Oakland looks to lock down spot in NCAA Tournament at Horizon League Championship

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Oakland
Dec 23, 2016; Rochester, MI, USA; Oakland Golden Grizzlies head coach Greg Kampe during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Athletics Center O'rena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Golden Grizzlies are not only the hottest team in the Horizon League at season’s end (winners of nine straight), but also on the country. And should they continue their hot streak this weekend at the Horizon League Tournament, they will punch their ticket to the dance and surely be a trendier pick for many when filling out their brackets.

The final Horizon League Tournament held at Joe Louis Arena takes place starting this Friday, March 3. Thanks to a strong finish to the regular season, the Grizzlies clinched a share of the league title with Valparaiso and earned the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.

So what’s been the biggest factors to Oakland’s success in 2016-17?

  • The Grizzlies won ten of their 12 true road games this season, with losses coming at Michigan State (77-65 on 12/21) and at Wright State (88-67 on 01/22). That 83.3 road winning percentage ranks 6th nationally among teams who have played a minimum ten true road games this year.
  • Last year, Oakland had among the nation’s best offenses, led by All-American Kay Felder. But their defense was relatively sub-par, ranking 7th out of ten teams in the league in points allowed per game. This season, they traded in a little bit of their offense in exchange for improved defense. They finished 3rd in the Horizon in both total offense and defense.
  • Speaking of Felder, many felt that with him, three-point specialist Max Hooper and former Iowa State turned Grizzly Percy Gibson – three of the team’s top four scorers from last year – all moving on, there’d be a considerable dip not only in production, but also results. But it’s been quite the opposite. Redshirt junior Jalen Hayes has improved his production, but it’s been a pair of former transfers in Martez Walker and Sherron Dorsey-Walker, no relation, making the biggest strides.
MARTEZ WALKER JALEN HAYES SHERRON DORSEY-WALKER
15/16 PPG 10.5 13.1 6.5
15/16 TEAM RANK 5TH 2ND 7TH
16/17 PPG 17.2 15.8 13.3
16/17 TEAM RANK 1ST 2ND 3RD

[Player statistics come courtesy of team and player pages by season on Sports-Reference]

And despite the fits that conference foe Valparaiso has given them over the past few seasons, It could be Oakland’s tournament to lose this weekend, given their hot streak and a recent injury to Valpo. The rival Crusaders have been without All-American candidate and potential first-round pick Alec Peters in the last two games due to injury.

Peters is averaging a double-double this season (23 PPG, 10.1 RPG). They are 1-1 in his absence and while the severity of the injury is uncertain, he is hopeful to return some time during the tournament at The Joe. But one thing that is for certain, Valpo is not the same time with Peters on the bench in street clothes.

Oakland will be looking to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, when they went back-to-back in 2010-11 as former members of the Summit League. It’s the fourth season in the Horizon for OU, the first year (2013-14) they finished tied for 5th in the league and posted an overall record of 13-20.

Should they sweep through this year’s league tournament, they will set a school record for most wins in a single season, Division I or II, surpassing the 26-win mark set back in 2009-10.

You can catch the Horizon League Tournament action, both men’s and women’s on the ESPN family of networks starting this weekend, March 3-7. The top-seeded Grizzlies will not take the floor until Saturday the 4th. Here is the complete “Motor City Madness” men’s basketball schedule:

  • Friday, March 3 – First Round
    • Game 1: (7) Detroit Mercy vs. (10) Milwaukee | 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
    • Game 2: (8) Cleveland State vs. (9) Y’town State | 8 p.m. ET on ESPN3
  • Saturday, March 4 – Quarterfinals
    • Game 3: (1) Oakland vs. Game 1 Winner | 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
    • Game 4: (2) Valparaiso vs. Game 2 Winner | 8 p.m. ET on ESPN3
  • Sunday, March 5 – Quarterfinals cont.
    • Game 5: (3) Green Bay vs. (6) UI-Chicago | 5 p.m. ET on ESPN3
    • Game 6: (4) Nor. Kentucky vs. (5) Wright St | 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
  • Monday, March 6 – Semifinals
    • Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner | 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU
    • Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner | 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
  • Tuesday, March 7 – Championship
    • Game 9: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner | 7 p.m. ET on ESPN

 

**Player/Team stats and information coming courtesy of Horizon League, Sports-Reference and TeamRankings