Can Oakland still contend?

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It’s no secret that Oakland Men’s Basketball is hurting, and has been starved of a tournament bid for years now. Since making back-to-back NCAA tournament bids in 2010 and 2011, the team has been consistently falling short of the ultimate goal.

After a surprising season which saw them take a three seed in the tournament, the team was giving fans optimism for a dominant 2019-2020 season. Jaevin Cumberland, Braden Norris, Brad Brechting and Xavier Hill-Mais were all returning!

Until they weren’t.

Jaevin Cumberland shocked the university with his transfer, then not even 24 hours later, Braden Norris snuck out the back door and headed to Loyola-Chicago.

Add these departures to the (expected) transfers of Stan Scott, James Beck and Karmari Newman, and once again this team is going to have to smack the rebuild button.

Long gone are the days of Greg Kampe bringing in a player with a checkered past to save the ship. In today’s climate, that isn’t happening. Kendrick Nunn would never be an Oakland Grizzly in 2019, the backlash would be insane. Kampe signing a player with a history like Martez Walker today would run him out of town.

This team is going to have to build through recruiting and player development, which in this Horizon League is a realistic possibility.

Almost every school in the Horizon League has been hit with the transfer bug, including Cleveland State, of whom Oakland took one of their best players in Rashad Williams. The conference is wide open after Wright State and Northern Kentucky, who look to still be the powerhouses of the Horizon.

This team will live and die by the post. That’s something you don’t hear often in 2019.

Despite having an almost entirely new roster… again, Oakland has two players that could contend for Horizon League player of the year in Hill-Mais and Brechting. They make up one of the best (if not the best) front court in the conference, and that will pay dividends once league play begins. With strong wing play from second-year player Tray Maddox, this team could once again find themselves in a surprising three seed.

The problem once again will be depth.

This team will be composed of a lot of young guys. That is a double-edged sword. The potential for growth is great, but with two great big men, the fan-base and coaching staff wants to win now, before Hill-Mais and Brechting are gone.

Could Golden Grizzlies fans see an NCAA tournament bid this year? I don’t think so, personally. The depth, experience and talent of Wright State and Northern Kentucky are great. It isn’t impossible, however. Without Drew McDonald dropping in a Paul Pierce “the truth” looking dagger with seconds to play, the Golden Grizzlies could have been dancing.

There is talent in these young players, but expecting a Braden Norris season out of someone like Christopher Gettelfinger is too lofty of an expectation. Improved play out of Kenny Pittman and Babatunde Sowunmi will be needed to help fill in the gaps of the transfer-pocalypse.

Kampe is a good coach, and a guy who can get the best out of his players, but I think this season is another in which Oakland fans will be sitting at home on selection Sunday wondering where Michigan and Michigan State will be seeded, and not their Golden Grizzlies.

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