At the beginning of the season, Greg Kampe was asked what he thought Oakland’ record would be after their non-conference games. He predicted 0-7, and he wasn’t lying. Was this coachspeak, trying to temper expectations with a tough schedule or was this just the reality of what he was asking his team to do?
To take a team on the road for the first seven games of the season would be tough any year. For the Golden Grizzlies, this isn’t uncommon though. They like to use an over top tough non-conference schedule to prepare the team for the conference schedule A schedule that originally also included Ohio State pre-pandemic was paired down to an MTE hosted by Xavier with a few “winnable” other matchups, 3 Big Ten teams and the first game in a series with Oklahoma State that is slated to bring OSU into the Orena in the near future. This is the kind of scheduling that Grizz fans have come to expect.
The question still remains, how can an 0-7 start to the season including a 52 point opening game loss on National TV to Xavier have positives?
The biggest positive for OU comes in checks cashing. From the seven games they played, Oakland made $350,000 dollars for the athletic department. With Kampe not exercising the clause in his contract where he would usually receive one guaranteed game’s check, this was a good payday at a time when many other schools are cutting sports and really trying to find corners to cut within athletics. RPI and KenPom be damned, the men’s basketball team went out and made sure to bring home some money.
The Golden Grizzlies also were able to figure out who they are going to be this season against top notch competition. Nobody would have believed that OU, who is not known for their defensive prowess most years, would be among the leaders in the nation in steals running a zone defense they haven’t used in 15 years. It also wasn’t expected that Oakland would be running out two freshman in their starting lineup with Trey Townsend and Micah Parrish but both have proven to be very useful in the early stages of the season. A lot of their time seeing the floor has come because of a lack of practice time that forced OU to implement the zone defense, and the role both have been able to play in that along with trying to add some much needed rebounding.
Maybe the biggest thing to come out of this treacherous start to the season is they have solidified their backcourt and it is very good. While Rashad Williams was predicted as a Horizon League second team member this preseason, it’s looking like that may have been a severe underestimation. He went for 32 points against Oklahoma State and followed that up with 36 against Michigan State. He has been easing back into things off injury but it’s looking more and more like he’s really ready to go. Pairing him up with the JUCO All-American transfer Jalen Moore is looking like a great combination. Moore is finding his place within the OU offense including going for 26 points in the MSU game. While he has struggled a little bit to finish at the rim, that should get a bit easier in conference play.
One other big advantage that Oakland now has is they are much closer to the minimum number of games needed to qualify for the NCAA tournament this year. The minimum number of games a team will have needed to play is 13 so the Golden Grizzlies arealready just over halfway there. In this weird COVID season, it’s hard to tell week to week which games are really going to happen.
For Oakland, they really only need three weekends of games to go off and then they have reached the magic number. While begin shut down for COVID early was less than ideal for the product on the floor, it has proven to help a little as they’ve now played their entire slotted non-conference schedule as intended.
The Michigan State coaching staff warned their team that Oakland was the “best 0-6 team in the history of the world” and now all OU can do is hope that extends to 0-7 teams too. While they have learned a lot about who they are, what works for them, and cashed some paychecks along the way, the one thing this team hasn’t learned yet is how to win. For many teams, this is tough lesson and one that OU must now learn in conference play. Hopefully it’s not a lesson they regret not learning earlier in the season.