Posted on: August 16, 2011 3:10 pm

Trippin': Oakland moves on without NBAer Benson

In our Trippin' series we're talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin' related stories

By Matt Norlander

Very few mid- and low-major programs have to go through what Oakland and head coach Greg Kampe will in 2011-12, the loss of an NBA-level player that was utterly dominant in his league during his junior and senior seasons. It’s a blessing every coach wants to be cursed with. I spoke with Kampe on the phone Tuesday, and he told me he’s never had to replace a player like Keith Benson (drafted 48th to the Atlanta Hawks) before.

It’s a challenge he accepts, and he acknowledged that this team will have a different identity, a different personality, than it did when Benson was with the team. And that speaks to Benson’s play, purely, because when asked if Benson was a man of few words, Kampe responded, “Fewer than that.”  The team was 50-3 in their last 53 league games while playing with Benson.

Oakland played in two locations last week — Windsor and London, Ontario. The team went 2-1 overall against Western Ontario and Windsor, which they split a two-game series with.

What Kampe learned: “I think the key was the 10 days of practice. We have three to four freshmen that are going to have to play a major part of our season. What we were able to do is get those freshmen game minutes in the summer. They weren’t very productive minutes, but I know we gave people the chance to go out and show us something. The freshmen have a ways to go for them to be good, but we’re going to need them to be good for us to be good.”

What or who impressed him: Freshman forward Dante Williams, a 6-6, 170-pound guy “who played well in all three games.” Kampe said Williams established himself as a player who can and should play a lot of minutes. Kampe also said Corey Petros, a  6-10, 243-pound 4 guy, made a noticeable impact. Petros is also a freshman. Those two stood out above the other young guys.

What concerned him: “We’ve been a dominant inside team, and now we have to get our veteran players to trust our freshmen in there.” Initially the concern was about rebounding, but the Grizzlies were dominant on the boards — despite the lower level of play.

— Despite Benson’s departure, Oakland does have a player-of-the-year candidate in Reggie Hamilton, pictured above with Kampe. Hamilton actually had a better offensive rating and a factored into Oakland’s offense more frequently than Benson last season. He was First Team in the Summit League last season. He scored 29 in the team’s first game against Windsor.  

— On the injury front, the Grizzlies do get a redshirt junior coming back. Guard Blake Cushingberry was a starter two years ago. Then, seven days prior to the start of last season he blew out his ACL. Cushingberry practiced all 10 days in August but did not play in the games due to some disciplinary issues, Kampe said.

— Other losses from last season’s team include all-league player Will Hudson, who recently signed with Gold Coast Blaze, an Australian pro team, and Larry Wright, the Summit’s Sixth Man of the Year.

— Kampe said despite the youth of the team, depth isn’t an issue. Just the opposite, in fact. “I think our strength is that we have depth. Now, do we have talent? I won’t know that until the start of the season. We’ve got five guys that have been a starter at Oakland or in the Big Ten.” Three of those starters are perimeter guys from last year in Hamilton, who scored 25 in the NCAAs against Texas; Travis Bader, who made 93 3-pointers last season; and Drew Valentine, a junior forward who Kampe said was the most important player on the team and the best defender in the league.

— The team also has Laval Lucas-Perry, a starter at Michigan who transferred two years ago. He’ll be the backup point guard and will see minutes, as well as Joey Asbury, a 6-7, 200-pound forward.

— With a small group of guys, don’t be surprised to see Oakland go with a four-guard look here and there. They play the dribble-drive as is, so it can be advantageous. “We’re not used to being that small, but there’s a very good chance that’s the route we’re going to go,” Kampe said.

— And the last time Kampe talked to Keith? Just before the trip. Because of the NBA lockout, Benson has been diligent in working out and honing his skills on Oakland’s campus.  

CBSSports.com's list of teams taking preseason trips

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 15, 2011 12:40 pm

Those 13 seeds are mighty tempting

Posted by Matt Norlander

Have we ever seen a set of 13s look so good? While I've argued that, come the Elite Eight, we're going see seeding hold largely to form, there exists a lot of opportunity for upsets in the first round. And no crop is riper for excitement for than the 4-vs.13 games.

