weeks ago about this game. He and a buddy will be heading to West Lafayette for the game, so let's make him feel welcome. He answered some questions for me about Oakland, and my answers will be posted at his site.
2010-11 Record (1-1)
2009-10 Record (26-9, 17-1 Summit League) Regular Season and Conference Tournament Champions
Postseason result: Lost to Pittsburgh 89-66 to Pittsburgh in NCAA Tournament
Blog Representation: Golden Grizzlies Gameplan
Series With Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0 (won 89-71 on 12/2/2001)
T-Mill: First off, please tell me you still have the tall white guy with the big tattoo of the state of Wisconsin on his bicep. I have seen some hilarious tattoos, but that one breaks the Unintentional Comedy Scale for ink. if you have a picture that would be great.
Corey: Yep, Will Hudson. His tattoo was definitely the subject of a few telecaster conversations during the season. I guess the guy is just very proud of his home state. Fortunately, he's made a big impact in Michigan as well as a Golden Grizzly.
Best Tattoo ever?
T-Mill: On a more serious note, who returns from your NCAA Tournament team and how does that experience help this year's team?
Corey: Oakland returns three starters from last season, all three of which are seniors now. So Keith Benson, Will Hudson, and Larry Wright are all very experienced players who have seen it all. They've lost a conference tournament on a last second shot (well Larry was redshirting that year due to transferring from St. John's), they've won a conference tournament, and they've been to the Big Dance. However, they were not happy with the way their NCAA Tournament game against Pittsburgh ended, so this year's motivation is to get back and have a better showing. Having those three guys leading the way is pretty significant, especially since a number of the other contributors and role players this year are freshmen and sophomores.
T-Mill: You're playing a manly non-conference schedule this year that includes West Virginia, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, and Tennessee. Any chance of an at large bid if you swing some upsets and run the table in the Summit League?
Corey: (as an aside, I pretty much wrote a whole article on this here) It's so incredibly difficult for a league like The Summit League to get an at-large bid. So many things have to go right, and oftentimes in the past teams from these one-bid leagues who do have a successful season still end up on the outside looking in. The main thing for a school like Oakland is winning the conference tournament and not letting it come to an at-large discussion. Now the great thing is that Coach Greg Kampe always has a brutal non-conference schedule, where the team could be in that discussion if they did win 2-3 of those games and kept the others fairly close while going 17-1 or so in conference play. In recent history, Oakland hasn't been particularly competitive in these games against Big Ten teams and the like, but with senior big men Keith Benson and Will Hudson in the middle, the games will more or less come down to guard play. Against West Virginia, the guards struggled. So if they can hunker down on defense and get active on the offensive end, these match-ups become a little less one-sided for Oakland.
T-Mill: What type of style does Oakland play and how does it match up with Purdue?
Corey: I've seen both Purdue games this year, and through those two games the Boilers have just absolutely manhandled their opponents. Quick, athletic, talented at every position, guys capable of knocking down the three. That is a combination which frustrated Oakland against West Virginia, particularly the three-ball. I'm hopeful that Keith Benson will more or less contain JaJuan Johnson in the paint, or at least match his offensive output. Oakland will no doubt be looking to get Benson involved first and foremost, and from there opening up good looks on the perimeter. If those two aspects of the game aren't clicking, then Purdue's quickness and defensive tenacity will most likely result in a lot of fastbreak points for the Boilers. On the other hand, Oakland's guards looked great and played solid defense in their last game against the defending MAC champions, so if they can build on that here, this game will be much closer than the two you've had already.