TOC reader Grizzly Spartan did his undergrad work at Oakland and closely follows the Golden Grizzlies. He came to me with the idea of a Q&A before Saturday's game at the Palace, so here are some questions I asked him about the former MSU campus.
1. It has been a rough start for the Grizzlies this year. What have been the biggest issues?
It is pretty normal for Oakland to start off with a losing record because of their crazy non-conference schedule. Not many mid-major basketball teams will have pretty looking records after playing the likes of North Carolina, UCLA, California, Gonzaga, Indiana, and Michigan State to start their season. In his 30th season, Coach Greg Kampe realizes that the only way his team makes the big dance is by winning the conference tournament, so he tries to get his squad better by playing against the best competition. That being said, defense is definitely the main issue in many of the losses. Oakland simply does not have the size or athleticism to hang with many of these big programs, and Oakland's style of play leads to a lot of track meets, with opponents usually getting much better looks at the basket on their possessions than Oakland gets.
2. Who are some key players to watch for?
Unquestionably the go-to guy for Oakland is Travis Bader. He has been one of the most prolific three-point shooters in his time at Oakland. Unfortunately, his streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer ended this week against Indiana after 62 games, but Bader is on pace to break J.J. Redick's record of most career three pointers, barring an injury. He has struggled a bit lately, but I am sure Bader still has the green light to shoot from almost anywhere in the 48309 zip code. Other key players include Duke Mondy, who led the NCAA in steals last year, and Corey Petros, who has a nice scoring touch for a big man, but I have always felt is a bit of a revolving door on defense.
3. What will Oakland need to do to win this game, or at least keep it close?
Coach Greg Kampe said about the MSU game "we know when we make shots, we can stay with anybody," and I would agree with this assessment. Oakland is not a team that is going to lock anyone down on defense, and their style of basketball means that upsets only happen when Oakland has a hot shooting night, so an upset would require an absolute barrage of BaderBombsTM. Oakland's offense means that they can hang with anyone, but they get in trouble when they run up against teams like UNC who kill them on the boards, and Oakland settles for too many jump shots that aren't falling. (sound familiar?) Foul trouble is also an issue with any mid-major team that doesn't have the same depth as MSU.
4. MSU is beat up. What chance to do give the Grizzlies, and what's your score prediction?
Even with injuries, I think MSU wins 90-78. MSU may be beat up, but I guarantee they will not be overlooking Oakland. Not only is it the first game back for MSU after letting that first loss stew for a while, but former Oakland player Drew Valentine (Denzel's older brother, and Travis Bader's best friend/undergrad roommate) has a graduate manager position on Izzo's staff, so I would imagine that MSU will have plenty of inside information and a good scouting report on Oakland.
Furthermore, there are some pretty strong friendships between the basketball teams, so if only for the sake of bragging rights, MSU will be ready for Oakland this weekend. I expect a very high scoring game, where MSU gets some easy buckets in transition, and we see three pointers aplenty. Regardless of the outcome, it is always fun for me to watch my undergrad school go up against my current school, and it will be a welcome break from law school finals to watch the game this weekend!