The reason this exists is due to some serious mis-seeding. The biggest issue for these 13s: they have to play arguably the best crop of fours in tournament history. If you look at the fours, Kentucky and Texas hardly seem like they belong; a three for each is more appropriate. And though Louisville and Wisconsin fit the description, they get opponents who rank among the best 13s of all-time, or are facing a player who's the best on the floor. This confluence of bracket blundering sets up games with a lot of intrigue and unpredictability.

Let's look at the 13s, and just how good they are. I think the odds set up fairly well that at least one of these teams break through to the weekend.

Oakland. I mentioned the Oakland-Texas game as one of my five favorites Sunday night. The Grizzlies have Keith Benson, a future pro who isn't just a plant-him-in-the-paint big man. He can step out and shoot it. Frankly, he poses miserable matchup problems for most teams. (Texas may not figure to be one of them, however.) Benson ranks in the upper echelon in 12 tempo-free categories. There aren't 20 other players who can claim the same. Reggie Hamilton, at 5-11, is a nice outside-outside option to Benson whenever the big man roams free. Hamilton is a more-reliable shooter than Benson and also ranks in the top 35 in assist rate.

Embrace the Big Bears because they shoot it terrifically. Their effective field goal percentage is third-best in the land at 56.1 percent. They hit their twos at a 55.8-percent rate -- second best, nationally. The only teams in the field who avoid getting their shots swatted is North Carolina and Wisconsin; the Grizzlies get soup sent back on 8.6 percent of their possessions.

There argument against the Grizzlies: They don't turn teams over and they foul way, way too much. Against Texas, this is problematic, to put it kindly.

Belmont. The sexy upset pick. No matter what team the drew, the Bruins would have their cult following eager and ready to pen them into the second round. Rick Byrd's team draw Wisconsin, which is unfortunate. Belmont turns people over more efficiently than every team except one (Duquesne). You know how turns the ball over the least? Yes, Wisconsin.

But back to the Bruins. The Atlantic Sun has never had such a dominant team represent the conference in the NCAAs. The Bruins were smacking conference foes by 30-plus on a nightly basis, acting, basically, as though it was a power-conference team in low-major purgatory. The Bruins are top-10 in effective field goal percentage and top 15 in offensive rebounding. The Bruins' efficiency split between offense and defense, per 100 possessions, is 22 points! That's rather ridiculous for a low-major team. Byrd's team is so efficient because he's incredibly strict in how much playing time he distributes. No one sees more than 25 minutes per game; 11 players total average between 12 and 24.6 minutes. To do that and go 30-4 is some serious coaching ability.

The argument against the Bruins: It's more about Wisconsin than anything else. This is a tough matchup. But, that said, Wisconsin doesn't play to blow people out, meaning this one's pretty much destined to stay close/up in the air for the first 35 minutes.

Morehead State. Kenneth Faried alone makes you hesitate in taking Louisville. If Benson makes Oakland a possible upset pick, then what does Faried do? After all, Morehead State probably has the best future pro of any 13. His rebounding skills are transcedent. Louisville is in the bottom fourth of Division I in defensive rebounding. That spectacle alone -- Faried tossing Cardinals aside en route to 15-plus rebounds -- will be a great side show. Eagles guard Demonte Harper is a high-volume shooter. Notice I didn't say high-volume shot-maker. But it's one hand feeding the other, and Harper can match up with the Cards' guards.

There is an element to this game that numbers can't pick up on, as well. Many of the MSU players are all too familiar with Louisville's. These are both Kentucky-based schools, and the guys see each other often in the summers. Faried, according to people who are familiar with the pick-up games and scrimmages, dominates, as you'd expect. There's something to be said for that, and I wonder if it carries over/translates in this type of high-press game.

The argument against the Eagles: None of the 13s struggled as much in conference play as Morehead State, who went 13-5 in the Atlantic Sun. Compounding the concern, the OVC is ranked below the Ivy (Princeton), Atlantic Sun (Belmont) and Summit (Oakland). And imagine how good Morehead State would be if it didn't turn the ball over once every four possessions.

