5 Takeaways from the Oakland vs. Eastern Michigan Exhibition

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Photo courtesy of Oakland Athletics/Jose Juarez

College basketball is back!!!

Well, sort of.

Last night in the Orena may have been billed as an exhibition/charity game between two in state schools, but it had the feel of an in-league late January slugfest between two teams vying for seeding going into the conference tournament. I have had the chance to attend quite a few exhibition games and even the Hurricane relief charity game where Kendrick Nunn made his debut as a Grizzly and dropped 40 points on Central Michigan. None of those games came even close to the level of basketball atmosphere that was played in Rochester against Eastern Michigan. Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. People are ready to attend games again – The Orena was about 1/4 to 1/2 full last night. Not a standing room only Detroit Mercy rivalry game kind of crowd. Despite the lower attendance numbers, as you would expect for an exhibition game, the environment was electric. The Grizz Gang, despite lower numbers currently, was into the whole game and making noise. Oakland President Ora Pescovitz could be seen doing the YMCA from her courtside seats. Anthony Gallina, better known to many as “flag man,” had his flag flying every chance he had. It felt normal. Despite everyone not on the court being required to wear a mask, it was clear that people were ready to watch live basketball at Oakland University again. After a year of being in the Orena with about 10 people watching, it was clear to everyone that they were on the path towards normal.

2. Jitters will be real for players early in the season- With fans back in attendance, there is a renewed sense of jitters for the players and it will be apparent early in the season. Both Jamal Cain and Jalen Moore talked about it in their post game press conference. While it’s exciting to have that energy back in the building, it has been awhile since any players got to experience that. Where usually as upper classmen they would need to help guide the younger players through that early, they each talked about having some of those butterflies themselves. In that regard, these exhibition and preseason game are more important than usual at reminding players what it is like to play in front of people. From the noise during a free throw to the energy after a Blake Lampman dunk (checks notes – Yes, you read that correct) that brings the crowd off their feet and sends the opponent into a timeout, it has been awhile since the players on the floor experienced it all.

3. Size may not be an issue for Oakland after all- The biggest question mark for Oakland heading into this season was around size, especially at the 5. While they expect to have a size matchup at times due to the length of Townsend, Parrish, and Cain they still need someone to guard the other team’s biggest player. Last night, we saw Chris Conway step into that role and fill it well in his first time really on the court for Oakland. They were down Braden Burke due to a family emergency meaning Conway saw some extended minutes. He not only showed some nice offensive touch but was able to grab 5 rebounds in his 22 minutes. Greg Kampe said he hopes to see him around 7 boards and 8 points a game. He seems to be well on track towards that and with confidence could provide the answer for Oakland in the middle. One other player Oakland fans should expect to see more of is Will Shepard. After making his first appearance in the game and making a slew of mistakes, he did not return. Talking about him after the game, Kampe smiled and talked about how genuinely excited to be out there he was but it led to mistakes. Expect him to settle down and see the floor more in the future.

4. Jamal Cain is being overlooked by many- For some reason, some people around the league seem to be sleeping on what Jamal Cain brings to Oakland. The Marquette transfer went for a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds. He showed his ability to hit the 3, work inside and maybe most importantly make free throws going 10-11 from the stripe. If he and Moore can both make a living at the line, that will be tough for teams to compete with as they get players into foul trouble. Cain showed a bit of an edge in what at times was a chippy game, and played with a passion that was exciting for OU fans to see out of the transfer. He talked about how exciting it was for him personally to have his family in attendance as they live within 10 minutes of the university and was a big reason for his transfer. He has the skills, size and passion to not only be an All-Horizon league player but to make sure scouts keep an eye on him for the future.

5. If this is middle of the pack Horizon League, it’s going to be a fun season- Oakland was predicted to finish in the middle of the Horizon League at 6th place. If this is what the middle of the league is going to look like, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the league brings this season. While Eastern Michigan isn’t expected to light the MAC on fire this season with a new coach and a lot of new pieces, they still presented a solid opponent. Eastern felt like a good look at what a typical night in the league could look like for Oakland. And it was an enjoyable game from start to finish coming all the way down to the end. If this Oakland team is only the middle of the league, the top tier of teams will need to be playing at a level we have not seen from the league in quite some time. And if that is the case, it will be a season all fans can expect to enjoy.

Oakland gets one more preseason warmup next week against Lake Superior State. You can expect to see more minutes to younger players, a bit more laid back atmosphere and hopefully to see no players injured. Oakland is currently down Zion Young to a knee injury and Micah Parrish to a foot injury and with no timeline on either, staying healthy will be key. Hopefully the students still show back up and the Oakland crowd can grow from the first exhibition game before they won’t see the team at home again for a few weeks.

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