The Golden Grizzlies are one of the most unpredictable teams in the league. Just how far can their star guard and young up-and-comers take them?
Another year, another wildly different-looking roster for Oakland Head Coach Greg Kampe.
The emergence of the transfer portal, combined with loosening eligibility restrictions due to COVID-19, has created a frenzy among mid-major schools.
The past few seasons, Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies have lost nearly half the roster each offseason due to graduations and transfers. This problem, while consistent with OU, isn’t unique to OU at all. Multiple teams across the Horizon League have been struck by the frenetic transfer frenzy each summer.
With Oladapo and Williams transferring, combined with the graduation of Kevin Kangu, the Golden Grizzlies starting lineup’s holes will have to be filled by second-year players like Micah Parrish, Zion Young and Trey Townsend. There are 10 freshmen on the roster, a familiar sight at the beginning of the year for most Golden Grizzlies fans.
In 2019, Kampe shared his outlook on the transfer portal, an outlook that has evolved over time.
“We’re going to stick our nose in it [the transfer portal], and if there are good players there who want to come to Oakland, we’re going to take them,” Kampe said. “You can fight it or you can adapt, and I think that part of being successful in life is adapting. Oakland is going to have to adapt to be successful.”
Initially resistant to the portal, Kampe decided to play with the cards he was dealt. This season, two grad student transfers, Jamal Cain and Braden Burke, will be the latest portal pickups for Oakland.
The incoming freshman class is plentiful. Mason Gibson, Osei Price, Brody Parker, Ty Wyman, Peyton Mele and Darius Sherman are the new freshman guards. Aside from redshirt freshman Chris Conway, forward Will Shepherd is the lone freshman big in his first year.
All freshmen will have a chance to carve out their role in this locker room with barely any returning players. Chris Conway, who sat out last year, should see some increased responsibility with a shallow front court.
The starting lineup for Oakland seems set, based on the few returning Golden Grizzlies on the roster. Jalen Moore will be the starting point, with Zion Young and Micah Parrish filling out the two and three spots. Braden Burke could see starting center minutes, since he has an undeniable height advantage at seven feet tall, but relying on Townsend and/or Jamal Cain at the four and five spots, wherever they fit best.
Kampe’s best lineup looks to be just that, Moore/Young/Parrish/Cain/Townsend. Despite having no one over 6-foot-7 on the court, the starting five looks athletic and switchable at all five positions, which could wreak havoc on opposing Horizon League lineups bound to a more traditional lineup.
The Golden Grizzlies will rely heavily on Townsend at the center position. Losing Oladapo, one of the league’s best rebounders, puts pressure on Townsend to take a leap in his sophomore season. Townsend is used to exceeding expectations, though. Last season, he averaged 8.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, which led the team. That season propelled him to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team, including winning freshman of the week twice.
With a revamped roster led by seasoned stalwarts, the Golden Grizzlies are aiming for their first NCAA Tournament bid in 10 years. The road to get there, as always, will be in the Horizon League Tournament in Indianapolis. The Golden Grizzlies have an opportunity to gain early experience and get prepared for the grueling Horizon League schedule with a typically difficult out-of-conference schedule.
The team will face power five schools West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Alabama and Michigan State University before getting into the thick of Horizon League competition.
Oakland has seven road games in the first 11 league matchups, then they have four of the next six on the road as well. Opening up with a lot of road matchups, the Golden Grizzlies get to end their season on a five-game homestand, which could provide them momentum entering the tournament.
If they get a home game in the quarterfinals, as they have the past three seasons, they will play six consecutive home games in a fan-filled O’Rena before traveling to Indianapolis, if they win round one.
The main threats to Oakland’s NCAA tournament chances will most likely come down to the reigning champion Cleveland State Vikings, the typically tough Northern Kentucky Norse and the Milwaukee Panthers, who are led by top recruit Patrick Baldwin Jr.
The path to contention is simple for the Golden Grizzlies: if they see progression from young players like Townsend, Parrish and Young, the starting lineup will be made up of four athletic, versatile players capable of pushing any team to a shootout.
If Moore also takes another step, turning into a potential player of the year, he could push Oakland to a high seed and carry them to the big dance. This seems much more likely if he can get consistent shooting and defense from his teammates on the wing, Parrish and Young.
Kampe’s teams historically like to run, and they like to score as many points as possible. In previous years with more big men and less consistent guard play, Kampe has strayed from that formula. This season’s roster, however, is much more focused on the guards and wings, so a high-flying offense might be in the cards again for Oakland, despite an overflowing amount of youth.
Prediction: After finishing 12-11 in league play with a loss in the championship game, Oakland has a chance to improve on an impressive 54th season. Team 55 will finish fourth in the conference, reaching the Horizon League championship again on the back of a player of the year caliber season from Jalen Moore. In the end, the Golden Grizzlies will fall again in the title game, with a close-fought grudge match against familiar foe Cleveland State in a rare title game rematch.
Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below:
Cleveland State • Wright State • Milwaukee • Detroit Mercy
Northern Kentucky • Oakland • Purdue Fort Wayne • Youngstown State
UIC • Robert Morris • Green Bay • IUPUI
Green Bay (WBB) • Cleveland State (WBB)