Princeton. The 25-6 Tigers are, rightfully, seen as the 13 with the slimmest chance of moving on. Part of that is the athletic mismatch against Kentucky. Still, not bad to have the always-cute Ivy team tossed into the mix here. Dan Mavraides and Doug Davis form a good backcourt, one that will be a joy to watch face up against Kentucky. There's definite throw-them-off-their-game-early capability with the Tigers' guards. You know how that can happen, and you've seen it happen with Ivy teams, Princeton teams, before.

At 64.3 possessions per game, the Tigers are on the slow side, but not that slow; Kentucky doesn't force the ball that much more.

The argument against the Tigers: They don't have the size or ability to force Kentucky into anything. The Princeton Offense will certainly be fun to watch, but Kentucky's length and speed could negate that tactic by the end of the first half. Texas may be the best of the four seeds, but his would be the biggest of upsets. The Tigers haven't played anyone near Kentucky's ilk, in terms of athletes, this season. That's a face-to-face DNA problem you can't emulate until the game tips.

Photo: AP

More NCAA tournament coverage
Posted on: March 9, 2011 12:18 am
Edited on: March 9, 2011 12:22 am

Welcome to the Dance, Oakland Golden Grizzlies

Oakland steamrolled through the Summit League this season, going 17-1, with 10 of the wins coming by double-figures. The Golden Grizzlies completed their dominance of the conference by blowing out Oral Roberts in the conference championship game Tuesday night, 90-76. Keith Benson led the way down low, finishing with 28 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Reggie Hamilton provided most of the outside production, scoring 26 points and dishing out six assists.

Located in Rochester, Mich., Oakland burst onto the scene in 2005, when it made a run to the NCAA tournament despite a 12-18 record. The Golden Grizzlies have only been in Division I since 1999, but they are headed for their third Big Dance appearance. Oakland also dominated the Summit a season ago, but it couldn’t capitalize and advance out of the first round of the NCAA tournament. Head coach Greg Kampe, who has been at the helm since 1984, said in mid-February that this team is different, though. Playing seven potential NCAA teams in the non-conference season prepared them well.

Player to know: Keith Benson. Benson is one of the most dominant big men in the country, ranking amongst the best defensive rebounders and shot-blockers around. He racked up 19 double-doubles this season and 15 separate games of at least 20 points. Benson has also proven himself against big-time competition, averaging 15.9 and 10.7 boards against major-conference teams this season.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 25-9, 17-1 Summit
  • Team colors: Gold and black
  • We’re thinking: 13-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 69
  • RPI: 64
  • Best win: Tennessee (18-13)
  • Worst loss: Wright State (19-14)
  • Notable stat: The Golden Grizzlies rank second in the country in scoring offense, averaging 84.7 points per game. They are also ninth in blocks, with 5.8 per game.
  • Most recent tournament history: 2010. As a No. 14 seed, lost to Pittsburgh in the first round.

Photo: Getty

Posted by Jeff Borzello

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2011 11:46 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 1:57 am

It's Oakland vs. Oral Roberts for Summit title

After two semifinal contests that only players’ family members could have enjoyed, the conferences’ two best teams will go at it Tuesday night for the Summit League tournament championship. Oakland (24-9, 17-1) has been a dominant force in the conference all season and it continued on Monday night as the Grizzlies overwhelmed South Dakota State to reach the finals. All five starters scored in double digits in the 110-90 victory and Oakland once again showcased that it is playing at its peak ability at the perfect time of the season. The Grizzlies have an athletic advantage over every team in the Summit and they have exploited it well all season, making them the prohibitive favorite on Tuesday night.

Their opponent will be Oral Roberts (18-14, 13-5), who defeated IUPUI 83-77 in the semifinals. The Golden Eagles led by a double digit margin for most of the game, before withstanding a late rally by the Jaguars to move to the championship game. Forward Dominique Morrison again continued his impressive play, scoring 26 points in the victory. As has been the case all season, when Morrison is able to be aggressive and get to the foul line (he had 13 free throws versus IUPUI), Oral Roberts creates matchup problems that make the team difficult to defend. Morrison was aided by the play of guard Warren Niles, who added 20 points, including two key baskets late to stop the IUPUI run.

Oakland and Oral Roberts have met two times this season and both games were battles until the end. The deciding factor in the meetings was the play of Grizzlies’ star Keith Benson, who averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds over the two games. Both of the first two matchups were decided within the final minute and in both games, Benson dominated play on both the offensive and defensive end. Benson is a future NBA player and the Grizzlies have not been able to find an answer for him throughout his career. 

Oakland believes this is the team's season to not only win the conference championship, but potentially pull a surprise in the NCAA tournament. But for that to happen, the Grizzlies must first win their third game of the season over Oral Roberts and not suffer the fate of the many other conference regular season winners who have been defeated in tournament finals thus far this postseason. 

Posted by MATT JONES

Posted on: March 2, 2011 12:50 pm

Photo: A season's worth of tip-offs

Detail from the 20 Tips image at Golden Grizzlies Gameplan

Posted by Eric Angevine

Ever since I started writing exclusively about college basketball, I've chosen to look at the big picture, which makes for difficult viewing when you have 345 teams in your field of vision. That's why I've always loved those who choose a team or a conference and dig in for the great moments and details the rest of us might miss.

Corey at Golden Grizzlies Gameplan is one such blogger. He's been writing about Oakland of the Summit League since 2009, which means he was giving props to this team long before they became the 22-9, 17-1 road warriors who took down Tennessee at Thompson-Boling. That was just one victory in an exceedingly brutal trip through the power conferences that may have given the Griz a bit of an edge in toughness that will come in handy in the postseason.

Corey has collected images from 20 tip-offs that encapsulate all the floors the Grizzlies played on this season. It's a great way to see just how tough their non-conference road trip was and how that no doubt draining experience got them ready to dominate in their own league. The image above is just a detail from the full-sized tapestry on the Gameplan home page. Head over and check it out, and you can say you knew them when as they screw up your office mates' brackets.

Photo: Golden Grizzlies Gameplan
More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 25, 2011 7:02 am

The Morning Drive: Centenary breaks through

Posted by Jeff Borzello

There were no 52-point performances or buzzer-beaters in bubble games, but Thursday had some highlights. Three teams clinched regular-season titles, while another one clinched at least a share of the league championship. Bubble teams won, bubble teams lost. There were upsets and close finishes. What more can you ask for? Reach me on Twitter: @jeffborzello

Standing Ovation: Centenary went into last night with an 0-28 record, losers of 33 straight games. The Gentlemen would have been the first 0-30 team in college basketball. Somehow, though, they shot 62.5 percent from the field and defeated Western Illinois, 73-60. Maxx Nakwaasah scored 24 points to lead Centenary, who will be dropping to Division-III next season.

Top Performer: Arizona had a chance to give itself some breathing room atop the Pac-10 heading into the weekend, but Nikola Vucevic had other ideas. The USC big man had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Trojans to a 65-57 win at home. He was 9-for-17 from the field, as well as 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. Defensively, he helped hold All-American Derrick Williams to just eight points.

Round of Applause: Four teams clinched NIT automatic bids last night, although I’m sure they will be more excited if they win the conference tournament. It started with Florida Atlantic defeating Troy to clinch the Sun Belt; then George Mason had a closer-than-expected win over Northeastern to win the Colonial; and Long Beach State followed that up with a win over Cal Poly to win the Big West. In the Big South, Coastal Carolina clinched the title with Liberty losing at Winthrop.

Stepping Up: Gonzaga was left for dead a few weeks ago, but it is now one game from getting a share of the WCC title after going on the road and beating Saint Mary’s in overtime. Expect the loser of the WCC Tournament to be right on the cut line come Selection Sunday. Last night, Sam Dower came through for the Bulldogs, hitting his first seven field-goal attempts and finishing with 21 points.

Stat-Sheet Stuffer: Charleston was another team that didn’t capitalize on its opportunity to clinch a regular-season title on Thursday. Appalachian State’s Donald Sims had a say in that. Sims put up 32 points on six 3-pointers, also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out six assists. The Mountaineers knocked off Charleston, 85-70.

Yawn: Just like Jimmer Fredette putting up another 30-point performance, it’s become expected that Oakland’s Keith Benson will put up gaudy scoring and rebounding stats. He did just that against UMKC last night, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds, also adding three blocks on the defensive end.

Dishing it out: Montana took one step closer to a Big Sky title last night, going on the road and beating Portland State by one, 85-84. Will Cherry led the way for the Grizzlies, scoring 24 points and racking up 10 assists (with only one turnover). He knocked down two 3-pointers and also grabbed three rebounds. More importantly, Cherry iced the game from the free-throw line in the final seconds.

In a Losing Effort: It wasn’t a losing effort, but I have no clue what Washington Adventist is, so I’m counting Longwood’s win as a de facto loss. With that said, center Antwan Carter put up some huge digits. The Longwood big man went 14-for-20 from the field en route to a 33-point, 20-rebound night. Five of his boards were on the offensive glass, and he was 5-for-7 from the free-throw line.

Filling it up: Normally when a player who has scored in double-figures just 10 times all season explodes for 34 points, it’s because he got hot from 3-point land. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Terence Grier dropped 34 in a win at Sacred Heart, snapping the Knights’ 11-game losing streak. Grier hit four 3-pointers and two free-throws – the other 10 field-goals came from inside the arc. Not bad for a 6-foot guard.

Dub-Dubbing: In a battle for second-place in the Summit, Oral Roberts completely dominated IUPUI, getting a 92-74 win. It was the Golden Eagles’ seventh straight win heading into the finale. The leader for ORU was Steven Roundtree, who was 10-for-12 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, finishing with 27 points and 12 rebounds, six coming on the offensive end.

Backyard Brawl: An injury to back-up big man Talib Zanna didn’t slow down Pittsburgh, as the Panthers emerged victorious in the Backyard Brawl, downing West West Virginia by 13. Brad Wanamaker had 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to lead the Panthers. As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers dropped to 8-7 in the Big East – they could end up finishing 10th in the league.

Bonus Basketball: Marquette faced a must-win situation heading into Connecticut last night, and the Golden Eagles finally came out of a close game with a win. Darius Johnson-Odom scored nine of his 17 points in overtime to lead Marquette to a 74-67 win over the Huskies, who were playing without Jim Calhoun on the sidelines. Kemba Walker had 27 points, but struggled mightily late in the game.

Set the DVR: Don’t set your DVR tonight. Do non-basketball things. But if you must, make sure Harvard and Princeton keep winning.

Numbers Don’t Lie:

  • Pittsburgh has now won 25 games in six straight seasons.
  • Derrick Williams’ eight-point performance was the first time he was held in single-digits this season.
  • Florida’s six-game SEC winning streak is its longest since 2007.
  • Kemba Walker is the first player since Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor to score 600 points in a season. He has 622 points. 

Notes and Notables:

  • Florida picked up its ninth top-50 win of the year, holding off Georgia at home, 71-62. Chandler Parsons had 16 points, while Kenny Boynton dropped 18. Georgia sits squarely on the bubble.
  • Old Dominion just needs to avoid bad losses in order to get an at-large bid, and the Monarchs handled their business on Thursday, beating James Madison on the road, 75-59. 
  • Penn State has very slim hopes for an at-large bid, but the Nittany Lions got back to .500 in the Big Ten with a 14-point road win at Northwestern.
  • Morehead State vs. Murray State was supposed to be one of the better mid-major games of the year, but Murray had a 17-2 run to begin the second half and never looked back. The Racers clinch the top-seed in the OVC Tournament.
  • With Milwaukee beating Cleveland State and Valparaiso losing, there is now a three-team tie for first-place in the Horizon, with Valpo one game back. If Milwaukee wins this weekend, it will get the No. 1 seed and a double-bye.

Photo: US Presswire (Adam Woods)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com